Thursday, February 09, 2012

Catholic education office lobbies against fairness

(Two views, above, of the Caritas College junior covered area, which won the top award in the 2011 SA Architecture Awards.)

The OECD, hardly a left-wing think-tank, has today issued a report on Equity and Quality in Education. It notes that across OECD countries, the highest performing education systems combine quality with equity. In relation to “choice” it observes that “Providing full parental choice can result in segregating students by ability, socio economic background and generate greater inequities across education systems”.

The release of this report is quite timely given that proponents of school choice in Australia are cranking up their engines in anticipation of the release of the review into the funding of schools led by David Gonski.

One such proponent is the Catholic Education Office.

A few days ago, Caritas College, a Catholic R-12 school in Port Augusta, sent home a letter to parents urging them to “become aware of the funding situation for Catholic schools”. It stated that, on average across Australia, CEO schools received a net income of $10,008 per student compared to a net income per student of $11,132 in government schools. It was silent on the fact that, on average across Australia, other private schools had a net income per student of $13,700.

The Caritas letter (I suspect it is a form letter being sent out by many Catholic schools) states that “Catholic schools have a commitment to supporting all families – no matter what their economic or social circumstances”.

“Suffer the little children of the poor and the marginalised to come unto our Catholic schools”?
I think not.

Before we get onto Caritas, the recent study by Richard Teese mentioned in a previous post, claims that “Private non-Catholic schools are found in low social status areas, but their intakes vary in different ways from the complexion of the area. This is also true of Catholic schools.” He provides summary figures for primary school enrolments across the whole of the nation that show that for the ten years 1996-2006, the percentages of students from the two lowest SES quartiles remained static at 14% and 16% respectively, but that the two highest quartiles rose from 16% to 18% and 21% to 22% respectively (Teese, p.32). Some good Catholic marketing there!

In the secondary sector, there were small increases in the Catholic share of each of the SES quartiles, but the proportions are revealing: from the lowest to highest, in 2006, the Catholic share was 13%, 16%. 19% and 24% respectively. In other words, the Catholic enrol nearly twice as many wealthy students as they do poor students.

Moving from the general to the particular, Teese provides a detailed study of schools in a number of low SES communities in Western Australia and Victoria and concludes that “As socio-economic status rises, an increasing share of enrolments is found in the Catholic school, and conversely as SES declines, an increasing share is found in the public schools (Teese, p. 45)”.

With that background, let’s look at Port Augusta.

Port Augusta is a large regional town with many unemployed and low wage families. It has significant Aboriginal and LBOTE communities and these attract additional funding, so the figures below are not representative of the Australian average. Nevertheless, they raise questions about the social integrity and political agenda of the Catholic school lobby.

Based on student data for 2009, Caritas had a student profile against the SES quartiles (lowest to highest 25% segments of the population) of 61%, 27%, 12 %, and 1%. (For 2010 the figures were 13%, 36%, 29% and 22%!)

This compares with public secondary school and primary schools as follows:

Pt Augusta Secondary School: 83%, 16%, 1%, 0%.

Augusta Pk PS: 97%, 1%, 1%, 0%.

Willsden PS: 92%, 8%, 0%, 0%.

Caritas College, in a community with a large Aboriginal population, had only 5% Indigenous students. It had only 1% of students from a Language Background Other Than English (LBOTE).

Pt Augusta Secondary School had a 36% Indigenous intake, and 24% LBOTE students.

Augusta Pk Primary had a 50% Indigenous intake, and 46% LBOTE students.

Willsden Primary had a 62% Indigenous intake and 83% LBOTE.

(Above, students at Port Augusta Secondary School).

Remember Caritas’s self-serving and sanctimonious claim about Catholic schools serving “all families – no matter what their economic or social circumstances”?

Excluding parent fees and other private sources of income, and on the basis of financial data for 2009, Caritas received government recurrent funding of $8580 per student.

Aggregating the funding for the three government schools to produce a comparable R-12 profile, these schools received government recurrent funding of $13,112 per student.

Whereas the government schools were able to raise some hundreds of dollars per student in fees and other income, Caritas raised an additional $2698 per student for a total net per student income of $11,279.

That is still below the funding received by government schools for the students they cater for in Port Augusta. Perhaps Caritas might have advised its parents that if they wanted more government funds for their children then they should enrol them in the government sector. But in a town like Pt Augusta, white flight is a one-way street.

Instead of bashing government schools for the funding they receive for the "heavier lifting" required to meet minimum standards for disadvantaged students, the Catholic lobby would be better advised to call on its parents to query why other private schools, most of which serve the higher end of the SES profile, should receive even more recurrent funding per student than those in both the Catholic and government systems.

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