Gillard's educrats attack non-government schools
17th March 2011

In the comment piece below and published on the ABC's the Drum Unleashed I warn of the campaign by left-wing critics to reduce funding to non-government schools and to weaken their autonomy.

Make no mistake, Australia's cultural-left education establishment, including the Australian Education Union, the Australian Council for Educational Research, various activists and influential figures like Barry McGaw, chosen by Julia Gillard to head the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), has embarked on a well-orchestrated and concerted campaign against Catholic and independent schools.

The current review of school funding, chaired by the Sydney businessman David Gonski and established by Julia Gillard when she was education minister, provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for opponents of school choice to pressure governments to cut funding to non-government schools and to undermine their autonomy via increased regulation and control.

Parents should not underestimate the degree of antagonism critics have for Catholic and independent schools. Over the last 2 to 3 years, opponents like Jane Caro, Kenneth Davidson, Trevor Cobbold, Jack Keating, Barry McGaw and Jim McMorrow have variously attacked non-government schools for being elitist, socially divisive, exclusive and privileged, academically weak, over-funded and instrumental in destroying the state system of education.

The envy and hatred felt for non-government schools is exacerbated by the fact that parents are voting with their feet, often at great financial cost, to choose such schools. Across Australia 34% of students go to non-government schools (the figure rises to over 40% at years 11 and 12) and over the 10 year period, 1998-2008, enrolments grew by 21.9% with government school enrolments flat-lining at 1.1%.

Instead of asking why non-government schools have dramatically increased their enrolments at the expense of state schools, critics like the AEU engage in the politics of envy and class war by arguing that such schools only represent the top end of town and that they don't deserve any government support.

Other critics like Barry McGaw, the person responsible for the My School 2 website where the recently released funding details are being used to argue that non-government schools are awash with money, criticise non-government schools, supposedly, for contributing to social fragmentation.

In a February 2008 interview published in The Age, McGaw argued, "These people often form a narrowly focused school that is aimed at cementing the faith it's based on ... If we continue as we are, I think we'll just become more and more isolated sub-groups in our community".

Not only does McGaw fail to provide any evidence to support his claim but, research both here and in the US examining the social impact of schools suggests that non-government schools, especially Catholic schools, promote and strengthen community ties and feelings of reciprocity and mutual obligation.

McGaw, based on the results of the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, also argues that there is little difference between the performance of non-government and government schools (after adjusting for a school's socioeconomic profile) and that parents are wasting their money in choosing the former for their children.

Ignored is the research by Melbourne-based Gary Marks that concludes that non-government schools are more effective in areas like Year 12 results and tertiary entry, compared to government schools, even adjusting for students' socioeconomic background.

The European researcher, Ludger Woessmann, based on an analysis of the PISA results also argues, while socioeconomic background is important, that non-government schools are more effective for other reasons. When explaining why, Woessmann notes that non-government schools, compared to state schools, have a high degree of autonomy and the flexibility needed to best meet the needs and aspirations of their parents.

Jim McMorrow and Trevor Cobbold, along with the Australian Education Union, argue that the current socioeconomic status (SES) model is guilty of over-funding non-government schools and that such schools are awash with funds.

The first thing to note is that in relation to state and Commonwealth funding, government schools, as they deserve, receive more than non-government schools. Figures cited in a recent Commonwealth Parliamentary Library Background Note (November 2010) state that whereas, on average, state school students receive $12,639, the figure for a non-government school student is only $6,606.

The Library Background Note also states that the SES model is based on need with wealthier non-government schools only receiving 13.7% of the cost of educating a student in a government school, known as the Average Government School Recurrent Costs (AGSRC).

It's true, evidenced by the school funding figures released on the MySchool 2.0 website launched last week that when you add private funding (including school fees) to government funding then the situation changes. Again, based on the national average, independent schools spend $13,700 per student, government schools spend $11,100 and Catholic schools outlay approximately $10.000.

In an open and free liberal democracy like Australia, non-government school parents who pay taxes for a system they do not use, thus saving governments billions of dollars every year, plus school fees might expect to be supported for their initiative and hard work that allows them to make the choice.

Not so, according to non-government school critics. Instead of praising parents for their incentive and effort, they are unfairly characterised as wealthy and privileged and for choosing schools that promote social instability and elitism.

Ignored is that many low fee paying non-denominational schools and Catholic parish schools serve similar communities to government schools, both in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomic background. Also ignored is the charge of exclusivity that can be directed at successful government schools that enforce enrolment zones restricted to only those parents who can afford to buy million dollar real estate.

In addition to cutting funding, another strategy employed to undermine and weaken non-government schools is to increase government regulation and control, with some critics like Melbourne University's Jack Keating going as far as suggesting non-government schools should be integrated into the state system of education.

While it's acceptable that non-government schools face some degree of monitoring and oversight, especially in areas like financial probity and occupational health and safety, what critics have in mind reaches a new level of centrally mandated intervention and control. Critics argue, as non-government schools accept a degree of government funding, that such schools should comply with state directed mandates in areas like the curriculum, testing and public accountability, teacher registration and certification, enrolment and staffing policies and government social policy in areas like overcoming disadvantage.

Ignored is that the money non-government schools receive, instead of being government money, originated as taxes paid by the very parents now expected to be grateful for getting something in return. Also ignored is that school choice, especially for parents with religious beliefs, is a fundamental human right that must be protected.

Controlling non-government schools as the ALP and others are seeking to do in areas like enrolments, staffing and curriculum denies the faith-based mission of such schools and takes away the very autonomy and flexibility that explain why such schools are so successful and popular with parents.

The ideology underlying the attack on Catholic and independent schools is a cultural-left one, an ideology that favours statism and government control over freedom and choice at the local level. Instead of rewarding effort and success, it is also one that seeks to reduce everyone to the same level of mediocrity and politically correct conformity.

It's ironic, at a time when politicians are calling on schools to be more effective in raising standards, that those schools that achieve the best results, even after adjusting for students' socioeconomic background, are under attack.

Not only are non-government schools in danger of losing funding as a result of the Gonski review but, there is also the threat of losing their autonomy and being micromanaged by government and government appointed educrats committed to their demise.



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Gillard's educrats attack non-government schools
17th March 2011
In the comment piece below and published on the ABC's the Drum Unleashed I warn of the campaign by left-wing critics to reduce funding to non-government schools and to weaken their autonomy.Make no ...

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