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China kids brighter than ours
Primary school children in Shanghai in 2010. File picture: Reuters

Working class children in China outperform Australia's brightest students as education systems in developed countries struggle to keep up with emerging ones.

An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development analysis reveals a big gap between the best science, mathematics and reading students in Australia and China.

Even within Australia there is a big gap based on parents, with the kids of IT and communication workers doing up to 20 per cent better than those whose parents are labourers.

The OECD found students whose parents had professional occupations generally outperformed other students in maths, and students of parents in "elementary" occupations tended to underachieve compared with peers.

It found the children of professional parents in Australia were the best performed in reading, science and maths with managers' children close behind.

At the bottom were the children of elementary workers, such as labourers and cleaners.

Within the professions, IT workers generally produced the top students in the three subjects, closely followed by those in scientific and engineering fields.

But the divide between white and blue-collar families became blurred when Australians were compared with overseas children. Children in Shanghai are the best performers in the world in all three areas studied.

The study found even the children of Shanghai's elementary workers did better than Australia's brightest in reading and maths.

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The gap closed for science in which the kids of Australian professionals outperformed Chinese children whose parents were elementary workers. But Chinese in services or plant machine operators produced brighter children than Australians. Australian children did much better than students in Britain and the US of similar backgrounds.

However, New Zealand children of IT parents did better than their Australian counterparts in reading and maths.

Australian Council for Educational Research director Sue Thomson said the report strengthened the need for the Gonski school funding reforms, which would improve results in lower socio-economic families.