TREVOR COBBOLD. Disadvantaged Schools in Australia Are Far Less Resourced than Advantaged Schools

Data from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2018 show that Australia allocates more and better quality teacher and physical resources to high socio-economic status (SES) secondary schools than to low SES schools. The gaps are amongst the largest in the OECD. The highest performing OECD countries generally allocate resources more equitably between low and high SES secondary schools than Australia does.

There are very large differences in teacher shortages, poorly qualified teachers and teacher absenteeism between low and high SES schools in Australis. About one-third of students in low SES schools have their learning hindered by teacher shortages, poorly qualified teachers and teacher absenteeism compared to less than 7% per cent of students in high SES schools.

The proportions of students in low SES schools facing teacher shortages, poorly qualified teachers and teacher absenteeism in Australia are higher than the average for the OECD while the proportions in high SES schools are amongst the lowest in the OECD. The gap between the proportion of students in low and high SES schools in Australia with a shortage of teachers is the equal 5th largest in the OECD while the gap for poorly qualified teachers is the 6th largest and the gap for teacher absenteeism is the equal 3rd largest.

Almost without exception, the six highest performing OECD countries have smaller gaps than Australia in the allocation of teacher resources between low and high SES schools. For example, the difference in the proportion of students in low and high SES schools whose learning is hindered by teacher shortages is only one to two percentage points compared to 31 points in Australia.

Australian secondary schools have far fewer highly qualified teachers than the average for the OECD. Only 18.5% of teachers in Australia have at least a Master’s degree. This is the equal 7th lowest in the OECD and less than half the average of 44% for the OECD. Only 12.6% of teachers in low SES secondary schools in Australia have at least a Master’s degree compared to 24.3% in high SES schools and 40% in the OECD. The Australian proportion in low SES schools is the 4th lowest in the OECD.

The highest performing OECD countries have much higher proportions of teachers in low SES schools with a Master’s degree. For example, 95% of teachers in low SES schools in Poland and 92% in Finland have a Master’s degree.

Most OECD countries also provide smaller class sizes in low SES secondary schools than in high SES schools as a way of supporting the learning of disadvantaged students. On average, class sizes in low SES schools across the OECD are three students less than in high SES schools. In some countries, class sizes in low SES schools are 7-10 students less than in high SES schools. In contrast, class sizes are similar in low and high SES schools in Australia.

There are also vast gaps in access to physical resources between low and high SES schools in Australia. There are much higher proportions of students in low SES schools that lack or have poor quality educational resources such as textbooks, laboratory equipment, instructional material and computers than students in high SES schools. For example, 21% per cent of students in low SES schools have their learning hindered by a lack of or poor educational materials compared to only one per cent or less of students in high SES schools. The gaps are the 7th largest in the OECD.

Low SES schools also have less and poorer quality infrastructure such as buildings, classroom space and heating and cooling systems than high SES schools. Nearly half of students in low SES schools have their learning hindered in this way compared to less than 8% in high SES schools. The gap for a lack of physical infrastructure is the 3rd largest in the OECD and that for poor quality physical infrastructure is the 2nd largest.

Although there are exceptions, the six highest performing OECD countries generally have smaller gaps than Australia in the allocation of educational materials and infrastructure between low and high SES schools.

These resource gaps in Australia reflect badly misplaced priorities in the resourcing of schools. Australian governments are effectively discriminating against low SES schools in terms of their access to resources. They have failed to ensure high quality teaching and physical resources in these schools while high SES schools have amongst the most and best quality resources in the OECD. It is to be noted that over 90% of low SES schools in Australia are public schools.

While other factors also influence student results and achievement gaps, the difference in teacher and physical resources between low and high SES schools in Australia contributes significantly to the very large achievement gaps between low and high SES 15-year-old students of about three years of learning.

The new OECD data shows that the highest performing OECD countries allocate resources more equitably between low and high SES schools than does Australia. It is notable that low SES students achieved higher scores in the top performing countries than in Australia and that the achievement gap in these countries is generally smaller than in Australia. Previous OECD PISA reports have concluded that student performance is higher in education systems that distribute teacher and physical resources more equitably between low and high SES schools.

Australian governments must take a much more pro-active role in promoting a more equitable allocation of teacher resources if progress is to be made in reducing the achievement gaps between rich and poor. Governments must increase the number of teachers and the quality of teachers in low SES schools and better support them to remain in these schools. They must also significantly increase and upgrade educational materials and physical infrastructure in these schools.

Trevor Cobbold is National Convenor of Save Our Schools.

print

Trevor Cobbold is National Convenor of Save Our Schools.

This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

Please keep your comments short and sharp and avoid entering links. For questions regarding our comment system please click here.
(Please note that we are unable to post comments on your behalf.)