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School choice good
10th January 2012

In a comment piece published in the Canberra Times, and below, I argue why autonomy, choice and diversity in education, best represented by non-government schools, is best for education.

Non-govt schools need proper funding
BY KEVIN DONNELLY
09 Jan, 2012 04:00 AM

We all have our Christmas holiday reading list, and high on Prime Minister Julia Gillard's agenda is the report of the inquiry into school funding, chaired by the Sydney businessman David Gonski and submitted to the Labor Government late last month.
The Gonski review was established by Gillard when she was education minister, and the report and its recommendations have the ability to radically redefine how government and non-government schools are funded after 2013, when the current model expires.

According to non-government school critics such as the Australian Education Union, the current system is ripe for change. The union argues that non-government schools are overfunded, that they only achieve strong results because they enrol already privileged students, that competition and diversity in education exacerbates disadvantage and that only government schools are open to all.

A more recent critique of non-government schools being funded publicly was , The Sydney Morning Herald's ''Faulty system in a class of its own'', written by two long-time critics of non-government schools: Jim McMorrow and Lyndsay Connors.

As with the union, McMorrow and Connors argue that only government schools enrol all comers, that government schools, compared with non-government schools, are under-resourced and that the current tripartite system of education, where independent, Catholic and government schools co-exist, leads to falling standards.

As many parents can attest, while non-government schools have control over enrolments, it is also the case that many government schools only enrol certain types of students. Selective high schools, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, only enrol those students who have passed the entry test.

There are also government schools in wealthy areas that only enrol students whose parents can afford to buy expensive real estate in a particular school's enrolment zone. It's a myth to suggest that all state schools are open to any student seeking enrolment.

Instead of being under-resourced, it's also the case that, when it comes to public funding, government school students receive about $13,544 in state and Commonwealth funding whereas non-government school students, on average, only receive $6850.

Whereas, on the whole, government schools are fully funded by the government, the opposite is the case with non-government schools. In relation to independent schools, for example, and largely as a result of parents' contributions, 58 per cent of the funds needed to support such schools is raised at the local level. Recent figures issued by the Australian Bureau of Statistics also note, over the period 2004-05 to 2008-09, that whereas government funding to state schools increased by 0.4 per cent in average annual real terms, non-government schools suffered a decrease of 1.6 per cent. The argument that non-government schools, on the whole, outperform government schools in areas like Year 12 results and tertiary entry simply because they only enrol already privileged students from well-off homes is also incorrect.

Research carried out by the Australian Council for Educational Research's Gary Marks concludes that equally, if not more important, than students' home background when explaining success or failure is student ability and motivation, the quality of the teacher and the school culture and classroom environment.

In one research paper, Marks argues ''socioeconomic background does not have a strong relationship with student performance. It accounts for less than 10 per cent of the variation in both tertiary entrance score and university participation.''

Instead of exacerbating educational inequality, as claimed by critics, it is also the case that recent research suggests the opposite. In an OECD sponsored paper examining autonomy and choice in education the researchers conclude that students ''perform substantially better in systems where private school operation creates choice and competition. At the same time, student achievement increases along with funding of schools.''

It's also the case that the important characteristics of stronger performing education systems include choice, diversity and school autonomy; the very characteristics that distinguish non-government schools from government schools. It's no accident that governments across Australia are introducing programs to give state schools greater autonomy and flexibility at the local level.

When she was education minister, Gillard argued there was no room for the old, sterile politics of class divide and sectarian bitterness and that every student, regardless of the type of school attended, deserved to be properly funded by government.

The argument that non-government schools should not be financially penalised as a result of the Gonski review is made even stronger by the fact that such schools are so vital for the nation's economic and financial wellbeing.

Education is one of the main determinants of a country's productivity and economic competitiveness. Given that non-government schools achieve well in areas such as literacy and numeracy and Year 12, they deserve to be properly supported and funded.

 

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10th January 2012

In a comment piece published in the Canberra Times, and below, I argue why autonomy, choice and diversity in education, best represented by non-government schools, is best for education.Non-govt s...
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