Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Government capitulates to private school lobby over My School

Today's launch of Version 2 of the My School website has been delayed, supposedly because the site is not yet “ready”.

My School is the lovechild of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the discredited former New York Chancellor of Schools Joel Klein.

Klein led the way with an “accountability” agenda that saw school performance in standardized tests made public. The idea was to spook parents in public schools into exercising an “informed” choice about where to send their children for schooling. It was an agenda for the privatisation of schooling and the intended beneficiaries were the corporate and financial elite behind the Charter school movement and the testing industry.

When the first version of My School went to air some 12 months ago, public school supporters were horrified at the inaccuracies and the misleading comparisons between so-called “statistically similar schools”.

They were also angry that promised disclosures about the funds available to schools had not been made. These were promised by the Government to be a feature of version 2.

The private school lobby has fought tooth and nail to prevent transparency around funding. The funding data that will be available is still skewed in favour of the privates. Their lobby has forced government schools to have included a portion of the cost for head office capital and recurrent costs – costs that never find their way into schools. By the same token, they have succeeded in preventing a requirement that private schools should disclose their total wealth, including share portfolios, bequests and bursaries.

All of this was meant to have been online as from today.

But the private Empire has struck back!

Now it is crying foul and claiming that there are major inaccuracies in the website’s data.

Melbourne's Age for example, front-paged the plight of the Beechworth Montessori School which, with some justification, vigorously disputes its ranking as Australia’s third richest school (see l )

The Sydney Morning Herald was less sympathetic to the lobby, leading one report with:

“STUDENTS at Sydney's private boarding schools are from even wealthier families than first thought. So much so, that many schools fear they will lose funding once the secret is out.

“Socio-economic scores given to every school on the federal government's My School website have been recalculated this year using enrolment information instead of the census district data used for last year's scores.

“Using the new measure, the scores for private boarding schools have risen by up to 15 per cent on the new version of the My School website, expected to be released by next week.

“The federal government, however, still uses census district data to distribute funding.”

In deciding to delay the online release of version 2 of My School, Federal Minister for Education Peter Garrett is caught in a stand-off between Gillard and the big privates over the outing they will get from the MySchool financial data, even with its in-built bias in their favour.

How can you get such a big hand-out from the Feds in $ support and have millions in bricks and mortar (including non-school), in security portfolios, in property development (here and overseas) including shopping centres and apartment blocks and be earning more interest (let alone profit) each year than most of the disadvantaged schools in the state put together get from the Feds?

And if your NAPLAN results are a bit suss too compared to local publics....!! Maybe it's time for a super profits tax on them?

They are fearful that with a review of Federal funding on at the moment, Gillard will reduce the bonus payments to the Catholics and Independents and elevate grants to the publics. Then they'd actually have to use their own $. That will reduce profits and maybe even cause an asset sell-off for some.....the balance sheets are shuddering.

Big privates are big business. Garrett's three girls went to an exclusive private girls’ school in Hornsby, NSW. Garrett came from Wahroonga (a posh exclusive suburb on the North Shore). He also went to exclusive Barker College in Hornsby. He is a lawyer. He is being lent on by the old school tie powerful lobbyists (also lawyers) whom the privates employ to cajole the Federal Government. He is a committed conservative Christian and is very active in the Uniting Church which owns many schools in Australia, including some of the wealthiest. After all, didn't they just spend $2 million trying to save Annesley College from closure in Adelaide?

Trevor Cobbold, from the public school lobby group Save Our Schools very appropriately sums up the situation:

"The delay in launching My School 2.0 exposes the hypocrisy and double standards of the Federal Government.

"When private schools complain about inaccuracies on My School, the Government caves in without a whimper. When government schools complain about inaccuracies, the Government ignores them.

"When My School 1.0 was launched a whole gamut of problems were identified which disadvantaged government schools, such as comparing the results of small low socio-economic status government schools with high SES private schools. Yet, the Government went ahead even though these criticisms were subsequently found to be justified.

"If the Government is serious about fixing inaccuracies on My School it would go back to the drawing board on like school comparisons because the new system to be used in My School 2.0 is still biased against government schools.

"My School has yet again been discredited as being unreliable and inaccurate. It should be abandonded."