Disadvantaged schools in Australia have far fewer educational resources than advantaged schools. They experience more teacher shortages, and more shortages or inadequacy of educational materials and physical infrastructure than advantaged schools. These are key findings of an analysis by Save Our Schools of data presented in a supplementary report by the OECD on results from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment.
The gaps in human and material resources between disadvantaged and advantaged secondary schools in Australia are amongst the largest of all the countries participating in PISA, and certainly amongst the higher performing countries. Only one country – Taiwan – out of 65 nations participating in PISA has a greater gap between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in teacher shortages than Australia. Only ten countries have greater inequity than Australia in the allocation of educational resources.
The OECD report shows that the extent and quality of human and material resources in secondary schools influences student achievement. It found that: “High-performing countries tend to allocate resources more equitably across socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged schools” .
Australia is clearly failing in this.
On average across OECD countries and in several high performing countries, disadvantaged schools have significantly lower student-teacher ratios than advantaged schools. However, in Australia, the average student-teacher ratio in disadvantaged secondary schools is slightly higher than in advantaged schools (12.7 compared to 12.4). In contrast, the average student-teacher ratio in disadvantaged secondary schools across the OECD is 12.5 compared to 13.8 for advantaged schools.
In high performing countries, student-teacher ratios in disadvantaged schools are generally lower than in advantaged schools. Finland, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore all have lower student-teacher ratios in disadvantaged schools. For example, in Finland the average ratio for disadvantaged schools is 9.2 and 11.4 in advantaged schools and in Japan the ratios are 10 and 13. Only Shanghai has a lower student-teacher ratio in advantaged schools than in disadvantaged schools.
However, the PISA study found only a weak relationship between student-teacher ratios and student achievement across OECD countries and in Australia. In Australia, this may be due to the fact that the variation in student-teacher ratios between schools is relatively small. Studies also show that lower student-teacher ratios have a bigger impact on achievement in disadvantaged schools.
The OECD PISA report found that a shortage of qualified teachers hinders effective instruction in schools. Countries with higher reported shortages of teachers tend to have lower results.
In Australia, 32 per cent of students are in secondary schools that lack qualified mathematics teachers and 25 per cent are in schools that lack qualified science teachers. In contrast, 17 per cent of students across all OECD countries lack qualified mathematics and science teachers. Most high performing countries have low teacher shortages. In Finland, only four per cent of students are in schools that lack qualified mathematics and science teachers. Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore also have low teachers shortages in these areas.
The report noted that Australia is one of the countries with “particularly wide gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in teacher shortage” . In fact, Australia has the equal second largest teacher shortage gap between disadvantaged and advantaged schools of the 65 countries participating in PISA. It is much larger than in high performing countries such as Finland, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The PISA study found that the educational resources available in a school tend to be related to overall system performance, but the adequacy of the physical infrastructure appears to be unrelated. It also found that the allocation of resources between disadvantaged and advantaged schools is related to student achievement. Disadvantaged and advantaged schools in higher performing systems, have similar levels of material resources such as textbooks, science laboratories, information technology and libraries.
However, there is greater inequity in the allocation of these resources between disadvantaged and advantaged schools in Australia than in most other countries participating in PISA. The degree of inequity in Australia is similar to that in the United States and Uruguay and only ten other countries have greater inequity in the allocation of educational resources.
In contrast, principals of disadvantaged schools in Finland report less inadequacy of educational resources than principals of advantaged schools. There is little to no difference in the adequacy of resources available to disadvantaged and advantaged schools in other high performing countries such as Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The adequacy of the physical infrastructure of schools is also much better in advantaged schools in Australia than in disadvantaged schools. Principals of disadvantaged schools tended to report more shortages or inadequacy of physical infrastructure than did principals of advantaged schools. The gap between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in Australia is much larger than in high performing countries and cities such as Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore. Australia has one of the largest gaps reported in the OECD and only seven of the 34 OECD countries had a larger gap.
In Australia, about 80 per cent of disadvantaged students attend government schools so it is no surprise that shortages of educational resources for disadvantaged schools reflected in the PISA data are also found in government schools. There are much greater shortages of qualified teachers in government schools than in private schools and there are large inequities in educational resources and physical infrastructure between government and private schools.
The results from PISA 2012 show large inequalities between disadvantaged and advantaged students. Low SES students are about two and a half years behind high SES students in reading, mathematics and science; Indigenous students are three and a half or more years behind high SES students; and remote area students are about three years behind. These gaps have not decreased since 2006 and increased substantially in mathematics. The average learning gap between disadvantaged and advantaged schools is about three years.
Governments have failed to provide disadvantaged schools with the human and material resources necessary to reduce these achievement gaps. The Gonski funding model offers a way to redress the inequity in resources between disadvantaged and advantaged schools. However, it is being sabotaged by the Coalition Government. It will mean continuing disadvantage and social inequity in education in Australia.