National School Reform Agreement
Released 20 / 01 / 2023
This report examines how well national policy initiatives by the Australian, State and Territory Governments have achieved the objectives and outcomes set out in the Agreement and makes recommendations to inform the design of the next school reform agreement.
The review recommends redesigning the agreement to focus more attention on lifting academic results for all students, supporting quality teaching and school leadership, and promoting students’ wellbeing.
Download the overview
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- Review of the National School Reform Agreement (PDF - 3384 Kb)
- Review of the National School Reform Agreement (Word - 7115 Kb)
- At a glance
- All Australian governments have endorsed the national goal of a high quality, high equity education system and have a long history of collaborating on reforms to pursue this goal.
- The most recent vehicle for national collaboration — the National School Reform Agreement (NSRA) — outlines eight National Policy Initiatives (NPIs) to lift outcomes in student achievement, attainment and engagement.
- The NSRA’s initiatives have done little, so far, to improve student outcomes.
- Some NPIs are complete but will take time to produce results, while others have not yet led to actual reforms.
- Two important NPIs — the Unique Student Identifier and Online Formative Assessment Initiative — have been delayed. In December 2022, Education Ministers announced progress in addressing sticking points.
- Even so, the NSRA is a sound platform for intergovernmental collaboration.
- The objective, outcomes and many of the NSRA’s sub-outcomes are still relevant and should continue to set the direction of reforms in the next school reform agreement. A new outcome on student wellbeing should be added, as wellbeing is both a desired outcome of schooling, and a means of improving learning outcomes.
- The next school reform agreement should include firm targets for improving academic achievement for all students, including students from priority equity cohorts, in each jurisdiction.
- New state-level targets would provide jurisdictions with greater discretion about how they improve achievement (compared to NPIs), while strengthening accountability for results (compared to national performance indicators that are directional and open ended).
- The basis of each new target should be common to all jurisdictions; however, there should be scope for the Commonwealth and each jurisdiction to negotiate the level of the target.
- All jurisdictions face common reform challenges — addressing these should be the focus of the next school reform agreement. Governments should advance reforms to:
- support quality teaching and effective school leadership: priorities could include reducing low-value tasks and out-of-field teaching, disseminating best practice, and producing evidence-backed resources that teachers and leaders trust and use — the last of these could be the basis of new NPIs.
- support all students to achieve basic levels of literacy and numeracy: tens of thousands of students do not achieve basic levels of literacy and numeracy each year. The next school reform agreement should include specific targets and measures to support these students.
- reduce differences in achievement across students: many students identified as priority equity cohorts in the NSRA, along with other students (such as those in out-of-home care), face significant challenges. Governments should consider augmenting the priority equity cohorts, and adopt new approaches, developed and implemented in consultation with the relevant parties, to lift outcomes for all students.
- promote wellbeing: many children and young people struggle with poor wellbeing because of experiences in and outside their schools. Teachers need more support to help students to manage these issues and achieve their potential.
- Greater flexibility in progressing reforms should be accompanied by increased accountability for and transparency of results.
- Along with better use of targets, bilateral agreements will need to be more of a focal point for jurisdictions to advance reforms, and annual performance reporting will need to be improved.
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Still lessons to be learned to improve student outcomes
The Productivity Commission’s Review of the National School Reform Agreement (NSRA) recommends redesigning the agreement to focus more attention on lifting students’ academic results and supporting students’ wellbeing.
“Governments have boosted funding for schools and are implementing reforms to lift student outcomes. However, so far, this effort has had little impact on literacy and numeracy results. In the next agreement, the Commission recommends governments commit to firm targets to lift students’ results — targets do not guarantee success but they create a clear direction for reform and make governments accountable,” Commissioner Natalie Siegel-Brown said.
“Each year, almost 90,000 students do not meet minimum standards for reading or numeracy in NAPLAN. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students in outer regional and remote Australia, and students of parents with low educational attainment are three times more likely to fall behind than other students. The Commission recommends that each state and territory should set a target to reduce the share of students who are falling behind,” Ms Siegel-Brown said.
The current agreement sets goals to lift the outcomes of students from ‘priority equity cohorts’ — Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students living in regional, rural and remote locations, students with disability and students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds — but a lack of data and reporting means jurisdictions are not accountable. The Commission recommends that, under the next agreement, governments fill the data gaps, outline their programs to lift students’ results and report annually on progress.
To ensure Australia has a high quality, high equity education system the next agreement must focus on addressing the different educational needs of particular cohorts, in addition to effective teaching and school leadership and supporting student wellbeing.
“Effective teaching is the single most influential ‘in-school’ factor for creating an effective learning environment. Compared to many countries, our teachers work longer hours but have less time for activities that make a real difference in the classroom. Teacher shortages also mean we are asking many teachers to teach subjects they are not trained to teach,” Ms Siegel-Brown said.
“Governments have announced reforms to address these issues. The Commission is suggesting further reforms, which could help ease these pressures on teachers.”
“Many students experience challenges to their wellbeing and can have difficulty engaging at school. We recommend the next intergovernmental agreement recognise wellbeing as a priority and governments take steps to support all schools to adopt effective wellbeing strategies,” Ms Siegel-Brown said.
For a full copy of the Review of the National School Reform Agreement report, please visit the Commission’s website: www.pc.gov.au
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Strengthening outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
Review of the National School Reform Agreement
The Productivity Commission’s review of the National School Reform Agreement (NSRA) looks at ways governments can work together to provide a high quality and equitable education for all students. The report includes a focus on improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, who are one of four ‘priority equity cohorts’ named in the NSRA.
As part of the review, the Commission engaged with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, considered the contemporary policy environment, including the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, and highlighted ways in which governments can work collaboratively with the community to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
What we heard from participants to this review
Participants to this review noted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students faced systemic barriers, which prevent them from reaching their potential at school. In consultations and through submissions to the review, participants observed that:
- Schools are not always culturally safe spaces, preventing students from being engaged with their learning, and parents from sharing information about issues at home.
- Curriculum and assessment is a ‘western space’ that does not reflect aspects of learning valued by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which include connections to Country, family, spirit, or ancestors.
- Teachers and school leaders can have a poor understanding of Indigenous knowledges, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, and how to include and empower their students.
- A deficit discourse surrounding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students hinders their ability to succeed.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students living in remote areas face a lack of local schooling options. This means children are not always able to live and be educated on their own Country, which can contribute to feeling isolated, affect their wellbeing and reduce opportunities to acquire cultural and familial knowledges.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers play an important role within their schools, building cultural awareness and supporting cultural safety for students and fellow educators. Some participants commented that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers can face discriminatory attitudes. These attitudes, along with workloads, can contribute to poor wellbeing and cause teachers to exit from teaching, which can have flow-on effects for students.
- Barriers faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students reflect broader issues relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s lack of a voice and representation in education policy and broader social narratives.
“... labelling of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and families as disadvantaged continues to play into a culture of deficit discourse and low expectations that stymie Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ ability to thrive in their education ... [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students] are not inherently disadvantaged by being Indigenous.”
(Indigenous Education Consultative Meeting, sub. 52, p. 3)
What do we propose for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students?
The review makes recommendations on ways that governments can collaborate to improve outcomes for all students. Several of the recommended actions relate specifically to improving the educational experiences of, and outcomes for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
Improving academic outcomes
The Commission recommends governments include actions in the next school reform agreement to address the barriers preventing many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from reaching their potential.
The Commission recommends parties to the next school reform agreement:
- Commit to actions to lift outcomes and sub-outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (R 4.3)
- Develop outcomes, reform activities, and transparency and accountability arrangements in collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (R 4.3)
- Set out actions that commit to embedding cultural safety requirements across education systems, and the identification and elimination of racism, consistent with commitments under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap (R 4.3)
- Implement reforms to address the various barriers to accessing high quality education that students from priority equity cohorts face (R 4.4). For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, practices that will help address these barriers include:
- adopting culturally responsive curriculum and pedagogies to enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to see their identities, cultures, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges reflected in what and how they are learning
- supporting parents and carers to actively engage with their child’s education (F 4.7)
- Commit parties to publicly reporting on each outcome of the NSRA for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (R 9.2)
Supporting student wellbeing
Poor wellbeing directly affects students’ capacity to learn and can particularly impact students who experience challenges to engagement and inclusion at school (including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students).
The Commission proposes parties to the next school reform agreement:
- Elevate student wellbeing as an outcome of the next agreement, along with greater transparency about wellbeing outcomes (R 5.1)
- Enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have access to data to inform their decision-making about their wellbeing (Chapter 5)
Equipping teachers and leaders to create a culturally inclusive environment
Teachers and school leaders demonstrating greater knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, and how to include and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, would lead to improved student outcomes.
The Commission recommends parties to the next school reform agreement:
- Commit to meeting cultural safety requirements across education systems (R 4.3)
- Participate in the development of the new national First Nations Teachers’ Strategy, which, among other things, should include specific measures to identify and remove racism in the education system (R 7.2). The First Nations Teachers’ Strategy provides an opportunity to improve the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers.
To find out more about our recommendations or read the full report visit:
Download the factsheet
- Preliminaries: Cover, Copyright and publication detail, Foreword, Terms of reference, Disclosure of interests and Contents
- Recommendations and findings
1. About this review
- 1.1 What has this review been asked to do?
- 1.2 How has the Commission approached this review?
2. What has been happening to student outcomes?
- 2.1 Why do education outcomes matter?
- 2.2 What has been happening to student outcomes?
- 2.3 What factors influence student outcomes?
3. High-level assessment
- 3.1 How have the national reforms fared?
- 3.2 What issues should be the focus of the next school reform agreement?
4. Lifting outcomes for all students
- 4.1 What is equity in schooling?
- 4.2 Are all students reaching basic levels of literacy and numeracy?
- 4.3 Have governments addressed the learning needs of students from priority equity cohorts?
- 4.4 How could the next school reform agreement lift outcomes for priority equity cohorts?
5. Student wellbeing
- 5.1 Why focus on student wellbeing?
- 5.2 How are governments supporting wellbeing in schools?
- 5.3 How could the next intergovernmental agreement support wellbeing?
6. Supporting teacher effectiveness
- 6.1 Teacher effectiveness — what is it, what drives it and why does it matter?
- 6.2 Supporting teacher effectiveness across a teacher’s career
- 6.3 Evidence-based practices help drive better student outcomes
7. Ensuring a stable supply of teachers
- 7.1 What is the nature and extent of teacher shortages?
- 7.2 What is driving teacher shortages?
- 7.3 How can we attract teachers to areas of shortage?
- 7.4 How can we retain existing teachers?
- 7.5 How can we better identify and predict shortages?
8. School leadership
- 8.1 Why is school leadership important?
- 8.2 What are the emerging pressures on school leaders?
- 8.3 Is the pipeline of future leaders sustainable?
- 8.4 What role could the next agreement play in supporting the pipeline of leaders?
9. The National Measurement Framework
- 9.1 Assessing NSRA performance reporting arrangements
- 9.2 Improvements to national performance reporting on schooling
- A. Public engagement
B. Trends in student outcomes
- B.1 Achievement of Australian students — analysis of PISA data
- B.2 Learning achievement for students from priority equity cohorts
- B.3 Equivalised years of learning
C. National Policy Initiatives: background and assessments
- C.1 The task
- C.2 The Commission’s approach
- C.3 Assessment of individual National Policy Initiatives
D. Estimates of teacher effectiveness
- D.1 Studies that measure teacher effectiveness
- D.2 Estimating the benefits of improved teacher effectiveness
- E. Performance against the sub-outcomes