Educational apartheid?

In yet another of her articles attacking private schools, Jane Caro puts the shift to private schools as down to:

largely anxious middle-class parents who want to separate their kids from the mad, the bad and the sad (and, it seems, the ethnically diverse)

Having a somewhat traditional view of what constitutes good parenting, I think wanting to shield kids from the mad and the bad is worthy of praise rather than condemnation. (And if Caro thinks that a selling point of public schools is the opportunity to spend 5 days a week with mad and bad kids she is not the greatest advocate for her cause.)

Caro’s evidence for concern about ethnic diversity is a re-hash of last year’s white flight stories about white kids leaving schools with large Indigenous enrolments. As I pointed out at the time, if this is happening it probably has more to do with actual social and educational dysfunction among Indigenous students than prejudice.

But what of ethnic diversity in schools more generally? Since the white flight post last year, I have examined 2006 school attended census data on this issue. I used language spoken at home rather than ancestry as a proxy for ethnic diversity, to focus on the groups most likely to be weakly assimilated.

English only
Government 65.69%
Catholic 20.66%
Other non-government 13.65%

Non-English speaking
Government 65.27%
Catholic 21.12%
Other non-government 13.61%

As can be seen, the two groups make near-identical school choices.

To the extent that diversity is a school value, it’s not clear that either system comes out on top as reliably providing it. The local school model favoured by the public school lobby depends heavily on school catchment areas being diverse. In practice, a local school model will tend not to be highly diverse in income/class, and in many areas will not be very ethnically diverse either. The national statistics on where kids from poor families send their kids to school, cited by Caro, are about the public school system as a whole. They are not descriptive of particular public schools, and therefore tell us little about actual social mixing.

And while the public school lobby frets over religious division, because the major religions are highly ethnically diverse they tend to foster ethnic mixing. For example, the Catholic presence in the Phillipines and Vietman has translated into high rates of private school attendance, and particularly Catholic school attendance, among Tagalog and Vietnamese-speaking households (50% and 40% respectively, compared to a national average of about one-third). China has much weaker Christian traditions, and only 28% of students from Chinese-speaking households attend private schools (with independent schools predominating, presumably reflecting Chinese educational ambition).

I’m not sure that school diversity is necessary to a tolerant society; if this BankWest survey is to be believed parents send their kids not because they believe in social mixing or equity, but because the large taxpayer subsidy they receive helps them finance holidays, renovations and flat-screen TVs. But if ethnic diversity matters, we will get it whichever school system parents choose.

24 thoughts on “Educational apartheid?

  1. As it turns out there were black kids at the private school I attended in South Africa in the early 1980s – long before there were black kids at (white) government schools. When government schools did start racial mixing (in the late 80s or early 90s) it was those that were semi-privatised that mixed first. In South Africa these were called ‘model c’ schools and corresponded to the school experiment that Kennett introduced but the Bracks government ended (can’t recall what they were called here). But where there was local and parent control over the school they tended to integrate faster than when there was full government control. This is, of course, consistent with Gary Becker’s theory of discrimination.


  2. “many areas will not be very ethnically diverse either.”

    And many will. There will be more nationalities represented at a typical public school in the wstern suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne than in the entire private school system in thise cities.


  3. Proving the ethnic diversity of public schools. Andrew’s statistics are meaningless in this context. What matters, if you care about ethnic diversity in schools, is diversity within a school. Now while it is true that there might be isolated pockets of ethnic homogeneity in the public system, such as in the public schools on Sydney’s upper north shore, or the selective public schools where it’s wall to wall Chinese, on average a public school will be much more diverse than a private school.


  4. Define what you mean by diversity. I suspect there are more non-anglos at the local Catholic school than the local government school. Whether there would be more different types of non-anglos is an open question.


  5. Diversity = number of different nationalities.

    “I suspect there are more non-anglos at the local Catholic school than the local government school.”

    Depends on the locality (unless you count kids called Murphy and O’Neill as no anglos).

    “Whether there would be more different types of non-anglos is an open question.”

    Not very open. In your part of Melbourne (or close to it) there are probably kids from 5 different Horn of Africa countries alone.

    Not very open.


  6. on average a public school will be much more diverse than a private school.

    As someone who goes to a lot of public and private schools, simply not true. It is certainly not true of the Catholic system, but nor is it so of even the elite private schools. Lots of migrant parents scrape and save to send their kids to the top private schools. Scholarships pull in some more.

    Schools generally reflect their areas, but if you think top private schools are “skippy” bastions, you have not been visiting them recently. Such relative homogeneity is far more true of country government schools than top private schools (but see comment about reflecting their area).


  7. “It is certainly not true of the Catholic system, but nor is it so of even the elite private schools”
    “There are probably kids from 5 different Horn of Africa countries alone”
    I’ll bet on the first of these, depending on how you want to define ethnically diverse. It might be the reverse if you want to allow different types of Chinese as different ethnic groups (I imagine the same is probably true of Phillipinos and other common groups in Australia, which would make the Catholic schools more diverse). Just because these groups happen to be nice enough to tick the boxes that ignorant Australian bureaucrats use (the US ones are even better — I personally love the single box for “Asian and Pacific Islander category” which I guess about half the world’s population can tick), doesn’t mean they don’t see each other as different social groups, not unlike, say, the way Greeks might see themselves as different to Albanians.


  8. The online census data won’t let me look at school type by detailed ancestry. Recently arrived refugee groups are not typically going to have the resources to pay school fees, but some of them are going to private schools – I see a bus from one of the Muslim schools picking kids up from the housing commission high rise apartments a couple of minutes from where I live.


  9. And what will happen when the ALP government starts the open immigration policy similar to that the labour party in the uk had.
    Where schools have to deal with many languages in a class. And where minorities are often the white.


  10. From the tern ‘white flight’ I get the impression that all Europeans are being classified as being ‘white’ – a very Apartheid thing to do – while all other sources of diversity are being finely graded.

    “In your part of Melbourne (or close to it) there are probably kids from 5 different Horn of Africa countries alone.” Haven’t seen them, as best I know the ony children of African decent around here are my own. The advantage of more Africans around here would be more ethnic foods. I can already buy biltong nearby but haven’t yet found mielie meal.

    I have a theory though, likely to upset a lot of people, that this conern with ‘diversity’ is a form of racism that people like Hendrik Verwoerd would have immediately recognised and exploited to impose their racist views. The diversity crowd have a lot of similarities with the theoretical apparatus that supported apartheid. The notion that peoples are inherently different, those differences should be maintained and celebrated and government should operate to ensure that diversity was maintained sounds all so ‘reasonable’, but in reality this type of thinking is enforced by police hit squads. So I’m happy to have the rebuttale assumption that people promoting diversity are really just racists until proven otherwise. Harsh, I know, but I’ve heard all the arguments before …


  11. “As someone who goes to a lot of public and private schools, simply not true”

    Michael, here’s a challenge for you. Why don’t you pay a visit to Sydney Grammar and nearby Cleveland Street Boys High (during the creative writing classes, where you can tell them stories about Jane Fonda and Bob Ellis), calculate the diversity in each, and report back?


  12. Spiros – But comparing a public school that targets refugees with a private school that caters to academic elites is hardly a sensible comparison; neither are remotely typical of their sectors.


  13. OK, Andrew, fair enough. Try comparing Brighton Grammar School (socially but not academically elite) with Brighton Secondary College (the local comprehensive). Ditto Camberwell Grammar and Camberwell Secondary.


  14. Spiros – If I had the data, I would. But if the data is collected, it is not released. I would hypothesise that both had moderate non-Anglo enrolments (given their locations), but that the ethnic make-up would differ somewhat, with the private schools having more of ethnic groups known to value education highly, such as Jews and some Asian cultures.


  15. What concerns me in NSW is the trend for some private to ‘discard’ pupils whom they believe will not achieve the band 5-6 results they demand.
    These students are advised to go to the nearest public school even sometimes with only months to go.

    It is heartwarming that some private schools are not like this.

    The low-cost Anglican schools and the Muslim schools do not have such practices.


  16. Homer – There is no evidence of a ‘trend’ (again, because no data is available), though there has been anecdotal evidence over many years that some schools do this. The flipside is schools encouraging people to continue when their prospects are poor. Whenever targets or standards are set (high average scores, high Year 12 retention) there is a risk that school interests will come ahead of student interests.


  17. Spiros, a more convincing way of proving your point would be to select a representative sample. Focussing on obvious outliers a la Four Corners doesn’t give us any useful information.

    Anyway, choosing Sydney Grammar wouldn’t prove your point. As I remember it, Grammar was a mix of near-even-sized groups of kids from Prostestant, Chinese, Indian and Jewish backgrounds.

    (The game in playing Grammar against rugby was to get one of the Sikh boys at the bottom of the ruck and remove his turban with your boots. It usually led to a punch-up.)


  18. Grammar has always had a comparatively large number of Jewish and Indian boys as it is the only secular GPS. There are much better targets to pick if you wanted to make some point about an anglo monoculture in elite private schools.

    Actually, I think this white flight thing is a rather stupid distraction from what is actually driving middle class families (and prospective school teachers) from the public system: poor behaviour management and low academic standards.


  19. “There are much better targets to pick if you wanted to make some point about an anglo monoculture in elite private schools.”

    OK: Shore, Scots, Cranbrook.


  20. I can only testify about Melbourne schools, but Scots College is increasingly ethnically mixed, to take the one example I teach at regularly.

    Clearly, not as ethnically mixed as, say, Broadmeadow Secondary, to take another school I have taught at. But few schools are.

    And the degree to which schools are ethnically mixed is going to vary. But it is only going to weakly vary by whether they are public, Catholic or private.

    And the most mono-cultural schools I have been to have been country government schools, but that is just a matter of their catchment areas. Ethnic diversity simply does not divide the various types of schools.


  21. do remember, though, that the kids who are allegedly kicked out of private schools for “self-serving” (i.e. keeping a high Year 12 result average) are often not booted for that reason alone – most of the time it is because they have been consistently ill-disciplined. Poor behaviour probably coincides with poor academic results, but don’t attribute improper motives when there are other legitimate driving forces at play.


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