News National It’s time to end the angst over public vs private education

It’s time to end the angst over public vs private education

school funding
Some of the country's richest schools can apply for assistance through a slush fund that is closed to government schools. Photo: Shutterstock
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There’s no escaping it – it’s that time of year when social media newsfeeds are dominated by those obligatory first-day-back-at-school pics of little cherubs who are finally, oh finally, back in the daily fold of their brave teachers.

Australia is echoing with cheering parents (guilty as charged) delighted the never-ending holidays are now over.

But amid the joy and relief in some corners, a sense of anxiety pervades.

Many of the pictures proudly posted by parents across the country are of children standing in their doorway in their over-sized blazers – which often means one thing; they are heading off to their expensive private high schools for the first time.

And that’s all fine and dandy. If you can afford fees and extras which can top $30,000 a year (with fees rising each year, faster than incomes) and the private school of choice suits your child, then there are some excellent options.

Except, for those who simply can’t afford the private option, either now or in the future, there seems to be this ongoing anxiety.

I hear the angst surrounding it all the time in my area in bayside Melbourne, and frankly it’s keeping parents awake at night.

Many are often pondering whether increasing their work hours or down-sizing to a cheaper postcode would mean they could just about afford the fees.

It’s all based on fear. Fear children won’t get the same results as a private school in the not-so-shiny state school down the road. Fear they won’t get the best facilities or opportunities.

And let’s be honest, a pervading fear in this competitive world of networking and contacts that they won’t be making the “right connections”.

Analysis by Edstart shows that only 49 per cent of private school fees are paid with disposable income – the rest is raised by credit cards, mortgage redraw, loans, savings and family contributions.

But here’s the good news – those who can’t afford the private route have nothing to worry about academically, as it turns out.

Senior lecturer in education at Monash University David Zyngier told The Sydney Morning Herald last week that a Victorian analysis of year 12 results has shown that private schools do not outperform public schools when socio-economic advantage is taken into account.

“Public schools are meeting the performance of private schools with a third of the resources,” Dr Zyngier said.

The latest HSC results from 2017 show that while the top-10 schools are dominated by public selective schools, the top state schools also outrank a number of high-fee private schools.

Overall, the top-ranked private school was the academically selective Sydney Grammar School in sixth place, followed by Ascham at ninth, Abbotsleigh at 14th and Moriah College at 15th.

“As a return on investment, purely from an economic perspective, there’s no advantage to sending your child to a private school,” Dr Zyngier said.

But none of this is a surprise to me personally.

Amid the endless back-to-school pics this week was a delightful post from a former school friend who is now the creative director of a leading multi-million-dollar luxury global brand in New York. He posted a video clip of a advertorial shoot with a top ballet dancer.

This friend was at my sprawling public high school in the south of England where scraps and teen pregnancies were part of the mix.

It wasn’t fancy. Far from it. But here’s the thing: the teachers were excellent and maybe the rough edges gave us that magic ingredient that money can’t buy – motivation.

We weren’t in a comfy bubble surrounded by manicured grass. It was character-forming and maybe, just maybe, the social mix made us more compassionate as adults.

Many friends from that school are now doctors, lawyers, writers and artists.

Later, I was lucky enough to go to a Quaker boarding school on the outskirts of London for the final two years. It was delightful.

But academically I performed better at the public school. Ironically, there were too many distracting extra-circular activities on offer at the private school.

So let’s try and reduce this constant private school angst. If you can’t afford it, don’t be fearful.

In fact, for your child and your bank balance it may just turn out to be a win, win.

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