Australia Has High Quality, but Mixed School Outcomes

The following is a summary of a working paper published by SOS. It reviews a range of school outcomes in Australia. The paper can be downloaded below. It is the first in a series of working papers to be published in coming months on equity in education and school funding in Australia. Comments are invited on the paper and can be sent to SOS at References will be included in the final version, but are available on request.

Australia has a high quality education system. It has high average results in reading, mathematics and science by international standards and it ranks consistently amongst the top performing countries. Australia is one of the top performers in all-round results. However, Australia’s international test results have largely stagnated or declined over the past 15 years.  Australia is one of few countries whose PISA results for 15 year old students have declined in the last decade.

National test results have largely stagnated over the past fifteen years, although there have been improvements in some areas. Australia’s Year 12 completion rates are average by international standards, but they have improved significantly over the past decade.

Medium and high SES public, Catholic and Independent secondary schools in metropolitan regions achieve similar NAPLAN test results while valid comparisons for low SES schools cannot be made because there are too few Catholic and Independent schools of this type.

Research studies show no significant differences between the results of students from public, Catholic and Independent schools in national and international tests and in university completion rates after taking account of student background characteristics. Public school students appear to achieve higher university grades than private school students despite the latter achieving higher university entrance scores. There is mixed evidence for Year 12 completion and workforce earnings.

The biggest challenge facing Australian education is not overall poor performance, but the very large achievement gaps between rich and poor. These are the subject of the next working paper.

Trevor Cobbold

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