Don't attack non-government school students
12th October 2011

 In the following, on the ABC's the Drum Opinion, I argue that it is wrong to discriminate against non-government school students and that winners should be rewarded.

When it comes to sport Australians love to win, excellence is expected and high fliers like Shane Warne, Cadel Evans and Stephanie Gilmore are celebrated and feted.

With education, it's the opposite.  Schools that achieve the best academic results are criticised for being elitist, mediocrity is rewarded and we have positive discrimination for the so-called disadvantaged.

Tertiary selection provides a perfect illustration of how education suffers from the tall poppy syndrome as the cultural-left pursues its utopian vision of equality of outcomes.
Baby boomers will remember when Year 12 was called Matriculation and when gaining entry to university relied on merit, ability and hard work.  Students competed, not everyone passed and the consensus was that not everyone was suited to tertiary study.

Fast-forward to more recent times and it's clear that instead of merit or ability tertiary entry is now more about social engineering.  When education minister, Prime Minister Gillard committed millions of dollars to pressure universities to positively discriminate in favour of working class, migrant and Indigenous students.

It shouldn't surprise, as recently reported by the Financial Review's education reporter, Joanna Mather, that over recent years the percentage of Year 12 students ranked in the bottom half of their class gaining tertiary entry has more than doubled.

It's also clear that those in control of our more prestigious universities (the Group of Eight) have swallowed the left's rhetoric about equality of outcomes.

Instead of rewarding success the Group of Eight is hell bent on penalising middle-class students lucky or fortunate enough to attend independent schools schools that are very effective in gaining tertiary entry for their students.

In a recently released paper titled 'Enrolments, funding and student ratios by sector' and commissioned by the Group of Eight an argument is put that independent school students have an unfair advantage when compared to students in government schools.

After detailing the various ways university places are funded, the paper argues,
Independent school fees, on the other hand, are paid up-front by parents.  Independent school fees act as a means of rationing access to high quality schooling, excluding all but the wealthy. This has become an indirect means of further advantaging affluent students in university admissions.

The paper goes on to argue that, "Those who can afford to pay most for schooling have the best access to the most prestigious courses at the most prestigious universities" and that, once at university, such students, "benefit disproportionally from public subsidies through the CGS" (Commonwealth Grant Scheme).

The first thing to note about the Group of Eight's attack on non-government schools is that instead of bemoaning the success of such schools, universities should be the first to celebrate the fact that independent school students achieve such strong academic results.

At a time when university lecturers and tutors complain of having to dumb down first year courses, because so many undergraduates lack basic skills like essay writing, it must be a pleasure to teach independent school students who have received such a strong academic grounding.

It's also the case, contrary to what the Group of Eight's paper argues, that non-government schools are not simply for the wealthy.  Much of the growth in the non-government school sector over the last 15 or so years has been in low fee-paying non-denominational schools that are far from being elitist and privileged.

Those critical of independent schools complain about the fact that not all parents have the financial wherewithal to send their children to such schools so what?  Many of Melbourne and Sydney's most successful government schools, with enrolment zones in expensive suburbs, are only open to wealthy parents who can afford the real estate.  Should they also be penalised?

While it's an unpalatable truth for those committed to positive discrimination, the reality is that some parents work harder than others, some parents better succeed in their jobs and careers and many two-income families commit one income to educate their children at an independent school; as is their right.

To penalise such parents and their children is not only unfair and discriminatory, it also smacks of a levelling down mentality where those aspiring to middle-class values are treated as second-class citizens.

In arguing that "very high quality schooling" is only open to wealthy parents who can afford school fees, the Group of Eight's paper displays a simplistic and misleading understanding of what contributes to strong educational outcomes.

While wealth, as measured by socioeconomic background, is an important factor explaining success or failure, equally as important are characteristics like ability, motivation, classroom environment, school culture, curriculum quality and teacher effectiveness.

The fact that many selective government schools in Melbourne and Sydney achieve Year 12 results equal to independent schools proves that success at tertiary entry is not always about wealth and whether schools charge fees or not.

The Group of Eight's executive director, Michael Gallagher, describes the fact that independent schools students, when at university, are able to enrol in government subsidised courses as an example of "middle-class welfare".

The implication is that they, unlike government school students, should be forced to pay the full cost of whatever course they have chosen to undertake.

Ignored is that such students already are expected to repay, in the case of more sought-after courses like law and medicine, a substantial part of the cost of the course.

Also ignored is that financially penalising independent school students because of the type of school attended and family background is discriminatory and a case of punishing students who, in many instances, have proven that they are amongst the country's highest academic performers.



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Don't attack non-government school students
12th October 2011
 In the following, on the ABC's the Drum Opinion, I argue that it is wrong to discriminate against non-government school students and that winners should be rewarded.When it comes to sport Aust...

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