PISA Test Results Prove that Increased Funding Should be Allocated to Disadvantaged Students and Schools

The new PISA international test results highlight the need to implement a new school funding scheme to overcome disadvantage in education according to the public education advocacy group, Save Our Schools. SOS national convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that the results show that Australia has failed to make any inroad into reducing inequity in education and, if anything, inequity has increased.

“The Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, has repeatedly claimed that Australia does not have an equity problem. The new PISA results conclusively debunk his claim. They demonstrate that low student results are strongly associated with disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Australia has a major equity problem, with huge achievement gaps between rich and poor, and very low results for Indigenous and remote area students:
• Low SES students are about two and a half years behind high SES students in reading, mathematics and science;
• Indigenous students are three or more years behind high SES students;
• Remote area students are two and a half to three years behind high SES students.

“High proportions of low SES, Indigenous and remote area students are performing at the lowest levels compared to high SES students:
• One-third of low SES students not achieving the international mathematics benchmark and nearly one-quarter are not achieving the reading and science benchmarks compared with 5-8% of high SES students;
• Just over half of all Indigenous students are not achieving the mathematics benchmark and nearly 40% are not achieving the reading and science benchmarks;
• 30-39% of remote area students are not achieving benchmarks.

“The largest falls in mathematics since 2003 have been for low SES, Indigenous and remote area students. They have all lost about half a year’s learning or more.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the large achievement gaps and the decline in Australia’s reading and mathematics results demonstrate the failure of the Howard Government’s SES funding model which was continued under the Rudd and Gillard Governments.

“School funding over the past decade or more has not been directed to the areas of greatest need. Total government (Federal/state) funding for Independent private schools increased by 82% between 2001-02 and 2008-09 and for Catholic schools by 64% compared to 48% for government schools. Yet, it is government schools that enrol the vast majority of disadvantaged students – around 80%.

“Clearly, funding increases have not gone to the areas of greatest need over the past decade or more. Yet, until recently forced by public outrage to agree to a new funding model, the Prime Minister claimed that the SES model was ‘not broken’ and only needed ‘fine-tuning’ despite the finding of the Gonski report that it was decidedly broken and unfair. Until forced to back down, Pyne wanted to use the SES model as the ‘starting point’ for another model.

“The funding priority for the Coalition is to support private schools – as the Prime Minister says, ‘it is in our DNA’. It has been a disastrous failure. Billions have been wasted by being diverted to those least in need at the expense of those most in need. Moreover, the new test results show that the results for Catholic and Independent school have fallen by more than in government schools. It is clear that increased funding for private schools does not address Australia’s problems.

Mr. Cobbold said that the new PISA results show that future funding increases should be directed to disadvantaged students and schools rather than continue to be wasted on those least in need.

“It is incumbent on the Coalition Government to ensure that the new funding model is fully implemented and that Federal and state/territory government funding is actually directed at students and schools most in need. This is the key to reducing inequity and improving Australia’s overall results.

The OECD’s own report on PISA states that:

…the highest-performing school systems are those that allocate educational resources more equitably among advantaged and disadvantaged schools. [Vol. 4: 4]

“The Government should require state and territory governments to allocate funding according to the basic principles of the Gonski model. It is too important for the future of Australia’s students and, indeed, its economy, to allow governments free rein in how they use funds.

“After all, Abbott and Pyne were part of the Howard Government ministry which required schools to erect flagpoles as a condition of Federal funding. Surely, requiring that funds be allocated to those most in need is a little more important.”

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