Surely question 15 [on the ‘Judaeo-Christian tradition’] is just looking ahead a little – with an ever increasing proportion of the country’s children being funneled into Christian schools (as applauded by Andrew) Australia may yet become a Christian nation.
With my CIS colleague Jennifer Buckingham I am working on a paper which looks at differences between people who went to government and non-government schools. I have a fair bit more work to do for my part of the project, which is examining surveys that ask respondents what kind of school they attended and then seeing if I can find any interesting differences between them. But some initial results from the 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes might be of interest.
One pattern that does seem reasonably consistent is those who went to non-Catholic private schools are closer to people who went to government schools than those who went to Catholic schools (suggesting the difference may be Catholic/Protestant rather than public/private; an hypothesis I will need to explore).
This starts with the basic question of whether the respondent has a religion. 69% of people who went to government schools and 71% who went to non-Catholic private schools say they have a religion, compared to 86% of those who went to a Catholic school.
37% of government school and 38% of private non-Catholic school attendees say they have a ‘great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in churches or religious institutions, compared to 54% of those who went to a Catholic school (the question is ambiguous; the respondents may have confidence in their own church but not churches generally).
On attending church, 12% of government school and 17% of private non-Catholic school graduates attend weekly or more, well short of the 25% of those who went to Catholic schools. Of those who never attend, the proportions are 40%, 32%, and 18%.
For actually belonging to a church or religious organisation, the numbers are slightly higher than weekly attendance for all groups: 15%, 19% and 28%. But interestingly, attending a private school seems to make little difference to dropping out: 28% of both government school and non-Catholic private school say they used to belong to a church or religious organisation, and 32% of those who went to Catholic schools. I had thought that attending a religious school might be aversion therapy that would put people off church, but if true at all it only seems true for Catholics. But it does seem that parents who send their kids to private schools because of their ’emphasis on religion’ may not always be getting their money’s worth.
From the work I have done so far, attitudes on most issues don’t seem to vary significantly down the public/private divide. This conclusion may change as I do more research. One question is worth reporting here. It asks whether politicians should make decisions that reflect Christian values. 43% of Catholics agreed with this proposition; but 38% of the other two groups. But what these people mean by ‘Christian values’ is as vague as it is in the citizenship test.
Overall, it seems rather unlikely that the rise of private schools will have much impact on the future religious beliefs of Australians. And to the extent there is any concern, it would favour dropping the current objections to and prohibitions of for-profit schools. For secular parents, it would let them escape the public school system without exposing their kids to religious indoctrination.