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A level playing field for Australian schools

All Australian students should receive a high quality education regardless of where they happen to live or the school they attend.

Reducing the disparities between Australia’s most and least advantaged schools is one of the biggest challenges facing school education today, writes Professor Geoff Masters AO, Chief Executive of ACER, in Teacher.

Evidence from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows that the literacy and numeracy levels of Australian 15-year olds have been steadily declining since 2000, but also that disparities between Australian secondary schools have been increasing, particularly between low and high socioeconomic status schools.

Professor Masters writes that this may be the result of increasing ‘residualisation’ (the concentration of lower performing students in particular schools), growing disparities in the quality of education being delivered in different schools, or both.

According to Professor Masters, a number of other countries have achieved significant improvements in national literacy and numeracy levels, including reducing disparities between schools related to socioeconomic background.

Overall levels of national expenditure on schools are generally not highly correlated with measures of student performance or equity. However, there is international evidence that how resources are used does make a difference.

International experience shows that education policy decisions can change the disparities between a nation’s schools. Policies for reducing between-school disparities include minimising student residualisation, maximising access to quality teachers and leaders, and promoting effective school improvement practices, Professor Masters writes.  

When national resources are used to minimise student residualisation, it is more likely that every student will receive a high quality education irrespective of the school they attend. ■

Read the full article:
‘Reducing disparities between Australian schools’, written by Geoff Masters and published in Teacher, is available at teacher.acer.edu.au/geoff-masters

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