Choice of school has greater influence on results than child’s background

According to a study carried out by the Catholic University of Leuven (KUL), the school a child attends has a far greater influences on his or her academic success than his or her background. The study reveals that children from disadvantaged backgrounds perform much better in schools with a large number of pupils from more privileged backgrounds than they do in schools where most children are disadvantaged. 

The researchers base there assertion on an analysis of the Flemish Education Department’s Equal Opportunities in Education Policy (GOK).   

They concluded that despite efforts to achieve a greater social mix, it is still the case that far too many disadvantaged children end up being educated together in the same schools.   

GOK, under which schools are given extra funding if they have pupils enrolled with specific characteristics, for example children from a socially disadvantaged background or whose mother has poor academic attainment or speaks another language than Dutch, was introduced in 2002. The researchers wanted to see if the extra funding has served to bridge the academic gap between children from disadvantaged and more privileged background. They found that this has not entirely been the case.    

KUL’s Ides Nicaise told VRT News that since 2002 the gap has narrowed by around 25%, but it remains extremely large. He bases his assertion on the doctoral thesis carried out by his student Emilie Franck into the results attained by Flemish 15-year-olds in the international PISA test for maths and reading between 2003 and 2015. 

Should the extra funding be shelved?

Professor Nicaise doesn’t believe the GOK funding should be shelved. On the contrary he thinks that it should be improved, not least because it is not as evenly distributed as had been intended at its inception in 2002. Recently it was realised that in schools with high concentration of disadvantaged children it is more difficult to attract and retain suitably qualified staff. This has an influence on funding as this is given accorded to the number of hours taught.  

Furthermore, “the current extra funding is insufficient to  compensate for this”.

Professor Nicaise believes that schools should be given better guidance when using the extra funding that they have been given for disadvantaged children.    

Professor Nicaise believes that extra funding alone will not remedy the inequality within education. “Flanders is almost the world champion when it comes to the number of children that have to re-sit their year, while we know that this doesn’t make so much difference”. .  

He also believes that the fact that children in Flemish education are forced to choice a particular academic path far too early and that this has an impact on their results. Professor Nicaise calls for changes to be made to the education system in order to ensure that the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers from better off backgrounds can be narrowed.  

“Policy for equality in education must remain a priority”

The Flemish Education Minister Hilde Crevits (Christian democrat) told VRT News that policies to promote equal opportunities in education should remain a priority”.

Part of this is a thorough modernisation of secondary education that Ms Crevits believes will create a greater number of schools that offer their pupils “a great deal of opportunities”.

"This will allow us to let all pupils shine, regardless of where they live or where they go to school”.

The Education Minister also stresses the importance of Dutch in the school environment.