PPI report dispels private school equity myth

Friday, 15 April 2011

A report by Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) Public Policy Institute (PPI) has shown that non-government schools make a significant contribution to achieving a more equitable society by the quality of the education they provide.

Professor Scott Prasser, Executive Director of the PPI, said one of the main polarising issues between public and private school supporters is the issue of equity. 

“Yet the public education lobbyists choose to ignore the evidence that non-government schools, in Australia and overseas, make a substantial contribution to overcoming social disadvantage,” he said. 

The Equity and Education research paper was prepared for the Independent Schools Council of Australia and released today.

It comes as the Australian Government carries out a major review of school funding led by Sydney businessman David Gonski. 

Professor Prasser said that in the context of the Gonski review, there were a number of myths about funding, equity and the role of the non-government sector that need to be addressed if there is to be proper evidence-based policy development. 

“Our study shows that non-government schools in Australia make a significant contribution to achieving a more equitable society by the quality of the education they provide,” he said. 

“Their education results are better as a result of their clear focus on individual students, their close links with their school community, and their ability to respond flexibly and innovatively. Importantly, these results do not depend on the socio-economic characteristics of their students.” 

Professor Prasser drew attention to the latest international research which shows that school systems with attributes such as autonomy, accountability and choice lead to greater equity and higher achievement, and reduce the dependence of student achievement on their particular social background. 

“The view peddled by the Australian Education Union in particular, that non-government schools foster inequality and cater only for the wealthy is out of step with the reality and the latest evidence,” he said. 

“It is out of step with the diversity of the sector. It is out of step with the choice exercised by one-third of Australian families. It is out of step with the body of evidence that shows that funding alone is not the answer to overcoming education disadvantage. 

“The argument that increased funding alone will improve equity flies in the face of the research evidence and long term experience in this area.

“In order to address disadvantage, governments need to invest in school achievement and effectiveness, as well as fund proven programs targeting educational disadvantage - whether students are attending government or non-government schools. 

“With support from government and considerable private investment through parental contributions, non-government schools in Australia cater for a wide spectrum of society and demonstrate significantly higher levels of achievement. They add value to student performance which has benefits for the whole of society and to improving equity outcomes.” 

The Equity and Education report is available at www.acu.edu.au/ppi