A leading international education snapshot released overnight shows Australian science students are now seven months behind where they were in 2006, an Australian maths student is a year of schooling behind where they were in 2003 and Australian students’ reading abilities have also dropped by a year since 2000.
Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said Australia continued to perform above the OECD average in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report but despite Australia’s many “dedicated and hard-working” teachers and record levels of federal funding for our schools, the results also highlight clear trends of declining real and international performance of Australian Year Nine students.
Minister Birmingham said the respected PISA report provides an “international snapshot” into mathematical, reading and science literacy levels of OECD countries and had continued to paint a worrying trend for Australia. He said this once every three-year report would be a key part of his discussions with states and territories next week about the Turnbull Government’s school quality reforms that focus on how best to target Australia’s record levels of investment in schools and improve student outcomes.
“Today’s PISA report goes further than last week’s Trends in Maths and Science report, this year’s NAPLAN results and the OECD Education at a Glance report in terms of not just showing a plateauing of results in Australia but that it shows a clear decline from year to year in Australia’s education performance,” Minister Birmingham said.
“While our school systems remain above average among developed economies we must acknowledge the reality that our performance is slipping. Given the wealth of our nation and scale of our investment, we should expect to be a clear education leader, not risk becoming a laggard. We must leave the politicking at the door and have a genuine conversation that is based on evidence about what we do from here. 
“This is a complicated policy area that must have all of the facts on the table and while some try and paint this genuine conversation that I am having on all matters of education policy as ‘distractions’, it would be naïve to look at it through overly simplistic terms.
“Commonwealth funding for schools has increased by 50 per cent since 2003 while our results are going backwards. I’m not suggesting that adequate funding is not important, of course it is vital, but as the OECD notes Australia ranks as spending the fifth highest amount on education in the OECD and once you get to that level there is little value in just increasing spending, the harder task is to invest in the areas that the evidence says makes a difference.
“That is why the Turnbull Government, while still growing our record levels of school funding, is most importantly focussed on implementing evidence-based measures that will get results for our students. We must back the evidence and focus on how our record and growing funding can be invested to best help this and future generations of students.
“It is unacceptable to see Australia declining in our maths, reading and science performance at a time when growing competition makes high educational outcomes ever more critical to the job prospects and economic prospects of our nation.
“The Turnbull Government’s Quality Schools, Quality Outcomes reforms outlined in May includes more than a dozen initiatives backed by experts that evidence shows will help Australian young people to get more out of their schooling.
“Many of the Turnbull Government’s quality reforms are designed to directly tackle Australia’s falling mathematics, reading and science skills, including a ‘back to basics’ focus on more teachers specialising in literacy and numeracy and qualified to teach science, technology, engineering or maths subjects, ensuring aspiring university students complete a maths or science subject to attain an ATAR, setting minimum literacy and numeracy standards for Year 12s and the introduction of a ‘light touch’ phonics assessment for year one students to identify those students struggling earlier.”
Minister Birmingham said the Commonwealth’s already-record levels of investment in schools would grow from $16 billion in 2016 to $20.1 billion in 2020 and that every tax dollar paid by hardworking Australians needs to be used as effectively as possible.
“We will tie our record and growing levels of funding for schools to initiatives that evidence shows lift student results and outcomes and that will turnaround our declining international rankings,” Minister Birmingham.
“Everyone agrees that funding needs to be distributed according to need and we all want to help boost student outcomes. I’m looking forward to working with my state and territory colleagues to iron out the problems with the current distribution of funding and to implement reforms in our schools that are proven to lift student performance.  I call on the states and territories to put the politics aside and seriously engage with us to deliver the reforms Australia's school system needs.”


The 2015 PISA report is available at https://www.acer.edu.au/ozpisa/pisa-australia 

For further information on the Turnbull Government’s Quality Schools, Quality Outcomes reforms, visit https://www.education.gov.au/quality-schools-quality-outcomes