School Results Stagnate and High Inequity Remains

A report on Australia’s education performance released by the COAG Reform Council this week is not good news for Australian governments. It appears that all the education changes at both the Federal and state/territory levels over the last five years have had little impact. The results strengthen the case for increased funding for disadvantaged students as recommended by the Gonski Review of School Funding.

Overall student results have stagnated with little to no improvement between 2008 and 2011. Large differences remain between the results of high and low socio-economic status (SES) students and between Indigenous students and all students. There was no improvement in the results for low socio-economic status (SES) students and only partial improvement for Indigenous students.

The report shows that reading and numeracy results have shown little to no improvement since 2008. Average scores increased for Year 3 reading and Year 5 numeracy, but there was no improvement in Year 3 numeracy, Year 5 reading or in reading and numeracy in Years 7 & 9.

Similarly, there was a small increase in the percentage of Year 3 students achieving at or above the minimum national reading standard and the percentage of Year 5 students at or above the numeracy standard. There was no change in reading for Years 5, 7 & 9 and no change in numeracy in Years 3 & 9. The percentage of Year 7 students achieving the numeracy standard actually fell between 2008 and 2011.

The report also shows no improvement in education outcomes for disadvantaged students. In 2011, the proportions of low SES students meeting the minimum national standards in reading were between 11 and 16 percentage points below those of high SES students. This gap has not reduced since 2008.

Generally over 97% of high SES students achieved the national reading standards at each Year level tested. In contrast, there is considerable variation in the achievement of low SES students by state and territory. The percentage achieving the national reading standard ranged from 58% (Northern Territory) to 89% (Victoria) in Year 3 and from 57% (Northern Territory) to 87% (Victoria) in Year 9. The report says that the differences in results between states and territories are driven by differences in the proportion of students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

There are also large differences in the proportion of young people from lower and higher socio-economic areas attaining a Year 12 or equivalent. The proportion for students from low SES areas was 74% compared with 94% for those from higher socio-economic areas. The gap remained largely unchanged between 2008 and 2011.

In 2011, only 59% of 18–24 year olds in the lowest SES group were fully engaged in employment, education or training compared to 80% in the highest group. Between 2008 and 2011, engagement by the lowest SES group fell by 6 percentage points.

Many Indigenous students did not achieve minimum national standards in 2011. Between 23 and 34% did not achieve the national reading standards compared to only 5-8% of all students and 16-28% of Indigenous student did not achieve the numeracy benchmark compared to only 3-4% of all students.

There were some improvements in Indigenous results since 2008. The proportion of Year 3 and Year 7 Indigenous students achieving the national minimum standard for reading was significantly higher in 2011 than in 2008, but there was no improvement in Years 5 and 9. The proportion of Year 3 and Year 5 Indigenous students achieving the national minimum standard for numeracy was significantly higher in 2011 than in 2008, but there was no change in Years 7 and 9.

The report shows that improving the results of low SES and Indigenous students remains the most fundamental challenge facing Australian education. It is a challenge for all Australian governments. It is imperative that governments act quickly to implement the Gonski recommendation for an increase of $6 billion in funding for disadvantaged students.

See COAG Reform Council 2012, Education 2011: Comparing Performance Across Australia, COAG Reform Council, Sydney.

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