More Money Less Faith at Private Schools

23 February 2006

On 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 modernity.

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 caste.

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 omission.

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 practice.

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 welfare-dependant.

Under the current dispensation, private education has gained billions and lost its soul.

Guests on this program:
Denis Fitzgerald
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 Training.






For further discussion on these matters, listen to 3CR,

855 on the am dial


12.30 p.m. next Saturday.

Statistics Home The Latest News Contents The High Court Case Feedback

If you have a message for supporters of public education:

Please Contact:
Ray Nilsen  on
(03) 9326 9277 or (03) 9329 8483
Postal address:
P.O. BOX 4869
Melbourne Victoria Australia 3001
Or complete our feedback form.
Last modified:Wednesday, 22 February 2006