Resource shortages affect most students

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21 March 2017

New international data shows Australian schools are significantly under-resourced and that this is affecting student performance.

What’s worse is that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be affected, with students from the lowest SES-quartile six times more likely to be in schools with shortages of qualified teachers or support staff.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that the new findings, from the expanded versions of the PISA and TIMSS reports, were more evidence for Gonski needs-based funding to ensure all schools had the resources they needed.

“The majority of Australian students are in schools where a shortage of resources, including trained teachers, affects the teaching of maths and science.” Ms Haythorpe said.

“The new data confirms that the gap in results between students from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds in Australia is the equivalent of around three years of schooling.

“But it also shows the dramatic gaps in resources that are contributing to this. How can these students be expected to achieve when they are in schools that don’t have the basic resources for their education?”

“Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to scrap Gonski needs-based funding after 2017 means that many schools will never reach the resource standard they need for their students,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“We know from past PISA reports that school systems with more equitable funding distributions perform better overall.”

The in-depth versions of the PISA and TIMSS reports compare the performance of school systems across developed countries. The initial reports were released last December and showed that Australia’s school performance – while still above the global average – had declined since 2000.

This decline was exactly what the Gonski Review warned us about after the 2012 PISA results when it said: International evidence confirms that targeted investment in disadvantaged students is the most cost-efficient way to improve.’

The new data shows how closely these gaps are linked to resource shortages in schools which educate disadvantaged students.

It also confirms that resourcing makes a difference, with Year 8 maths and science students in adequately-resourced schools performing significantly better than those in under-resourced schools.

That may not sound like rocket science, but it is the kind of hard evidence that opponents of Gonski ignore when they tie themselves in knots trying to argue that funding doesn’t make a difference.

Some of the most revealing finding from the research are below.

  • Principals reported 55 per cent of students attended schools where maths teaching was affected by a lack of resourcing, and 69 per cent where science teaching was affected.
  • Student performance is heavily influenced by the level of school resourcing, with Year 8 students at schools where science and maths instruction were not affected by resource shortages achieving an average science score significantly higher than at schools that were affected by shortages.
  • Australian students in the lowest SES-quartile are six times more likely to be at a school where the principal reports staff shortages as students in the highest-SES quartile (36% versus 6%)
  • Principals reported that 34 per cent of low-SES students were at schools where inadequate infrastructure hindered their capacity to provide instruction, compared with 12 per cent of high-SES students.

“This is a stunning demonstration of how under-resourced our schools are and how these shortages add to the barriers facing disadvantaged students,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Gonski funding is making a difference in thousands of schools, but two-thirds of the extra funding in the Gonski agreements is due to be delivered in 2018 and 2019.

“Malcolm Turnbull needs to abandon his plan to scrap Gonski after 2017 and give schools the full investment of six years of targeted funding, so that all schools can reach the minimum Schooling Resource Standard which the Gonski Review recommended.”