Australia is in the Top League of All-rounders

The Labor Government’s Better Schools Plan aims to put Australian schools into the top 5 in the world by 2025. A new OECD report shows that Australia is already in the top 5 in one respect – producing high all-round results.

Australia is ranked equal fourth in the world in terms of the proportion of students who are top performers in reading, mathematics and science (all-rounders). It has 8.1 per cent of students at the top proficiency levels in all three subjects.

The Australian proportion is similar to Finland (8.5 per cent), Hong Kong (8.4 per cent) and Japan (8.4 per cent). Only Shanghai (14.6 per cent), Singapore (12.3 per cent) and New Zealand (9.9 per cent) have higher proportions. Across the OECD, only 4.1 per cent of students are all-rounders.

The results are from the OECD’s 2009 Programme for International Assessments (PISA) for 15 year-old students.

The new figures effectively rebut claims that high achieving students are being ignored by increased focus on lifting the results of low achieving students.

In Australia, 22 per cent of students are top performers in at least one of the subject areas of science, mathematics or reading compared with an average of 16 per cent across OECD countries. However, just because a student is a top performer in one subject does not necessarily mean that the student excels in all subjects. Switzerland, for example, has one of the highest shares of top performers in mathematics (24.1%), but only an average share of top performers in reading (8.1%) and science (10.7%).

The same is true for many Southeast Asian countries and economies, notably Hong Kong-China, Korea, Macao-China, Shanghai-China, Singapore and Taiwan, where the likelihood of finding top performers in mathematics is considerably higher than in reading or science.

It is notable that some countries with higher mean test scores than Australia have lower proportions of all-rounders. For example, Korea has significantly higher test scores in reading, mathematics and science than Australia but a lower proportion of high achieving all-rounders (7.2 per cent). Canada also has higher reading and mathematics scores than Australia and about the same in science but has a lower percentage of all-rounders (6.8 per cent) than Australia.

Australia also does well in comparison with other high achieving countries. Australia has a similar proportion of all-rounders as Finland, Hong-Kong and Japan even though their mean reading, mathematics and science scores are significantly higher than Australia’s.

The OECD figures show that all-round success is relatively rare. Australia’s school system is one of very few that is capable of producing top performing students in all subjects. Australia’s high all-round ranking is indicative of a system that is giving strong support to high achieving students. To suggest otherwise, as some do, is to belie the facts.

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