9 May 2006, Comments Off on Apples and pears

Apples and pears

Author: Helen

Interesting discussion on public education, here and at Crazybrave.

I donít want to be an apologist for KB, but private schools are here to stay, like it or not. As lefties we just have to face reality (Guy)

Don’t forget I was talking about my wish fulfilment fantasy!

Fantasy aside, nothing ever changes if you think too much in the “this is the way it is, so this is the only way it can be” mode. I hear so much of that. With political will, things can change, especially if the government does. Unless the new government is as neoliberal a bunch of nongs as the ones before them.

While there are some filthy rich private schools who deserve a lot less government funding, there are also quite a number of poor private schools who probably deserve more than they get now. I don’t think Labor or any other party is going to get anywhere by smashing non-government schools (in general) into the ground. There ís lots of ordinary parents (see the graph from here – an increasing number) who send their kids to very un-ostenatatious private schools across the country. (Guy)

How many of the parents sending their kids to “poor” private schools are doing so out of real choice, and how many of them are doing so because they’re railroaded into it because of (1) being seen as bad parents if they go public, (2) fearmongering about the roughness, toughness and seediness of their local High, and (3) the actual effects of their local High being run down for lack of funds?

What might their decision be if the local public schools were maintained in excellent condition, resourced properly, and teachers paid properly?

Are some of those schools cranky little fundy academies of various stripes, for which we’ll pay the human cost later?How many of them are just middling-mediocre, not an improvement on anything, but started up in response to federal government subsidies and the fear-driven streaming into anything “private”?

And “smashing non-government schools into the ground”. Hmm. If the prose is going to get that purple, I’d venture to say it’s the public schools which are already getting smashed into the ground.

When we moved to the suburbs and she enrolled at Brighton High School I rocked up for the Mothers Club to be told there wasnít one. How do you raise money then? I asked.
“The government gives it to us” they chorused (Brownie)

That’s Brighton for you. The private schools get a handout too, which was the original trigger for Kim’s (and Mundine’s) placatory statements, but they probably have the sense to shut up about it.

I don’t think parents and teachers should be relied on to provide hours of unpaid labour to finance a public institution through cake stalls. We don’t expect the Department of Premier and Cabinet to run a choccie drive to
get the basic tools for their work, why do schools and hospitals? (Kate)

Damn straight.

…In order to keep my daughter away from the violent children with criminal parents (Brownie)

Oh for heavens sake! I wonder what school Mokbel Minor and Adler Major attended? as well as the offspring of thuggish but wealthy footballers? The private schools are as much a hotbed of bullying and violence as any.

Maybe the girlchild could take you on a tour of her public school? It would address some of your fears, I think.

I went to a top girl’s school (now called Pembroke) in SA for the first nine years of school. I was a failing student, I think now I might have been a bit ADD, but a dreamer and a C-D student, anyway. Something about the high school (Hurstbridge High school, now closed, like so many) woke me up and I turned into a right swot, although no school ever succeeded in making me enjoy sport. I can’t praise those teachers enough. I ended up, in HSC, with results I’d never have dreamed of before.

Some of the Pembroke teachers were kind, some were vicious, but the school didn’t do squat to address my (lack of) learning.

Boarding school was MUCH BETTER – because our local school was in outback Australia, we tended to get novice teachers. The other kids were unruly…

Of course the local school couldn’t compete; Outback australia isn’t the norm. It’s a special case. Of course it’s much harder to provide education, or any service for that matter, in the outback. Would the boarding school have set up its campus there? of course not.

The teachers at private school were much better; and the parents committee was also much more active (like Brownie observed above). (TimT)

Again… What would be the case if public education was properly funded? Are you comparing a school which can’t afford to pay much in teaching salaries to a school which can?

You know, the most offensive part of that way of thinking is the notion that kids whose parents can’t afford private education should be given up on, thrown to the wolves as it were, with other werewolf kids whose parents sprout fangs, and bugger spending anything more on resources. This kind of thinking is a self-fulfilling prophecy as kids fail to learn in depressing and impoverished environments, give up on school, and fail. Then it’s the fault of the school, or the teachers.

The public education system does not have, generally speaking, the same level of resources available to many private schools. (WPD)

Now you’re talking.

If we’re comparing private education with public education we might be comparing apples with pears. But it’s not fair to compare fat, shiny apples with pears from a neglected tree.

Comments (0)

  • third cat says:

    Wish I knew how to do that heart thing Zoe did, because I love this post too.

  • Zoe says:

    I ♥ it too.

    And thirdcat, I just cut and pasted it from a comment somewhere else a long time ago, and keep it in a little notepad file for when I specially heart things.

  • Helen says:

    Cworr… (Shuffles feet) Thanks Zoe and Thirdcat.

  • Guy says:

    It was a good post on a contentious issue. I agree with you but I disagree with you, if you know what I mean? 🙂

    Personally (supposing I had kids), I would never send them to a private school, but by the same token, I think it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Private schools are taking load off the public system. They are meeting the needs of a steadily increasing number of parents, all of whom would dump Labor without a second thought if Beazley stood up tomorrow and declared that the federal government would not fund non-government schools anymore. I didn’t mean to be metaphorically over the top, but a Labor policy of smashing private schools would mean Liberal Government in perpetuity – if we don’t have that already. Much better to simply increase funding to public schools from the budget surplus (with perhaps a little bit of trimming as per the 2004 election policy), or by taking funding from some other area.

    I feel your pain, but at the end of the day, I don’t think who owns the schools necessarily matters a great deal. If Australia’s kids get a 9/10 education overall from a 70/30 public/private school mix, and a 9/10 education from a 100% public system, whichever of those two systems is more efficient and more responsive to the needs of parents across the country is going to win the day.

    I love public schools and I strongly believe they should be funded better, but I think we can all plainly see which way society is headed. If this was a dictatorship we could “stop the rot” as we saw it, but this is democracy, and we can’t convince the slowly but steadily increasing numbers of private school adherents that their kids should receive no help from the government.

  • Zoe says:

    Guy, where’s the smashing mate?

    As for “I think we can all plainly see which way society is headed” you mean towards that two tiered education system Helen mentioned in her last post, right?

    I read it again because I thought she must have said that private schools should be defunded – but she didn’t. I don’t say private schools should receive no federal funds either.

  • Helen says:

    I guess I did say that private school funding should “take a back seat” (in my original, wish-fulfilment-fantasy post). But to describe that as “smashing” the private school system is just OTT. Private schools will continue nonetheless- they’ll whinge, but, you know, boo hoo. We were spun the line that federal funding to “independent” schools would lower the fees, remember? what a good laugh they had at our expense over that one.

    Political will to give priority to education, as a nation, doesn’t constitute dictatorship. I find the conflation of the two quite puzzling. It just means the government puts more of the consolidated revenue here instead of there.

    You were right, Guy, to predict on your own blog that this government will do nothing about education in this budget. But perhaps you’re too young to remember any other government…

    And as Zoe has pointed out, why do they keep calling themselves “independent” schools when they’re receiving taxpayer’s money?

  • Guy says:

    Zoe/Helen, quite sorry for misinterpreting your observations if I have – but I guess I am just really interested in what the concrete alternative is? Kimbo certainly can’t declare war on private schools, metaphorically speaking. Are we advocating more funding to public schools and less to private schools, more to all schools, more to the schools who need it regardless of what system they come from, or what? What do we want Kim to do?

    It’s fine to suggest that private school funding should take a “back seat”, but it isn’t clear what you mean there. It might mean keeping private school funding static as a proportion of the budget. It might mean decreasing it 10%, say, for only the richer private schools. It might mean completely eliminating it. My “smashing” comments allude to the latter possibility or strong reductions.

    I think we already have a two-tiered education system – that is a fact we need to deal with. Over 30% of kids attend private schools.

    I’ve got no idea why private and independent schools label themselves the way they do. I guess partly it’s because that is the language that everyone uses to describe them. Certainly – at least from where I am sitting – they all receive public funding, so they are all to differing extents, “public” schools anyway, at least partly? The distinction is not as clear-cut as people would like it to be.

  • Guy says:

    Oh, and can I just add that I don’t agree with Warren Mundine’s comments on education funding (from Zoe’s original post), and I don’t think the majority of ALP members would either.

  • TimT says:

    There are things to be said for both systems. I tend to agree with Guy.

    In a sense, it’s not so much Private vs. Public, since ever private school is owned and controlled by distinct groups of people, whereas public schools are owned – at least in theory – by Australians, and controlled by the government of the day.
    Some of the difficulties public schools have would be because of this: they are centrally controlled, at a state level; so when a local public school has a problem, it might be quite difficult – and maybe even inappropriate – for the relevant state minister to respond. Giving them more money isn’t simply going to solve the problem.

    This might be why when the media tends to talk about problems with education, it is rarely referring to private education. After all, a problem with (say) my private school of two years, Knox Grammar, won’t extend to (say) our old nemesis, Waverley College, on the other side of Sydney.

    Good public education is vital, since there are tonnes of people who can’t afford private education; by the same token, I’d argue that private education is vital, too: for one thing, it gives parents a choice they can’t have with government schools. For another thing, it’s far less likely to be influenced by the politicians who happen to be in power at the time.

  • armaniac says:

    Having been to public, cheap private and poncy private high schools I find it a hard issue, but make the following observations:

    – The best teaching was at the poncy, second best at the public. My experience of one catholic primary and one catholic secondary was poor teaching and an underwhelming approach to scholarship and, more notably, the arts.

    – The poncy school, which was on ‘the hit list’, does not deserve to be disbanded, per se, however its resources were incredible, another world in comparison with the resources of the poorer private and public schools. They could have sold off 20 million dollars worth of waterside land in inner Sydney without even giving up their rowing sheds! If labor can’t make out an argument for redirecting PUBLIC resources from such schools to places where they are needed, like the outback, then I don’t know why we bother.

    – Most people are sending kids to private schools to try get them contacts, better marks, and privileged uni entrance, not for the so-called values.

    – However there has got to be a reasonable line the left can take supporting ‘choice’ but also pushing to send public money to places it is needed the most.

    – If its ok to have very conservative religious schools fuelling sectarian difference then it should be ok for someone to set up a chain of madrassas; no?

    Perhaps the best way to ease the stress associated with schooling is to remove the nexus between year 12 and university. Require all uni entrants to spend a year doing something else. Require unis to set entrance tests, a combo of exam and essays, that measure aptitude for particular subjects against other students also interested in those subjects.

  • Zoe says:

    Guy, I think the policy the ALP took to the last election was the right angle, but the nongs f’ed it up. Additional resources went to poorer government schools and also the poorer non-public schools. (Many local religous schools for example actually arent’ tremendously well funded.)

    My problem with the SES model is that it uses the socio-economic status of the area the school is in, not the families at the school. So schools with vast wealth in geographic areas that might not reflect that – like some country areas or perhaps inner city areas – are in my opinion over resourced by governement at the expense of schools with NOT ONE firing range. Can you imagine? Not one!

  • R.H. says:

    I was living in the Sandringham Housing Commission flats and sent my kid to Brighton state school because it was the closest. One school lunchtime when I was driving past there I saw a shabby looking bloke wandering around outside the fence. When I got home I rang the cops about it, who in turn had some dirt to tell me about teachers not really keeping an eye on things. Maybe I should have just gone in and told the headmaster instead of the cops, or maybe I should have just quizzed the bloke myself, but you don’t think of these things at the time.

    I don’t think the headmaster was awfully pleased with my rather common appearance anyway, and especially after I’d called the cops on him (the bloke was gone when they got there, but they spoke to the headmaster), and was rather glad when about a year later I moved to the Highett flats and my daughter transferred to the less chic school there. I wanted to keep her on at Brighton but “That’s life,” said Mr Headmaster, “People move on.”

    I don’t know what’s meant by ‘conservative religious schools fuelling sectarian difference’, but I’m not surprised to see it worked in, because kicking religion is all the go nowadays. The height of fashion.
    I do agree with entry tests for universities, and believe that private schools are the basis for Australia’s class system.

  • R.H. says:

    I’m sorry, the school was in Hampton, next to Brighton, and wasn’t much different in snobbery and affluence.

  • Helen says:

    “Conservative religious schools fuelling sectarian difference” means feral Catholic schools with links to the IRA, or feral Proddy schools insisting on teaching creationism. It doesn’t mean “religion”. Just because you think a certain policy might increase the feral cat population doesn’t make you a cat hater, f’rinstance.

  • R.H. says:

    I see. Well how about feral political correctness, what’s that do, and how do you keep its numbers down?

    (Just sayin’ that I’m just sayin’)

  • R.H. says:

    Cats increase their own population. With their own policies.


    And true.

  • armaniac says:

    Well, throw in stuff about political correctness and you avoid my point.

    While I think about it aren’t the conservative opponents of multiculturalism of the view that what we do want is common values and culture underpinning society, and what we don’t want is people segmented off in their own distinct cultures and not intermingling?

    Couldn’t religion being a private thing be reinforced by people practising as they wish at home, but following a roughly common curriculum that loosely reflects Australian priorities, culture and civics when at school?

  • Helen says:

    Couldn’t religion being a private thing be reinforced by people practising as they wish at home, but following a roughly common curriculum that loosely reflects Australian priorities, culture and civics when at school?


    Cats increase their own population. With their own policies.


  • R.H. says:

    I can’t be bothered. You cook all this stuff up. For something to get hysterical about.

    When you get religion out of church schools let’s know.

    Meanwhile I’m very concerned about feral grief counsellors.
    There’s gotta be a way to cull ’em.

  • R.H. says:

    Read Geoff Blainey, he reckons were becoming a nation of tribes.

    I always thought we were.

  • Jennifer says:

    From my completely amateurish reading, Australia is one of the few countries in the world which seriously funds private schools. We certainly have one of the biggest proportions of children in private schools – in my area (Sydney’s North Shore) – well over 50%. So that doesn’t make it “natural” – it makes it a consequence of policy decisions.

    Very few proposed school voucher systems overseas, by the most committed right wingers allow voucher uses to top up the funds with their own, which is what effectively happens here in Australia, with even the richest private schools still getting substantial government funding. The average private school gets more money per pupil than the average public school (if you include all sources of funding) and they generally have to deal with the harder pupils to educate – learning disabilities, physical disabilities, behavioural problems – all students that private schools tend to shun.

    As a parent, I intend to send my children to public schools if I can, but if they will get a significantly worse education there, and I can afford it, I will send them to private schools – thereby making the situation worse.

    As a voter, I will support a politician who will promise to genuinely support public schools – but I can’t find one!

    Sorry for the rant, but this is very close to my heart – great post!!

  • kate says:

    Religious schools are complex in Australia. Far from intentionally fuelling sectarianism, Catholic schools were a response to it. Catholic kids were routinely discriminated against in state schools (as Catholics were discriminated against in other areas, including rental accommodation, and the job market) in the nineteenth century and into the 1950s and 60s. These days that sectarianism has broken down (and advertising “No Blacks, No Irish” is no longer acceptable) but I suspect it is still the reason that muslim parents send their children to Islamic schools if they can afford it.

    There are of course other reasons for sending your kids to religious schools, to indoctrinate them, to meet other people of the same faith and culture, because it’s the sort of school you went to and it’s familiar… I’m also not suggesting that I’d send my kids to a Catholic school (I went to a couple, and they weren’t great) but it doesn’t mean I begrudge them getting some funding. Catholic (and other local religious schools) tend to have larger classes and smaller budgets than their state school counterparts in poor suburbs.

  • blue says:

    I have done a lot of investigation into both public & private schools in my area. Both my kids have special needs which the private schools were unable to assist with. They also had less well developed behaviour management programs (one school informed me that they don’t have a BMP because they don’t have ‘naughty’ children [scoff]).

    I’m at uni, and in first year the majority of students were from private schools. By third year, approximately 1/2 of those students had dropped out. My belief is that the structure of private schools in terms of perceptions of what achievement is, is significantly different. Private schools are a business. I’m particularly referring to high school here. Business’s generate revenue by being successful, and in the education sector, success is measured by tertiary entrance scores. Therefore the goal is to have a majority of high scoring students. This is achieved in the main by hand feeding. By contrast, while public schools also have a focus on tertiary entrance scores, they are not assessed against them in the same way; in addition offering VET and apprentice/traineeship programs to ensure that students have some form of occupation to go to – be it further study or employment.

    My investigation of private schools has demonstrated very little in the way of divergent or analytical thinking. Admittedly, the research has not been as extensive as it could be, however this opinion is borne out in the people with whom I study, most of whom would not recognise cognitive dissonance if it jumped out in front of them wearing a clown suit and danced the hula.

    I also find that in my (white & blue collar) suburb that the majority of people sending their kids to private school fit within one of two categories: those who went to private school themselves and would never consider public; and those who never finished high school and are upwardly mobile. Neither of these subsets of society are making an objective assessment of education standards.

    Some of this maybe a tangent from the original discussion, but somewhere in the discourse on education funding a recognition of the different goals of public and private education ‘should’* be made.

    *I hate this word.

  • Vest says:

    I hope I don’t tread on too many toe’s , but here goes. take a look at

    savebabe.com Take that pork off your fork, maybe.

  • Helen says:

    No, Vest, I agree with you (except that this comment is on the wrong thread, a mistake I’ve often made in the past) I view eating meat as a behaviour I like to try and minimise, especially pork, and veal is Right Out, except for osso buco which my butcher tells me is from yearlings in the paddock rather than pale babies in the iron shed. I hope to god he’s not lying to me. I envisage my meat consumtion going down still more when I’m not cooking for kids, but for now, we have 3 meat / 4 vego as the usual dinnertime week. Meat for any other meal – rarely.

    I agree completely with this, too.

  • Helen says:

    I realise now I made a complete dick of myself by mentioning eggs and bacon in the latest post. But it is a rare & special rare event (having bacon with the eggs I mean). As I get older I like eating meat less and less. But what to do about cheese? I’m not wild about calves being ripped from their mums as soon as they’re born and the poor mums mooing all night long. But I love cheese. And yoghurt.
    Mmmm, cheese…

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