‘National disgrace’: Call for tutoring to be fixed as underprivileged students fall years behind

“Studies estimate that typically about 20 percent of students need additional learning support, on top of universal classroom instruction, to develop fundamental reading and math skills,” said Grattan’s report.


Rolling out tutoring across all government, Catholic and independent primary and secondary schools would cost about $1 billion a year, but the report said the sessions would pay for themselves.

“If one in five students received a high-quality, small-group education by 2023, they would collectively earn an additional $6 billion over their lifetime,” it said.

“The change we are advocating for is to integrate small group tutoring into schools in the longer term. It is not a plaster, but part of a more systematic approach aimed at prevention, so that any problems are identified early.”

The strong link between socioeconomic status and educational achievement in Australia is highlighted in the world’s largest test of 15-year-olds, called PISA. The latest PISA test found that two in five Australian students fail to meet national proficiency standards in reading and math.


Australian underprivileged students fell behind those in Canada, Britain and South Korea, and on par with those in the US, the PISA test found.

The tutoring push has received the support of Professor Geoff Masters, Managing Director of the Australian Council for Educational Research.

“The best performing school systems in the world don’t just expect teachers to cater to the diversity of student needs. Instead, they have system-wide strategies to better target education to individuals and their progress,” he said.

“Systematic tutoring in small groups is one such strategy that undoubtedly contributes to world-class performance in Estonia, Finland and a number of East Asian countries.”


Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said: “Small group tutoring is already being used by some states and this report contains ideas about the kinds of reforms the panel (for the next National School Reform Agreement) could look at to improve student outcomes. improve – especially for those from underprivileged backgrounds.”

Victoria has spent $738 million on tutoring programs since 2021 to help students catch up after the state’s extended COVID-19 lockdowns. Nearly 100,000 students – about one in 10 – were tutored in public, Catholic and low-cost independent schools last year.

A Victorian government spokesman said future funding for the program will be considered during the next state budget process.

Rachelle Cole, a teacher and literacy expert at Elevation Secondary College in Craigieburn, a northern Melbourne suburb, said students came to secondary school without basic skills.

She said the school’s language and math classes had shown early signs of success, including increased student confidence and involvement in the lesson.

Teacher Rachelle Cole says the tutoring program at Elevation Secondary College in Craigieburn has been successful.Credit:Scott McNaughton

Cole said she would like to see the program continue beyond this year if data shows it was successful.

“The gap between promising and underprivileged students is not going away, so we really need to do something about it.”

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