Australian students lag behind in classroom discipline, OECD report reveals

A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found that Australian classrooms are among the most disruptive and least favourable for learning in the developed world. The report, based on the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, also warns that poor discipline is driving teachers away and affecting student outcomes.

The OECD report, which compares the education policies and outcomes of 37 countries, reveals that Australia has one of the lowest scores in the PISA index of disciplinary climate. This index measures how often students report noise and other disruptions in the classroom. Australia scored -0.2, while the OECD average was 0.04. Only six countries had lower scores than Australia, including Brazil, Turkey and Argentina.

Australian students lag behind in classroom discipline, OECD report reveals
Australian students lag behind in classroom discipline, OECD report reveals

The report also cites the 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), which found that 37% of Australian lower-secondary school principals reported intimidation or bullying among students occurred at least weekly. This was higher than the OECD average of 14%. Moreover, only 72% of Australian teachers felt prepared for managing disruptive behaviour, compared to the OECD average of 82%.

Poor discipline affects student and teacher performance

The OECD report suggests that poor discipline in Australian classrooms has negative consequences for both students and teachers. According to the PISA 2018 results, one in three Australian 15-year-olds (33%) reported to have skipped at least one day of school in the two weeks prior to the test, compared to one in five (21%) on average across the OECD. The report also notes that student truancy is associated with lower academic achievement and lower socio-emotional skills.

For teachers, poor discipline is one of the factors contributing to a “high level of teacher attrition” in Australia, the report says. The report estimates that Australia faces a projected deficit of 4,100 high school teachers by 2025, based on the Department of Education statistics. The report also points out that Australian teachers work longer hours and receive less competitive salaries than other similarly educated professionals, except for school principals.

How to improve classroom discipline in Australia

The OECD report offers some recommendations for improving the disciplinary climate and student engagement in Australian schools. Some of these include:

  • Providing more support and training for teachers to deal with challenging behaviour and promote positive relationships with students.
  • Developing a national framework for student well-being and social and emotional learning, aligned with the Australian Curriculum.
  • Implementing evidence-based interventions to prevent and reduce bullying and violence in schools, such as whole-school approaches and peer support programs.
  • Enhancing parental involvement and communication with schools, especially for students at risk of disengagement or dropout.
  • Strengthening the career pathways and professional development opportunities for teachers, as well as recognising and rewarding their achievements.

The OECD report acknowledges that Australia has made some progress in addressing the issues of equity and quality in education, such as through the National School Reform Agreement and the Gonski 2.0 funding model. However, it also urges Australia to continue to monitor and evaluate the impact of these reforms and to align them with the needs and expectations of students, teachers and society.

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