OECD Report Shows that the Allocation of Resources in Australian Schools is Highly Inequitable

A new report by the OECD shows that about one-third of the variation in science performance across OECD countries is explained by the degree of equity in the allocation of educational resources across advantaged and disadvantaged schools. Countries with more equitable systems performed better on average. The report shows that the allocation of resources in Australian schools is highly inequitable.

The report shows that students in socio-economically disadvantaged schools in Australia are less exposed than students in advantaged schools to the learning environments and educational resources that matter the most for science performance. Effective teaching practices, a favourable school climate, exposure to science and access to educational resources are all better in advantaged schools than in disadvantaged schools in Australia.

Australia is one of many countries where teacher-directed instruction, school climate, exposure to science and access to educational resources for science is better in advantaged than disadvantaged schools. However, Australia is the only country apart from Singapore, out of 69 countries, regions or cities participating in the 2015 PISA tests, where all these school factors influencing science performance are more frequently present in advantaged schools than in disadvantaged schools.

In particular, Australia is one of only 15 countries where teachers in advantaged schools adapt lessons to the needs of students or provide individual help when a student is having difficulties more frequently than teachers in disadvantaged schools. This teaching practice, called adaptive instruction, is the strongest in-school factor on science performance. In other countries, there is no difference between the use of adaptive instruction in advantaged and disadvantaged schools or it is more frequently used in disadvantaged schools.

Australia is one of only 7 countries where student perception of teacher support is greater in advantaged than disadvantaged schools. In contrast, students in disadvantaged schools in 34 countries/regions/cities were more likely than those in advantaged schools to report that their teachers are supportive, although the strength of the relationship between student perceptions of teacher support and performance is much weaker than other factors.

The report says that allocating additional resources to socio-economically disadvantaged schools is a way to compensate for inequalities across schools and it can also help improve overall student performance in science. It is a key first step in making effective teaching practices, good disciplinary climates, greater exposure to high-quality science instruction, and qualified science teachers and materials available in all schools.

The benefits of improving equity in education are widespread. As the Director-General of Education at the OECD, Andreas Schleicher, wrote in The Australian:

Achieving greater equity in education is not only a social justice imperative, it is also a way to use resources more effectively, and to increase the supply of skills that fuel economic growth and promote social cohesion.

Trevor Cobbold

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