Monday, February 1, 2010

Jane Caro and Chris Bonnor's Article

I can't take credit for this, but as it is related to my last post - I thought you might be interested. Just another anomoly with the new My School Website. The article is from the Herald.


February 1, 2010

*My School has highlighted vast gaps between private and public
education, write Jane Caro and Chris Bonnor. *

The Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has encouraged parents to use
the My School website to hold schools and teachers to account.

We, too, joined the rush last week to look at what all the fuss was
about. After digging around the website for just a few hours, we would
humbly like to suggest that accountability could go a little further up
the food chain.

Here's what a few hours work uncovered. 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.

So, if, as Gillard advises, there are any lazy teachers needing a kick
up the proverbial, don't look for them in a government school. Clearly
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?

Some may point out that it may be private resources that are going into
paying for this extra staffing in non-government schools, but that still
raises the question of why we continue to generously publicly subsidise
such well-endowed schools when so many government schools are doing it
tough. Private funding drives divides between schools the world over
but, as the My School website so tellingly points out, should it be the
role of government to continue adding fuel through its funding policies?

Public school supporters and communities should be grateful that the My
School website, despite its anomalies and limited perspective, has shone
a bright light on to this glaring inequality.

It provides a clear and transparent direction about what needs to be
done to maintain, support and improve Australia's education performance,
particularly for the 70 per cent of students who attend public schools -
a direction that is not about bricks and mortar or even technology and
computers, but about teachers and the support they need to do their job
properly and help kids learn.

Government schools urgently need not just more teachers, but more
support staff.

Given the comparisons above, even if we doubled the number of support
staff in most public schools tomorrow, they still would not come within
cooee of many of their large private school neighbours.

Given such clear information and their stated commitment to an education
revolution, we confidently expect the Rudd government to make correcting
this glaring staffing imbalance its first priority. Otherwise, all
Australians should hold them to account.

*Jane Caro and Chris Bonnor wrote The Stupid Country: How Australia is
Dismantling Public Education.*

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