OECD data shows effects of school funding cuts

11 September 2019

The dire effect of the Morrison Government’s cuts to public school funding has again been highlighted, with an international report revealing that total expenditure on schools and non-tertiary post-secondary education in Australia has fallen from 10.4 per cent of total government expenditure in 2010, to 8.9 per cent in 2016.

The OECD’s Education at a Glance 2019 report showed that across the OECD, average total expenditure on schools and non-tertiary post-secondary education per student increased by five per cent in 2016 compared to 2010. However, in 2016 Australia spent only 83.9 per cent of what it did in 2010 on school and non-tertiary education in terms of GDP.

According to the report:

  • Australia is tenth in the OECD overall for GDP expenditure at the primary school level, but only seventeenth of the 35 countries that provided data at the secondary school level.
  • At the secondary school level, only 4.2 per cent of total government expenditure in Australia is spent on education.This is below the OECD average of 4.4 per cent
  • Australia, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia and Spain were the only countries that did not spend more in 2016 than they did in 2010.
  • Australian public expenditure on schools and non-university education is only 3.18 per cent of GDP, barely scraping in above the all OECD average of 3.11 per cent of GDP.
  • Australia spends less than 2 per cent of GDP on secondary education, again barely reaching the OECD average.

Australian Education Union Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that the OECD report reflected the long history of Liberal-National Government cuts to public school funding.

“The Morrison Government should hang its head in shame at these school funding figures,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Under the Abbott, the Turnbull and the Morrison Governments, we have seen a relentless drive to cut funding and thus educational opportunity to public schools.”

“What is most concerning is that these figures are from 2016. Since then we saw the Turnbull Government cut $1.9 billion in funding from public schools in 2018 and 2019, as well as the Morrison Government sign funding deals that mean 99 per cent of public schools will be funded under the Schooling Resource Standard by 2023,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan may claim his government is providing record school funding, but these OECD numbers do not lie. We need urgent action from the Commonwealth to reverse these funding cuts and give Australia’s 2.5 million public school children a fair go.”

Amongst other findings from the OECD report:

  • Salary scales and career trajectories for Australian teachers are significantly flatter and much more limited than for many of their OECD colleagues
  • Average teaching salaries for countries at the top of the OECD scale are 67% higher than average starting salaries. In Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Korea and Spain, lower secondary school teachers continually progress to reach the top of the salary scale after 35 years of service.
  • By contrast, the Australian salary scale is much more limited and lower secondary teachers in Australia reach the highest step on the salary scale after only 6-7 years of experience
  • In Australia, the top of the salary scale is still only 1.48 times the starting salary, whereas for all OECD countries this figure is 1.85 times starting salary.
  • Australian upper secondary school teachers spend an average of 816 hours per year teaching, 22% more time than the OECD average of 667 hours per year.

“As the OECD data shows, Australian public school teachers are amongst the best and hardest-working teachers in the world and they deserve to earn a salary commensurate to their skills and knowledge,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“A teacher’s increasing skills and experience need to be recognised throughout their career with nationally competitive salaries. We need to retain and nurture our experienced public school teachers. This creates an environment where new teachers can learn from more experienced teachers and provides a collegial environment for support and mentoring.”

Ms Haythorpe said that the heavy workloads experienced by Australian public school teachers was in large part due to funding constraints imposed by the Morrison Government. She said that this workload created pressures which reduced the teaching and learning time for teachers.

“Cutting funding from public schools is not the way to provide time for our teachers to get the best from their students. Putting extra resources into schools is the best way to ensure that all students get the support and attention they need in the classroom,” Ms Haythorpe said.