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School shun clever girls says Dawkins

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Up to 90 per cent of girls from working class families who have proven numeracy ability are seriously limiting theirxcareer and life opportunities by not studying maths or science in senior high school, John Dawkins said today.

Mr Dawkins, the Minister for Employment, Education and Training told an annual conference of Primary School Principals in Sydney today that a study by his Department revealed that only about 8.7 per cent of girls from poorer families who were assessed as having high numeracy achievement at 10 years old were going on to do maths and science in Year 12.

The comparable figure for boys was 38 per cent. Girls from better-off families participated in Year 12 maths and science courses at a rate of 20 per cent - twice tiie rate of their counterparts from working class families.

"In other words, a working classs boy who scores high on a numeracy test at age 10 is four times as likely to undertake maths and science in Year 12 than his sister of equal ability."

The study, Subject choice in Senior Secondary School was commissioned by the Department of Employment, Education and Training.

"The figures clearly show that more than 90 per cent of the working class girls who have the ability to study maths and science - which are frequently pre­ requisites for high-status training and university courses- but are not doing so.

'This is clearly unacceptable.

"While we have been very successful in getting girls and students from less well-off backgrounds, who have traditionally been under-represented in senior high school, to complete the full 12 years of schooling, we clearly must now make more of an effort to ensure that now those people are in the system, they have full access to the opportunities it offers."



Mr Dawkins said that available data indicated that family background, and not individual talent or ability, still plays a key role in influencing a student's subject choice and subsequent career options.

"This type of research shows there is still a strong policy imperative for governments to develop programs which counter the effect that a young person's family background has on their schqol subject choices, and indeed, on their future lives."

Mr Dawkins said it was also high time that individual schools recognised the influence they have on a student's subject choice, performance and life opportunities.

He said recent research in Melbourne revealed that government and Catholic schools drawing students from the same area presented drastic variations in subject choice, retention rates and performance.

"Obviously, the organisation, leadership, teacher effectiveness, parent and community participation and management of a school has considerable impact on a student and the way in which she or he performs."

Mr Dawkins said a search for effective practice and best organisation in Australia' schools was now well underway through the Federal Government's Good Schools Strategy, announced in this year's March Statement

Mr Dawkins said that the upcoming Special Premiers Conference may provide governments with a golden opportunity to develop new cooperative arrangements to achieve equity objectives in schools.

"While the Federal Government has actively been involved in special equity programs to help break down barriers for poorer students and students who suffer a personal disability or face geographic isolation, State and Territory governments and especially individual schools, can and must do more."

"During the 1980s we saw a major shift in how Australians viewed education and training and this shift in attitudes translated into a massive increase in participation.

'The task during the 90s will be to make the content and the delivery of education more exciting, challenging and relevant to student needs."

October 3,1991

Participation Rates 40 t

Participation Rates in Year 12 Maths-Science Courses: Impact of Socio-economic Status and Numeracy Achievement

I Low Numeracy

I I High Numeracy

Low High Low High ,

Socio­ Socio­ Socio­ Socio­

economic economic economic economic

Status MALES Status Status FEMALES status . . . .

For example: from the first bar, close to 15 per cent of males from low socio-economic backgrounds assessed as having low numeracy skills at age 10 were participating in Year 12 Maths or Science courses.