Poorer schools lumped with elites for funds

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - RE­BECCA UR­BAN JOHN FER­GU­SON

More than 100 Catholic pri­mary schools across the coun­try have been clas­si­fied as so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally on par with the elite $34,000-a-year King’s School in Syd­ney, ac­cord­ing to a con­tentious govern­ment sys­tem of cal­cu­lat­ing fed­eral fund­ing.

With an in­de­pen­dent re­view un­der way into how so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tus (SES) scores are al­lo­cated to schools — thereby de­ter­min­ing how much fund­ing they are en­ti­tled — The Aus­tralian has dis­cov­ered dozens of ex­am­ples of low-fee parish schools that have sim­i­lar or higher SES scores than more pres­ti­gious in­de­pen­dent schools.

The higher the score, which re­lies on cen­sus ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment data for a par­tic­u­lar neigh­bour­hood, the more par­ents are pre­sumed able to con­trib­ute to the cost of their child’s ed­u­ca­tion, mean­ing the school is po­ten­tially en­ti­tled to less govern­ment sup­port per stu­dent.

Catholic ed­u­ca­tors are call­ing for an over­haul of the sys­tem, ar­gu­ing that it fails to re­flect the di­ver­sity of school com­mu­ni­ties.

Catholic Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion of Vic­to­ria ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Stephen El­der said that un­der the cur­rent ap­proach, all fam­i­lies in the same neigh­bour­hood are as­sumed to have the same ca­pac­ity to pay school fees.

“SES scores as­sume that Catholic and wealthy in­de­pen­dent schools at­tract the same types of stu­dents from within each neigh­bour­hood, even though wealthy in­de­pen­dent schools tend to have much higher fees,” he said.

“Com­mon sense will tell you this just can­not be right.”

The Kings School in Par­ra­matta, which counts for­mer NSW premier Mike Baird among its alumni, draws 71 per cent of stu­dents from the top quar­tile of so­cio-eco­nomic ad­van­tage, ac­cord­ing to the My School’s web­site, while just 6 per cent come from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds. As a re­sult, it has been al­lo­cated an SES score of 116, rank­ing it well above the na­tional av­er­age of 101.

Yet Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing doc­u­ments show that there are 112 Catholic pri- mary schools that have been al­lo­cated the same SES or higher.

Among them is John XXIII Catholic Pri­mary School, based 40km north­west of Syd­ney’s CBD. Less than half its stu­dents are classed as ad­van­taged and 21 per cent are dis­ad­van­taged.

Fees, charges and other parental con­tri­bu­tions at the Stan­hope Gar­dens’ school were $1415 per stu­dent last year, while The King’s School raised an av­er­age of $27,000 per child from par­ents, or more than $43 mil­lion.

“No­body be­lieves that the par­ents of young chil­dren in an outer sub­ur­ban Syd­ney pri­mary school have the same ca­pac­ity to con­trib­ute to their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion as the par­ents who send their sons to a school like King’s — yet this is the out­come of the cur­rent SES sys­tem,” said Catholic Schools NSW chief Dal­las McIn­er­ney.

“We need a bet­ter mea­sure that re­flects the ca­pac­ity of par­ents and fam­i­lies to pay in all school con­texts.”

In Vic­to­ria, the anom­alies ap­pear even starker.

In in­ner-city Kens­ing­ton, which at­tracts pro­fes­sion­als and pub­lic hous­ing ten­ants, Holy Rosary School has been lumped with a high SES of 119.

While 47 per cent of stu­dents are classed ad­van­taged, 19 per cent are dis­ad­van­taged, and about 10 per cent of fam­i­lies hold a Health Care Card. The school bills par­ents about $1300 a year.

Genet Wuneh, who works part-time as a cleaner, sends her sons Dawet, 12, and To­mas, 10, to the school.

With her part­ner not work­ing due to ill health, pay­ing school fees is an on­go­ing is­sue.

“It’s a good school,” she said. “`We try hard. I want them (the boys) to un­der­stand about Chris­tian­ity.’’

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Si­mon Birm­ing­ham said the re­view, due to re­port next June, would en­sure govern­ment fund­ing was “dis­trib­uted as fairly as pos­si­ble”.

AARON FRAN­CIS

Dawet and To­mas Ge­bre­hi­wot at the Holy Rosary School with par­ents Ge­breegzi­ab­her and Genet Pri­mary

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