Jan 30

Are Non-Government Schools worth it?

The question of whether the paying of independent school fees is worth it tends to re-emerge from time-to-time. Debate is usually fuelled by opponents of non-government schools who have a vested interest in seeing the sector decline in significance – think unions and movements like ‘Save our Schools’.

Care is needed when digesting the information thrown up by such organisations because they tend to use selective data carefully chosen to show non-government schools in a bad light.

This data provides some facts, and we mustn’t ignore these facts – but here is another fact. A third of Australian parents have looked carefully at a whole range of educational options, have done the research in depth and come up with the conclusion that spending money on a non-government education is worth it. Furthermore, nearly half the children of secondary school age in Australian cities come from families who have weighed up the pros and cons of state school education and decided on a non-government school for their children.

We need to take notice of this. Why? Because these families are usually apolitical in the choice of school and have not got a vested interest in pushing one sector of education over another. We also need to take notice because these parents are the ones bearing the pain of paying the fees. There is nothing like the prospect of spending tens of thousands of dollars to concentrate the mind as to whether it is worth it.

My opinion is that it is worth it, but my view is not worth much because I am a headmaster of an independent school with a vested interest in promoting such schools. Others will think it is not worth it, but their opinion is also not worth much because they have a vested interest in advancing the state school option. The opinion that matters is that of the market place, and the market place is saying that the majority of Australians would send their children to a non-government school if they could afford it.

Unfortunately, not all can afford it, although, with the rapid increase in low-fee independent schools, a lot of Australian families can send their children to a non-government school. For centuries, the Catholic sector of education has done a brilliant job in making good quality education available for a reasonable price.

One of the most important tasks for non-government schools is to give Australian families choice. Without this choice, all school education would be in the exclusive hands of educational bureaucracies and in the control of teacher unions. There would also be a sameness about schools. Gone would be faith-based schools. Gone would be the schools that offer a unique approach to teaching and learning. Gone would be choice.

Is the high cost of non-government schools worth it? Ask each family in Australia. Many say it is worth it because they feel that a quality education is one of the most precious gifts they can give their child. Springing out from the shadows will come those with a contrary view. They are usually armed with carefully selected statistics to say that independent education is not worth it. Great. Let them send their children to State schools. They have a choice.

Most parents I speak to are looking for a great exam performance in Year 12. But, this is only part of what they are looking for. They are also wanting a school that pays a lot of attention to values, that advances a faith position, that has a strong co-curricular offering, that offers boarding, that has strong accountability. This is astute. Research is showing that it is not the Year 12 exam mark the determines success in life, but ‘emotional quotient’ – the ability to relate positively with others.

Why do school fees go up so much each year? They go up because teacher salaries go up and CPI goes up. Why do school fees go up at a higher rate that CPI and teacher salaries? Because extra costs emerge each year with increased supervision and safety requirements, compliance costs, dealing with bureaucracy costs and the costs of implementing new technology in the classroom. Add to this the rising expectations from parents themselves. Characteristically, the cost of educating a child in a state school has risen about 2% above inflation. In non-government schools things are no different.

Is the cost of sending a child to a non-government school worth it? You decide. In the end it is only your view that matters.

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