If cost was no obstacle, most students would attend private schools

The independent schools don’t have the Australian Education Union’s propaganda talents, and so their interesting survey on attitudes towards private schools received very little coverage. There was a story in the print version of The Australian, but nothing online that I can find.

The UMR Research poll shows just how successful the AEU’s funding disinformation has been. A majority of respondents believe that private schools get the same public funding as government schools (25%) or more funding than government schools (33%). In reality, private schools get about half the public funding per student that government schools receive.

This error contributed to muddled responses on policy issues. Two differently-worded questions on whether private school students should receive the same funding as government school students received different levels of majority support (66%/58%). However, after being told the correct funding levels only 21% of respondents thought that the federal government should give private schools more funding, with 45% opting for current levels. Due to ignorance about the status quo, some respondents who supported same levels of funding in the earlier questions presumably thought that their reply meant no change or a cut in spending on private schools, rather than an increase.

Of those respondents with kids at a government school (an unspecified number, unfortunately) 42% said that if fees were not an issue they would prefer to send their kids to a private school. AEU boss Angelo Gavrielatos said this ‘showed the effect of a decade of undermining of public education by the Howard government’. But this figure was very similar to a 1994 Saulwick Poll result, in which 45% of respondents with kids at government schools said they would go private if ‘money was no object’. The problems of the public education system long predate the Howard government, and of course even in our decrepit federal system the management and funding of government schools is overwhelmingly in the hands of mostly Labor state governments.

(Other relevant polling: a 1996 Newspoll found 33% of parents with kids at government schools or intending to send their kids to government schools thought these schools were worse than private schools; a 2004 Nielsen poll asked a sub-sample of govenrment school parents if they would shift if the cost was the same, with 34% saying yes).

Clearly there is confusion on the funding issue. But with these attitudes among government school parents, more than 60% of Australian school students are either at private schools or would be if there were no financial obstacles. It calls into question the common assumption that government schools should be the norm, and private schools some controversial deviation from it.

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