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Non-government schools under attack

By Kevin Donnelly - posted Monday, 12 September 2011

On August 31 a number of papers commissioned by the Gonski Review Panel were released and one of them, titled Schooling Challenges and Opportunities by the Nous Group, is evidence that non-government schools are under attack.

Supposedly, while impartial and objective, the report displays an underlying distrust and hostility towards independent and Catholic schools and a return to the old class battles and sectarian divide of the past.

The paper’s statement, “Australia is unusual in that it provides public money to non-government schools but does not place such restrictions (related to school fees and enrolment practices) on the sector”, implies that there should be increased government control and regulation over non-government schools.


Ignored is that such schools already have to abide by a host of government controls and that schools should have the right to set their own fees and to decide who they enrol.

Instead of supporting school choice, the Nous paper also suggests that strategies should be found to “address the ‘drift’ to non-government schools” and, in another section of the paper, implies that non-government school parents are selfish as, supposedly, they place the needs of their children above the needs of others.

Ignored is that one of the most important decisions parents can make relates to deciding where their children go to school and that governments save billions of dollars every year as a result of children attending non-government schools.

International and local conventions and agreements protect the right of parents, especially those committed to a particular faith, to choose a school that best suits their beliefs and values and not be penalised or discriminated against.

While nowhere near as obvious as Mark Latham’s hit-list of so-called wealthy private schools, taken to the 2004 federal election, the writers of the Nous paper argue that funding should be cut to such schools when, they write, there is a need, “to re-think the extent to which schools that are already well-resourced, and which are doing well in large part due to selective enrolment practices, should be publically subsidised”.

Ignored is the current socioeconomic status (SES) model of school funding is based on need and that better resourced non-government schools only receive 13.7 per cent of the recurrent cost of educating a student in a government school.


In addition to cutting funding to non-government schools the Nous report also suggests that the autonomy such schools enjoy should be curtailed. The statement, “The degree of autonomy enjoyed by independent schools in Australia, notwithstanding the significant public funding they receive, is unique in the OECD”, implies that such schools need increased regulation.

Not only does the report argue that non-government schools should, as a condition of funding, be forced to enrol greater numbers of low socioeconomic status students (SES), on the assumption that low SES leads to educational failure and that non-government schools are better able to help such students. The report also suggests that non-government schools should be integrated into the state system.

By arguing that competition between schools is undesirable, that collaboration is preferable and that government and non-government schools should be made to share resources, teachers and curriculum the intention is to undermine the unique character of non-government schools and to blur the boundaries between the different sectors.

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About the Author

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and he recently co-chaired the review of the Australian national curriculum. He can be contacted at He is author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars available to purchase at

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