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Abolish School Fees for Greater Equity?

Adrian Piccoli, a former NSW education minister and current director of UNSW’s Gonski Institute for Education, has called on governments to fully fund all primary schooling — Catholic, independent and public alike.

“It is the socioeducational status of students, even ahead of the work of schools, which is having an increasing impact on student achievement,” a forthcoming Gonski Institute paper finds. At the heart of our problems, it suggests, is the nature of choice and competition between schools and sectors. “Our schools are increasingly characterised less by what they do and more by who they enrol.”

The solution, Piccoli believes, is to create a level playing field in which all schools are resourced and regulated on the same basis. “We have one of the most segregated school systems in the world,” he says.

There are many interesting points in the research (and the article) about disparities in current funding, and the impact on children in low-income families and/or suburbs.
Private primary schools are already close to fully funded by the government, and charge fees on top of that. The new system would not allow schools to charge fees if they receive government funding, thus becoming affordable to all. Fully funding private high schools would cost a lot more, and also have a much greater impact–worth considering if the model worked for primary schools.

Food for thought.


Would this also change how privately run primary schools decide who they accept as students? IE being fully public funded the government gets to decide.


Some believe that a well educated, literate electorate is the most essential underpinning for a functional democracy. The real question is why private for-profit schooling or mandatory fees in state schools are allowed to exist whether or not at the direct expense to a truly free universal system, or for local ‘perks’ in a state school.

The US/UK might be the poster children not that we are different, where attending the right (expensive) school is a key to lifelong relationships with other cashed up people who help each other. Attend a state school and you need to make your own way through life with or without mandatory fees that could make one’s experience less than the peers.

Each is also suggested to be prone to weighting educational bias one way or another to suit the economic status of the students’ parents and thus not rock the boat of enrollments. Some are examplars but the overall system is what it is.


It shouldn’t be up to government to determine this. Going to a private school is a choice of parents and they are well aware of the costs when they make such decisions. If private primary schools don’t charge fees then it is likely that the facilities at the school may be impacted by loss of revenue, teachers will be paid the industry standard salary making private schools a less desirable employer, potentially remove diversity within the education system and the taxpayer will have long term responsibility of funding all school costs including capex and opex.


Did not the current flavour and predecessor governments move to provide equal or greater Commonwealth funding to private schools as a matter of equity per student?

How do you reconcile diversity with equal outcomes, or even measure equality? I’m familiar with several who have had the benefit of recently completing education in two very notable private senior schools. Importantly what it takes to gain entry and the costs.

It’s in the eye of the beholder - relative benefit and merit. I suspect it is more for the benefit of the parents than students. Although some say we should not assume future performance based on past performance? It may be one group of students do however have a significant head start over their peers, individual ability not considered. Nothing to do with diversity, IMHO.


My understanding speaking to the headmaster of our local public and a private catholic school in Brisbane is that the Commonwealth government provides the raw education costs to private schools. This doesn’t include things like maintenance expenditure, capital improvements etc. In the public system individual schools have to seek/apply for separate funding from the education department for such purposes.

If the private schools are not treated the same way, then the quality of private schools will diminish over time as they will be trying to spread the education costs over all costs associated with running a school.

Edit: The Commonwealth Government recognises this and the Education Dept websiate states:

Australian Government funding to non-government schools takes into account the capacity of school communities to contribute to school’s operating costs, for example the ability of parents to pay school fees.


Regarding the edit, would you like to discuss the equity when the very wealthy private schools add additional Olympic pools because the government contribution plus another $20,000 per student from parents, makes that their ‘norm’? All while those in some disadvantaged schools cannot maintain basic property where the majority of students are from economically challenged families and struggle to pay the supposedly (but not necessarily so) mandatory school fees?

Different life views will result in different takes on which way is fair, or whether fair even matters, but.

edit: I’ll throw in that the concept of fair is relative. If one can afford $20,000 p.a. for a school fee, as with graduated income taxes, do they need public support as compared to a school in a disadvantaged or remote locale? Or conversely from their (those who can afford) viewpoint is it fair if they get none or just less?

Those who ‘can’ are not inhibited from doing, but should the public purse help those who are quite capable of being self sufficient at the expense of those who are not?


Finland seems to be able to have private schools but just like the public system they are banned from charging students tuition fees. The Public system is totally free. They have among the World’s highest standards of Educational Outcomes.

In the following link on Private Schools there you may note that tuition is free.

Their Universities are also tuition free to all EU/EEA and Switzerland students (Germany and Norway also have largely free schooling and Uni):

Why is it so hard in Australia, my answer is vested interests, profits before anything else and perhaps cynically keep the masses largely not well educated thus pliable.


I believe that’s the idea.

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One outcome that may not be a surprise.

What is not clear is whether this corporate selectivity is a bias due to education outcomes, accessibility or competitive choices at an earlier time in life.

In respect of Australia’s more recent PM’s the majority have had more humble high schooling. Although two Bob Hawke and Tony Abbott were subsequently Rhodes Scholars. From this observation, those politically aspiring may well be advised to stick to a public education. :wink:

Fault with either system and the respective outcomes some might say!


Or who you know and who remembers you in the old boys club?


Agreed, but the argument that, if a school takes government money it should follow government rules (about exclusivity), is worth considering. Private school could still charge fees and be exclusive if they forgo public funding.


Essentially rewarding those who have more with even more right from their early days is curiously accepted and expected by those who can partake, and not rejected by the rest of the community.

Maybe drifting, but if the state ‘invests’ $16,000~20,000 per student in a state school, a private school charging $20,000 should be similarly able to pay its bills without the state ‘contribution’.

What then does ‘private’ buy in that model? Choice for those who want it. If ‘private’ wants public money it should abide by the same rules and at least be happy to operate as eg ‘charter schools’ for the more advanced or ‘special schools’ for the more challenged, or an egalitarian school accepting all from the community, possibly based on standardised non-discriminatory criteria.


So it follows that private schools create psychopaths ? :wink:

I’d suggest that accounts for most of the CEO’s etc … psychopaths or not … same goes for the medical and legal ‘aristocracy’ …


Technically everyone has to follow the ‘government rules’ if it relates to legislation.

However, making everyone/business homogeneous or the same would set a dangerous precedence…as this would allow the government to in effect control the receiptants of any government funds (this includes support, grants, tenders etc) to sure that they are no different to others. That would stifle innovation or creativeness…

Having the private system allows experimentation which would not otherwise be possible in the structured public system. Making everything like the public system would not be good for the education system, nor its students, in the long term.


The rules in this case are about inclusivity.


To our surprise they can do the schooling for free overseas and it benefits the students long term, and is great for the education system. The argument about private schooling offering a better benefit is then somewhat destroyed. It is often the rich elite who benefit at the cost of the majority. We seem to have a mentality that if we pay extra it must be better when a lot of times it is proven patently false. Private Health makes a better Health System is a similar false argument, what it does make is richer corporations, their Boards, Shareholders, and CEOs.


For disclosure, I went to both public and private schools back when.

I hated the private schools due to the iniquity that money brought with it. I saw the rich kids get exemptions (both for acedemic and otherwise), and avoid responsibility because the parents could afford to buy the school ‘gifts’. I also saw the nepotism and social connections money brought with complete disregard to ability (not speaking about me here). I also saw them get jobs that they could not have achieved in an open and competitive environment due to their ‘connections’.

As a contrast, when I was in high school, the public schools always topped the year 12 acedemic ladder year after year, with private schools well down. To me it just proved that money couldn’t everything.

Now back to the topic at hand. My opinion for what it’s worth…

All public schools should be FULLY funded by the Federal Government with standardised world’s best practice in curriculum, teaching methodologies and standards, teaching accreditation etc. Thereby public schooling would be free, and students would be able to move from one school to another anywhere in Australia, as would teachers.

Investing in good public education is investing in the nation. People are the capital. Education should not be about rote learning and training factory fodder. It should be about teaching critical thinking, emotional intelligence etc to develop a population who is able to adapt, innovate and develop with the changing times.

In the same way as any private business, private schools can set up in competition with public schools and charge as they wish. They would be free to set their own curriculum, teaching methodologies and standards etc. This would allow for diversity in education and choice for parents and students.


Education provides excellent return on investment. Although from the point of view of governments, perhaps the returns are too long term :roll_eyes:

It should be about teaching critical thinking, emotional intelligence etc to develop a population who is able to adapt, innovate and develop with the changing times.

It seems the current government disagree with your view. They’ve taken money away from courses that promote critical thinking and adaptability, in favour of specific training for specific roles, that are assumed to be in demand in the future.


It is very clear that this current Government has demonstrated that they have:
a) absolutely no idea about what the future holds, or
b) wantonly ignored or downplayed the indicators of future trends, or
c) both a) and b).

In terms of the tertiary education changes recently mooted, the Government appears to be looking at the market as it stands at present, and projecting what is in demand now will be in demand in the future. They forgot about the lead time to get students through the courses, out and useful in the economy. They also have ignored the changes we are seeing with the gig economy and the rise of small agile entrepreneurial businesses. They have also totally ignored the lessons we are getting from the COVID showing what businesses/industries/workers etc are really important to the survival of Australia. And could it be that they have totally ignored the effects of climate change as well? What is clear in my mind is that looking at the present is no indicator of future demand.

Therefore they are yet again doing the equivalent of shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.