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Education evidence base

Inquiry report

Released 24 / 05 / 2017

This report is about seeking ways to address the challenge of what data to collect and how to use it to support the generation of evidence about what works best in education, and the application of this evidence to inform decision making.

This report was sent to Government on 9 December 2016 and publicly released on 24 May 2017.

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There has not been a government response to this inquiry yet.

  • Key points
  • Contents summary
  • Notwithstanding increases in expenditure on education per student over the past decade, national and international assessments of student achievement in Australia thus far show little improvement and in some areas standards of achievement have dropped.
  • Monitoring outcomes, performance benchmarking and competition between schools alone are insufficient to achieve gains in education outcomes. They must be complemented by the use of data and evidence to identify, and then apply, the most effective programs, policies and education practices.
  • A national education evidence base is broader than a national data repository and requires two key capabilities:
    • a 'top-down' capability, for monitoring, benchmarking and assessing performance in achieving objectives at all levels of the system, as well as promoting transparency and accountability, promoting competition between schools and informing resource allocation
    • a 'bottom-up' capability that evaluates the effectiveness of education policies, programs and teaching practices, enabling systematic identification of ways to improve student achievement.
  • There are much education data collected, imposing a substantial compliance burden across schools and early childhood education and care services. This burden can be reduced by collecting data more cost-effectively and making better use of it.
  • Access to, and sharing of, education data would be substantially improved through reforms proposed in the Commission's draft report on Data Availability and Use.
  • Meanwhile, there is also scope to improve sharing of education data for research purposes by changing current administrative processes for collecting some education data.
  • There are gaps in existing data collections and work in train should fill many of them.
  • But the largest gaps in the national education evidence base relate to evidence, notably:
    • the evaluation of policies, programs and education practices in Australian schools and early childhood education and care services to identify what works best, for whom and in what circumstances
    • building an understanding of how to turn best practice into common practice on the ground, which is as important as evaluating what works best.
  • Creating an evidence-based approach to education policy and teaching practices and turning best practice into common practice are also required to drive better value for money and improve the outcomes achievable from any given level of expenditure.
  • The Australian, state and territory governments must take a shared and co-operative approach to developing a high-quality and relevant Australian education evidence base. There are already effective arrangements for monitoring and performance reporting. To implement the bottom-up capability, governments should:
    • put in place a National Education Evaluation Agreement that defines the objectives of, and framework for, commissioning and applying evaluative research about what works best
    • assign the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) as the institution to be responsible for the implementation of the evaluative research framework, which is accountable to, and funded by, all governments
    • specify ACARA's new governance arrangements, functions and operations.

Chapter 1 presents relevant background information for this report.

Chapter 2 sets out a framework for guiding the further development of the national education evidence base.

Chapter 3 provides an overview of the current education data and evidence and assesses the gaps in the evidence base.

Chapter 4 considers issues associated with data collection, processing and reporting.

Chapters 5 and 6 focus on issues associated with managing data access and linkage, while meeting privacy and other legislative requirements.

Chapter 7 addresses the challenges of creating and using evidence, with a focus on improving research and analytical capability and capacity to translate, communicate and implement evidence to improve education outcomes.

Chapter 8 assesses the institutional and governance arrangements needed for an effective education evidence base capability.

Appendix A provides details of public consultation undertaken for this inquiry.

Appendix B gives further detail about data quality issues, data gaps, gaps in evidence and its creation and use, as identified by inquiry participants.

Appendix C takes stock of the main education data collections and evidence, and measures of external influences.

Printed copies

Printed copies of this report can be purchased from Canprint Communications.

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