Govt. Largesse of $6m for Geelong Grammar

The extremes of wealth and poverty and its effects on education are nowhere more clearly on show than in north Geelong. Here the most expensive and luxurious private school in Australia sits alongside schools serving some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country and it all shows in their comparative results. Here also starkly revealed is the monstrous unfairness of the existing school funding model.

It was reported last week that Geelong Grammar’s fees in 2012 will be $30,820 for Years 11 & 12. Fees for the compulsory Year 9 at Timbertop will be $52,000. Fees are up 5.5% from 2010. This far exceeds the 3.8% increase in the labour price index for private education and training in 2010-11.

With this level of fees, Geelong Grammar is a bastion of privilege serving the wealthiest families in Australia. Remember, it is the school of Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer. Seventy-three per cent of its students come from families in the top socio-economic status quartile.

The school also receives substantial income from private sources other than fees and charges. In 2009, it raised nearly $3.5 million in other private contributions. Its capital expenditure that year was $7.8 million. In 2010, it recorded a profit of $10.7 million, the biggest of any private school in Australia.

Geelong Grammar is supported by a private foundation through which bequests are made to the school. Many of its facilities have been provided by single family bequests including two libraries, a music centre, an arts centre and a hockey and tennis centre.

The Geelong Grammar School Foundation has raised $15 million over recent years towards new buildings, including the Wellbeing Centre which cost $16 million. The Centre comprises a multi-purpose sports hall, an indoor swimming and diving pool, a fitness centre, a dance studio, a medical centre and classroom facilities. The Foundation is now raising another $3 million for a new indoor cricket centre and indoor equestrian centre.

Despite all this luxury, Geelong Grammar will get $5.2 million in Federal Government funding in 2012 plus about $1 million from the Victorian Government. Together with fees and other private contributions, this will provide resourcing of over $35,000 a year for senior students.

This is two to three times the resources available to government high schools nearby serving some of the most disadvantaged families in Australia.

Norlane and Corio are amongst the most disadvantaged suburbs in Australia. Norlane is in the 2nd percentile (percentage point) of the ABS Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage for suburbs across Australia, ranked from one to 100. Corio is in the 7th percentile.

Some 85% of students at Norlane High School are from families in the lowest socio-economic status quartile and there are none from the top quartile. Its rating on the Index of Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) is 918 compared to 1171 for Geelong Grammar (the mean for Australia is set at 1000). Total income per student was $13,308 in 2009, which was well below half that of Geelong Grammar. It received only $255,000 in fees and charges and other private contributions. Its total capital expenditure was $134,991.

Over 70% of students at Corio Bay Secondary College are from families in the lowest socio-economic status quartile. Its ICSEA rating is 930. Its total income in 2009 was $15,326 per student. Its income from fees and charges and other private contributions was $370, 000 and its capital expenditure was $306,520.

Sixty per cent of students at North Geelong Secondary College are from families in the lowest socio-economic status quartile and its ICSEA rating is 934. Total income in 2009 was $12,118 per student, well under half that of Geelong Grammar. Its income from fees and charges and other private contributions was $346,000 and its capital expenditure was $227,615.

These massive differences in resources and the socio-economic status of families are reflected in education outcomes. Students at the three government secondary schools are three or more years behind their peers at Geelong Grammar in average literacy and numeracy results.

It is difficult to comprehend how governments can live with such enormous inequality in resourcing and education outcomes. Why Geelong Grammar should get $6 million a year in government funding when neighbouring schools do not have enough resources to deal with their challenges defies belief and any sense of social justice.

The stark contrast between the resources available to Geelong Grammar and its government school neighbours is illustrative of the broader picture across Australia. Many wealthy private schools get between $4 and $8 million a year in government funding while government schools serving the least well-off communities are denied adequate funding.

This government largesse for the privileged is defended aggressively by the Independent Schools Council. And, they want more! The sheer greed of the wealthy is outrageous.

The current school funding system perpetuates inequity in education. It gives priority to funding privilege rather than reducing disadvantage. It has to change.

The Gonski Review of School Funding has an historic opportunity to devise a more equitable school funding system and begin the process of righting the injustice of massive inequalities in resourcing and school outcomes. We can only hope that it will seize the opportunity.

Trevor Cobbold

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