Fairfax Press biased against non-government schools
4th March 2011

In the following, published on the Drum Unleashed, I argue that the Fairfax Press (The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald) is running a fatwa against non-government schools.  In the context of the Gonski review, the intention is to shape the public debate to justify reducing government funding to non-government schools.

MySchool 2.0 shows us the money but not the balance

Education, as they say, is a real BBQ stopper and with today’s launch of MySchool 2.0 the debate, especially about school funding, is only going to get hotter.

The Gillard Government’s MySchool 2.0, in addition to literacy and numeracy tests results and a school’s socioeconomic status (SES) profile, for the first time gives details about how much money each school spends per student.

Financial details for government and non-government schools are being provided and while critics argue the methodology employed to determine the figures is not 100 per cent valid or reliable, parents will now have a better idea of the level of resources each school receives.

Expect much of the public debate, especially from non-government school critics like the Australian Education Union, to argue that the MySchool 2.0 data proves that non-government schools, with a few exceptions, are better resourced and have more money than government schools.

In the context of the current school funding review, chaired by David Gonski, critics will then argue that as government schools, compared to non-government schools, have less money, more disadvantaged students and serve low SES communities, that any new funding formula should take money from non-government schools and give it to state schools.

While it is important to have public debate on significant issues like school funding, it is equally important that the broader community, especially parents, are given a balanced and informed presentation of the various arguments, both for and against.

Over the last three to four months, for example, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian have published a number of news items and comment pieces dealing with the pros and cons of school funding, with a special focus on the level of government funding received by non-government schools.

Unfortunately, reading The SMH and The Age (both Fairfax Press papers) it quickly becomes apparent that instead of being balanced, both papers have an axe to grind when it comes to school choice and both are very much opposed to funding Catholic and independent schools.

Over the Christmas/New Year period while one comment piece appeared in The Age defending non-government schools, over the same period The SMH and The Age published eight news stories and comment pieces attacking Catholic and independent schools.

A more recent example of this one-sided presentation of the funding issue is a series of comment pieces in the Fairfax Press that were published under the heading, ‘Can we afford to continue funding private schools?’. The first four pieces were published in The SMH on February 12 and the second four published in The Age on February 18.

Out of the eight comment pieces, six are written by well-known critics of funding to non-government schools and only two are written by those committed to school choice: Geoff Newcombe from the Association of Independent Schools of NSW and Michelle Green from Independent Schools Victoria.

Worse still, is the fact that the way two of the critics are described (Jim McMorrow as The Reformer and Simon Marginson as The Academic) give the impression that both are somehow removed from the debate when, in fact, both are very much government school advocates and vehemently opposed to funding non-government schools.

Neither are impartial, proven by the series of research papers written by McMorrow for the Australian Education Union (the AEU is currently mounting a campaign to undermine funding to Catholic and independent schools) and Marginson’s past history as a teacher union activist and his long-held view that funding non-government schools leads to government schools becoming ‘residualised’.

It’s also the case that many of the arguments against funding non-government schools presented in the Fairfax papers are misleading, one-sided and ideologically driven.

Trevor Cobbold’s statement that, “Funding for private schools should be determined by need,” suggests that the current method of apportioning government funding, the socioeconomic status (SES) funding model, makes no attempt to match the level of funding to a school community’s level of resources. The statement is incorrect. As stated in paper written by the Commonwealth Government’s Parliamentary Library, the SES model is based on a “measure of need”.

Wealthier non-government schools only receive 13.7 per cent of the cost to state and territory governments of educating a student in a state school, with less-privileged non-government schools receiving a maximum of 70 per cent.

Cobbold also describes the SES model as delivering, “massive taxpayer funding to the wealthiest schools” when, in fact, the existence of non-government schools saves governments and taxpayers billions of dollars each year.

Based on the 2008-08 Productivity Commission Figures, government school students receive $12,639 in federal and state funding while, on average, non-government schools only receive $6,607. Every student that attends a non-government school saves the taxpayer about $6,000.

Instead of “narrowing the taxpayer base”, as argued by Simon Marginson, it’s clear that parents investing in a non-government school education are freeing up billions of dollars that can be used by governments to invest in other areas, such as health and welfare.

While described as an academic from the University of Melbourne (implying that he is impartial) it is clear that Simon Marginson is no friend of non-government schools. His argument that Catholic schools should be “incorporated into the public system”, while appearing innocuous, is fraught with danger.

By becoming part of the government system of education, one where Catholic school enrolment and employment policies are decided by the secular state, the danger is that the unique faith-based nature of such schools will be compromised.

Marginson, by suggesting that parents paying for a child’s education is the same as buying a “prestige car” or a “private swimming pool” also shows a superficial and misleading understanding of the importance of education. Buying a car or a swimming pool, unlike the right to choose a school, are not fundamental human rights protected by international covenants and agreements.

That Marginson is biased against non-government schools is proven by his description of such schools as “exclusive” and his argument that, “We can’t afford to fund choices only some families can make”. If Marginson was truly impartial he would also question the equity in the fact that only wealthy parents can purchase million-dollar real estate next to much sought after state schools to ensure their children are in a school’s enrolment zone.

One of the techniques employed by critics is to be selective in the figures they quote and Jim McMorrow is no exception. The observation that the level of government funding to non-government schools now exceeds the cost of employing teachers (governments provided $8.5 billion while teacher costs amounted to $6.6 billion) implies that governments are the major source of funding to such schools and that parents contribute little.

Such is not the case. As noted in the Parliamentary Library’s paper previously referred to, titled ‘Australian Government funding for schools’, private income accounts for 43 per cent of the total income for non-government schools.

Submissions to the Gonski funding review are due at the end of March and the committee will then decide what type of funding model it will recommend to the Commonwealth Government. Given the significance and impact of what is decided one hopes in the following weeks that the media, especially the two Fairfax papers, will present a balanced treatment of the issue and ensure that a full range of opinions are presented.



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Fairfax Press biased against non-government schools
4th March 2011
In the following, published on the Drum Unleashed, I argue that the Fairfax Press (The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald) is running a fatwa against non-government schools.  In the context of...

Read entire article...

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