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Fully Funding Private Schools is No Solution to Inequity in Education

Education Policy Brief by Save Our Schools. 

The proposal of Tom Greenwell and Chris Bonnor to fully fund private schools. subject to them not charging fees and not enrolling students on the basis of ability, abrogates key long standing principles of public education, namely, that public schools are secular and do not discriminate on the basis of student background. The proposal explicitly permits private schools to promulgate their religious beliefs and values and to discriminate against students and teachers who do not share these beliefs. This is anathema to the founding principles of public education. Public schools must remain secular and take all comers, whatever their background, to provide access to education for all and to promote understanding and tolerance between different social groups.

Nor would it eliminate social segregation between schools as Greenwell and Bonnor claim. Government funding of private schools that charge fees and restrict entry is not the only cause of social segregation between schools. A basic cause is the economic and geographical segregation of households. Fully funding private schools will not eliminate the extensive social segregation between schools in the western and eastern suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne or between remote regions and prestigious suburbs of metropolitan cities.

Greenwell and Bonnor state that families should not have to pay fees to ensure their child’s education reflects their values and preferences. This represents capitulation to private school lobby groups. Families pay fees to access the special ethos and character of private schools, whether it be religious education, social status or an “old school tie” network. The role of government funding for private schools is not to subsidise the costs of such choices. It should only support the learning needs of students in under-resourced schools. Parents, not taxpayers, must bear the costs of choosing a “special ethos”.

Greenwell and Bonnor argue that Australia must follow the models of other countries that fully fund private schools; Belgium, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand and Scotland. However, the evidence on average student results, equity and segregation is far from compelling. Apart from Canada, these countries have not performed significantly better than Australia in terms of average outcomes or equity in outcomes. Some have performed worse than Australia on several measure.

Download the full Education Policy Brief by Save Our Schools.


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