High-quality small-group tuition should be embedded in all Australian schools as part of a national drive to close the learning gap between struggling and high-achieving students, according to a new Grattan Institute report.

OECD research shows about two in five Australian students do not meet the Australian proficiency standard in reading and mathematics by the time they are 15.

The Grattan report, Tackling under-achievement: Why Australia should embed high-quality small-group tuition in schools, shows that disadvantaged children tend to start school well behind their advantaged peers, and the gap only gets wider with every year of schooling.

Grattan Institute analysis of 2022 NAPLAN data shows the learning gap more than doubles in reading and numeracy between Year 3 and Year 9.

In reading, for example, students in Year 3 whose parents did not finish school are two-years-and-five-months behind students whose parents have a university degree. By Year 9, this learning gap has grown to more than five years.

Small-group tuition – where teachers or other educators work with about three students at a time in short, focused sessions about three times a week over one to two school terms – can add, on average, an extra four months of learning over a year, helping many students catch up.

‘The economic and social benefits of getting this right are huge, because people who do well at school have access to a broader range of opportunities and go on to earn more,’ says report co-author and Grattan Institute Education Program Director Jordana Hunter.

If one in five students received high-quality small-group tuition in 2023, they could collectively earn an extra $6 billion over their lifetimes – about six times the annual cost of Grattan Institute’s proposed small-group tuition program.

Federal and state governments and the Catholic and independent school sectors should commit to a five-year plan to embed high-quality small-group tuition in every school. They should:

  • Improve guidelines for schools on how to embed high-quality small-group tuition, including a focus on prevention and early pinpointing of learning gaps.
  • Review schools’ capacity to do this well, then give schools and tutors the support and training they need, especially to provide evidence-based literacy and numeracy tutoring.
  • Fund rigorous trials and evaluations to identify the most cost-effective ways to deliver high-quality small-group tuition.

In the meantime, a special Grattan Guide for principals and teachers, which accompanies this report, identifies the steps schools can take now to embed high-quality small-group tuition for their students.

For further enquiries email media@grattan.edu.au