SCHOOL FUNDING: by Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
Governments should support parental choice
, April 3, 2010
Why are parents voting with their feet and deserting government schools?
Based on the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, released in mid-March, it is clear that during the past 10 years the number of students in Catholic and independent schools has surged, while government school enrolments have flat-lined.
In 1999, 70 per cent of students across Australia went to government schools - 10 years later the figure is 66 per cent.
Student numbers have grown by 230,300 since 1999, with non-government school students accounting for 89 per cent of the increase.
Non-government school critics, such as the Australian Education Union, argue that the reason enrolments keep growing is because Catholic and independent schools are wealthy and can afford better facilities and smaller classes.
Not true. The latest ABS figures show that the teacher-to-student ratio in government and non-government schools is about the same. At the secondary level, the ratio of students to staff in government schools is 12.3 students for every staff member; the figure for non-government schools is 11.7 students for every teacher.
Surveys show parents choose non-government schools because of stronger discipline, better academic results and the values that such schools enforce are what parents want.
It is also true that government schools receive more state and federal money per student than non-government schools. On average, government schools receive $12,639 per student while non-government schools only receive $6,607 (based on 2007-08 Australian Productivity Commission figures).
State school funding from government during the past five years has increased by 1.6 per cent a year, while government funding to non-government schools has decreased by 0.1 per cent a year.
One reason explaining why non-government schools are so successful is that they have the freedom and flexibility to set their own course and to best meet the needs of their communities.
Unlike government schools, which are locked into the government bureaucracy and are made to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, Catholic and independent schools are autonomous.
The result? Non-government schools have the freedom to employ and reward the best staff and to get rid of dud teachers. Instead of student discipline policy being set by head office, as with state schools, non-government schools also have the freedom to deal quickly with disruptive students.
Look at literacy and numeracy tests at Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 and Year 12 results, and it is clear that non-government schools achieve the strongest results.
Critics argue that it is because non-government schools hand-pick their students and do not serve disadvantaged communities.
Again, not true. Catholic schools serve the same types of communities as government schools and have the same diverse student range; but Catholic schools still achieve stronger academic results and get more students into university.
Last year, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd argued that school choice was a good thing and that parents should vote with their feet if they were unhappy.
Education Minister Julia Gillard also praises non-government schools for the results they get and argues, regardless of school attended, that every student deserves proper funding.
Gillard has also said that the Government would review the way non-government schools were funded. Given that parents want school choice and non-government school enrolments are on the increase, one hopes that Gillard will guarantee that such schools will not be financially penalised for being so successful.Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of the Education Standards Institute (www.edstandards.com.au). He taught for 18 years in Melbourne government and non-government schools. This article first appeared in the Brisbane Courier-Mail, March 17, 2010.