EDUCATION: by Dr Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
Behind Labor's church school 'hit list'
, October 9, 2004
Mark Latham has indicated that he expects to win the election on the education issue, Dr Kevin Donnelly reports.Thankfully, long gone are the days of the acrimonious and bitter debate over state aid. The overwhelming majority of Australians support the existence of both government and non-government schools and accept that parental choice in education is a fundamental democratic right.
Not so the Australian Education Union (AEU), the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Australian Greens. All, to varying degrees, argue against non-government schools and seek to financially penalise those parents who send their children to independent schools.
The AEU's 1998 curriculum policy argues "that the resources of governments should be wholly devoted to the public systems which are open to all."
As might be expected from a left-wing union, whose survival depends on a compliant government school system, the belief is that education should be a state monopoly and parents choosing the non-government system should be made to pay more out of their own pockets.Antipathy
Evidence of the AEU's continued antipathy to non-government schools is easy to find. The union is currently embarked on an extensive campaign to destroy the Howard Government, based on the (mistaken) premise that independent schools are over-funded (see aeu-vic.labor.net.au/campaigns/
The Labor Party is also a critic of non-government schools and, while Mark Latham recently stated that Catholic and other non-government schools would receive some funding, he argues that many receive too much money and that priority must be given to government schools.
To quote from the Leader of the Opposition, when interviewed on ABC radio in Perth: "We'll be taking money off the over-funded schools like the Kings School and Trinity Grammar."
While many associate the Greens with koalas and the environment, the party's schools policy is far from soft and cuddly. If in a position of power after the next election, the Greens pledge to abolish the current SES system of funding non-government schools and reintroduce the much maligned ALP-designed New Schools Policy.
The New Schools Policy was introduced by the union-friendly ALP to bolster the ailing government school system by making it almost impossible to establish new non-government schools.
The Greens also wish to totally abolish funding to the so-called wealthiest non-government schools, Categories 1 and 2 under the old funding scheme, and to significantly reduce funding to Category 3 schools.
The AEU, the ALP and the Greens also argue that the Howard Government fails to properly fund government schools. Ignored is that the overwhelming responsibility for funding the public system resides with state ALP governments and that, over the last five to six years, such governments have drained schools of resources.
That such attacks on non-government schools are illogical and counter-productive is easy to prove. Every time a parent decides to send a child to a non-government school, more money is freed up for the government school system. With government schools, the average government recurrent funding (2001-2002) per student is just under $9,000.
On average, students attending non-government schools receive approximately $5,000 in government recurrent funding - a saving to government of $4,000 for each student. Not only are parents who make the choice saving governments money; their taxes also fund the government school system.Financial sacrifice
Based on research carried out by the Productivity Commission, it is estimated that the financial sacrifice of non-government school parents amounts to a $4.2 billion annual saving to governments across Australia - money that can be spent in other areas such as welfare and health.
As demonstrated in 1962 in Goulburn, NSW, when the local Catholic authorities closed the system and 2,200 additional students suddenly knocked on the door of their overcrowded public schools, the government system would collapse were it not for the presence of non-government schools.
It should also be acknowledged that non-government schools are already funded on a needs basis and the amount each school receives depends on the school's socio-economic status. Thus, more advantaged schools receive substantially less funding than those schools that are more disadvantaged.
Students attending Scotch College (Victoria) only receive $1,713 and those at The Kings School (NSW) receive $1,905. Less well-off non-government schools receive something in the order of $5,500 per student. Obviously, such figures are well below the $9,000 in funding given to government school students.
Given the ALP, the Greens and the AEU curriculum policy in areas such as gender and the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people, it is also vitally important that parents have the right to choose schools that best teach values that are in line with what they want for their children.
Such is the politically correct, dumbed-down approach of state-sponsored curricula under which generations of students have, and continue to be, placed at risk.
Notwithstanding that non-government schools save Australian governments billions of dollars and, on the whole, perform better academically and promote values more in tune with what parents expect, such schools have become a target of the left in the forthcoming election.
Why is this so? One reason is because teacher unions define non-government schools as elitist and guilty of promoting a "competitive and culturally-biased system of education". While the Berlin Wall may have collapsed, those running the AEU still believe in the class war and non-government schools are an easy target.
Second, as evidenced by the nature of the attack on so-called wealthy schools like Geelong Grammar, ALP strategists believe that there are votes in fomenting the politics of envy and class division. By attacking the "big end of town", they hope that many of the Howard battlers will return to the Labor fold.
Ignored is that parents are voting with their feet (32 per cent of students now attend non-government schools, up from 22 per cent in 1980) and that the largest growth in enrolments is associated with low-fee-paying Christian schools in marginal electorates.
Such are the failures of the government system, that aspirational voters are increasingly choosing the non-government alternative.
Finally, by focusing the debate on resources and levels of funding, the AEU and the ALP are able to ignore the more pressing question of standards and how well the system performs. As a result, under-performing government schools continue unchecked and failing teachers go unchallenged.
The reality is that government and non-government schools have every right to exist and to be properly funded. Instead of fomenting the politics of envy, what the AEU, the ALP and the Greens should be doing is supporting a robust and equitable school system based on choice.
Such choice is especially crucial, given that what now passes as education in many government schools is simply a process of indoctrinating students with the latest politically-correct fad; especially in subjects like history, literature and politics.
- Dr Kevin Donnelly, chief-of-staff to Kevin Andrews MHR and a former director of Education Strategies, is author of Why Our Schools are Failing (published by Duffy and Snellgrove and commissioned by The Menzies Research Centre).