More Australians worry how rising child poverty impacts educational outcomes

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Child poverty can leave children with poor educational outcomes.
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The latest national annual Community Attitudes Survey released by children’s education charity The Smith Family has revealed the majority of Australians have seen child poverty worsen in the last 12 months, with 82 per cent believing that students will be more likely to disengage in their learning as a result. 

More than four out of five (83 per cent) Australians think that extra support for education is key to helping children and young people experiencing disadvantage. Respondents cited financial assistance for school essentials and increased access to laptops and internet as measures that would help. 

Annual data collected through the survey also found Australians want more focus in schools on careers education and pathways training, plus mentors to support students at school. They also support more outside-of-school programs to keep young people from falling behind with their education. And there is growing public awareness of poverty among children and young people and its impact on their education. 

Equitable education access is critical

With the review into the National School Reform Agreement completed late last year, and the Federal Government set to hand down its budget in two weeks, The Smith Family’s CEO Doug Taylor says Australia has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a more equitable education system. 

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“A better future begins with a strong education, but for some children poverty is getting in  the way of their ability to realise their potential at school,” Mr Taylor says. 

“With more than 1.2 million Australian children growing up in disadvantage, the upcoming Federal Budget is an opportunity for the government to implement reforms that will make the education system better and fairer for all children, no matter their backgrounds. 

“School funding is important, but reform requires more than getting every school to 100 per cent of its fair funding level. How money is spent in education matters, and what resources are provided to schools, particularly to government schools which educate a higher proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, also matters.  

“We’re asking for an increased focus on literacy, numeracy and digital skills; a measurable  and assessable digital skills policy to ensure all students can make the most of their education and are ready for the jobs of the future; and consistent and comprehensive careers support and senior secondary pathways to support young people to understand  post-school options and plan for a life beyond school.”

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Cost-of-living crisis pushing families to the limit

Mr Taylor says the cost-of-living crisis is compounding the effects already felt by children experiencing disadvantage. 

“One in four children in Australia’s most disadvantaged communities start school behind in literacy and numeracy. Research shows that children who start school behind, are, on average, four years behind in maths and more than five years behind in reading by the time they reach Year nine.

“The schools we partner with are telling us that fewer families are able to afford to send their children on school camp this year. And they’re finding that some parents can’t even advise schools when their children are sick, because they can’t afford to keep paying their phone and internet bills.” 

School attendance is a crucial indicator of a range of future educational and life outcomes for a student. The survey shows Australians understand how this can be impacted by poverty, with the vast majority (83 per cent) agreeing that students experiencing poverty were more likely to miss school and fall behind. 

Winter Appeal support can change lives

“This is why our Winter Appeal is so critical this year. We’re aiming to raise over $7.2 million so thousands more children can access our learning and mentoring programs that help them catch up and keep up at school,” Mr Taylor says. 

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To help students, The Smith Family runs learning and mentoring programs like after-school Learning Clubs, mentoring programs pairing working adults with high school students for career advice, and the student2student in-home reading program for children. 

Bridging the digital divide

“Another concern for the public is the digital divide. We are supporting young people who do not have the digital technology and internet access they need to fully participate in their education. Four in five of the survey respondents agreed that not having this access is an indicator of how poverty impacts educational outcomes,” says Mr Taylor.

“Increasingly Australians are also understanding that providing more education and information on careers, and the study paths to achieve them, including relevant work experience is a meaningful intervention for students experiencing disadvantage with their schooling. 

“This is a welcome shift in thinking, especially as it’s predicted that nine out of ten future jobs will require post-secondary school qualifications. It is vital that students have access to consistent and relevant careers education and exposure to the world of work.” 

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]