The latest report on Australia’s results in PISA 2015 shows huge disparities in shortages of educational staff and physical resources between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in Australia. It is more evidence of the need to improve the resourcing of disadvantaged schools and increase learning opportunities for their students.
The percentage of students in low socio-economic status (SES) schools facing shortages of teaching staff and inadequate or poorly qualified staff is six times that of students in high SES schools. About one-third of students in low SES schools face shortages in teaching staff and poorly qualified staff compared to only 6% and 5%, respectively, of students in high SES schools [see Chart 1 below]. There are also large differences between the percentage of students in low SES schools and high SES schools facing shortages of assisting staff and poorly qualified assisting staff.
Similarly, the percentage of students in low SES schools facing a shortage of educational materials is six times that of students in high SES schools while the percentage in low SES schools with inadequate or poor quality educational materials is seven times that of students in high SES schools. Nearly one-quarter of students in low SES schools face shortages in educational materials and poor quality educational materials compared to only 4% and 3%, respectively, of students in high SES schools [Chart 2].
These disparities are scandalous. Shortages of teaching staff and inadequate or poorly quality staff in low SES schools together with a lack of educational materials or poor quality materials restrict learning opportunities for students. They are factors contributing to the large proportion of low SES students not achieving expected standards and the large achievement gaps between low and high SES students. About one-third of low SES students were below the international reading, mathematics and science standards in 2015 and low SES students were about three years of learning behind high SES students.
The report also shows significant differences in the physical infrastructure of low and high SES schools. About one-third students in low SES schools face a lack of adequate buildings and grounds and heating and cooling and poor quality infrastructure compared to 14% and 12%, respectivley, in high SES schools.
The relationship between physical infrastructure and student achievement is weaker than in the cases of teaching staff and educational materials, but it is a factor affecting the morale of students and teachers. The quality of the physical infrastructure of schools is also a factor that influences parent choice of schools. Poor quality infrastructure tends to discourage middle and high SES parents from choosing a school.
The evidence from PISA 2015 is that disadvantaged students in Australia are being denied equal opportunities to learn because they have less access to qualified teachers and material resources than advantaged students. Other data from PISA 2015 shows that these gaps are among the largest in the world.
Disadvantaged students are being discriminated against by governments failing to provide them with adequate human and material resources to support their learning. This has to change.
The Gonski funding model was designed to redress the inequity in resources between disadvantaged and advantaged schools. Its sabotage by the Abbott and Turnbull Governments and the cuts to public school funding by many state/territory governments will mean continuing disadvantage and social inequity in education in Australia. The forthcoming meeting of the national education ministers’ council must ensure future funding arrangements that support increased resources for disadvantaged schools.