Worse off: the academic gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students is widening.
Worse off: the academic gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students is widening.

The Australian education system is in worse shape now than
when David Gonski handed down his damning assessment of it three years
ago, with academic performance sliding and the gap between advantaged
and disadvantaged students widening.

A new analysis of My School data provided to The Sun Herald tells of deterioration in Australian schools since the controversial website was launched in 2010.

It also finds that the disparity between the highest and
lowest performing students, which is already greater than most other
developed countries, is deepening.

The NAPLAN test results from 2009 to 2013 published on the
website show student achievement has stalled or languished across a
majority of the measures. But a deeper analysis reveals, while results
have climbed for advantaged students, they have slipped for those from
the middle and bottom of the socioeconomic scale. The gap is especially
stark  in high schools.

The co-author of the analysis, Chris Bonnor, says the
notable trends, measured over just a few years, indicate a serious and
worsening equity problem.

"What Gonski found to be bad, seems to be getting worse," Mr
Bonnor, a former school principal and policy analyst, said. "If we
ever need another impetus to get equity right, surely this data is
posing lots of questions that need to be answered."

Results for years 5 and 9 show writing and numeracy scores
have fallen, while reading scores rose for year 5 and were unchanged
for year 9. But, when grouped by socioeducational status, numeracy
scores rose for the most advantaged students in all sectors. For
schools in middle and low brackets, the trend is downwards or
fluctuating. The divergence is also noticeable for both year groups in

The picture looks better for primary school reading where results have improved.

The trends show the link between disadvantage and poor test
results has become more pronounced, particularly in primary schools and
schools in metropolitan areas.

Mr Bonnor said the money trail over the  past few years
helps explain the downward trend. He examined school funding at schools
from public, private and Catholic at three different levels of
advantage. While disadvantaged students receive the most in government
funding, more money was spent on the most advantaged students than any
other group, especially when school fees were taken into account.

The analysis does not capture any changes resulting from the
new needs-based funding model implemented this year. But, the report
argues, the changes have occurred while the Gonski review "proceeded,
reported, was variously ignored, cherry-picked, somewhat implemented
then in relative terms largely abandoned".

Trevor Cobbold, the convener of Save Our Schools and a
former Productivity Commission economist, said the scaled-back version
of the Gonski model would "fall far short" of addressing weakness in
Australia's school system.

"Every principal in a disadvantaged school in the country
will be pleased with the extra funding they're going to get, but that
just shows how desperate they are," he said. "They are happy to get the
$1000 extra per kid because they can do something with it but I think
the evidence shows we're just actually not going to make a big enough

The president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Maurie
Mulheron, says teachers have been "trying to work miracles" without the
additional resources they need for disadvantaged students.

A spokesman for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the
federal government does not believe increased funding leads to better

"This has been disproven over the past decade, where school
funding has risen by 40 per cent, but student outcomes have declined,"
he said. "It is the quality and ability of teachers that makes the
biggest impact on student performance in our country."

Labor's  assistant minister for education Amanda Rishworth
said the next generation of Australians would pay the price of the
government's reluctance to commit to the final two years of Gonski
funding, when the bulk of the money was due to flow through.