Parents chase private option

PARENTS increasingly are placing their children in private or ‘independent’ schools in preference to the government school sector.

The statistics show rising numbers of people are prepared to pay significant sums to educate their children, while even those without high incomes are taking up an array of options outside the State system.

While the WA Government has recognised the issue, just how much it can change without finding significant new funding is a big question.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of students throughout the country attending government schools in 2001 was just 68 higher than in 2000, compared with an increase of 20,874 at non-government schools.

In WA, the number of government schools grew by just more than 1 per cent, while the number of independent schools rose 14 per cent.

Education Department of WA figures show that, in the 10 years to 2001, the number of students attending government schools in WA rose 7,299 to 259,389, compared with an increase in the non-government sector of 29,087 to 105,794.

But what has led to the steady trend away from the government school system?

Those in the independent school sector believe parents are looking for more than just education from the school they send their children to.

They believe personal development and encouraging a sense of community is more important to parents than the TER mark they receive.

However, they also concede that most government-run primary schools are doing a good job at building this sense of community and the person.

Indeed, the establishment of low-fee independent schools has helped increase competition.

Federal Government funding has helped create this new breed of independent school.

Funding is based on a judgement of their need. The funding used to be based on the schools income but that system is changing to take into account the postcode of the school’s students.

This new system caused some controversy when it was found that some of the most exclusive eastern States schools would be receiving government funding.

However, the old system was criticised for allowing communities looking to set up an independent school in a new suburb to structure the school’s finances and make the most of government help.

Perth College principal Judith Cottier, herself the product of a government school, said she had witnessed first hand the difference in community spirit between the two institutions.

“At Perth College we have 76 ‘old girls’ who are aged over 90. About 10 of them come back to play bridge with their friends here each week,” she said.

However, when she went back to a reunion at her old government-run high school in Queensland it was a different story.

“We asked to see the old campus and were given a key to let ourselves in with,” Ms Cottier said.

Education Minister Alan Carpenter recently flagged the problem as a concern and is looking for things to do about it.

Mr Carpenter said the Government recognised that the drift of students from the government to the non-government sector was an issue and that the WA Government was pursuing policies that would restore parents’ faith in public schools.

“It’s a long, hard road back but we’re making a start,” Mr Carpenter said.

One such experiment is the Seven Oaks Senior College in Cannington – a school that works to prepare its students for life in the workforce.

The school only takes students in years 11 and 12 but its principal David Wood said it had managed to secure a number of students from outside its catchment area.

Another government school success has been Rossmoyne Senior High School.

Last year it won the inaugural Australian School of the Year prize, its students picked up 17 prizes in an Australian mathematics competition (the next best performing school in that competition was Perth’s Christ-church Grammar) and picked up a slew of awards in the TER.

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