New reports released overnight have confirmed Australia risks falling behind the world unless educators and policymakers take action to target students and schools who are up to three years behind higher performing peers. 

Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the full Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report from the OECD, the full Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the National Assessment Program Science Literacy report all highlighted the need for action to shore up Australia’s high-performing education system and ensure it improved into the future to regain its place near the top of international rankings.

Minister Birmingham said the reports had identified discipline, engagement and ambition as being an important part in improving Australia’s education system, along with the record and growing levels of funding from the Turnbull Government.

“By all measures, we have some of the world’s best teachers and school leaders helping students to achieve outcomes that are the envy of many other countries,” Minister Birmingham said.

“However the warning signs in these reports make it clear that while we need to ensure our record levels of funding is being properly distributed according to need, it must also be tied to proven initiatives to boost outcomes.

“As the OECD highlighted, ‘for the majority of OECD countries there is essentially no relationship between spending per student and outcomes in PISA…What matters is how resources are allocated and the qualitative differences in education policies, cultural norms and professional practices’. 

“That’s why the Turnbull Government’s approach is focused on addressing two of the most important factors that influence student outcomes – teaching quality and student disadvantage.

Minister Birmingham said PISA reported 46 per cent of students in low socio economic schools were badly behaved, compared to 32 per cent of students in high socio economic schools and 50 per cent of students reported being distracted by noise in those low SES schools compared to 34 per cent of high SES schools.

“This research demonstrates that more money spent within a school doesn't automatically buy you better discipline, engagement or ambition,” Minister Birmingham said. 

“While governments are investing ever more in addressing disadvantage we need communities and families to focus on how we simultaneously change behaviour and attitudes. Turning these results around cannot rest solely on the shoulders of teachers or principals.

“Ill-discipline or a bad attitude doesn't only hurt the outcomes of the student who brings such an approach to school but can infect entire classrooms of students.

“While well-resourced schools with highly capable and motivated teachers are central to success, we equally need policies and parents that empower teachers to expect high standards and adopt a zero tolerance approach to bad behaviour.”

Minister Birmingham said both from a national level and from the states and territories we need to put more effort into understanding why particular schools get the results they do and implement reforms to turn around areas of performance. 

“Our reforms to teacher education are designed to lift the quality of teaching courses so graduates are better prepared for life in the classroom and have literacy and numeracy skills in the top 30 per cent of the adult population. We’re building on those initiatives in our Quality Schools Quality Outcomes policy by ensuring minimum proportions of trainee teachers specialise in literacy and numeracy, setting recruitment targets for teachers qualified in science, technology, engineering or mathematics subjects and by linking teacher salary progression to demonstrated competency and achievement against the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, rather than just length of service.

“Our plans build on our work over the last three years including our review of the National Curriculum to declutter it and refocus on the basics of literacy and numeracy and funding through the National Innovation and Science Agenda for STEM school programs.

“I am sure the predictable voices will try to dumb these detailed analyses down into a simplistic debate solely focussed on funding.

“However, given Commonwealth funding for schools has grown to record levels, with growth continuing above enrolment and above inflation, from $16 billion in 2016 to more than $20 billion in 2020, we must accept the more complicated challenges these reports present us with.

“These reports contain a raft of data and findings that deserve close inspection and I call on educators and policymakers at all levels of government to work together to use this information to help deliver an even stronger education system for Australian students.”