Exodus from public to private schools not stopping – the danger of reporting from summaries

smhschoolfundingThe Sydney Morning Herald reports this morning that the Exodus from public to private schools stops. They report “According to new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released on Thursday, 65.2 per cent of Australian students attended public schools, up from 65.1 per cent the previous year. The proportion of students in non-government schools dropped from 34.9 per cent in 2014 to 34.8 per cent.”

In a broad sense this is true and reflects the summary of the latest data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. What it fails to do is accurately reflect what’s going on and what that really means for education in Australia.

When you dig into the underlying data, for NSW at least, at even a fairly cursory level, just less cursory than reading the summary, it’s apparent that there’s a significant growth in student numbers enrolled in public primary schools, the number of students enrolled in public high school has actually fallen over the last 12 months. The numbers for private primary and public schools have both risen.

Change 2014/2015 Percent change
Government
Primary 9685 2.1
Secondary -1355 -0.3
Non-government
Catholic
Primary 852 0.2
Secondary 787 0.2
Independent
Primary 1382 0.3
Secondary 1949 0.4
Total
Primary 2234 1.1
Secondary 2735 1.32

So there are more kids coming into the system. Many of those kids get enrolled in public primary schools leading to the current shortage of space and resources which the Department of Education is responding to with glacial speed. But, and this is the big ‘but’, parents are then making the choice to put their kids into private high schools. Thus, contrary to reporting, we’re not really seeing a shift in the long-term trend towards private schools and so recent studies showing no better outcomes from private schools are not effecting parent choices.

To be fair to the SMH article, overall the trend over the last 12 months has shown a larger overall increase in general public school enrolments. However the fact that this is all in primary school and that public secondary school enrolments have actually fallen is very significant. It’s significant for funding and it’s significant in understanding the decisions people are making about where to send their kids.

There are others who could extract more information from data like this (I’m looking at you Actuarial Eye) and someone really should. For me, as much as anything, it’s a lesson in not just taking the data at face value especially when it impacts something as significant as school funding.

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