Cut back on spending on technology, smaller classes, says new report

Australian schools use technology in classrooms "significantly more" than most high-achieving OECD countries despite little evidence to show it boosts standards, according to a new report which warns that extra Gonski money will not lift results unless it is spent effectively.

A new report by the Centre for Independent Studies says the focus of education policy must shift from "spend more money" to using funding to "invest in cost-effective, evidence-based policies and practices".

This could include interventions for underperforming students, a focus on phonics and more professional development for teachers to help them manage classroom behaviour.

The report, Getting the most out of Gonski 2.0: The evidence base for school investments, says it is "imperative" that the extra $23.5 billion for the federal government's Gonski 2.0 funding plan be spent effectively or else there is a "risk that in 2027, Australia's literacy and numeracy results would have continued to decline despite significantly more government spending".

"This would be unfair to students by not giving them the education they deserve and unfair to taxpayers by not generating a return for their money," the report, released on Sunday, says.

The report says two common school investments that lack sufficient evidence to justify more spending include smaller class sizes and technology.

"Australian students use computers at school significantly more than students in all five top-performing [OECD] countries," the report says.

"Australia currently invests significantly more in school technology relative to the rest of the world, but this by itself has not helped to improve literacy and numeracy."

The report also says warns that a focus on reducing class sizes has not proved to be a cost-effective way of boosting student achievement and could result in reducing teacher quality.

"Relative to the top-performing countries in the world, Australian class sizes are not especially large, so reducing class size in not a pressing investment," the report says.

Instead, three evidence-based investments that schools should consider include specialist support staff for early literacy and numeracy interventions, giving teachers fewer classes with more time outside the classroom and professional development for teachers in classroom management.

Australian teachers at all levels of schooling spend "significantly more time" teaching on a school day compared with the OECD average and top-performing countries, the report says.

"Australian teachers in upper secondary education, for example, teach on average over one hour more per day compared to teachers in top-performing countries Korea, Japan and Finland," it says.

"If teachers are given fewer classes they potentially have more time outside the classroom to further prepare, review and refine lessons as well as to collaborate more with other teachers.

The report warns Australian teacher education degrees do not adequately prepare teachers with evidence-based classroom management practices.

"Australia has high levels of classroom misbehaviour compared to the OECD and high-performing countries, especially among students from lower socio-economic backgrounds," the report says.

"Classroom misbehaviour has significant negative effects on student achievement and can be ameliorated by effective classroom management techniques."

The report concludes that it can no longer be acceptable to base education policies and practices "merely on intuition, or to maintain naive expectations about the positive impact of more school funding".

"Evidence-based education investments are necessary if Australia is to have a world-leading school sydney in which all students can flourish," the report concludes.

This story Cut back on spending on technology, smaller classes, says new report first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.