Education belly flops to new low

by KEVIN DONNELLY – AUSTRALIA’S dismal 2022 international education comparison proves, once again, how substandard our schooling system has become. 

Despite additional billions invested and countless government inquiries and reviews over the past 30 years, the latest Programme for International Student Assessment test (PISA) shows a decline across all subjects. 

We have an education system where competition and meritocracy are downplayed in favour of equality of outcomes and discrimination in favour of “victim” groups.
Kevin Donnelly
Senior Research Fellow, ACU
Australia’s decline. (courtesy OECD)

In mathematics, Australia is ranked 16th, in reading 12th and science 10th. While, on average, the 2022 results are the same as 2018, students’ performance has declined over time in all subjects, placing today’s students a year behind those who sat the 2000 test.

PISA measures the performance of 15-year-old students across more than 80 countries and economic systems and ranks students in terms of a six-point scale in mathematics, science and reading where six is high ability and one represents low understanding.


The percentage of Australian students achieving level two, described as a minimum level of proficiency, has increased six points in mathematics and reading as well as five points in science since 2012.

This is despite billions of taxpayers’ money spent as a result of the 2011 Gonski school funding review.

In addition to more students performing at the basic level compared to 2012, the percentage of top performing Australian students is only 12 per cent compared to Singapore (41%), Taipei (32%), Macao (29%), Hong Kong (27%), Japan (23%) and South Korea (32%).

As a result of the education establishment’s tall poppy syndrome, where competition and meritocracy are downplayed in favour of equality of outcomes and discriminating in favour of “victim” groups, the nation’s brightest continue to underperform.

It’s not just test results proving why governments, education departments, the Australian Education Union, professional associations and consultants charging schools thousands of dollars a day must be held accountable.

Additional evidence of their incompetence is the fact recently arrived overseas students consistently outperform students who’ve been schooled in Australia. The longer you’ve been at school in Australia, the poorer the result.


Despite 41 per cent of immigrant students not speaking English at home, in mathematics immigrant students outperform non-immigrant students by 24 points and in reading the gap amounts to 15 points.

The OECD’s analysis explains one of the reasons for Australia’s underperformance is the high rate of disruption and lack of classroom discipline.

Some 25 per cent of students said they could not work well in class, 33 per cent did not listen to the teacher and 40 per cent admitted they were distracted when using digital devices.

The analysis also shows, despite the Australian Education Union’s perennial complaint about lack of funding and its demand taxpayers invest additional billions to raise standards, there is minimal connection between extra funding and test results.

The PISA report states: “While there is some correlation between spending and academic performance, history shows that countries determined to build a first-class education system can achieve this even in adverse economic conditions.”


One of the other lies pushed by the AEU and the woke Australian Council for Educational Research is a student’s socio-economic status (SES) as measured by postcode, parental qualifications and wealth, determines educational success or failure.

The AEU argues the only reason students in Catholic and Independent schools achieve such strong academic results, compared to under-privileged low SES students in government schools, is because they come from wealthy backgrounds.

Untrue. When determining what leads to strong test results the PISA analysis concludes “disadvantaged background does not determine destiny” and “social disadvantage does not automatically lead to poor educational performance”.

Instead of being the main determinant in educational success or failure, the PISA’s analysis concludes economic status “accounted for 15 per cent of the variation in mathematics performance in PISA 2022 in Australia (compared to 15 per cent on average across OECD countries)”.

As argued by the Australian academic Gary Marks, more important than a student’s home background are schools having a rigorous academic curriculum, effective teachers and classroom practice, high expectations and regular testing and feedback plus supportive parents.


Marks also argues, factors ignored by the Gonski school funding review, that student ability, motivation and inherited intelligence, are vitally important.

Much of the educational debate over the past 30 to 40 years assumes working class and migrant students underperform because they are disadvantaged. It’s time to jettison what Michael Gove, when UK education secretary, called “soft bigotry of low expectations”.

Although the PISA report notes caution has to be taken when analysing the 2022 results, given the impact of COVID-19, it also states across the OECD, including Australia: “Educational trajectories were negative well before the pandemic hit.” PC

Dr Kevin Donnelly

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a senior fellow at the ACU’s PM Glynn Institute.

Public schools ‘a disgrace’…

MAIN PHOTOGRAPH:  NSW Education Minister Prue Car. (courtesy Sky News Australia)
RE-PUBLISHED: This article was originally published by The Daily Telegraph on December 6, 2023. Re-used with the author’s  permission.

2 thoughts on “Education belly flops to new low

  1. 2013/14 and the Gillard-Rudd Union Labor Government completed deals with State Governments for new Federal funding for public education, the “Gonski” funding. The Opposition led by Tony Abbott agreed to support Gonski if elected to government in September 2013 as they were, but also added the condition subject to negotiation with State Education Departments for schools to “get back to basics” subjects being reintroduced.

    I understand that when the Abbott Coalition Government was talking to State Governments they all reported that there were not enough qualified to teach the basic subjects teachers available and before the change could be implemented new training programmes were needed.

    In more recent years in New South Wales reports have been discussed about teachers ignoring the education Department school curriculum and instead wasting student’s time on climate hoax, gender propaganda and other leftist nonsense. One Nation’s Member of the Legislative Council, Mark Latham, reported that teachers were obtaining teaching material including videos from websites, professionally produced material from global leftist sources issued free of charge.

    The decline in education standards appears to be deliberately introduced and governments have chosen not to interfere.

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