AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL FOR THE DEFENCE OF GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS - D.O.G.S.
SCHOOLS : A FAILURE EVEN ON THEIR OWN TERMS
More Money Less Faith at Private Schools
23 February 2006
Monday 30 January 2006, Denis Fitzgerald, on Radio National said what
has needed to be said for a long, long time . He wrote on this topic to
the Sydney Morning Herald and later had this to say on the ABC
Perspective 30 January 2006 - Denis Fitzgerald
[This is the print version of story
The recent controversy following the latest hike in private school
fees highlights the growing moral and spiritual crisis that now
besets private education in Australia. The crisis is one that should
have more thoughtful adherents concerned about the implications of
placing manna over morals and relying on the taxpayer to bolster
belief systems that are undergoing difficulties coping with
Put simply, private education has become associated with avarice,
partisan political engagement, an intensified exclusivity and an
utter failure to achieve its stated religious goals.
The Coalition billions now going to private schools were justified
by its architect, Dr David Kemp, on the basis that it would put
“downward pressure” on fees. We were deceived. According to
Australian National University analysis of private school enrolments
since, we have seen “Private schools shutting doors to the poor”. As
the head of Catholic Education in Victoria also admits, “Access to
Catholic schooling for Catholic students from low-income families
declined between 1996 and 2001 due to the rising costs of attending
a Catholic school.” More recent census figures confirm this trend.
Increasingly, the private sector of education is about class and
It has scarcely much to do with religion any more. Religious schools
have been spectacularly unsuccessful in their primary stated purpose
of inculcating spiritual belief or adherence despite the expansion
of taxpayer-funded resources. As the Sydney Morning Herald reported
recently, the Pope has stated that mainstream Christianity was dying
more quickly in Australia than in any other country.
As private schools get more and more public money to educate an ever
more elitist section of the population there is an inexorable
decline in belief. Churches, vocations, parishes are all in
freefall. The situation recalls B.A. Santamaria’s description of
Catholic schools as places of, “doctrinal confusion, moral
relativism and a widespread loss of faith.”
The fact is that these school systems cannot be both places of
increasing government-funded privilege and beacons of spiritual and
moral purpose. Temples to hypocrisy cannot engender a depth of
mature belief. The churches have been at their most impressive and
successful in recent times when they have associated themselves with
the poor, the needy and the exploited.
Yet the progressive wing of the churches was totally silent when the
redistribution of funding shares from public to private schools was
carried out. These are people who know the transformational nature
of education for the young and the needy. There are indeed sins of
Amidst this silence, the Church leaders themselves have been
diligent and partisan in their politics. The previous Anglican
Archbishop of Sydney, Harry Goodhew, went to the length of
contacting all Opposition politicians during the parliamentary
debate on the funding bill pressuring them to pass the legislation
that would so advantage his privileged schools.
His successor, Archbishop Jensen, joined with Cardinal George Pell
and other church leaders to openly campaign at the last federal
election against the ALP policy which would have seen greater
funding directed towards children in public schools. Such a policy,
to quote the churchmen, would have been “potentially divisive”.
So what the churches have now to ponder is whether they can continue
with pronouncements about community, the disadvantaged and the
compassionate nature of their beliefs and still associate their
school systems with the fruits of avarice and shrewd political
What is left of their school systems is that they have become
literally exclusive places where ever more privileged children are
sent to get away from other types of children. There is a fitful
attempt to portray these schools as places of liberal conscience and
social justice but this is impossible to sustain if by their very
nature they exclude the great bulk of children who are different in
belief, background or class.
It also becomes difficult to sustain as church organisations seek to
exempt the conduct of their schools from the basis of
anti-discrimination legislation – the rules by which we believe
civil society should be conducted. Delicacy prevents me from
dwelling on the endemic child abuse scandals that have been exposed
in private school systems.
The final undeniable reality underlining the crisis of private
education is the fact that all but the very wealthiest of these
schools would instantly collapse if the support of the state was
withdrawn. It is of course upper class welfare and they have become
Under the current dispensation, private education has gained
billions and lost its soul.
Guests on this program:
Public school teacher .
Former member of the NSW Board of Studies, A President of the
Australian Education Union and a Director of Aboriginal
Education and Equity in the NSW Department of Education and
For further discussion on these
matters, listen to 3CR,
855 on the am dial
12.30 p.m. next Saturday.