Interesting Facts and Figures

February 2, 2010

Once again the Sydney Morning Herald of February 1 provides a more comprehensive view of Julia Gillard’s excuse for accountability and transparency on the MySchool website. Whereas Murdoch’s Australian continues to peddle the ideas of Joel Klein from New York , Jane Caro and Chris Bonnor, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald ‘would humbly like to suggest that accountability could go a little further up the food chain.’

It seems that Gillard’s tables reveal more than initially meets the eye.

Caro and Bonnor’s research uncoveredf gross inequities between public and private schools in teacher numbers. According to enrolment and staffing stats for a selection of more than 20 large (mostly 1000-plus enrolments) metropolitan schools taken from the My School website, to get a teacher at a large, metropolitan non-government school you need to have about 10.1 students. To get a teacher in a large, metropolitan government school you need 14.8 students.

In terms of non-teaching staff in schools - those employees who relieve teachers of administrative and other support tasks - you need 21 students to get a support staff member in a large, metropolitan non-government school and a staggering 84.4 students in a similar-sized government school.

But, like all comparisons between schools, these stats - while revealing - must be taken in context. The schools compared are similar in total enrolment and geographical location, but many of the non-government schools are K-12 schools that cater for boarders.

To check for this, Hurlstone Agricultural High School, a government boarding school, was included in the selection, even though it is a little smaller in enrolment size. It has 14.1 students for each of its teachers and 60.3 for each of its support staff. A smaller non-government school that also caters for boarders, Tara Anglican School, has 10.6 students per teacher and 16.3 students for each non-teaching staff member. And, as a further check, Australian Bureau of Statistics data on student/teacher ratios back up these statistics.

Caro and Bonnor point out that if the website is correct and government schools are, on average, outperforming many of their fee-charging equivalents, then government school teachers must be working very hard indeed, against the odds. They not only teach more students, they are given vastly less support to do so.

The urgent question is: how long can they maintain this performance in the face of such skewed staffing handicaps?

Further inequalities were further revealed in an article by Heath Gilmore in her article entitled Federal Support Favours the Privileged . She compared the school ranked highest for the percentage of students from a privileged backgrounbd- Knox Grammar (Presbyterian) and Boggabilla, the school deemed to have the state’s highest proportion of disadvantaged pupils, with all its cohort Aboriginal. Whereas Bobbabilla is still waiting federal government stimulus money to build a library, .

One school has been ranked the highest in NSW for the percentage of students from a privileged background. The other school was deemed to have the state's highest proportion of disadvantaged pupils, with all its cohort Aboriginal.

Boggabilla is awaiting final approval on federal government stimulus money to build a library, Knox Grammar is overseeing a multimillion-dollar construction program for a new boarding centre and a great hall/aquatic centre with three Olympic-size indoor basketball courts, a performance centre and an indoor 50-metre swimming pool. On the construction site billboard, Knox acknowledges the generous contribution made by the federal government to the project.

So, under Julia Gillard's My School website, the outrageous inequities in our education system, largely caused by taxpayer funding of the private sector is available online.

The ranking of the Boggabilla Central at the bottom and Knox Grammar at the top, is in the website's Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage. There appears to be political and bureaucratic sensitivity about the inequities revealed on the website, although whether this will ever translate into action when Gillard and her policy advisers are confronted with the Catholic hierarchy and Protestants jealous of their privileges, is another matter. 

Nevertheless, we are informed that Peter Hill, the chief executive of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, said the website would shine a  light on ''what schools need additional resources and assistance''.

He said the next version of the website, detailing the financial resources of the each school, with the amount spent per capita on each student, would highlight any inequities. It is extraordinary that the funding data has not appeared before or currently with the performance tests. After all, how can you test and outcome without the input? Is it possible that Gillard has produced a smokescreen to mask her own lack of ministerial responsibility?

DOGS wonder whether the full funding figures for the private religious sector will ever appear. Perhaps, to quote Caro and Bonnor, it is time transparency and accountability was pushed up the food chain.



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