Non Government Schools Make Vital Contribution - A Special Report

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
19 Apr 2011

Non Government Schools make a substantial
contribution to overcoming social disadvantage

Catholic primary and secondary schools and Australia's other independent and non-government schools make a vital contribution to quality education and through this, help achieve a more equitable society, says Professor Scott Prasser, Director of the Australian Catholic University's Public Policy Institute (PPI).

In the first of three in-depth studies by PPI, commissioned by the Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA), Professor Prasser and his team explored "Equity in Education" and found hard evidence that non-government schools make a substantial contribution to overcoming social disadvantage through a combination of factors. These include a clear focus on individual students, close links with the school community and the ability to respond flexibly and innovatively to student needs.

Scott Prasser

The study, released late last week, also overturns the popularly-held notion espoused by public school lobbyists that private and independent schools only cater for the wealthy and foster inequality and society of "have and have-nots."

"The view peddled by government school lobbyists and in particular by the Australian Education Union is out of step with the reality and the latest evidence," Professor Prasser says. "It is also out of step with the diversity of the sector and out of step with the choice exercised by one third of Australian families."

Currently in Australia 34 percent of all students attending school, attend Catholic, independent or non government schools. But despite such high numbers, lobby groups continue to insist state and federal government funding should only apply to government schools.

One in three Australian students

attend non government schools

These attitudes however may well change after the release of the three in-depth study papers from PPI which began with the just-published "Equity in Education." Over the next few weeks this paper will be followed by studies reviewing evidence and the latest research on "Choice and Values" and "Parental Contributions to Education," and will add to a better understanding of the association between funding policies and educational outcomes.

These valuable insights are extremely important particularly in light of the Australian Government's current review of funding to schools headed by eminent Sydney businessman, David Gonski which began late last year. When completed, the Gonski Review as it is known will provide recommendations to the Minister with responsibility for school education on the future funding arrangements for schooling in Australia for the period beyond 2013.

At present 79% or $30.9 billion of Commonwealth, state and territory funding goes to government schools which enrol 66 percent of all Australian students. State and territory governments are the major provider of these funds while the Commonwealth is the major provider for non government schools, which enrol 34 percent of all students in Australia and receive $8.1 billion in operating funds from the federal, state and territory governments.

Quality Education helps provide more

equitable society

When these two figures are aligned it can be seen that although independent and non government schools, including Catholic schools which educate one third of Australia's children, they receive just over a quarter of funds from the state, territory and Commonwealth governments.

Despite these facts, there has long "been considerable and deliberate misrepresentation of funding arrangements to the non-government sector and to Catholic schools by interested parties," says Professor Prasser.

However while funding is vital, the paper on "Equity and Education" found that increased funding alone is not the answer to overcoming educational disadvantage.

"In order to address disadvantage, governments need to invest in school achievement and effectiveness as well as fund proven programs targeting educational disadvantage regardless of whether students attend government or non government schools," he says.

The PPI report on equity also draws attention to the latest international research that shows school systems which provide autonomy, accountability and choice, such as those at Catholic schools, lead to greater equity and higher educational achievements, regardless of a student's socio economic background.

To read the full study on Equity and Education and the two forthcoming reports by the Australian Catholic University's Public Policy Institute, log on to