Private Schools- part of entrenching inequality
31 May 2023
In the 1960s State Aid for Church schools was initiated in NSW. Then there became an emphasis on ‘choice’ of school and subsidies for children to catch a bus away from where the child lived to the school that they wanted to go to.
Governments, particularly conservative ones want more children in private schools as this lessens total government expenditure, though private schools have successfully demanded closer to the amount of money per student that the public schools get. The subsidies also favour their conservative voters.
Private school parents, seeking advantage for their students pay high fees so the government funding seems to be spent along with the other money on swimming pools and ‘luxury items’.
Meanwhile Australia is slipping down the world education ratings, because public schools are neglected. The sociology also needs to be considered. The ‘choice’ is only for some. The parents who do not have the financial means for a private school, nor the grades to get into a selective school have to take what they can get. I visited a school in a disadvantaged area in Sydney, and looked at the school photos in the foyer. There was not a white face in the last 15 years- all the students were either of Pacific Islander or Middle Eastern origin. The Principal said to me that she just wished she had a few Anglo students to model what the majority of Australians do. There had been a stabbing in the playground about 30 years ago, and this had led to ‘white flight’. There were also a considerable number of children with disabilities, which may be related to marriages within ethnic family or religious groups. With poorer facilities, disadvantaged students a lack of role models and teachers with lower pay, the Principal said it was very difficult to get her graduates good results and able to compete for jobs.
I live in a relatively good suburb near a place where buses can turn around. Each day 8 busses leave from close to me to go to 8 different private schools, 4 single sex male, and 4 single sex female. I think of them as Apartheid busses. The buses are all branded and new. The students getting on board can go in relative luxury from the civilised suburb to the well-endowed schools. They need have no contact with poorer folk, even on public transport. These advantaged students will go to universities, into top jobs and make decisions for us all.
I am reminded that in the US in the Johnson era there was ‘bussing’ which took more wealthy students to schools in poorer areas to make richer students aware of how the poorer student lived and to increase equality of opportunity. Australia, supposedly the land of the ‘fair go’, is now quite the opposite, subsidising inequality as we become the country with the most privatised (and unequal) education systems in the world. Now, just to emphasis the point, ‘for profit’ schools are coming in. ‘Hey, what is wrong with making a profit?’ we hear them cry.
When I went to school in Port Kembla, half the school were children of post-WW2 migrants from Europe, ‘displaced persons’, or what we would now call refugees. Half the children arrived at kindergarten unable to speak a word of English. There were 46 in my class. All this was ‘normal’. There was no anti-discrimination legislation. But the over-riding unifying factors were that all the kids in the school had the same experience, all the parents had jobs and the Housing Commission was building whole suburbs of houses as fast as they could to settle the new migrants. By the end of 3rd class there was really no difference between migrants and Anglo-born. It was equality of opportunity, a ‘fair go’. This is what is being lost. We see the example of the US where the gap between rich and poor keeps growing and we are subsidising the same process!
We forgot about the first Gonski report on educational inequality as the politicans did not want to offend the middle class by lessening their education subsidies. Gonski was pressured to do a weaker second report and inequality of opportunity keeps growing.
The politicians tell us that their education funding has never been higher. Perhaps this is so, but while the money is spent on luxuries for some and there is not enough financially or sociologically to help disadvantaged areas, Australia will continue to slide down the international education rankings and the entrenched disadvantage that continues from generation to generation will continue.