Public and private schools: 5 things you might not know


Education is everything.

It can send a kid into space, a child into medicine, teaching, carpentry, trade. It can and does alleviate poverty. It can be the single greatest influence in anyone’s life. The brightest spark in a powder keg that just needs ignition. So if we agree on that, what of public and private or independent schools?

How we educate our kids is the kicker. And it can be a right vicious debate sometimes. Here’s some things you might not know:

1. Private schools didn’t receive ongoing federal funding until the 1970s

Well, what do you know. Funding began first in 1970 to help the struggling Catholic education system but grew from there as choice in education became a greater mantra for families who wanted religious or private education. Also, the Government recognised we kind of needed the independent and private schools to take the load off the system because of…

2. The Goulburn Catholic schools strike in 1962

Oh what a hot mess this was. Here’s the short story: the a local Catholic school in Goulburn had a toilet block that was condemned as unfit for the number of students studying there, but not enough money to fix it. Requests for state aid (Government funding) to help out were repeatedly denied. So all the schools in the diocese shut up shop for a week and 1900 kids attempted to enroll in a strained public system. You can guess how that went!

3. During the Howard Government, funding to private schools increased dramatically

A Productivity Commission report found the Howard Government spent $1,051 per public school student compared to $4,515 per private school student. That’s a third of the funding for two thirds of the students in the public sector, according to the Australian Education Union. Now, bear in mind state schools get their own funding (most of it) at a state level. Some is directed at a state level to independents (usually for capital projects in the form of one off grants). Privates get most of their cash from the Feds.

4. BUT, in terms of total state and Federal funding…


On a per student basis – the detail that matters – an average of $12,639 of taxpayer dollars is spent on each public student and $6,607 for non-government students. Remember: public schools have two thirds of the kids. Privates will of course charge their own school fees and sources of income.

5. NAPLAN data shows huge gaps between achievement

A recent analysis of NAPLAN testing data (just a snapshot of a school’s performance in literacy and numeracy) showed some students in low socio-economic areas were three to five years behind their peers in wealthy areas. Schools in the non-wealthy areas that underperformed were overwhelmingly state schools. Trevor Cobbold from Save Our Schools said the disadvantage was entrenched because public and private schools were still treated similarly. “The Rudd and Gillard governments have failed public education and the disadvantaged by treating government and private schools as ‘equivalents.’ ” The Federal Government’s specialised funding for poor performing students amounted to $500 per student. Mr Cobbold says they need $10,000.

Here’s Jane Caro, a public education advocate, talking about this issue on Mamamia on Sky News:

All this is to say nothing of the other factors like selective student intakes (both private and state schools do it, but on the whole state schools do it less) and the ongoing arguments about what facilities students need to achieve. A swimming pool? Oval? Electronic whiteboards?

And on what does the success of students actually pivot: teaching quality, overall funding, the school community?

Alas, these all help, but are not always easy to come by.

Did you go to a public or private school, how was it for you? If you have children, where will you send them and why?

PS: I know this is a really hot topic, but please be respectful when discussing this one!