The effects of low socioeconomic status on students learning outcomes

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Socioeconomic status is one of the key factors influencing student learning outcomes. Firstly to understand the reasons why socio economics status effects student achievement, it must be first defined. Many researches have defined socioeconomic status in many different ways however for the purpose of this paper I will be using the definition by Chapman and Ryan (2005, pp 497-498); "In Australia socioeconomic status is measured on wealth defined by home postal address, family wealth, personal assets and parents educational background". However this is ambiguous as it does not take into account other variables such as actual home ownership, alternative postcode residence, full ownership of home and assets, share portfolios, family inheritance monetary liquid funds and personal choice. Cary (2011) states that there are two main reasons why socioeconomic status influences students outcomes. This includes both educational and socio cultural reasons. Based on the literature this paper will examine these factors and how they play a major role in influencing students learning outcome in schools.

Does student's home postal address, family wealth, personal assets and parent's educational background have an effect on student learning outcomes? The answer to this question is quite unclear. This is because we have to take into account that not all people who reside in a low socioeconomic area are working class people. For example some people may choose to live in a low socioeconomic area but are actually middle class families. However it does influence students learning because social class and socioeconomic status are correlated. We cannot say however that all students living in a low socioeconomic area are of working class however the literature argues that majority of students who live in low socioeconomic areas do not do as well in school than students from a higher socioeconomic area.

With that in mind, the first educational reason to why socioeconomic status may influence student learning is that of funding inequalities. There has been a massive debate as to whether increased funding in schools actually improves student outcomes. The study reported by Ryan and Watson (2004) concluded that increased government funding for private schools have been used to improve quality of learning experiences of students which was measured by improved student teachers ratios. This means that there was a huge shift of parents sending their children from public schools to private schools. This shows the inequality of funding within government and private sectors.

For further examination of this factor, in the 2011 Australian Education Union Schools funding submission, it discusses how funding within schools have an effect on student learning outcomes. The widening gaps between schools as proven by the growing inequity in learning outcomes and social isolation between schools and students are a direct result of funding arrangements which have conveyed increasing amounts of funding to private schools over the last several decades, with huge surges to the wealthier private schools rather than schools with numerous disadvantaged students, which is mostly public schools (Australian Education Union, 2011). Therefore the research indicates that students who are from low socioeconomic backgrounds usually attend public schools and students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds attend private schools. We cannot say however that all students in public will not do well in school but there is evidence to suggest that funding inequalities between the private and government sector produces a large achievement gap between students from low SES and high SES backgrounds.

Teacher expectation is another educational reason. Sadly many teachers in schools today lower their expectations of students based on their socioeconomic status. They automatically assume that students who have low socioeconomic status won't do well in school because many are absent from school or have behavioural problems. This can be closely linked to student's home life. Comber (1997) argues that teachers continue to hold deficit views of some students. That is, some teachers hold lower expectations for students from low socio-economic backgrounds, believing that these students have less learning potential than their more advantaged peers, or that background factors will necessarily delay their learning (Ruge, 1999). Teachers need to be mindful about student's backgrounds and respect and understand class differences. They should not automatically have a stereotypical view because this can affect their teaching which will have an effect on student's learning. Rather teachers need to create positive and welcoming classroom environments for both students and parents.

There are also socio cultural reasons as to why SES influences student outcomes. The first reason is student's home environment. Students who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds are usually said to be disadvantaged. These disadvantages are "generally associated with factors such as low-quality living environments, mobility, family unemployment or underemployment, lack of access to resources that encourage learning such as books and pre-school programs and poor health and social discrimination" (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2006, p 1). These circumstances are linked with "poor attendance, lower retention rates, less readiness for schooling and poorer average outcomes at school" (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2006, p 1).

The department of education and early childhood development also talks about the reasons why students from low socioeconomic backgrounds often have less successful outcomes. One outcome they focus on is literacy and numeracy. Research shows that students who come from low SES families commonly don't do as well in literacy and numeracy. They may come to school less organised and come from a family who don't necessarily take much interest in their schooling or may not have time due to work commitments (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2006). Therefore all of these factors play a role in determining how well students do in school.

Another factor which influences student outcome is parent educational background. Eagle (1989) argued that parental involvement in education is less frequent in families with low SES. Parental education has been said to have been closely linked to students learning outcomes. A low SES household may not provide children with experiences which will help them with verbal and written language for example reading to them and also numeracy which will assist them with their learning (Centre for Community Child Heath, 2002).

Furthermore Baker and Stevenson (1986) suggest that overall; parents from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to be involved in schooling than parents of lower socioeconomic status. A higher education level of parents is positively associated with a greater tendency for them to advocate for their children's placement in higher education courses and actively manage their children's education (Baker & Stevenson, 1986). Whereas, parents from lower socioeconomic backgrounds face many more barriers to involvement, including work situations, lack of resources, transportation difficulties, and stress due to living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. All these aspects need to be taken into account especially when evaluating student learning outcomes.

Also from a socio cultural point of view mismatch between school and family can have an effect on student learning. This may include language, values and certain behaviours. This can generally alienate children and lead to lower self esteem and motivation (Carey, 2011); however this varies with each child. Many problems which students from low socioeconomic backgrounds face are usually because what the students learn in the classroom does not relate to their experiences outside of school. Students who are more privileged obtain learning approaches which come naturally to them because of their normal everyday involvements. (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2006). Students from low socio-economic backgrounds often don't get this opportunity.

Moreover statistics have shown that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds do not always reach their full potential in their learning. The Erebus Report conducted by the New South Wales Department of Education in 2005 compares findings and statistics of students learning outcomes who come from a low socioeconomic background and students from a high socioeconomic background. One example they give is reading comprehension and mathematics. The findings revealed that within the same school, a student who comes from a higher socio-economic group will achieve better test results than a student from a lower socio-economic group (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2005). It also provides comparisons between both high and low SES with student's absences from school and the study showed that students with low SES had higher number of days absent from school (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2005). This could also be a reason why students are not reaching their full potential.

Ainley (2003) discusses further analyses of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth data in terms of the factors that impact on Equivalent Tertiary Entrance Ranks. Ainley (2003) found that the third most important influence on tertiary entrance performance was student's socioeconomic background which was measured by parental education, wealth and occupational status. Students, whose parents are professionals, achieve higher tertiary entrance scores. The other two former variables were student's prior performance and school attended however it is not difficult to see that socioeconomic factors also impact these variables (Ainley, 2003).

In conclusion this paper has argued based on the literature that students from low socioeconomic are disadvantaged in aspects of their learning due to certain factors influencing these outcomes. These factors include both educational and socio cultural reasons. Whereas research has shown that students from higher socioeconomic are inclined to do well in school because they have the appropriate funds to support student learning. It is the schools obligation to appreciate these situations and the influences it may have on students learning and students enthusiastic approach to remain learning and to address these issues accordingly (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2006).


Ainley, J. (2003). Early literacy and numeracy achievement influences ENTER scores. ACER Research Highlights, 2003, p. 8-9.

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Baker, D.P., & Stevenson, D.L. (1986). Mothers' strategies for children's school achievement: Managing the transition to high school. Sociology of Education, 59, 156-166.

Cary, L. (2011). Social Class and Education. EDU231 Schools in context lecture. Murdoch University. Perth: WA.

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Chapman, B. & Ryan, C. (2005). The access implications of income-contingent charges for higher education: lessons from Australia. Economics of Education Review 24. Science Direct. National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia. (pp.491-512).

Comber, B. (1997). Literacy, poverty and schooling: Working against deficit equations. English in Australia.

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. (2006). Understanding the Needs of Students from Low Socio-Economic Backgrounds. Retrieved on 20 February 2011 from

Eagle, E. (1989). Socioeconomic status, family structure and parental involvement: the correlates of achievement. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED307 332).

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Ruge, J. (1999). Raising expectations: Achieving quality education for all. Retrieved on 31 March 2011 from content/uploads/psp/file/Raising_Expectations.pdf

Ryan, C & Watson, L. (2004). The Drift Towards Private Schools in Australia: Understanding its features. Discussion paper No. 479. Centre for Economic Policy and Research, The Australian National University.