Sep 24



These selected papers and reports cover social justice issues in schooling and society, including the social and cultural relationships between public and private schools and within school sectors, and how government policies shape these relationships.

March 2018 — Barbara Preston, Submission to the National Schools Resourcing Board Review of the socio-economic status score methodology, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra.

In this submission I returned to the argument that I have made many times since the introduction of the socio-economic status (SES) score methodology for allocating “needs-based” federal funds to private schools: that using an area-based measure to estimate students’ (and thus schools’) socio-economic status involves an ecological fallacy and is quite inappropriate. To support my argument I drew on two major sources: Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data on students’ family income by type of school attended by the ABS SocioEconomic Index for Areas (SEIFA) of students’ home locality, and, for a number of individual schools, a comparison between their ICSEA (Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage) scores on the My School website between 2009 (when the score was area-based) and 2010 (when the score was largely based on information from individual students’ parents).

February 2018 – Barbara Preston, The social make-up of schools: Family income, Indigenous status, family type, religion, languages spoken, disability, home internet access, housing tenure, and geographic mobility of students in public, Catholic and independent schools, a report prepared for the Australian Education Union, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra

This report is largely based on Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census data, and follows earlier analyses of the 2001, 2006 and 2011 censuses. In it I examined the social make-up of the public and two private school sectors (Catholic and independent) according to students’ family income, Indigenous status, family type (single parent), religion (Catholic and Islamic), languages spoken (and English proficiency), disability, home internet access, housing tenure, and geographic mobility. Most analyses incorporate family income, and some include additional factors. For example,  Indigenous students at all family income levels were around four times as likely as other students not to have access to the internet at home. In addition to circumstances in 2016, I investigate changes over recent years and since 1976 – a time of important turning points in Australian schooling. The report includes data from the National Schools Statistics Collection (published by ABS in the Schools Australia series), and there is a detailed analysis of differences between statistics for 2016 in the NSSC and the Census for all students and for Indigenous students (for whom there are some substantial and intriguing differences).

April 2017 – Barbara Preston, ‘Perverse outcomes of national policy decisions intended to promote equality of opportunity: The Australian experience’, a paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, 27 April – 1 May 2017, San Antonio Texas

In this paper I investigated and explained (for an American audience) the origins of the entrenched inequalities in the contemporary Australian schooling system and show how the system has developed, especially since the 1970s “settlement” that created the framework for the current programs for funding private at rates that are exceedingly generous by international standards while allowing the autonomy of the private sectors. The debates and political forces that led to the 1970s settlement and subsequent developments are discussed in some detail.  The paper investigates the contradictions and powerful unintended consequences of the settlement. Over the decades the public funding, enrolment shares and relative SES of the private sectors have burgeoned, and,  within both the public and private sectors, schools have become more differentiated by SES, ethnicity, public esteem and resources.

17 July 2014 – Barbara Preston, ‘State school kids do better at uni’, The Conversation.

In this short article I summarised research from Australia and England on the relationships between students’ type of secondary school attended (public or private; selective or comprehensive; single sex or co-educational) and success at university when tertiary entrance scores are controlled. The common finding was that students from public, comprehensive and coeducational schools generally did better at university, and I discussed some of the many possible explanations. The article was widely debated and shared – there were numerous media reports and republications, more than 160,000 reads, and more than 36,000 Facebook shares.

May 2013 – Barbara Preston, The social make-up of schools:Family income, Indigenous status, family type, religion and broadband access of students in government, Catholic and other nongovernment schools, a report prepared for the Australian Education Union, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra

In this report I analysed Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011 Census data for school students by the type of school attended (public, Catholic private, or independent private), by family income, Indigenous status, family type, religion and broadband access, for primary and secondary levels in all states and territories. The report provides evidence to support the recommendations of the Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling, and documents the continuing residualisation of public schooling in Australia.

August 2011 – Barbara Preston, School enrolment shares by sector in the Australian Capital Territory, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra

This investigation into the reasons for the shares of enrolments in the ACT between the public, Catholic and independent private school sectors was prompted by media reports when the public sector became less than 50% at the years 7 to 10 (high school) level in 2011. The reasons include the history and pace of development in the ACT, religion and income, urbanisation, patterns of urban planning, and the structure of schooling in the ACT.

April 2011 – Barbara Preston, Submission to the Review of Funding for Schooling, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra

My submission to the Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling covers a broad range of matters in this ‘wicked’ policy area, including the historical relationships between public and private schooling going back to the attempts of Frank Tate, Victorian director general of education in the early 1900s, to establish public secondary schooling in face of powerful opposition from private schooling interests.

November 2010 – Barbara Preston, Red mud sticks and stains: The biases of the Index of Socio-Educational Advantage, a presentation to the Australian Association for Research in Education annual conference, Melbourne, 28 November to 1 December

This polemical presentation was part of a symposium on the Australian Government-initiated My School website. In it I develop the theme of the March 2010 Notes on the ecological fallacy (see below), and use 2006 Census data to illustrate the way area-based indexes of socio-educational disadvantage for comparisons between schools are systematically biased against public schools. I also discuss the bias in similar inter-school comparisons against comprehensive schools that both lose high-achieving students to selective schools and enroll those who are not high-achieving who would have attended a particular selective school if it had not been selective.

March 2010 – Barbara Preston, Notes on the ecological fallacy and area-based indexes of disadvantage applied to schooling in Australia, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra

This short paper was widely circulated in early 2010 and was influential in the developing critique of the method then being used to determine the socio-economic status of schools on the My School website.

October 2008 – Barbara Preston, Civic heritage and schooling, a presentation to the Independent Scholars Association of Australia annual conference, Canberra, 16-17 October 2008

A broad sweep of conceptual and theoretical approaches to a diversity of issues in schools structures, policies and practices are considered in this analysis of public schooling as civic heritage.

1993 – Barbara Preston, Privatising public schooling: its causes and consequences, in Jill Blackmore & Jane Kenway (eds) 1993, Gender Matters in Educational Administration and Policy, Deakin Studies in Education Series 11, The Falmer Press, pp. 146-156

This chapter places the privatisation of Australian schooling in a historical, social and political context, shows how it inter-relates with general attitudes to the role of government, and makes clear that the privatisation of schooling is a feminist issue. The book’s editors wrote in their introductory comments: ‘Barbara Preston’s chapter on the social wage, and universal versus residual social services … points to the positive and negative ways in which the state may participate in the structuring of wages and in the provision of social services. Her discussion of universal social services is an important contribution to the public/private education debate and offers a set of principles which affirm and enhance the case for public education at both the school and tertiary level. However, the implications of her chapter go beyond the matter of education … [with a] strong case for universal social services… Barbara’s paper alerts us to the importance for feminism of an engagement with policy issues which may, at first glance, not directly appear as “women’s issues”.’ (p. 12) The chapter is based on a presentation to the national conference, ‘Gender issues in the theory and practice of educational administration and policy’, Deakin University, Victoria, November 1987.

May 1984 – Barbara Preston, Residualisation: What’s that? in The Australian Teacher,No. 8, May 1984, pp. 5,6 & 15

In this short article in the Australian Education Union’s journal, The Australian Teacher, I introduced the notion of ‘residualisation’ to the policy debate around schooling.



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