Private Schools Continue to Have a Massive Resource Advantage Over Public Schools

Data from the OECD’s Programme for International Assessments (PISA) in 2018 confirm everyday impressions of the vast gap in the resources of public and private schools in Australia. They show that private schools have far more, and better quality, teacher and physical resources than public schools. Despite the fact that public schools enrol over 80% of the most disadvantaged students, they are constrained by a lack of education resources.

While class sizes and student-teacher ratios are similar in public and private secondary schools, public schools have far fewer highly qualified teachers, more teacher shortages, more inadequately qualified teachers, more teacher absenteeism and more shortages of assisting staff than private schools. Much higher proportions of students in public schools have their learning hindered by a lack of educational materials, poor quality educational materials, lack of physical infrastructure and poor quality infrastructure than in private schools. There are also significant differences between the resources available to lower fee and higher fee private schools.

Teacher resources

Class sizes and student-teacher ratios are similar between public and private secondary schools in Australia, with a very slight advantage for higher fee private schools. However, private schools have a much higher proportion of highly qualified teachers than public schools with 22% having at least a Master’s degree compared to 14% in public schools [Chart 1]. Just over one-quarter of teachers in higher fee private schools and one fifth in lower fee schools have a least a Master’s degree.

Source: OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Results (Volume II): Where All Students Can Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, Online Tables II.B1.5.1, II.B1.5.2 & II.B1.5.

There are large gaps in the proportion of students in public and private schools whose learning is hindered by inadequate teaching resources [Chart 2]. The percentage of students in public schools whose learning is hindered by teacher shortages is three times that in private schools – 24% compared to 8%. The gap between public schools and higher fee private schools is particularly large with only two per cent of students in the latter schools have their learning affected by a shortage of teachers. In addition, 17% of students in public schools have their learning hindered by a shortage of assisting staff compared to 6% in private schools.

There are also large gaps between public and private schools in the proportion of students whose learning is hindered by inadequately qualified teachers. While nearly all teachers in Australia are fully certified, inadequately qualified teachers can be interpreted as those who are teaching out-of-field, that is, teaching subjects they are not qualified to teach. Nearly 20% of students in secondary public schools have their learning hindered by inadequately qualified teachers compare to 8% in private schools [Chart 2]. The gap between public schools and higher fee private schools is very large with less than one per cent of students in the latter having their learning hindered in this way.

Some 23% of students in public secondary schools have their learning restricted by teacher absenteeism compared to 14.5% in private schools [Chart 2]. Only 7% of students in higher fee private schools have their learning restricted in this way while the proportion of 19% in lower fee private schools is only slightly less than those in public schools.

Source: OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Results (Volume II): Where All Students Can Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, Online Tables II.B1.5.7; II.B1.5.16; II.B1.5.19 & II.B1.5.20.

Physical resources

There are also large gaps in the proportion of students in public and private schools whose learning is hindered by a lack of or poor quality physical resources.

The learning of 16% of students in public schools is hindered by a lack of educational materials compared to 2% of students in private schools and 14% are hindered by poor quality educational materials compared to one per cent in private schools [Chart 3]. There is little difference in the proportion of students in lower fee and higher fee private schools whose learning is hindered in these ways.

The differences between public and private schools are huge in terms of the impact on learning of a lack of physical infrastructure and poor quality infrastructure. Thirty-five per cent of students in public schools have their learning hindered by a lack of physical infrastructure compared to 9% of students in private schools. There is also a significant disparity within the private school sector with 15% of students in lower fee private schools having their learning hindered in this way compared to only 4% in higher fee private schools.

In addition, 36% of students in public schools have their learning hindered by poor quality infrastructure compared to 11% in private schools. Within the private school sector, 16% of students in lower fee schools have their learning hampered by poor infrastructure compared to only 3% in higher fee schools.

Source: OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Results (Volume II): Where All Students Can Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, Online Tables II.B1.5.15; II.B1.5.17; II.B1.5.18 & II.B1.5.22

Conclusion

The new OECD data reveals a shocking misallocation of teaching and physical resources between public and private schools in Australia. Private schools have first call on highly qualified teachers, face far less shortages of teachers and assisting staff, less inadequately qualified teaches, and less teacher absenteeism than public schools. In particular, public schools face severe shortages of teachers and high teacher absenteeism. Similarly, private schools are far better provided with educational materials and physical infrastructure than public schools.

The new data exposes continuing policy failure by the Commonwealth and state governments. Governments are effectively discriminating against public schools in terms of their access to quality teaching and physical resources. Government funding policies are a major factor behind this continuing disparity in resources. The most recent available funding figures show that since 2009-10, government funding per student, adjusted for inflation, in public schools was cut by $49 while funding for private schools increased by $1,779 per student. The Commonwealth Government increased its funding of private schools by far more than for public schools while every state government cut its funding of public schools.

The disparity between public and private schools In teacher and physical resources will continue unless current funding arrangements are dramatically revised. The bilateral funding agreements between the Commonwealth and State governments signed at the end of 2018 favour private schools and ensure that public schools will be massively under-funded indefinitely. At best, public schools will only be ever funded at 91% of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) while private schools are guaranteed to be funded at 100% of the standard or more by 2023. In addition, private schools will receive additional funding through special deals provided by the Commonwealth Government such as its $1.2 billion Choice and Affordability Fund.

The agreements should be revised to provide the resources for public schools to begin to reduce the massive gaps in learning between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Over 80% of disadvantaged students are enrolled in public schools and over 90% of disadvantaged schools are public schools.

Increased funding for public schools is fundamental to improved education outcomes for disadvantaged students because it provides the human and material resources needed to make a difference in learning. Numerous overseas and Australian studies show that increased funding for disadvantaged students brings improved outcomes.

The chronic underfunding of public schools threatens huge costs to individuals, society and the national economy because it means continuing failure to address disadvantage in education. As the Director-General of the OECD said in his preface to the PISA report:

Achieving greater equity in education is not only a social justice imperative, it is also a way to use resources more effectively, increase the supply of skills that fuel economic growth, and promote social cohesion. [p.4]

One Reply to “Private Schools Continue to Have a Massive Resource Advantage Over Public Schools”

  1. If Needs based funding based on parents’ taxable income was given to public schools throughout Australia, the vast bulk of any genuinely ‘Needs” based funding would be given to the public sector

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