Education in the news - April 2023
After the usual rush of articles about the results from the HSC and discussion about the usefulness or otherwise of the ATAR, the news focus changed to issues of sector growth, literacy and, following a Four Corners program on private schools, the values taught by schools.
The SMH editorial 17/2/23 focussed on the NSW growth of mid-fee Anglican, Islamic and Christian denomination schools, especially in the outer suburbs of Sydney, highlighted by a decline in public school enrolments for a second year. Independent school enrolments rose by 1.5%, Catholic schools remained steady and public schools fell 1.8%.
The article identified increasing affluence as one factor for parents seeking these schools and I would add the greater security of income following the COVID 19 years. In attempting to explain the change the SMH focused on the higher parent expectations for students from independent schools to go to university – Independent 71.9% Catholic 67% and Public 47.8%. As written about previously, expectations have a huge influence on student performance and are mostly self-fulfilling prophecies.
These expectations can also have a negative impact according to the survey. Independent school parents perceive public schools are much more likely to involve behaviour issues and bullying and in fact a greater percentage of public-school parents do report such incidences for primary schools. (In. 15.4% Cath. 19.2% Pub. 23.4%.)
One might think that such outcomes would demand greater resources for public schools, but the Productivity Commission reports that over the last ten years non-government school funding increased by 27.2% compared with 23.9% for public schools. One would hope that Christians in all school sectors would want greater equity to ensure a fair allocation of resources.
At the same time columnist Jane Price writes in A lesson in private school values (SMH 21/2/23) Australians should be fighting for a school system insisting on equity, not entrenching privilege. Reeling from a Four Corners episode on Opus Dei schools she runs the typical line that what went wrong with one is probably wrong with all. Public schools have long-suffered from this fallacy of composition. She then rehearses the failings of private schools including the episodes around sexual assaults from boys at private boys’ schools.
Her comments are hardly unbiased, but have more bite when she compares the Schooling Resource Standard and actual funding of two public schools to expose the shortfall in funding that public schools are experiencing as state governments fail to pass on all the funding generated by the social index of the school. She wants to defund private schools and implores Australian voters to act to return fairness to the education system.
In response, Defund private schools? It’s no option by John Hastie Alphacrucis University College (SMH 13/2/23) points out the political reality that defunding private schools is not an option for any government such is the investment of voters’ money into these schools. He decries the historical centralise system of schooling and political decision making and calls for a rethink on its deep heart and purpose, and its intimate connection to the deep heart and purpose of our nation. However, neither are expanded on and it is left very unclear what is intended. While national agreed goals of schooling have been constructed now on several occasions there has not been either Australian or state government action to ensure funding according to agreed principles around socioeconomic indexes. Public schools are generally still underfunded with some independent schools overfunded. Getting any agreement to discuss broader outcomes and possible organisation of schooling in Australia while these inequalities exist is, like the defunding non-government schools, also not realistic.
In a letter to the editor 2/3/23 Brian Jones of Leura displays some of the confused thinking in the community about teaching values. Encouraging schools to stay away from “teaching” values he believes that schools should accept a wide range of inputs on values and leave it to parents and grandparents to do the heavy lifting. He does not seem to comprehend that when you don’t teach values you are teaching values. All lessons contain teaching about values. As the NSW Department policy Values of NSW public school discusses the different sorts of values and nominates nine particular values that underpin public education. Bringing these values to surface in lessons is very important because it gives substance to what these values mean in everyday life. Christians would want these values to be emphasised and discussed in classrooms.
NAPLAN and literacy
In Literacy focus helps school hit list of NAPLAN notables (SMH 22/2/23) we read how Cabramatta High School has raised NAPLAN literacy results through a compulsory 50 minute a week lesson focussing on the mastery of critical writing skills. My comment is: Is this teaching to the test and not very different to schools across the state, more in the private sector, that have additional classes to skill their students in NAPLAN tests.
Maybe I am a bit cynical, and the article does go on to outline the achievement of other schools by providing a classroom focus on literacy and numeracy skills. These schools have done well to use the data to identify weaknesses and to explicitly target programs to address those weaknesses like the Hurstville Primary School’s concentration on language-based mathematics problems to raise numeracy results.
Raising literacy and numeracy skills is important for all schools and a holistic approach is needed to ensure retired educators like me don’t suggest teaching for the test.