Spending on Australian education is burning money because the system doesn't know how to use data

Photo: Bob Levey/ Getty Images for H&R Block.

Spending on education in Australia is increasing, yet the outcomes remain the same.

Those findings come from a new draft report from the Productivity Commission, about the national education evidence base, which was commissioned by the Turnbull government in March.

In fact, “there has been a 14% increase in spending per student over the last 10 years, yet student performance remains broadly unchanged and, in some areas, has actually decreased,” says Jonathan Coppel of the Productivity Commission.

This is, it says, because the education system is not using data effectively to improve student outcomes. And because of that, the commission says more funding is not the answer.

“Monitoring outcomes, performance benchmarking and competition between schools alone are insufficient to achieve gains in education outcomes,” the report reads. “They must be complemented by the use of data and evidence to identify, and then apply, the most effective programs, policies and teaching practices.”

It highlights that there is much education data collected, imposing a substantial compliance burden across schools and ECEC services, but the burden can be reduced by collecting data more cost-effectively and making better use of it.

It also reports there are some gaps in existing data collections.

“But the largest gap of all is in the evaluation of policies, programs and teaching practices in Australian schools and ECEC services to identify what works best, for whom and in what circumstances,” it says.

“Without improving and applying evidence to policy making and teaching in schools and classrooms, there is a substantial risk that increased resourcing of schools will continue to deliver disappointing outcomes.”

The commission has recommended changes to privacy and other legislation to facilitate access to and sharing of de-identified administrative data essential for the evaluation of what works best in schools and early learning centres.

But the bottom line for many will be the money that has been sunk into education going to waste.

As part of the $73.6 billion schools package announced by treasurer Scott Morrison in the federal budget, the Coalition announced it would invest an extra $1.2 billion in schools.

Despite the funding being more than $3 billion short of what was promised under Labor’s Gonski school reforms, people will certainly be asking where that money will be going now.

Read the draft report in full here.

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