From the Principal

Fiona Godfrey, Principal

Fiona Godfrey, Principal

I may be particularly sensitive, but I feel the media, in particular the Fairfax papers, are on a crusade to vilify independent schools. Over recent months, the Sydney Morning Herald has run a number of articles questioning capital works expenditure at a handful of ‘elite private schools’ in Sydney, receiving taxpayer funding. The articles seem to imply that independent (as opposed to private) schools are the bastion of the wealthy and elite, and therefore, by extrapolation, not democratic, and socially divisive.

The media attention and subsequent discussions surrounding the funding of schools is not always accurate. As a result, I wonder how often our parents have been asked to defend the choices they have made to send their child/ren to an independent school. Do people, outside of the Radford community give you a hard time for choosing Radford – an independent and religious school? The question of funding, and other inaccuracies often associated with non-government (Catholic and independent) schools, is something we should all be ready to defend. It is important that a truthful representation of our schools is maintained and that the myths are debunked.

The majority of independent schools are in fact low-fee schools, where parents have made the decision to prioritise education for their children. The more students who attend non-government schools, the less the cost of education to government budgets. Could you imagine the budgetary implications for state governments if every non-government school shut their doors and forced their students into government schools? With just over 50% of all ACT students in non-government schools in Years 7 – 10, the ACT government would need to double the number of High Schools in the Territory.

Opponents of our system distort the true situation around funding, by providing only part of the information. Misleading comparisons are often made between school sectors based solely on the amount of federal government (Commonwealth) funding they receive. In order to properly examine all taxpayer funding, the total level of both state (or in our case, territory) and federal government funding must be examined. On average, independent schools receive around half the total level of government funding of public schools. In 2014-15, independent schools received, on average, $8,450 per student in total government recurrent funding compared to an average of $16,670 for a student in a public/government school. School funding is a shared-responsibility model, where the Commonwealth is the majority funder of non-government schools, and the states/territories are the majority funders of government schools. So, the only accurate way to compare funding between sectors is to compare totals of combined Commonwealth and state/territory government funding. 

Sadly, as recent articles have highlighted, the media tend to suggest that independent schools pay for capital works programs through government funding. Put simply they don’t and they can’t. There are strict rules on the use of government recurrent funding to independent schools, it cannot be used for capital works. Federal and state/territory governments supply varying levels of recurrent funding to all independent schools solely for the provision of education. This includes the payment of teacher salaries, curriculum-related and general school running costs. Spending recurrent funding on capital works is not allowed, and schools’ compliance in this area is carefully monitored. The Australian Government does provide some support for capital infrastructure in Independent schools. This is provided under the Capital Grants Program, which must give priority to schools with the least capacity to raise funds from their school communities. Radford College does not attract any of this funding for capital works. The vast majority of capital funding, nearly 90%, in the independent school sector, is provided by parents and communities. These funds are raised through fees, building funds, targeted fund-raising and donations.

Criticism of independent schools has also been levelled at their supposed lack of accountability and transparency. The truth is that independent schools are subject to a greater level of educational and financial accountability requirements than government schools. All independent schools, regardless of teaching philosophy, faith affiliation, location or the socio-economic status of their students, have to be registered by state and territory authorities in order to operate. Without registration, schools cannot operate or be eligible for any government funding. All non-government schools must also comply with both federal government and state/territory government educational and financial accountability requirements.

These requirements include:

  • participation in national testing
  • implementation of the national curriculum
  • the provision of data on schools, staff and students for national reporting
  • completion of an annual financial questionnaire, financial viability assessment and reporting against government grants.

Compared to other similar countries, Australia has a much higher proportion of students educated in non-government schools. Current enrolments indicate that, across the board, 36% of all Australian students attend a non-government school, compared to 6% in Canada, a country often described as comparable to our own.

Since funding was first introduced, the Australian non-government education sector has been growing steadily for the past 50 years. It is clear that this sector is here to stay. I firmly believe we need to cut the funding wars and stand up for fair and reasonable journalism which accurately portrays the true picture about independent schools.

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