Progress of Improving Australia's Education Outcomes 'Disappointing': Report

Progress of Improving Australia's Education Outcomes 'Disappointing': Report
Year seven students arrive to Elevation Secondary College in Craigieburn, Melbourne, Australia, on Oct. 12, 2020. (AAP Image/James Ross)
Rebecca Zhu
The current progress into national initiatives aimed at improving the academic achievement and skill acquisition of Australian students has been “disappointing,” according to an interim report by the Productivity Commission.

The report reviews how well Australia’s federal, state, and territory governments have achieved its policy targets aimed at lifting student outcomes under the National School Reform Agreement, a $319 billion (US$214 billion) funding deal signed in 2018.

The agreement consists of eight initiatives, of which four have been achieved and one partly achieved.

However, it found that the initiatives that were expected to make the most difference had made “disappointing” progress, including setting up a unique student identifier and online formative assessment resources.

The productivity commission said a unique student identifier would provide insights into each student’s progress, while online formative assessments would enable teachers to assess a student’s understanding and identify the next steps in learning.

“But both [initiatives] have stalled. Already more than 13 years in the making, disagreements about data use have hindered progress of the unique student identifier,” the report said.

But teacher effectiveness was identified as the single most influential in-school factor for student outcomes and highlighted the importance of addressing teacher shortages.

Federal, state, and territory education ministers have been working on how to address issues that hold back teacher effectiveness, including shortages, high workloads, and a lack of career pathways.
“Australia needs to ensure it has a sustainable pipeline of future school leaders,” Commissioner Natalie Siegel-Brown said.

Many Students Falling Through the Cracks

The report also highlighted that between five and nine percent of Australians fail to reach the minimum standards in literacy and numeracy every year.

“We must do more to prevent students from falling behind and help those who are struggling to catch up with their peers. Unfortunately, we persistently fall short of the ideal of an equitable education for all students,” Siegel-Brown said.

“Low educational performance needs a different approach.”

The report noted that many students who are struggling to keep up fall outside of the “priority equity cohorts”—students who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, live in regional, rural, and remote locations, with a disability, or from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.

“While students from priority equity cohorts are disproportionately represented among students who have fallen behind national minimum standards, most underperforming students do not belong to these cohorts,” the report said.

It found that 85 percent of students that fall within the priority equity cohorts are able to achieve the national minimum standards or higher.

“The barriers these students encounter in engagement and inclusion must be addressed to make real progress,” Siegel-Brown said.

The commission suggested that focusing on students who have fallen behind and are at most risk of staying behind was a “good place to start.”