It’s official: Australia spends more than enough on schools

The education debate at the next federal election is shaping up to be about the magnitude of future school funding increases: the Coalition want a big increase, Labor want an even bigger increase, and neither provide any evidence that it’s necessary.

But the latest data highlights the futility of more school spending. The annual OECD Education at a Glance report was released last week, and in breaking news that should shock no one, Australia spends much more on schooling than the OECD average and several top-performing countries.

So… our falling education results on international tests can’t be attributed to not spending enough taxpayer money.

Australia spends a higher dollar amount per student in both primary and secondary than the OECD average, and some top-performing countries like Japan and Finland. Furthermore, Australia spends 3.8% of GDP on school education, higher than the OECD average of 3.5%. And 13.5% of total Australian government expenditure is on education, compared to the OECD average of 11.1%, despite absurd claims to the contrary.

The OECD figures are from 2015, which means they do not take into account the larger recent ‘Gonski funding’ increases in Australia. So they likely understate how much Australia spends compared to the rest of the world. Of course, we can still argue about how school funding can be better distributed or if some schools are underfunded. But our total spending amount is enough.

Another interesting finding of the OECD report is regarding equity of education outcomes by student socioeconomic status, with Australia being at or slightly above the OECD average for equity. This is consistent with previous research findings and undermines the ubiquitous claim that the non-government school sector causes ‘social segregation’. Australia has a relatively high proportion of students attending non-government schools, about 34%, more than double the OECD average of around 16%. And yet this hasn’t led to more student inequality (even if we accept that equity of student academic performance should be the key metric, which is arguable).

Australia can do better. But more spending and blaming non-government schools isn’t the solution.