Excellence for students from low socio-economic backgrounds

If we are able to reduce or eliminate the outcome gap between low socio-economic status and high socio-economic status students, we can reduce the strength of the cycle of disadvantage in Australia by between one-quarter and two-fifths. Learning Curve Issue 12: Income Mobility in Australia - CESE 2016

Image: Working together for improvement in every school

Policy and context

Our Strategic Plan 2018-2023 identifies equity as a core value and reducing the impact of disadvantage as a core goal. We are committed to meeting the additional learning needs of students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Understanding students from low socio-economic backgrounds

Students from low socio-economic backgrounds often face additional educational challenges. These challenges may adversely affect students’:

  • rates of school attendance
  • levels of educational achievement
  • expectations of their abilities
  • levels of engagement
  • performance in literacy and numeracy
  • access to learning materials and experiences at home.

By strategically planning for and implementing effective evidence-based initiatives through your Strategic Improvement Plan (SIP), your students from low socio-economic backgrounds can demonstrate progress and achievement across the full range of learning and wellbeing outcomes. The schools funding, socio-economic background resource provides current information about the number of students in this equity group and how the data is calculated.

In 2020, over 800,000 students are enrolled in NSW public schools, and more than half are from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Know your students

Knowing your students, your parents and carers, and engaging with your community are key leadership responsibilities and are important gateways to supporting your students facing challenges.

This equity loading is provided to address the adverse effects of low socio-economic background for this targeted student population.

In your school, every student should be known, valued and cared for. Improving student outcomes requires knowledge of the complexity of each student’s needs. For example, a student from a low socio-economic background may also:

  • have high potential, be gifted or highly gifted in intellectual, creative, social-emotional or physical domains
  • identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
  • have a disability and additional learning needs.

Complexity within school environments

All schools are complex and each school has its own unique set of characteristics and challenges that impact on student wellbeing and learning.

Understanding complexity can help schools make effective planning decisions to address some specific areas of need. Identifying those factors is the first step in being able to ensure that appropriate supports are in place in the school for your students to learn and grow. Principals, and school leaders, can access additional information to inform their planning on the School Dashboard in Scout.

What the research says

Socio-economic status remains a significant determinant of educational outcomes and a range of research highlights the effect of disadvantage in Australia.

  • Students from high socio-economic backgrounds are more than twice as likely to have a strong growth mindset, that is, a belief that they can succeed if they work hard, than students from low socio-economic backgrounds. See Through Growth to Achievement - Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, April 2018.
  • The difference in achievement between students in the highest socio-economic status quartile and students in the lowest socio-economic status quartile is equivalent to around 3 years of schooling. See ACER: PISA 2018: Australian students’ performance.
  • In reading, more rapid declines were observed amongst the country’s lowest-achieving students. 24% of advantaged students in Australia, but only 6% of disadvantaged students, were top performers in reading in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018. See PISA 2018 Country Note - Australia.
  • About 90% of high-achieving advantaged students, but only about 75% of high-achieving disadvantaged students, expect to complete tertiary education. See PISA 2018 Country Note - Australia.
  • Entering a Bachelor degree was highest among Year 12 completers from the highest socio-economic status quartile at 63.9% and lowest among those from the lowest socio-economic status quartile at 37.1%. See State Of Education in NSW, 2018 – Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE).

Learn more

Find out more about School Excellence in Action.


  • Teaching and learning


  • Accessibility
  • Educational accountability
  • Educational finance
  • Health, safety and wellbeing
  • Reporting and performance
  • Rolls and attendance
  • School Excellence Framework

Business Unit:

  • School Performance – South
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