There is a widespread consensus that all people should have access to the greatest possible economic and social opportunities in life. A quality school education is recognised as intrinsic to this aim, but it is not yet a universal experience in Australia. Too many young people are disengaged and under-performing at school in a way that has negative outcomes for them and for society.
Student disengagement in the middle years of schooling (years 5 to 9) is associated with low academic achievement, early leaving and poor future learning and work prospects. It is a strong predictor of lifelong socio-economic disadvantage. Worryingly, it is far more prevalent amongst students growing up in already disadvantaged families and communities. A major factor in this disengagement is student dissatisfaction with traditional pedagogy, an irrelevant curriculum and poor relationships with teachers and other students. While it cannot be the sole answer to the complex issue of entrenched disadvantage, changing the learning experience can be expected to ameliorate the effects of disadvantage and provide a way out of it. This represents a big challenge for schools. International research shows that high achievement within high poverty schools is not the norm, yet a small number of Victorian schools seem to be changing student outcomes despite the impact of disadvantage.