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Maintaining the difference: The disadvantaged schools program and its implementation in a Western Australian high school

Watt, Margaret Wendy (1989) Maintaining the difference: The disadvantaged schools program and its implementation in a Western Australian high school. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis is about the Disadvantaged Schools Program of the Australian Government's Schools Commission. It operates on two levels: the general rationale and objectives of the Program, and a case study of its implementation in a Western Australian High School.

The Program was set up primarily as an attempt to improve the schooling, and hence the life chances, of disadvantaged children. The research was undertaken on the assumption that the most obvious connection between schooling and life chances in Australian society concerns the gaining of educational credentials needed for access to jobs and further education. Therefore improving the life chances of disadvantaged children through schooling must amount primarily to helping them gain those credentials. The central question addressed in this research is whether the D.S.P. as implemented in that school achieved this goal.

The central conclusion is that the Program activities over the period did not lead to improved scholastic attainment, and, further, that they were not designed to do so. Two related explanations are offered for this. The first is a lack of clear direction in the guidelines provided by the Schools Commission. The second concerns the freedom given to the staff, under the Commission's implementation policy, to determine the direction of the school's goals. The staff were found to have used this freedom to modify the school's curriculum in ways that tended to reduce students' opportunities to gain educational credentials. This was related to generally held beliefs about the students' limited capacity to gain those credentials.

The researcher had a participant status as a member of the school's staff and a resident of its neighbourhood. The approach to gathering and analysing data varied according to the nature of the material. National D.S.P. policy was examined through an analysis of Schools Commission documents. Data about the case study school was obtained in a variety of ways: examination of documentary records held in and out of the school, and observation and interviewing within the school.

The significance of this study goes beyond the apparent failure of the Commission's reform initiative to improve the life chances of the students in that school at that time. The conclusions point to the obstacles in the way of any attempt through schooling to improve the position of the least privileged groups in the class structured Australian society. The obstacles highlighted are those which arise from the class-based ideology of teachers, who must be responsible for the implementation of any such liberal educational reform.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
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Supervisor(s): UNSPECIFIED
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