Australia's declining educational outcomes

Despite significant increases in government and private funding, student results have been declining year on year. These declines are evident across all testing areas – reading, maths and science. Australian students today are nearly a full year behind the learning benchmarks of Australian students of a decade ago. Some key data points are presented below:


  • Australia's most disadvantaged students are 3 years behind the most advantaged ones, a wider gap than between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. (PISA, 2019)

Overall performance

  • One in six students who graduate from primary school do not meet an acceptable level of competency in reading, writing and numeracy. 
  • In 2019, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report showed Australian students for the first time failing to exceed the OECD average in maths while also failing in reading and science.
  • In maths, science and reading, Australia's students are today almost a full year behind than those almost a decade ago.


  • Rapid declines are most pronounced in the reading results of the lowest achieving students. Since 2000 the proportion of low achieving students has increased across all subjects. 
  • Only 61% of Australian students achieve the National Proficient Standard in reading literacy.


  • Since 2003, Australian results in maths have declined further than nearly every other country, when compared to Singapore, the top performing country. Results from 2019 show Australian students were 3 years behind in maths, a year and 9 months behind in science and year and 3 months in reading.

We know what would make the biggest difference

Australia needs to see a 10% increase in student performance in the three key testing area to bring us to the level of the countries with the most effective education systems. There are many systems around the world and schools in Australia who have worked out what is most important to change to improve primary school learning outcomes.  It's not a question of funding. Nationally, school education expenditure increased by 30% ($10.4 billion dollars) in real terms between 2005 and 2015.  

To improve learning outcomes we need to focus on what will make the greatest difference in classroom practice. We need to improve the quality of curriculum resources and fit for purpose assessment protocols provided to teachers in all subjects we must also improve clarity in teacher education and professional learning about which styles of instruction have the most impact.    

We can learn from Singapore in mathematics curriculum and ambition (PISA, OECD, 2018), the United Kingdom in reading instruction (PISA, OECD, 2018) New York USA in writing and the experience of Portugal in outcomes from the improvement of quality of curriculum resources, (Crato, 2017).

Better still, in Australia we have more than 100 schools who have moved to Science of Learning informed curriculum resources, pedagogy and assessment. It is these schools and their experience Primary Focus wishes to promote.