Figures showing an increase in ACT government school enrolments are misleading and only serve to continue a pointless battle between proponents of government and non-government education.
Surely the aim is to outfit children for life simply by teaching them? We shouldn’t be conducting some kind of social race by claiming ‘public’ school enrolments are increasing over ‘private’ schools – a deceptive and deliberately elitist term because both types of establishment receive government funding.
The Teachers’ Federation, the Parents and Citizens Council and supporters can scarcely conceal their glee that more than 60 percent of Canberra students are enrolled in government schools, including over 50 percent in high schools.
Traditionally this secondary section saw a drift to the non-government sector not least because parents wanted their pubescent children to be in a perceived safer same-sex environment, although this concern has eased in recent years with the advent of co-educational schools.
But before we dismiss the appeal of the non-government schools only for sexual separation there are other factors contributing to this parental choice.
Religion is strong in Catholic families, while the ‘old school tie’ influences both Catholic and independent non-government establishments. Opponents of the latter reason claim all sorts of unfair benefits from this connection, forgetting some parents have a genuine affection for their old school. In a society of confusing and competing educational claims, they also often have more confidence in its standards.
I also believe the explanation of ‘they went to school together’ applies to both educational systems with equal success.
The biggest hurdle for parents wanting children to attend non-government schools is the annually increasing fees. Many grandparents help but it remains a struggle and probably contributes to the government school student increase when coupled with mortgages and higher costs of living competing for the family income.
How many parents would like their children to attend a non-government school for whatever reason but cannot afford to is unknown. However, developments in the success of providing cheaper fee independent schools indicate the demand exists, as does the establishment of non-mainstream schools, of which there are several in Canberra.
Further, there is not any lack of demand for traditional non-government school places with the local sector reporting few vacancies and healthy waiting lists. Perhaps the absence of non-government schools being built in new areas like Molonglo, and the fact that existing school enrolments are at capacity, pushes students there into the government system?
Finally, demographics play a part. How many parents in new areas of Canberra without non-government schools are prepared to send their children out-of-area for an education with all the challenges this implies? This is a move usually only considered when children are starting high school and are more independent.
All these factors influence why there has been a change in percentage enrolments. Until non-government schools are established in our new suburbs, nobody can claim the existence of a definite drift back to the government system.
So let us put aside bias and, if we really want a fair comparison of enrolments, create a level playing field with new non-government schools in new areas.