PISA 2015 — Gonski said it first

Maurie Mulheron

The release on December 6 of the PISA 2015 results provides even more compelling evidence that educational inequality is the cause of Australia’s slide in international rankings. Some general findings:

  • while Australia’s performance has fallen since 2012, and even more since 2000, we are still above the OECD average
  • results have declined from 2000 to 2015 — the period pre-Gonski when schools funding became more inequitable
  • PISA data again shows significant gaps in results between metropolitan and regional/remote schools, and between high and low-SES schools.

The data backs the findings of the landmark Gonski review. Indeed, throughout both the PISA report and the Gonski review, similar evidence and arguments can be found. It is certainly worth a closer look at what too many commentators ignored in their haste to blame teachers.

What the PISA 2015 report said:

“PISA consistently finds that high performance and greater equity in education opportunities and outcomes are not mutually exclusive. In this light, success in education can be defined as a combination of high levels of achievement and high levels of equity.”

“Socio-economically disadvantaged students across OECD countries are almost three times more likely than advantaged students not to attain the baseline level of proficiency in science.”

“Because advantaged families are better able to enhance the effect of schooling, because students from advantaged families attend higher-quality schools, or because schools are simply better-equipped to nurture and develop young people from advantaged backgrounds, schools may sometimes reproduce existing patterns of socio-economic advantage.”

“Policy implications of differences in equity across countries ...

  • Design policies based on how well socio-economic status predicts performance and on how much differences in student performance overlap with socio-economic disparities.
  • Target special resources to schools with a high concentration of low-performing and disadvantaged students.”

“There are two main policy options to address this situation. One is to try to reduce the concentration of disadvantaged and low-performing students in particular schools. PISA shows that, at the system level, more socio-economic inclusion in schools is related to smaller shares of low performers and larger shares of top performers.... A second policy is to allocate more resources to schools with larger concentrations of low-performing students and to disadvantaged schools.”

“How equitably resources are allocated across schools determines whether or not all students are given equal opportunities to learn. In this context, an equitable resource allocation would mean that the schools attended by socio-economically disadvantaged students are at least as well-equipped as the schools attended by advantaged students, to compensate for inequalities in the home environment.”

What Gonski 2011 said:

But it was the Gonski review that warned Australia that we would go backwards if we did not address deepening inequalities.

“Performance in PISA also highlights the significant gap between the highest and lowest performing students in Australia relative to other OECD countries.”

“Australia has a high degree of performance inequality, higher than the OECD average.”

“While Australia is considered to be a high-performing country, the impact of student background on educational outcomes is stronger in Australia than in other OECD countries.”

“There is also an unacceptable link between low levels of achievement and educational disadvantage, particularly among student from low socioeconomic and Indigenous backgrounds.”

“Australia needs to make a serious and systematic effort to reduce the disparities that exist at present between the educational performance of student from high and low socio-economic backgrounds.”

“The mounting costs of inequity and disadvantage and failing to close the gaps are increasingly well-known and increasing.”

“The need for the additional expenditure and the application of what those funds can do is urgent. Australia will only slip further behind unless, as a nation, we act and act now.”

Despite all the evidence from the PISA 2015 report which has confirmed the findings of the Gonski review, the federal Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, on the day of the PISA release, was still defending his government’s decision to scrap the needs-based funding model and reduce funding to all schools from the end of 2017.

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