As students in Australia’s two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, return to school, a new study is arguing that ATAR concessions and large sums of funding for school tutoring are unnecessary.
In his latest research, Glenn Fahey from the Centre of Independent Studies found an estimated 6 to 14 percent of students likely progressed slower at home, but catch up tutoring was not the answer.
Fahey said it was a missed opportunity for policymakers and educators to lift the quality of teaching for all students rather than run temporary programmes.
“Across 2021 and 2022, $1.2 billion has been committed to small group tutoring programmes in New South Wales and Victoria,” Fahey said. “What’s less costly, but more impactful, is for every classroom to benefit from evidence-based teaching.”
“It’s access to quality instruction, not just a tutor, that will lift student outcomes.”
Fahey said policymakers need to be clear in distinguishing between achievement gaps caused by COVID-19 and gaps from before the pandemic.
The research findings come after federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has repeatedly stated that Australia’s education standard has fallen in both absolute terms and relative to other countries over the past two decades.
Tudge stressed that evidence-based teaching practices, such as explicit instruction and phonics, are essential in a student’s learning process to reverse the decline.
“Let me be very direct about this. If you are not adequately preparing student teachers to become effective classroom teachers using evidence-based practices, you should not be in the business of teacher education,” Tudge previously said.
The research also found that despite fears of a spike in student stress levels, there was no relationship between students’ stress and their achievement.
“Excessive and unnecessary accommodations don’t help students doing their HSC and VCE,” Fahey said. “If anything, this can backfire by leading students to feel they don’t need to put their best foot forward.
Overall, the research painted a cautiously optimistic outlook for the impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s education, given the better-than-expected NAPLAN results. Fahey said the steady NAPLAN results suggest that, on average, students are on track with pre-pandemic achievement levels.
“National and state-level NAPLAN results suggest no significant difference in Australian students’ overall achievement level,” he said. “[However,] further data is required to confirm the indicative outcomes of the 2021 NAPLAN results.”
Fahey also found little evidence that disadvantaged students were disproportionately affected by home-based learning.
“This can likely be credited to the response of policymakers and educators in rapidly responding to students’ needs,” he said.
The research revealed that if Australian students had progressed at a pace as slow as their peers overseas, the average Australian student would be 6.6 weeks behind in reading and numeracy and as much as 19.4 weeks behind in Victoria.
“To date, all available evidence suggests Australia’s educators and policymakers have been somewhat successful in avoiding adverse educational impacts overall from school closures, compared to similar countries,” Fahey said.