From the Principal

Education and Media Politics: Never Simple

If you casually read the public debate on schools in Australia you will have observed the following “facts”:

Fact #1: All Independent schools are large, rich bastions of traditional privilege 

Even the educational academics fall prey to such assumptions: “It is generally accepted that most private schools are segregated across the lines of race and income.” Dr E.Rowe, Deakin University Shopping for schools or shopping for peers: public schools and catchment area segregation, Journal of Education Policy.

As with all generalisations, these facts are lazy and inaccurate. So let’s get some real information about NSW independent schools:

  • Almost half of all independent schools in New South Wales serve low SES communities. (SES – Socio-Economic Status – is a measure calculated by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training and used for school funding purposes.)
  • Most NSW independent schools are small – under 500 enrolments.

As for St Columba, we represent our community, with a range of suburbs, towns, villages, professions, trades, ethnic and racial backgrounds, religious persuasions and family backgrounds making up our school community. The one thing these families share is their decision to choose a school that best reflects their aspirations for their children’s education.

Some of the Independent school myths parents might have heard:

Myth: Independent schools are over-funded by government.
Reality: The majority of Independent schools sit below their public funding entitlement. Some Independent schools are above it and are in the process of transitioning to their new level.
Myth: Independent schools are not subject to the same accountability requirements as government schools.
Reality: Independent schools are subject to a greater level of educational and financial accountability requirements than government schools.
Myth: Independent schools receive more government funding than public schools.
Reality: On average, Independent schools receive around half the level of government funding of public schools.
Myth: Government funding is used to fund extravagant building programs in Independent schools.
Reality: There are strict rules on the use of government recurrent funding to Independent schools. It cannot be used for capital works.
Myth: Independent schools are only for wealthy families.
Reality: Independent schools are accessed by a wide cross section of the community.
Myth: Government funding to Independent schools takes money from the public system.
Reality: Non-government schools actually save governments money.
Myth: Some Independent schools are making large profits.
Reality: As not-for-profit entities, Independent schools do not make ‘profits’. Any surplus collected must be reinvested into the school.
Source: Independent Schools Council of Australia  

Fact#2:  All public schools are poor, badly maintained and underfunded

“THE shocking disrepair in NSW’s dilapidated public schools has worsened with major sewer upgrades, damaged floors and gutters all part of a $732 million repair bill…Schools across the state are literally crumbling. Sydney schools are overcrowded, playgrounds are full of demountable classrooms and now we know many are in a complete state of disrepair.” Daily Telegraph.

I regularly hear state schools pilloried in public conversation and find this as distasteful as the generalisations about independent schools. Like Dr Rowe, I have found that there is not “one” public school but a range of schools that reflect their communities. “Our study showed that public high schools are also highly segregated. In other countries, there is minimal difference between schools so parents send children to the nearest school. In Australia, parents perceive schools to be so different to each other that they will sell their house and relocate for what they perceive to be a better school. This behaviour is quite normalised.” (Rowe, 2017).

Public schools also reflect their communities, and their appearance and performance is as varied as the communities they serve. Certainly, some public schools need help but I have walked through the gates of many “public” schools where the quality of the buildings and socio-economic background of the students would be the envy of many new independent schools. I also believe that these simplistic media reports do not reflect the quality of education and efforts of staff in these high performing public schools.

Every school is different. Every school has its own culture. Parents just want the school that is best for their children. “Australian education policy agenda pushes and promotes parents to avoid low-performing schools, and be active and engaged in choosing the ‘best’ school.” (Rowe, 2017).

Reasonable conduct?

  • “Schools have individual and distinct cultures and teaching philosophies. For example, some have a strong sports ethic, some follow a religious affiliation, and others promote individuality and artistic pursuits. It all depends on what’s important to you and your child. Are you looking for a school with a balanced sporting and academic approach, or one with strengths in artistic and musical areas, or in science and maths? An environment with a strong academic focus might be important to you, or perhaps one that teaches your child more about your religious views.”
  • Starting secondary school is one of the biggest steps in your child’s life. In Victoria there are a variety of options for your child’s secondary education. It is important that you choose the right school to suit your child’s needs as all schools are different and offer different programs.”
  • “Public or private doesn’t really tell you much, so don’t scratch a school off your list just because of how it’s governed. There are terrific and lousy schools in the public, private and (publicly funded) charter-school sectors, so relying on labels alone is a big risk. Likewise, you should do more than glance at a school’s test scores or demographic data.” Andrew J. Rotherham, 5 Tips on Picking a Good School

Over to you, parents.

Mr Terry Muldoon

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