Public Schools Do As Well as Catholic and Independent Schools

An analysis of the NAPLAN results of nearly 5000 children has found that Public primary school students achieve at the same levels as Catholic and independent school students. The research compared grade 3 and grade 5 NAPLAN results in reading, writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy.

There was very little difference in the raw scores on the NAPLAN tests between Catholic and Public schools while Independent school students had significantly higher NAPLAN results than their Public school counterparts. However, after controlling for student background characteristics, the analysis showed no performance advantage from enrolment in Catholic or Independent primary schools. It concluded:

….the estimates of several techniques generally indicated no significant difference in academic performance between school sectors once accounting for student background characteristics.

Overall, there was a small disadvantage in attending Catholic schools compared to Public schools. However, the differences were not statistically significant.

The significant advantage in raw scores for Independent schools was substantially reduced after taking account of student background. The analysis found no statistically significant difference between performance in Independent and Public schools. The estimates ranged from a small advantage in some areas in some Year levels to a small disadvantage in others.

The study used two different statistical techniques to analyse the comparative performance of Catholic, Independent and Public primary schools using a sample of 2076 Year 3 students and 2748 Year 5 students. The sample was drawn from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) which follows two cohorts of children through their development. The LSAC surveys provide detailed information on the background of participants. The NAPLAN results of LSAC participants for reading, writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy were linked at the individual level.

The study also drew implications for education policy from its findings. It noted that Australia’s combination of a high level of government support and autonomy within the private school sector provide a test case for theories that competitive school systems will deliver better results. However, it concluded that the higher degree of autonomy with which the Catholic and Independent school systems operate, and the competitive forces to which they are exposed, has not produced results to support these theories.

Given the absence of Private school effects observed in this study, to the extent that funding for private schools is predicated on the belief that they improve academic outcomes, allocation of public resources to the Private schooling sector is questionable on efficiency grounds.

The study was done by researchers at the University of Wollongong and presented at a recent conference of the Australian Institute of Family Studies. The lead author is Ian Moran and the title of the paper is Catholic and Independent School Effects: An Examination of Australian Primary Schools.

Trevor Cobbold

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