The creeping trend polarising our schools

by Brett Henebery21 Jan 2016

In urban neighbourhoods, a certain trend is increasing property prices and displacing lower-income families, as well as small businesses.

It has a name – gentrification – and some people believe it is having a negative impact on our nation’s schools. 

According to Dr Christina Ho from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), gentrification is driving a wedge between school communities and, in the process, creating more inequity.

Ho told The Educator that from her interviews with principals, they are “all too aware” of the impact of gentrification on local schools, but find that navigating this issue can be complex.

“Some of them stated explicitly to us that it was disappointing to see certain families choosing one school over another, sometimes by-passing their local school. Obviously there are resourcing and funding implications of school enrolment numbers, which educators are well aware of,” she said.

“In terms of divisions within school communities, these might be harder for educators to discern, as they are sometimes about the subtleties of who socialises with whom, whose voices are heard the loudest within schools, and so on.”

So can educators combat the negative impact that gentrification is having within their schools?

Ho said principals could benefit from a more thorough understanding of the broader demographic changes in their local area, to examine how these might flow through into day-to-day social relations within schools. 

Ho said that in her research, her team was struck by the response of one school principal, who was “acutely aware” of the effects that gentrification was having in her school.

“Her approach was to welcome the new middle-class Anglo-Australian families, while also ensuring that their voices did not drown out those of the longer-term families, who tended to be from lower socio-economic, migrant backgrounds,” she explained.

“For example, while the wealthier Anglo parents had become very vocal in the school, in the P&C especially, the principal went out of her way to also consult with other parents, who were not necessarily the most outspoken.

“She told us she was determined to maintain the school's ethos of multiculturalism and inclusion in the face of gentrification.”

Looking forward, Ho sees this trend continuing into the future, partly because of the pace of gentrification, the extreme inflation of Sydney property prices, and because segregation and division “are products of public policies of school choice”.

“When parents are encouraged to 'shop around' for schools, we create a marketplace where schools are forced to be in competition with each other,” she said, adding that Government policy had led to the creation of “greater hierarchies” among schools, as they try to differentiate themselves from their competition.

“This is epitomised in gifted and talented programs, opportunity classes, selective streams and so on. All of these factors lead to greater division and segregation in our education system.”
 
 

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