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How To Promote Equity in Educational Leadership

26 October 2022

Equity in education focuses on making education fairly accessible to all, but it recognises that making all things equal isn’t necessarily fair for all students. Leadership focused on equity begins with considering student data and discussing what resources are available, what outcomes are desired and how to best serve school children.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), equity in schools is essential for helping students with social mobility. The OECD’s data suggests that reducing gaps linked to socioeconomic status may boost upward social mobility. Focusing on what you can do to make a more equal and equitable environment for students is the key to improving outcomes. A Master of Education with SCU Online can help you transform schools into equitable centres of learning.

Understanding equity vs. equality in education

Equity and equality in education are related, but not necessarily the same. Equality in the Australian education system means providing equal learning opportunities to all students, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll have equal outcomes.

That’s where equity plays a role. Equity means that even with all other things made equal, some students may need additional support while others may need less to achieve the same academic outcomes. Recognising students’ needs and actively focusing on equity and inclusion are the only ways to encourage and support an equal playing field in the Australian education system.

Furthermore, it’s necessary to remember that educational equity has a direct impact on social mobility. The OECD’s report found that some education policies and practices do encourage equity and thus also social mobility among students. With the growing increase in income inequality in the country, it’s even more important that equity is at the forefront as leaders develop their classrooms and work within their school systems.

Defining social mobility

Social mobility refers to a change in socioeconomic status in an individual’s lifetime. The background and education of the parents determine their child’s initial socioeconomic status, for example, but the child may be able to change that status.

Students born into socioeconomically disadvantaged families may be able to move into a higher economic status as adults if they receive the right education and have equal access to learning tools throughout their younger years.

How educational equity plays a role in students’ futures

Equity in education is a complex concept that takes numerous forms depending on the students, the school program and other factors. Ensuring equity falls to not only teachers but also administrators, parents, policymakers and others.

An educational system that caters to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds must foster an environment in which all students can develop their educational experience with equal exposure to the tools they need. That’s not to say that all students will learn equally or receive the exact same support, because some may require additional resources to reach their educational goals.

Examples of equity in education

Many examples of equity in education exist. Here are three.

1. Adapting teaching styles

Adapting teaching strategies that are accessible to all students is part of facilitating educational equity. One example of this is by using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. UDL emphasises an inclusive, collaborative learning environment that works for students of all abilities and backgrounds. UDL also has a set of guidelines that educators and other stakeholders can use to improve teaching strategies and break down barriers to equitable learning. These guidelines are meant to provide avenues to:

  • Engagement. Educators can give students tools and options for increasing interest, upkeeping effort and persistence and promoting self-management to encourage learners that are motivated and purposeful.  
  • Representation. Educators can provide different options for learning materials, languages and symbols and comprehension types to encourage learners that are knowledgeable and resourceful.
  • Action and Expression. Educators can offer different approaches to physical actions and responses to materials, communication and expression methods and executive processes to encourage learners that are functional and goal-oriented. 

2. Varied educational content

A second example of equity in education is the practice of giving examples to students that reflect their own races or communities. It’s essential to be sure that classroom lessons are inclusive and account for a diverse set of experiences. Showing students different races and cultures, for example, can help those of different backgrounds feel centred within their classrooms.

3. Fairness and inclusion

Fairness and inclusion are the two main goals of an equitable classroom. On a larger scale, ensuring all schools have fair access to the materials they need to teach students from all backgrounds is an integral step towards equity in education. 

Inclusive education aims to ensure that all students have a positive learning experience and education that prepares them for a quality life as an adult. Inclusion has to be a focus during all aspects of school life.

Leaders in education must provide the context in which a school will become more inclusive to make this possible. Ways to do this include the following:

  • Adopting school-wide community-building approaches
  • Purposefully building community within a classroom all throughout the year
  • Encouraging and enhancing a sense of belonging among staff members, families and students
  • Working with stakeholders to improve the value of schooling for all students

Principals, in particular, should establish a requirement for inclusion in the schools. JFA Purple Orange reported to Inclusive School Communities that when principals commit to inclusion, that commitment flows down to the parents, students, staff and all other members of the school community.

What is educational leadership?

Educational leadership is what ensures that students can achieve academic success through material, process and training improvements. This is a collaborative role, and those who may work together to improve students’ experiences include the following:

  • Parents
  • Educators
  • Public policymakers
  • The public
  • Students

When approaching educational leadership from a business standpoint, it’s a basic form of management and quality control required to ensure that schools can continue to provide the education that they should to all students.

Leadership’s role in educational equity

It’s leadership’s responsibility to combat inequities and create more equitable education systems. Teachers, administrative staff, the public and others need to work together to identify inequities and find ways to bring supportive education to both advantaged and disadvantaged students.

Educational leadership may be the difference between children learning equally verses being treated equitably. In fact, it’s educational leadership that’ll need to make high-level decisions regarding educational policies and their deliveries.

Good leaders:

  • Build connections between schools and their communities
  • Positively foster diversity
  • Teach and inform staff members of the school’s inclusion principles
  • Provide resources for collaborative planning
  • Provide consistent, clear communication to staff members on how to use inclusive education practices
  • Support professional development that builds staff members’ confidence when engaging with students

Other actions can also help students, faculty members and others in the community. According to Inclusive Schools Network, inclusive schools must take critical leadership actions, including the following:

  • Making step-by-step forms for students on individualised education plans (IEP) with staff before the school year
  • Creating a schedule of personal and instructional supports for each school year
  • Ensuring that special education staff members are assigned by year or department rather than establishing a program team
  • Focusing on full inclusion of special education students in general education classrooms

These and other actions do help establish a more inclusive, diverse environment in schools and benefit everyone.

Why is equity in education important?

Leaders need to focus on equity in education to make a more level playing field for students of all backgrounds for many reasons. Here are three reasons that outline the importance of equity in education.

  • Social status is linked to educational success in Australia. In fact, around 12 per cent of the disparity in science performance results for PISA 2015 were linked to differences in the students’ socioeconomic status. Additionally, when disadvantaged children were able to attend advantaged schools, they scored 86 points higher (equivalent to three years of school) compared with their peers in disadvantaged schools.
  • Greater racial justice in school systems exists when equity-driven leadership is present. Equity-driven programs integrate history; address power dynamics; and focus on co-creating within the school system to improve outcomes for all students, regardless of background.
  • Better equity may increase the likelihood of working a skilled job requiring tertiary education. One study from the OECD found that students scoring in the top quarter of reading performance at the age of 15 were 34 per cent more likely to get a skilled job before the age of 25. The difference in reading performance may be directly linked to the variance between skilled and unskilled employment rates.

How to promote equity in the classroom or school

Schools and classrooms can use policies and practices to provide more equal opportunities for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Below are three changes that can improve equity in the classroom and boost the quality of education for all students.

1. Better access to early childhood education and care

One of the first ways to increase the opportunities for disadvantaged students is by promoting greater access to early childhood education and care. Programs offered to all students may provide more equitable educational environments while allowing them to gain important emotional and social skills in a protected setting.

2. Monitor the progress of disadvantaged students

Setting ambitious goals for students, along with monitoring their progress, is another way to improve equality in school settings. Disadvantaged students may require additional support or resources, which should be provided as needed.

By encouraging teachers and parents to identify students’ needs, the support they receive may be more tailored to their overall learning objectives. Teachers who monitor students may be better able to identify areas in which students need additional support and may develop better communication with the parents. Parents, as well, should be encouraged to play a more active role in their children's education.

3. Build better communication between parents, teachers and schools

Parents, teachers and schools must work together to foster students’ wellbeing. Educational facilities should provide positive learning environments and emphasise how important it is to use the correct learning strategies. That may mean encouraging peer-mentoring strategies or simply addressing individual students’ needs when seeing an area in which they’re lacking.

Educational equity starts with educational leadership

Gaining specialised knowledge about effective school leadership can help teachers and administrators promote equity in education. This starts by addressing how educational leaders can prepare their staff members for contemporary educational methods and concepts that can facilitate inclusive and equitable learning.

SCU Online’s Master of Education offers three specialisations that can facilitate educational advancement: Educational Leadership, Educational Wellbeing and Educational Inclusion and Diversity. Find out how SCU Online can help you become a leader that drives equitable education.