Saturday, February 25, 2012

Some thoughts on private schools, public schools, and school funding

With the release of the Gonski review into school funding everyone is back out with their flaming arrows about Private vs. Public education. 

My husband teaches at an Anglican school.  He is a strong supporter of private education.   Our son attends the same school.   I attended a small Christian school for high school, and my two years of teaching were in a Christian school.   I’m in the process of deciding where I stand, on an ideological level and a pragmatic level. 

And so a few thoughts.  Feel free to rebut them.

  • Private schools are not all equal.  Not all private schools are Geelong Grammar.
  • Public schools are not all equal.  They are not all dens of iniquity, devoid of morals and failing all their students.    
  • Most religious schools follow their State’s (or now the National) Curriculum, but make some modifications.  It’s easier than writing a whole new curriculum, especially if your school is already seriously underfunded. They don’t just spend all day indoctrinating their students and ignoring Maths. 
  • Private schools get more Federal funding than public schools, but public schools get a lot more State funding.  I think on average public schools are funded double per student than private schools.  I can’t believe people still can’t get their head around this one.
  • Education is a good thing.  I think it’s a huge marker between Developed nations and Developing nations.   High levels of literacy and numeracy theoretically should keep corrupt governments out, aid in preventative medicine, reduce crime rates, increase productivity, and generally advance a nation.  Every child in Australia should have access to a good education. 
  • Not all teachers are rubbish.  Falling literacy and numeracy rates aren’t squarely to blame on our teachers, though improving teacher quality would be part of the solution. 
  • There is an argument that if governments removed private school funding then the state school system would collapse under the weight of the influx of new students, and the Goulburn School Strike is often cited as an example of what would happen in such a case.  The assumption here is that funding would be removed suddenly, all consequently underfunded schools would close their doors immediately and parents would have no choice but to send their children to the local public school.  Such a situation could be avoided with gradual removal of funding, and planning towards such a move.   If funding was phased out, then gradually fees would be increased, schools would need to find alternate income or find other ways to cut costs.  If fees increased, there would be certain points where different families would say they can’t afford it any longer.  
  • There is another argument that private schools save the government money, in the vicinity of $6000 per student.  Some families would still send their children to private schools even if there was no funding, so that would actually save the government $12000 per student.  Of the remaining students, there would be a lot of costs simply absorbed into current school costs.  Not all private schools run at full capacity.  There are 8 places for students in my husband’s class this year, and I think similar places in the other two classes of his year level.  (Other grades are full.) When I was teaching, I had a Year 9/10 music class with only 12 students.  My graduating year at school had only 4 students.  Surely such small class sizes are not an efficient use of teachers!   Also, many school resources are shared between classes.  Not every student in the school needs to be using a soccer ball, or a computer, or a trundle wheel at the same time.  A small increase in student numbers would be an even smaller increase in many resources.   Infrastructure would be a hurdle. 
  • There are a large number of Christian schools not attached to a church, or at least not receiving large amounts of funds from a church.  Many of these could not function any longer without government funding, and would lose a lot of enrolments if they increased their fees.  Is there a genuine need for such schools that requires government subsidies? I’m not sure. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t.
  • Private schools can pick and choose their teachers and students.  This means they can have the best teachers and the best students.   Teachers often want to work in private schools because of the overall better behaved students, not because of increased pay.  Most private schools pay on par or below the current State award.  
  • Are there a lot of inefficiencies in the public system?  I don’t have a clue.  But I would hazard a guess that teacher’s payrises attached to length of teaching, and teaching being an almost guaranteed job is one inefficiency that could be looked into.  
  • My experience of teaching in a private school was that cutting costs meant cutting teacher’s salaries.  I was paid $8000 a year less than my public school counterparts.  (Which wasn’t voluntary.  I just wasn’t told, and not bold enough to challenge when I found out.)  But running a school is expensive.  An experienced teacher of a class of 28 (Education Queensland’s target for grades 4-10) costs $3000 per student; most private schools cap at 25 or 28.  The ancillary staff, the principal, insurance, computers, books, buildings, furniture, sporting equipment, toilet paper: it all costs extra.  
I don't have a stand yet on whether private schools should receive government funding.  Go ahead and add to my thoughts in the comments. 


  1. We watched Four Corners a few weeks ago, which discussed the issue of teacher effectiveness, citing examples within the public and state systems. Whilst it didn't address the issue of state vs. public per se, it did discuss the significant role that teachers play in educational outcomes. Whilst many might say duh! that teacher quality is definitely linked to outcomes, I believe that there is not enough emphasis on this area, evidenced by a lack of pay and general respect from the community for teachers, and the low university entrance scores required.

    Living on the Gold Coast, we currently have our little man in a public school for Prep. However, on the advice of others who live here (many of whom are teachers), we are on a waiting list to ensure that we are not still 'in the system' at high school. I have to admit, this has been a bit of a blessing in disguise with the waiting lists, as I don't know how I could justify in excess of $7,000 a year for prep.

  2. On the topic of teachers and education, have you heard what Ed Qld has done with the National Curriculum? It has broken it down into day-by-day schedules of what needs to be taught in the classroom. It doesn't account for sports days, excursions etc. It doesn't account for the fact some classes might take 3 days to cover a topic that might take other classes 1 day. You just have to follow the program. What a load of rubbish.

  3. I hope that's just a rumour and not true! I also hope it's a rumour that I heard that a lot of schools in Victoria and NSW aren't even adopting the new curriculum.

    I have hardly looked at the Australian Curriculum, but I might go and investigate.

  4. No, it's true. Mum was told by one of her deputies at school. At first she and another teacher thought it was the national curriculum, and they were complaining that it was probably based off the older Victorian and NSW students. Then one of the deputies overheard and said no, this isn't the national curriculum, this is what Education QLD has done *with* the national curriculum.

  5. And on the topic of funding for schools: there is something wrong with Australia where our constitution gives the Federal Government all the taxation benefits but gives the states most of the money-spending responsibilities. It means too often the states need to go begging for money from the federal government. So while I appreciate the federal gov gives more money to private schools than public schools because public schools are the state's responsibility, the state probably isn't being given enough money TO spend on public schools.