The new school year has kicked off with many of the familiar themes once again in the media spotlight including, unfortunately, a revival of the old public versus private schooling debate.
Much has been made of the fees that parents pay for independent schooling, including references to a very narrow survey that did not reflect the wide variety of fees and diversity available within the independent sector. Social commentators and authors have posed social and economic arguments in favour of government schools over non-government schools.
State, independent and Catholic school sectors all have a valuable role to play in educating future generations of young people, and parents have the right to choose a school that best suits their child and their beliefs.
Parents who send their children to non-government schools do so for a variety of reasons. Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) research shows parents choose independent schools because they believe the school of their choice best prepares their child for later life, exercises good discipline and encourages a responsible attitude to school work.
These parents are prepared to pay school fees to support their choice, and their financial contribution represents a significant saving to taxpayers.
The Productivity Commission Report on Government Services 2014 released this week showed how much parents who send their children to non-government schools save the taxpayer: in 2012, State and Federal governments provided 57.3% of non-government school funding, with the remaining 42.7% sourced from private fees and fundraising.
The Productivity Commission figures showed average government recurrent expenditure for each full-time equivalent Queensland student attending a government school was $15,526 compared with average government recurrent expenditure of $8,774 for each student attending a non-government school.
With more than 115,000 students educated at independent schools in Queensland in 2012 and almost 116,000 students expected to be educated in 2014, this represents a saving to governments in recurrent expenditure of at least $800 million in a year.
Independent schools represent extraordinary diversity in size, makeup and focus. In addition to large city-based, urban fringe and regional schools, there are many that serve Indigenous, remote, and special needs students.
While independent schools are rich in diversity, they share many common values, including placing a high value on community connections, backed by parents who make significant financial and personal contributions to the running of their schools.
The continued growth in independent school enrolments clearly indicates that parents believe they receive value in terms of the investment they make in school education. Instead of driving a wedge between the different schooling sectors, we should support independent schools for their vital contribution to Australian education.
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