Is private or public better in Australia?

She says My School shows similar NAPLAN scores for schools that claim to enroll similar students, and the final word likely comes from the OECD.


An international program assesses 15-year-olds in OECD countries.

the 2009 results students in independent schools achieved the highest scores, followed by Catholic, then public schools; however, after adjusting for students’ socioeconomic background, there were no significant differences between their mean scores.

In other words, it is the socio-economic background of the school that matters, not the type of school.

Research also indicated that schools with students of higher socioeconomic status had fewer discipline problems, better teacher-student relationships and teacher morale, a performance-oriented climate, and often a more fast. They have attracted talented teachers.

In almost all countries, and for all students, there was a clear advantage in attending a school whose students were, on average, from more privileged backgrounds.

Regardless of their own background, students attending schools with a high average socio-economic background tend to perform better than those attending a school with below-average enrolment.

In most countries, the effect of students’ average background on performance far outweighs the effects of individual student background.

You might read this and think, well, I’m not sending my little genius to Stonewall High to train.

Alternatively, you can trust the good start you have given them in life and believe that if we support our local schools and stop emptying them of children from more advantaged backgrounds, these children could help each other.

It could be a decision based on principles, not fear and self-interest (although I’m not saying that every parent who chooses a private school acts on these. Families have their own values, individual circumstances and considerations).

The Commonwealth’s top schools for overfunding for 2022-28 as a percentage of their school resource standard, which estimates need. By comparison, public schools get a maximum of 95% of what they need. Credit:Graphics: Kathleen Adele

But let’s not forget that if you’re a parent who makes research-based decisions that consider the common good, your child will learn that too.

Moreover, public schools might even do better than private schools in some respects.

Data from 2009 highlighted three major problems in Australian education: declining reading and math skills; large gender gaps in these two subjects and significant levels of educational disadvantage related to socio-economic background.


This was not inevitable – some countries had acted to reduce inequalities and had students performing at a high level in all areas.

So, have we acted? I dug the most recent evaluation from 2018.

Australia’s results in reading, maths and science are still falling.

After adjusting for socio-economic background, there were still no differences in reading or science scores between the public, Catholic and independent sectors.

In mathematics, however, once socio-economic background was taken into account, students in public schools achieved a higher standard than in Catholic schools, a first in Australia.

Public schools were the only sector do not record a decline in reading since 2009.

And this, despite the hundreds of millions of overfunded independent schools received.

Last week, Karen Murcia, an associate professor at the Curtin University School of Education and an expert in learning theory, told me that the biggest determinant of a student’s academic success is self-efficacy.


It is an offshoot of social cognitive theory, a respected stage of research from the 1990s. In short, a belief in one’s own ability to learn and perform.

Students with high self-efficacy, Murcia said, were more likely to set tasks and create environments for success, and to interpret their own performance and accomplishments productively.

They learned by observing the behavior of their models. More recent research has also suggested that parents still exert a major influence on students’ career choices.

“It depends on what they see modeled and what they can relate to,” she said.

A school can contribute to self-efficacy, but is only one element.

The key was for the child to have a sense of well-being, connection and belonging to this school community.

I’m going to take a risk here and assume that children from high socioeconomic families might also have a better chance of having good self-efficacy.

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About Geraldine Higgins

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