Since we first began to explore the disparity in results and opportunities between regional and metropolitan students, the consistent message from students and educators is that regional schools tend to be under-resourced. From the student’s perspective, there are fewer teachers to support students outside of allocated classes and there is a lack of the external support services so readily available to students in major cities. Through conversations with regional schools and students, this seems to translate into two key issues for students.
Firstly, many teachers are teaching up to four VCE subjects each year, preventing these educators from attaining expert knowledge in one or two subjects. This compares unfavourably with their peers in Melbourne who can specialise in their preferred VCE subjects without the pressure to fill shortages. Secondly, many VCE teachers are the only ones delivering their subject at their school, meaning that with limited accessibility to external tutors, an entire class of students are relying on a single teacher for the extensive support all VCE subjects require for optimal learning and engagement.
Moreover, these issues are compounded by a lack of study resources available to students. Regional and rural schools often do not have access to expensive practice exam materials that are unfailingly bought by high-performing metropolitan schools with bigger budgets. This means that, apart from past VCE exam papers, regional VCE students are unable to practice using exam-style questions – one of the most effective revision methods practised by all high-performing schools, and one that is available for all students from metropolitan schools that have the financial means to invest in these educational resources. It comes as no surprise that one of our most successful students last year (who has since registered as a RESN tutor) provided this feedback to us: “From my experience the true limiting factor for kids like myself who really want to do well but are burdened with the unfortunate status of a rural location is access to resources. Just finding practice exams is ridiculously difficult.”
The lack of educational support for regional students leads to lower motivation amongst these students. School attendance is one measure of student engagement and is defined as the number of days absent from school each year. On average, secondary school students in some regional areas are absent for one and a half more weeks than their metropolitan counterparts which means that regional and rural students tend to receive less classroom learning time than metropolitan students1. Lower student engagement translates to lower completion rates in Year 12, and fewer opportunities for students outside of schools. In some regional areas, 15% fewer students completed either their VCE or VCAL1.
The extent of these problems in access to education support and motivation are demonstrated by quantitative evidence. The VCE results of more than 60 per cent of state high schools and almost 50 per cent of non-government schools in regional and rural Victoria have deteriorated over the past decade. During this period, the performance of metropolitan schools has remained stable2. This is highlighted in Victoria’s VCE results in 2019; of the 70 lowest performing Victorian schools, 63 were regional (when assessed according to the percentage of study scores above 40). While VCE scores are only one indicator of student and school performance, they are directly linked to university entrance, impinging on career opportunities. A student with a low ATAR is unable to access a sizeable proportion of university degrees by default due to their score which necessarily limits the pathways open to them. While this may not be an issue for a well-informed and motivated student who is confident that their future pathways do not involve university, it is reasonable to assume that many low-scoring students would benefit from the opportunity to choose from a greater variety of study and career options which include university.
Teachers and school coordinators at regional schools have stressed the need for academic online support, maintaining that RESN’s provision of online tutoring for students provides a "great opportunity for regional students who may not have access to these types of services" (Sharon Hill, VCE Co-ordinator, Seymour College) and that it offers a "completely different insight for students" (Phil Smith, VCE Coordinator, Euroa College).
Finally, the feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive, with over 900 pieces of individual feedback received from students. While many are short thank-you messages, the more descriptive comments describe that "it’s really hard studying in the country and this website helps heaps" (Mercy Regional College student) and RESN is "by far the most invaluable resource to me" (Yea High School student).