ISSUES PAPER: 3 April 2018

Growing inequality in education costs Australia billions

The Public Education Foundation’s new Issues Paper “What Price the Gap? Education and Inequality in Australia” reveals that growing educational inequality over the six years from 2009-2015 alone has cost Australia around $20.3 billion, equivalent to 1.2% of GDP.

By charting the recent history of educational inequality, the paper evaluates the economic impacts of falling educational achievement as measured by PISA testing, including the value of the ‘inequality effect’ caused by a widening distribution of Australian students’ performances.  We find that the total cost of Australia’s decline in educational performance over the 2009-15 is over $118 billion, of which $20.3 billion is the ‘inequality effect’.

“While all groups have fared worse on the international PISA tests, the performance of those at the bottom has fallen by almost 50% more than those at the top, exacerbating inequality between the two ends,” the Public Education Foundation’s Executive Director, David Hetherington, said.

“To address the growing inequality and continued slide in international rankings, Australia’s education system needs to focus explicitly on turning around our lowest performing students,” Mr Hetherington said.

There are a range of recommendations to improve the performance of our lowest achieving students including targeted teaching approaches, alternative learning programs, second classroom teachers to support underperforming students outside the classroom, especially in disadvantaged communities and keeping some spots in selective school for comprehensive students, and a firm commitment to needs-based funding for schools.

“This is not only a challenge for families with lower performing students; it’s a pressing concern for all Australian families.  A lower performing, less equal education system means lower living standards and less opportunities for all Australians in the future, whether they are at the top or the bottom of the tree today,” said Mr Hetherington.

The What Price the Gap? Issues Paper can be found here:

The Public Education Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing life-changing scholarships to students and educators in public education, and enhancing the value and reputation of public education.


For more information:  Melanie Morrison I Public Education Foundation

T +61 2 9266 8247 | M 0401 996 451 I E