PISA shows need for equitable funding

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9 December 2016

This week’s PISA results have seen Australia slip further down international rankings and highlighted the urgent need to equitably fund our schools.

While Australia’s PISA results are still above the OECD average, the consistent decline in scores over the past fifteen years should be a major concern for policy makers

The slide is almost identical in the public and private systems, but the biggest concern remains the big gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

AEU Deputy Federal President Maurie Mulheron said that PISA results were still showing gaps equivalent to three years of schooling between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

“This is why we need to fight Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to scrap Gonski after 2017 and end needs-based funding to our schools.

"The Gonski Review warned that if we did not act as a nation to redress the imbalance between advantaged and disadvantaged students then we would slip down in international ranking," Mr Mulheron said.

“These results are not surprising given the skewed nature of our funding system prior to Gonski.

“Between 2009 and 2014 total recurrent government funding per student to public schools rose by 14.6%, while funding to private schools rose by 30%.”

“While the Gonski reforms are beginning to address these distortions, when the PISA tests were taken in 2015 less than 10 per cent of the total funding increases from the Gonski agreements had been delivered.

The NT and Tasmania were the worst-performing states, significantly below the Australian average.

The 2015 PISA data showed:

  • Scores in Science dropped from 527 in 2006, to 510 in 2015, still above the OECD average of 493.
  • Scores in Maths dropped from 524 in 2003, to 494 in 2015, just ahead of the OECD average of 490.
  • Scores in Literacy dropped from 528 in 2000 to 503 in 2015, ahead of the OECD average of 493.
  • The difference in results between students from the highest SES quartile and the lowest was a full three years of schooling in all three disciplines.
  • Students from advantaged backgrounds were five times as likely to be high performers as students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • The difference in results between students from metropolitan areas and regional areas was equivalent to at least one full year of schooling in maths, science and reading.

The decline has led to widespread concern, with experts noting that Australia has bigger gaps in results than most other OECD countries

Dr Sue Thomson, from the Australian Council for Education Research, says that the problem is hurting Australia’s overall PISA performance.

"I was quite saddened to look at that data. There's no difference over 16 years of reading and 13 years of maths. We are still not attending to those gaps."

The PISA Report for 2015 found equity of resourcing is vital for improving the overall success of a school system

It stated that: “How educational resources are distributed among students of different backgrounds can be an important determinant of equity in education opportunities. Education systems that are successful, both in quality and equity, attract the highest quality resources to where these resources can make the most difference.”

“These are the principles behind the Gonski agreements, which recognised the importance of funding schools on the basis of student need,” Mr Mulheron said.

“Any move away from needs-based funding will deny schools the resources they need and entrench inequity in education.”