Education Policy Outlook Snapshot: Australia


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‌‌Australia’s educational context

Students: Australia performs above the OECD average in PISA 2012, with decreasing performance in mathematics and reading and unchanged performance in science across PISA cycles. Australia has fewer underperforming students than the OECD average, and the impact of students’ socio-economic background on performance is below average. However, rural as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations have lower academic performance and less access to tertiary education than the national average. A high proportion of children are enrolled in early childhood education, and school is comprehensive until age 16. School choice is widely available compared to the OECD area. Secondary and tertiary pathways aim to prepare students for social integration and entry into the labour market. Attainment rates in upper secondary education are at the OECD average. The enrolment rate in upper secondary vocational education and training is above the OECD average, as is the attainment rate in tertiary education. Compared to their peers in other OECD countries participating in the Survey of Adult Skills, proficiency in literacy among 16-65 year-old Australians is above average. Proficiency in numeracy in this survey is at average, with 16-24 year-olds performing somewhat higher. Unemployment rates in Australia are below the OECD average.

Institutions: Australia’s schools have positive learning environments, with autonomy over curriculum and assessment above the OECD average and autonomy over resource allocation (such as hiring and dismissing teachers and budget allocation) at around the OECD average. Teachers at lower secondary level are required to undergo a four-year pre- service training, including a mandatory teacher practicum. Instruction time for students and teachers' teaching time in primary and secondary education are among the highest across OECD countries. At primary and secondary levels, teachers' salaries are also above the OECD average, and class size is around the OECD average. A higher proportion of teachers in Australia than the TALIS average consider that the teaching profession is valued in society and would choose to work as teachers if they could decide again. Moreover, the evaluation and assessment framework is well conceived and can help generate improvements in the classroom with clearer information for schools on areas to improve.

System: Australia works in a shared national education system in agreement with states. The education system is steered nationally through agreements with states and territories, focused on education priorities and funding. Schools and states share most decision-making in lower secondary education, with schools making most decisions regarding the organisation of instruction. School funding has lacked transparency and coherence, and outcomes of numerous studies have shown the difficulty in determining how individual schools are funded. Expenditure on educational institutions as a percentage of GDP (for all educational levels combined) is below the OECD average, with a higher share from private sources than the OECD average.

‌‌Selected indicators compared with the average

 EPO SPIDER AUS                                                                                                       Click here to access the underlying data
Note: For each indicator, the absolute performance is standardised (normalised) using a normative score ranging from 0 to 180, where 100 was set at the average, taking into account all OECD countries with available data in each case. See for maximum and minimum value countries. Source: The Australia Snapshot was produced combining information from Education Policy Outlook: Australia, (OECD, 2013) with OECD data and the country’s response to the Education Policy Outlook Snapshot Survey (2013). More information on the spider chart and sources is available at

‌‌Key issues and goals

Students: Australia’s high education performance can be complemented with further focus on reducing inequities by tackling system-level policies hindering equity in education. Other important issues are strengthening incentives for attaining skills demanded by the labour market and increasing access to education and performance of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Institutions: Providing continued support for professional development of teachers and school leaders and clearer evaluation and assessment on how schools can improve are among key issues in Australia.

System: Another issue needing attention is increasing the clarity of policies and funding within the decentralised education system.


‌‌Selected policy responses

  • To strengthen performance and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, Australia has made investments in early childhood education and care, with a National Early Childhood Development Strategy (2009), and has defined completion objectives for VET and ways to strengthen apprenticeships to develop the skills of students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • Through its schools’ policy, Students First (2014), the Australian Government targets the following four key policy areas: 1) developing a sound national curriculum; 2) improving the quality of teaching; 3) expanding principals' autonomy; and 4) engaging parents and the wider community in how their school is run.
  • The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) (2010) aims to promote excellence in teaching and school leadership. The AITSL develops nationally agreed policies and provides resources to support educators to become expert practitioners and drive excellence in teaching and school leadership.
  • Australia is also implementing several policies aiming at improving the quality of teaching at different points during a teaching career. It introduced a national approach to the Accreditation of Initial Teacher Education Programmes (2013) to ensure the quality of programmes across the country. Recent policy direction seeks to build on this with the establishment of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (2014) to look at ways to better prepare new teachers. The Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders (2013) aims to promote improvement throughout teaching careers. Additionally, the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (2013) provide guidance for the quality of teaching across three domains (Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice and Professional Engagement) and four career stages (Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead).
  • Through the National Agreement for Skills and Workplace Development (NASWD, 2009) and the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform (NP, 2012), the objective is to improve access to training and participation in the labour market. Under the NP, all jurisdictions are required to implement key reforms so that at any age, an unqualified working Australian is able to access a training place subsidised by the government in order to pass at least the first Certificate III qualification. All jurisdictions are also required to support the expansion of the Commonwealth’s income-contingent loan policy that helps reduce tuition costs. The Australian Government provides funding to state and territory training systems through funding associated with these agreements.
  • In tertiary education, Australia has introduced the Upholding Quality – Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching measure (2014). Additionally, to promote internationalisation at the tertiary level and increase collaboration in the region, Australia is piloting the New Colombo Plan (2013), which provides funding for Australian students to study or intern in the Indo-Pacific region.


    Spotlight: Providing appropriate resources to all schools

    Starting in 2014, in accordance with the Australian Education Act 2013, the Australian Government is delivering recurrent funding to all Australian schools on a needs basis to ensure that schools are appropriately funded to deliver quality education for all their students, regardless of background. Recurrent funding for government and non- government schools is determined on the same basis, with reference to a Schooling Resource Standard (SRS). For non-government schools, their base funding is discounted based on the capacity of the school community to contribute towards the cost of operating their school. In addition, all schools are entitled to specific loadings (additional funds) that address identified student and school needs. These loadings are targeted at students from low socio-economic backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students with limited English skills and students with a disability, as well as at small schools and schools in regional and remote areas.

    The new Australian Government recurrent funding model was developed following the independent Review of Funding for Schooling (Final Report, December, 2011) commissioned by Australian Government in 2010. The review made a number of recommendations, including implementing needs-based funding that is independent of sectorial difference and targeting resources to support the most disadvantaged students.

 Please cite this publication as:
OECD (2015), Education Policy Outlook 2015: Making Reforms Happen, OECD Publishing.
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