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There's no doubt that education standards are falling - we need to act

By Kevin Donnelly - posted Friday, 7 May 2004

Judging by the hostile and often hysterical reaction to the Prime Minister’s comments earlier this year about why parents choose non-government schools over government schools, one could be forgiven for thinking that it must have been a very scathing attack.

In fact, based on the research carried out in writing Why Our Schools Are Failing (funded by The Menzies Research Centre) the Prime Minister’s comments are perfectly justifiable.

On being asked to comment on the reasons for the growth in non-government school enrolments, the Prime Minister suggested that many parents “feel that government schools have become too politically correct and too values-neutral”.


Evidence in support of the PM’s comments is not difficult to find. The sad reality is that Australian schools, especially those controlled by government, have suffered a range of educational fads that have led to a politically correct and dumbed-down education system.

In relation to teaching civics and citizenship, for example, a 1998 federally funded survey showed that 60 per cent of parents expressed “concern that teachers are either not well-enough trained or professional enough to teach this program (civics) without bias”.

A federally funded project looking at assessment and reporting discovered, as a result of schools adopting non-graded, non-competitive assessment, that many parents are also worried that schools fail to honestly report on student achievement.

The year 2000 report concludes: “parents believe that advice can be ‘honest’ without being negative. Many considered written reports are too often ‘politically correct’ at the expense of honesty”.

While "values-neutral" might not be the correct term to use, it is also true that many parents prefer non-government schools to government schools because the ethos and culture of independent schools are more in line with what parents desire for their children.

A survey about why parents choose non-government schools, carried out for the Independent Schools’ Council of Australia, concluded that parents choose such schools because they are more likely to inculcate values, such as respect for authority and discipline, that best reflect what happens in the home.


To quote from the report: “In addition, many (parents) see today’s society lacking core values and discipline. They want these inculcated in their children and believe that independent schools are likelier than government schools to do this”.

While strongly defending NSW government schools, it is also of interest to note that Professor Vinson states in his inquiry that: “Some parents expressed doubts about the environment of such schools, the handling of unsatisfactory teachers, and whether sufficient emphasis is placed upon students’ acquisition of good values”.

The concern about values is reflected in the USA where educationalists such as Diane Ravitch argue, such is the impact of cultural relativism and the postmodern on state-sponsored curriculum, that parents have the right to choose non-government schools.

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This article was first published in The Australian on 3 May 2004.

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About the Author

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and he recently co-chaired the review of the Australian national curriculum. He can be contacted at He is author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars available to purchase at

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Kevin Donnelly
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Department of Education, Science and Training
Why Our Schools Are Failing
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