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Who has the best access to teachers?

06 August 2018

The provision of teachers to advantaged and disadvantaged students in Australia needs further consideration, as Dr Sue Thomson discusses in this edited version of her latest column for Teacher.

Results from large-scale international assessments point to a student’s personal lack of resources as a major factor inhibiting the achievement of our most disadvantaged young people. Differences in achievement have been reported between socioeconomically disadvantaged and advantaged students, students with few books in the home and those with many books in the home, and between students with few educational resources available to them and those with many such resources.

Access to resources in terms of quality and quantity of teaching and assisting staff was measured in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 by asking principals to report on the extent to which they perceived their schools’ capacity to provide instruction was hindered by a shortage of such staff.

Australian principals reported the largest disparity in the provision of teacher resources across the OECD in PISA 2015, meaning that principals of disadvantaged schools in Australia reported significantly higher levels of teacher shortage than on average across the OECD, while those at advantaged schools reported significantly lower levels.

The greatest problem reported by principals of disadvantaged schools was a lack of teaching staff. Thirty-six per cent of disadvantaged Australian students were attending schools in which the principal reported that a shortage of teachers hindered the school’s capacity to provide instruction – compared to just six per cent of advantaged students.

Can different allocation of teachers compensate for student disadvantage?

In its most recent report examining teacher policies and practices using PISA data, the OECD found that the majority of countries and economies participating in PISA 2015 make an attempt to compensate for disadvantage in schools with smaller classes and/or lower student-teacher ratios. Australia is not one of those countries. In fact, Australia is the only OECD country in which disadvantaged schools are worse off than advantaged schools in terms of the number of students per teacher in their school.

Principals of disadvantaged schools in Australia were also more likely than those in advantaged schools to report that, as well as not having enough teachers and enough fully qualified teachers, the ones they had were generally less experienced and less prepared, and had higher rates of absenteeism.

While it may seem difficult given the current systems for teacher employment in Australia, we need to avoid having high concentrations of inexperienced and less qualified teachers in socioeconomically disadvantaged schools. ■

Read the full article:
This is an edited version of an article written by Sue Thomson that first appeared in Teacher. Read the full article, ‘What sort of schools have the best access to teachers?’, here:


About the author

Dr Sue Thomson is the Deputy CEO (Research) at ACER, as well as the Head of Educational Monitoring and Research, and the Director of ACER's Surveys and International Assessments research program. 

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