The Innocenti Report Card, titled An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries, rates inequality across preschool, primary school and secondary school in 41 of the world’s richest countries.
Latvia, Ireland and Spain topped the table, Australia placed 30th.
The report uses several indicators to measure inequality.
The measure for preschool is the percentage of students enrolled for at least one hour a week, one year before the official age of primary school entry.
The report says it “denotes equality of access to preschool education and is a measure of equality of opportunity”.
For primary school, the indicator is the gap in reading scores between the lowest scoring students and the highest in Grade 4.
The secondary school indicator is the gap in reading scores between the lowest and highest scoring students at 15 years old.
The report focuses on reading because, it explains, “reading is a gateway to other learning”.
With large gaps between the highest and lowest scoring students, New Zealand appeared in the bottom third for each of the three indicators, demonstrating that Aotearoa has one of the most unequal education systems in the world.
According to the report, given some of the poorest countries achieved quite highly on the indicators, it suggests that there is no systematic relationship between country income and any of the indicators of equality in education.
New Zealand has the second-widest gap in reading comprehension at Grade 4, between the best and worst readers.
Meanwhile, girls outperformed boys on reading at both primary and secondary levels.
A number of reasons were given for this inequality across schooling levels, including differences in schools, gender and parents’ occupations.
New Zealand also reported the highest rates of bullying, with almost 60 per cent of students at Grade 4 reporting being bullied either weekly or monthly.
The report noted that various policies and practices could impact on educational inequality, from grouping students according to ability within school to grade repetition.
However, it cautioned that “the fact that societies with such different approaches to school management as Latvia and Ireland can appear side by side at the top of the league table suggests that things are not simple”.
The report, suggested more analysis at a country level, as well as collection of evidence as to what works and doesn’t work, to identify successful policies that could be copied across borders.