From the Principal

School Choice

Access to school choice has become an expectation in Australia. Today, Australian families can choose not only between Independent and/or Catholic and State schools but also between different State schools.

Australia has one of the highest rates of private schooling in the OECD. Approximately 35 percent of students attend a non-government school, either a Catholic systemic institution — 20 per cent — or an independent school — 15 per cent. In NSW, the figure is slightly higher. More than 16 percent of students attended an independent school in 2016 and in the high school years, this number jumped to 22 per cent. The OECD average for all students is 4 percent, according to the latest available figures).

“The idea goes like this: if you don’t confine enrolments to the local public school, and parents are free to move their child into any school they like across the public, private and Catholic sectors, all schools will have to work harder to compete for students by lifting their results….Dr Jennifer Buckingham from the Centre for Independent Studies says that if you ask parents, most of them very much like having a range of school options. ‘I don’t think that’s something Australians would give up easily. So while we can rail against what we can see as inequities or whatever a lot of parents value choice,’ she says..” School choice: some parents are prepared to pay, but is society? The Guardian, August 19, 2019

While our School ignores geographic boundaries in accepting applications, focussing instead on a meeting of the needs of each student, it appears that choice between state schools is causing concern to our state school “siblings”. There appears to be a new debate about school choice in the media, but this time it is not about Independent/Catholic/State school choice. It is about whether parents should have the right to choose the state school their child attends.

Why school choice is good for families, but not for the system: SMH, Jordan Baker, August 11, 2019

Once upon a time, Sydney families did not angst about where to send their children to school. If they wanted public education, they chose the local one. But due to policy shifts over the past few decades, parents now feel they have a right to choose their child’s school. It means that parents flock to some schools, but bypass others, leaving some bursting and others struggling. And from a policy perspective, spending further billions of dollars on new schools is hard to justify while classrooms at other schools sit empty. A failure to apply the enrolment policy consistently has also led to a patchy system…. A consistent and clear approach to enrolment makes sense, but it will trigger legitimate parent angst. And the beneficiary, at least in the short term, may be Catholic schools, as parents exercise choice by opting out of the public system altogether.

Overseas experts can seem bemused by the Australian passion for having the right to choose the “right” school for their child, but there is no doubt that the importance of educational choice has grown in importance in the minds of Australian families.

Why would Australian parents want choice in education?

  • Fit: A school that reflects the family’s educational aspirations and religious faith. School choice policies underpin pluralism in society. They allow families with different ethnic, religious and cultural identities to choose a school to best meet the needs of their child and their own values, within a frame of common social values.

“Faith is invitational in Anglican schools. It is something offered to our school community -students, families, staff- as something worthy of personal exploration, study and conversation. Our students are invited to consider the role that faith can play in human lives and events , and they are challenged -within contexts such as worship, the classroom and pastoral conversations- to reflect on the meaning of faith in their own lives , whether that hold immediate or 9as we are in the business of sowing seeds)long term meaning.” Enhancing our Anglican Identity.

  • Safety: A school where parents feel their child is physically and emotionally safe. Before a child can learn in a classroom they need to feel safe and cared for. Studies routinely show that students learn better when they feel safe.
  • Academic Opportunities: A school that offers a breadth of subject choice and subject qualified teachers.
  • Holistic Education: A school that augments formal learning with a range of co-curricular activities, including sports and cultural activities. Co-curricular activities are significant for enriching students on an emotional, cognitive, physical, and social level. Co-curricular activities complement the academic curriculum so that students develop skills beyond knowledge of subjects.
  • Teaching Quality: For better or worse, some schools have developed a greater reputation for excellence in teaching and learning and opening doors to further learning. Quality teachers and teaching, supported by strategic professional development, is what matters most in students’ experiences and outcomes of schooling. “What makes some schools more effective than others is that they have better teachers.” Dr Ken Rowe, ACER.

In the end, all parents want the best education for their children and want to choose the school that best suit their child’s needs.

A survey conducted in 2008 showed that among the most important factors influencing parents’ choice of an Independent school are educational excellence, good teachers, a supportive caring environment, good facilities and education philosophy.

We hope you have found these attributes here at St Columba.

Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School
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