This research paper, written by Emeritus Professor Alan Reid from the University of South Australia, describes:
- Australia’s inequitable schooling system and explains how this has happened
- The consequences of having inadequate resources for children in need, the majority of whom are in public schools
- The need for Australia to support, nurture and strengthen our public schools and to celebrate the contribution they make for the common good.
By any measure, Australia has a high-quality education system. It compares well against other countries on a range of education tests and benchmarks. These results, however, mask the grim reality that Australian education is not equitable.
It is the large achievement gap between rich and poor that blights Australian education – and the gap appears to be widening. According to a recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Australia is near the bottom of OECD countries interms of equity in education.
Apart from denying individuals the chance to develop to their fullest potential, there is now overwhelming evidence demonstrating the deleterious effects of educational inequality on social and economic outcomes and political participation. Productivity falls, participation in civic life is diminished, and social dislocation is greater. Since education is one of the most important determinants of levels of inequality, it is clear that there is need for urgent action to improve equity in Australian schooling.
This paper argues that over the past 40 years Australia has been following educational policy settings that have exacerbated this problem, and worked against progress being made to address it. In particular, successive governments have diminished the strength of public education and in so doing have widened the educational achievement gap, and fostered social and cultural division. A major contributing factor has been the increasing social stratification of Australian education.