Non-government schools promote equity and success
26th November 2010
In the article below and on the ABC's The Drum I argue that Catholic and independent schools deserve government funding as they are so successful at overcoming educational disadvantage and promoting equity and success.
As the saying goes, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
of the myths spread by Catholic and independent school critics is that
because such schools only serve wealthy and privileged students they
don’t deserve government funding.
A second myth is that a
student’s socioeconomic background is the most influential factor
determining educational success or failure. Put simply, working class
and migrant students, through no fault of their own, fail to perform as
well academically as students from wealthy homes with well-qualified
It’s not only long time critics, like the Australian
Education Union and Canberra-based Trevor Cobbold, that use such myths
to attack funding to Catholic and independent schools.
In a recent piece in the Sydney Morning Herald
the education reporter argued that Australia’s education system
reinforced disadvantage as, “Social advantage continues to be the
greatest determiner of a child’s performance at school in this country,
more so than many other developed countries”.
education reporter, when detailing changes to the way the MySchool
website defines a school’s socioeconomic profile, also identifies a
student’s socioeconomic background as crucial when she describes it as
having a, “major effect on school performance”.
Given that the
Commonwealth Government has established a committee, headed by David
Gonski, to review funding, debates about equity and educational
disadvantage are more than just academic.
If it is true that a
student’s socioeconomic background determines success or otherwise and
non-government schools reinforce privilege as they only serve the top
end of town, then the argument that Catholic and independent schools
should lose funding becomes more persuasive.
Instead of Australia’s education system being inequitable and guilty of
reinforcing disadvantage, research suggests that our schools, especially
non-government schools, are more successful in providing a ladder of
After analysing the results of the 2006 Programme
for International Student Assessment (PISA) Geoff Masters, the head of
the Australian Council for Educational Research, concludes that
Australia’s education system, compared to other OECD countries, is
He states, “Another indicator of the
world-class nature of our education system is the observation that the
relationship between socioeconomic background and student achievement in
Australia is weaker than the OECD average.”
Such a positive view is reinforced by a 2008 OECD study titled Growing Unequal?: Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries, that states:
“Australia is one of the most socially mobile countries in the OECD.”
third example of research supporting the argument that Australia’s
education system is successful in overcoming disadvantage is an OECD
study analysing the relationship between educational outcomes and
students’ migrant background.
Once again, based on an analysis of the PISA results, the researchers conclude:
systems differ widely in terms of their outcomes for immigrant
children, the report makes clear. In some countries, such as Canada and
Australia, immigrant children perform as well as their native
One of the reasons Australian schools are
successful in promoting equity, contrary to what non-government school
critics argue, is because a student’s socioeconomic background is not
the most significant factor in determining success or failure.
Marks, also from the Australian Council for Educational Research, after
analysing students’ results in the Programme for International Student
Achievement (PISA) tests and their Year 12 results, concludes that
academic success, “can be only partially attributed to socio-economic
In response to the argument that non-government
schools outperform government schools because they only teach students
from wealthy and middle-class backgrounds, Marks also makes the point
that Catholic schools, that make up the lion’s share of non-government
school enrolments, have a socioeconomic profile much like government
In a 2004 paper analysing school sector differences in tertiary entry Marks comments in response to the above argument:
argument is not sustainable. First, the generally higher levels of
performance of Catholic school students found in most, if not all,
studies cannot be attributable to the socioeconomic background since the
socioeconomic backgrounds of Catholic school students differs little
from Government school students.”
Marks argues that equally
as important as socioeconomic background are a student’s motivation and
previous academic record. In addition, factors like teachers having
strong expectations and schools having a disciplined and
academically-focused environment benefit students.
the strong performance of non-government schools in international tests
the European researcher, Ludger Woessmann, makes a similar point when he
concludes that such schools are successful because they are
academically focused and, compared to government schools, have a greater
degree of autonomy in areas like curriculum and staffing.
critics want Catholic and independent schools to lose funding and be
absorbed into the government school system, a system centrally
controlled, inflexible and bureaucratic in nature, Woessmann also argues
that successful school systems are characterised by well-funded and
autonomous non-government schools free of government interference.
like the Australian Education Union and the Australian Secondary
Principals Association are mounting a strong and concerted campaign to
convince the committee reviewing school funding, chaired by David
Gonski, to reduce funding to non-government schools.
is that as socioeconomic background is the major factor deciding
educational success or failure and only government schools enrol
disadvantaged students then funding should be re-directed from so-called
privileged Catholic and independent schools to state schools.
reality is otherwise, not only do many non-government schools,
especially Catholic schools, have a similar community profile to
government schools but, in addition, research concludes that
socioeconomic background is not the most important factor explaining
success and failure at school.
Instead of critics attacking and
demonising non-government schools, given that they are so successful in
lifting student performance, especially amongst disadvantaged students,
an argument can be put that such schools deserve increased funding and
Responses to this Post
I wonder why, in your article 'Non-government schools promote equity and success' you would refer to the 2006 PISA results, which, as you say, found Australia's education system to be high quality and high equity, rather than the more recent PISA results of 2009, which actually found Australia to be high quality and low equity?
And indeed, in 2009 we scored 10th worst out of 64 countries in assessment of the gap between high and low socioeconomic backgrounds! Furthermore, 2006 was the only year in the 2000's in which we scored high equity.
The statistics you choose to use are a little biased, wouldn't you say?
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26th November 2010
In the article below and on the ABC's The Drum I argue that Catholic and independent schools deserve government funding as they are so successful at overcoming educational disadvantage and promoti...
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