NAPLAN testing and other research shows children in Australia’s mainland capitals start Prep with a headstart that carries all the way through their school life.
The gap is pronounced by the end of high school, when rural and regional students are less likely to gain their leavers’ certificate.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show two-thirds of city dwellers have completed Year 12, but less than half of those who live in regional or remote areas.
Subsequently fewer regional students go on to higher education, while other research has shown absence rates are higher outside the cities.
Teacher unions say the country/city divide will widen unless the Federal Government makes a full commitment to the needs-based Gonski funding model for 2018 and 2019.
The landmark research study Growing Up in Australia shows kids outside the biggest cities are short-changed in their education simply because of the “tyranny of distance”.
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About 10,000 kids from all over Australia took part in the study, which showed regional and rural students were behind their city counterparts in vocabulary and numeracy testing.
However, it also showed social and emotional wellbeing measures were about the same nationwide.
Researcher Ben Edwards, of the Australian Family Institute, said the study looked at the influence geography, rather than demography, had on academic and social outcomes.
He said demographic influences — such as wealth, parental education, gender and family structure — had a major influence on education outcomes for students. But even when those factors were accounted for, distance from the big cities also affected results.
“Basically if you’re not in a major city the kids are not doing as well,” Mr Edwards said.
“Our research found small but significant and persistent differences in their cognitive development.
“We found there were differences even at four to five years of age. Even when we took into account the socio-demographics of each household … those difference still persisted, and that was the case even when we took into account aspects of the neighbourhood and the way in which parents were parenting their kids.”
The findings are backed by a study of NAPLAN results released by the Grattan Institute last month.
It found regional and rural students were disadvantaged and needed extra government support.
“The greatest difference in growth is clearly between city and country. Inner-city students make at least one to two years more progress than suburban students, and are up to two years in front of regional and rural students in some areas,” the report stated.
The Australian Education Union highlights disadvantage in regional areas as the root cause of lower educational standards in the public system.
It says a full Gonski commitment would mean an extra $2,500 of funding per non-metro student in Victoria, and an extra $1300 per student in Melbourne.
“Every child, no matter what their background or where they live deserves a high-quality education,” the AEU’s Victorian president, Meredith Peace, said.
“Victorian public schools have suffered chronic underinvestment for over a decade and as a result, there are far too many students from regional areas and low socio-economic backgrounds who are falling behind.”
But Mr Edwards said the broader social issues in regional areas did not, on their own, explain the poorer results.
“It’s not the disadvantage that’s driving these results, it’s the fact they’re outside the major cities,” he said.