Our students are not performing well enough. Australia should set its sights much higher. Here’s how.

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Improving the quality of school education should be a national priority. Better academic results would improve the lives of students and lift workforce productivity.

National and international assessments show Australia has significant room to improve student outcomes. In the next National School Reform Agreement (NSRA), Australia should set its sights higher. The expert panel’s Consultation Paper recognises this challenge, noting Australia’s uneven performance and calling for reforms that focus on the twin aims of educational equity and excellence.

To boost equity, Australian governments should focus on ensuring all students are equipped with the foundational knowledge and skills needed for success in school and life. Currently, school education is falling short for too many students, including First Nations students, students with a disability, and students from low socio-economic

backgrounds. For many students, significant learning gaps are already present when they start school, and these gaps often grow wider as they progress through school.

Australian Education Ministers have established broad and ambitious goals for Australian schools, as set out in the Mparntwe (Alice Springs) Education Declaration. This level of ambition is appropriate. But governments have not yet built an education system that can deliver

on this ambition. Leaders should not be satisfied with rhetoric, when improved results are both possible and essential, especially for disadvantaged children who rely so heavily on effective schools as a pathway to a better future.

The first priority should be to ensure that all students – irrespective of background – have consistent access to the high-quality teaching required to achieve proficiency in literacy and numeracy.

Governments also need to improve health and community service supports for children, so that they are ‘ready to learn’ when they step inside the classroom. Addressing these issues ‘beyond the school gate’ will require a whole-of-government commitment to reform that extends well beyond the education sector.

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