Policy Insights

Publication Date




Reforming schools and improving student achievement levels are priorities for governments around the world. In Australia over the past decade, State, Territory and Commonwealth governments put considerable effort into improving the quality and equity of school education. These initiatives included the various National Partnership Programs.

The results of international surveys show that, despite reform efforts, there was little improvement in the performances of Australian students over the past decade. The period 2000 to 2012 saw a significant decline in the reading and mathematical literacy levels of Australian 15-year-olds as measured by PISA, and results from TIMSS confirmed a general lack of improvement in mathematics and science. Australia was one of a small number of relatively high-performing countries in which achievement levels in PISA declined over this period.

International efforts to understand differences in countries’ performances are providing insights into national policy settings that can make a difference (either positively or negatively) to levels of educational quality and equity in a country. This paper examines trends in Australian students' performances - particularly in PISA - over the past decade and considers implications for Australian schools policies.

Specifically, the paper asks:

  • What can be learnt from international achievement surveys about effective schools policies?
  • Will current policy settings in school education arrest the decade-long decline in PISA literacy and numeracy levels at 15 years of age?
  • Is Australia on track to see improved levels of performance in future international surveys?



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