The Australian primary education system is failing at stopping the transferring of social advantages and disadvantages across multiple generations.

Keywords: Australian Education, Education Reform, Education Statistics, Primary Education, Education Policy, Social Equality

The transfer of advantage and disadvantage across multiple generations is receiving increasing attention in the international literature. Australia is no exception, and their education policies, aimed at providing tools and opportunities for social equality in economic terms are described by experts as “inefficient” and “failing” (Chakraborty & Harper, 2017) (Hancock, Mitrou, Zubrick, Povey, & Campbell, 2018).

Not surprisingly, the political debate is addressing this important challenge, yet the Australian politicians do not seem to agree on what reforms should be implemented in order to reverse the negative trend in their primary education –the base for ulterior success–  every report OECD Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) report or World Bank data quantitatively evidence (OECD, 2015) (World Bank, 2016). The findings, which have been worrying Australian education policymakers for a decade, show an unequal society that does not even come together during the early stages of education.


According to Dr. Sue Thomson, Director of Educational Monitoring and Research in the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), “findings from PISA reveal that the difference between advantaged and disadvantaged students is equivalent to three years of schooling”. The school a student attends seems to be also a very important factor impacting the educational outcomes. She argues that “disadvantaged students in average socioeconomic level schools are almost a year of schooling higher than those in disadvantaged schools” (Earp, 2017). Her analysis is backed by studies on the impact of socio-economic factors in education from other Australian academics, which conclude that “socio-educational advantage has the most significant influence on students’ achievement scores” (Chakraborty & Harper, 2017).

Some experts believe this is creating a system that perpetuates the preexisting social inequalities in Australia (Stumpers, Breen, Pooley, Cohen, & Pike, 2015). The context, with the primary school gross enrollment ratio[1] for both sexes decreasing from 106.56 (2013) to 101.34 (2016) primarily due to increased primary school dropouts from 50,066 (2013) to 69,193 (2016) (despite the student body size in that age group remaining stable) does not draw a very promising picture of the future of Australian education. A recent highly-cited study analyzing how this dropout phenomenon is fostering inequalities has stirred a heated political discussion that, unfortunately, has not concluded in the form of any agreement or policy to address the problem (Lamb, Jackson, Walstab, & Huo, 2015).

There is little doubt that a 25% dropout rate by year 12 of secondary school will have social consequences in the near future for the society that will have to be addressed. The question that remains is how and when this problem will be faced the Australian political leaders.

[1] The gross enrollment ratio includes students of all ages in a specific school level (e.g. primary, secondary). It includes students whose age exceeds the official age group (e.g. repeaters). Thus, if there is late enrollment, early enrollment or repetition the total enrollment can exceed the population of that age group that officially corresponds to the level of education, leading to ratios greater than 100.


Works Cited

Chakraborty, K., & Harper, R. (2017). Measuring the Impact of Socio-Economic Factors on School Efficiency in Australia. Atlantic Economic Journal, 163-179.

Lamb, S., Jackson, J., Walstab, A., & Huo, S. (2015). Educational opportunity in Australia 2015: Who succeeds and who misses out.Melbourne: Centre for International Research on Education Systems, Victoria University.

Earp, J. (2017, March 17). TIMSS and PISA 2015: Disadvantage an issue in Australia. Retrieved from Teachers Magazine:

Hancock, K. J., Mitrou, F., Zubrick, S. R., Povey, J., & Campbell, A. (2018). Educational inequality across three generations in Australia. Australian Journal of Social Issues, 53(1), 34-55.

OECD. (2015, December 5). PISA 2015 key findings for Australia. Retrieved from OECD Education Directorate:

Stumpers, S., Breen, L., Pooley, J., Cohen, L., & Pike, L. (2015). A critical exploration of the school context for young adolescents completing primary education. Community, Work & Family, 251-270.

World Bank. (2016). Education Statistics for Australia. Retrieved from World Bank:


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