MySchool website used to attack non-government schools
29th November 2010

In the article below and posted on the Punch, I argue there is a secret agenda to use data collected for the MySchool website to justify cutting funding to non-goverrnment schools.

Non-government schools are angry over the way the My School website is about to make public their sources of funding and their socioeconomic profile. The Shadow Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, has even suggested that the ALP Government and non-government school critics have a secret agenda to use the data to justify reducing funding.  Pyne is correct.

During the recent federal election campaign the ALP appeared to support school choice when it promised, if re-elected, not to take money away from Catholic and independent schools.  Gone were the days of Mark Latham’s hit-list of so-called wealthy, private schools and the old politics of class war.

In terms of rhetoric, there appeared little difference between the two major parties on the issue of school funding and it was only Cassandras like me that expressed misgivings and doubts about the left’s new won adherence to school choice.

Fast forward to the current stoush between non-government schools and the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) over the intention to make public every school’s socioeconomic profile and sources of funding and it’s clear that non-government schools, once again, are under attack.

Julia Gillard, when Minister for Education, justified making a school’s funding information and socioeconomic profile public on the grounds of accountability and transparency.

It should not surprise, though, given the ALP’s and the education left’s hostility to Catholic and independent schools that there is another agenda.

Put simply, and in the context of the current Commonwealth review of funding, non-government school critics will use the My School data to argue that such schools are awash with money, that they only serve the top end of town and that as a student’s socioeconomic background is the main cause of educational disadvantage that only government schools serving less well-off communities deserve support.

Evidence that there is a secret agenda can be found in a number of speeches and presentations given by the ALP appointed head of ACARA Barry McGaw suggesting that non-government schools are socially divisive, that such schools only perform well academically because they enrol already privileged students and that such schools are over-funded as a result of decisions made during the Howard Government years.

In a May 2006 speech to the Faculty of Education at the University of Melbourne McGaw argues that Australian schools fail to promote equity in education because, when compared to other OECD countries, there is a strong correlation between a student’s socioeconomic background and academic success or failure.

The reason why Australian schools reinforce disadvantage, McGaw suggests, is because we have a school system divided into government and non-government schools; one where schools divide on the “basis of gender, faith, social background, wealth, geography and so on”.

McGaw goes on to suggest that Catholic and independent schools contribute to social division and instability when he states, “Given the growth of the non-government school sector, we need specifically to consider whether that development, in the name of choice and, with government funding, in the name of fiscal fairness, has positive or negative effects on education outcomes and on bridging social capital and, ultimately, social cohesion”.

On reading McGaw’s speeches and presentations it’s clear that he believes non-government schools have had a negative effect on Australian society. 

On being interviewed in February 2008 McGaw makes no secret of his fear that the proliferation of non-government schools will lead to community break down when he states, “If we continue as we are, I think we’ll just become more and more isolated sub-groups in our community”.

In a second interview in January 2009 McGaw complains that the Commonwealth Government refuses to release data identifying the performance of government and non-government schools in international tests like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

If such data was made available McGaw argues that the Australian public would realise that the only reason non-government schools achieve strong academic results is because their students are drawn from middle to high socioeconomic communities.

There are two flaws in this argument.  Firstly, Catholic schools that make up the lion’s share of non-government schools have a community profile very similar to government schools.  Secondly, a good deal of research concludes that there are many other factors in addition to socioeconomic background that effect success or otherwise.

Such factors include teacher effectiveness, the quality of the curriculum, student motivation and schools having an academic and disciplined focus with high expectations – factors most often associated with non-government schools and the reason many achieve strong results.

While not as obvious or extreme as Mark Latham’s hit list of non-government schools taken to the 2004 election, it should be obvious, in the context of the current review of funding, that the Gillard Government’s agenda is to undermine the success of non-government schools and to limit their growth by reducing funding.

McGaw’s appointment as head of ACARA and the development of the My School website are evidence of such an agenda. 

McGaw is clearly no friend of the non-government school sector and the ACARA website, while justified in terms of holding schools accountable and making information available to parents, will be used as a vehicle to justify reducing funding to Catholic and independent schools.




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MySchool website used to attack non-government schools
29th November 2010
In the article below and posted on the Punch, I argue there is a secret agenda to use data collected for the MySchool website to justify cutting funding to non-goverrnment schools.Non-government sch...

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