Uneven playing field: the state of Australia’s schools | REPORT | June 2016

Education is at once the great social mobiliser and the great leveller in our society. Educated citizens are safeguards in our democracy, and an educated workforce is vital to a productive, innovative and entrepreneurial economy. Education breaks the shackles of disadvantage and empowers those who live without privilege.

But how fair and accessible are Australia’s schools? Almost five years on since the Gonski Review, are we making progress?

CPD latest report, Uneven playing field: the state of Australia’s schools, takes a look at these questions. It is co-authored by CPD Fellow Chris Bonnor and Bernie Shepherd, who between them have 80 years of experience as NSW principals and education policy experts.

Examining key data from the My School website, the report shows:

  • Equity in our schools is declining – Family and personal background are having a greater impact on student achievement than is desirable in an open, accessible system like ours.
  • Students who have the means are shifting to different schools – Enrolment growth in more advantaged schools is growing strongly while enrolment growth in more disadvantaged schools is well below the national average.
  • A schools hierarchy is hardening along advantage/disadvantage lines Disadvantaged students are increasingly concentrated in disadvantaged schools, and the educational challenges for these students are compounding as a result.
  • The local school is becoming detached from its surrounding neighbourhoods – The local public school is increasingly less representative of the local area because many students are attending school elsewhere. The connections the local school has with the community are breaking down.
  • Government funding is converging across government and non-government schools Based on current trends, by 2016-17 the recurrent government funding that non-government schools receive converge with, then outstrip, that received by the public schools in a similar socio-economic range.

The report argues that the current government policies and funding arrangements are wholly unsustainable, and recommends four key things overall:

  • Revitalise Gonski Policymakers should revising the findings and establish the mechanisms recommended by the Review – including a National Schools Resourcing Body to drive implementation of a Schools Resourcing Standard.
  • Level the playing field for schools and students – Federal and state governments to commit to full funding of all the Gonski recommendations as a high priority. If additional funding is not forthcoming, governments should rebalance the funding mix towards additional investment in schools with greatest need, regardless of sector. This should include a review of those schools where current finding levels are much greater than for other schools with similar enrolment profiles, differ markedly from other schools with similar enrolments, and a hold in growth in public funding for non-government schools pending a review of how funding is distributed and what obligations should accompany public funding.
  • Restore the local school Policy should focus on maximising opportunities for all children to enrol and succeed in their most accessible local school.
  • Reduce the impact of disadvantage on student outcomes – The clear relationship between social disadvantage and poor educational outcomes – driven in part by separation of students with socio-educational advantage – must be addressed as an urgent priority. Incentives available to certain schools to aggregate advantage should be progressively reduced, and the capacity of less advantaged schools to offer excellent education to all students and families in a community must be increased.

You can read both the full report and the press release here.


Key links

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               Full report                                     Press release 


Media coverage


Print and online

Federal aid for private schools to outstrip funding for similar state schools‘, Gareth Hutchens, The Guardian.

Private school students to receive $100 more in government funds than public students by 2020‘, Timna Jacks and Matthew Knot, Sydney Morning Herald/The Age.

Election 2016: Harsh truths for both sides on school funding, but we’ll just muddle on‘, Matthew Knot, Sydney Morning Herald/The Age.

Private schools the big winners from taxpayer funding‘, Leith van Onselen, Macrobusiness.

Schools out during the long election campaign‘, Chris Bonnor and Bernie Shepherd, Inside Story.


Co-author Chris Bonnor discussed the report on Mornings with Jon Faine on ABC Radio in Melbourne.


Chris also appeared on Channel 7’s The Morning Show on 2 June and on Sky’s Newsday with Ashley Gillon on 3 June.