Government and Non-Government Schooling
The proportion of school students attending government schools fell from 71% in 1995 to 67% in 2005.
Government and non-government schools have both existed in Australia since 1848. In 1964 Australian Parliament passed legislation that allowed for Commonwealth provision of financial assistance to non-government schools.(EndNote 1) Recommendations from the Karmel Report on Australian schools in 1973 formed the basis of the Commonwealth's policy for funding government and non-government schools based on the principle of need.(EndNote 2)
Government schools have experienced a decline in the proportion of student enrolments since the late 1970s. Concerns have been raised by some analysts about the weakening of the government school system as resources follow students to non-government schools.(EndNote 3) Ongoing debate about the capacity of government schools to deliver high quality education could also affect public confidence in these schools.
This article examines trends in government and non-government student enrolments. It also focuses on government funding of schools, household expenditure on school fees and the characteristics of families with children in government and non-government schools.
SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL STUDENTS
In 2005 there were a total of 9,623 schools in Australia. Of these schools, almost three-quarters (72%) were government schools, 18% were Catholic schools and 10% were Independent schools. The total number of schools decreased by 25 schools between 1995 and 2005, mainly due to amalgamations and school closures, although the number of Independent schools increased by almost 20% over this period.
Government schools continue to educate the majority of students in Australia, although the proportion of students in the government school system has been declining. In 2005, 67% of full-time school students in Australia were enrolled in government schools, down from 71% in 1995. This decline has occurred in the proportion of both government primary school students (down by three percentage points) and secondary school students (down by almost five percentage points) between 1995 and 2005.
In comparison, the proportion of students enrolled in non-government schools had increased by almost four percentage points over the period 1995–2005. In 2005, non-government schools educated one-third (33%) of all school students, including 29% of all primary school students and 38% of all secondary school students. Catholic schools have traditionally educated the largest proportion of non-government school students, although this proportion has fallen from 67% in 1995 to 61% in 2005. Approximately one-fifth of all school students were enrolled in Catholic schools in 2005: 19% of all primary school students and 21% of all secondary school students.
Although Independent schools have the smallest number and proportion of all school students, they have had the largest proportional growth in student numbers over the past ten years. Between 1995 and 2005 the number of students enrolled in Independent schools has increased by 46% (or 135,300 students) compared with Catholic schools (11% or 65,200 students) and government schools (2% or 38,200 students).
Data for this article are drawn from several sources. Data on students and schools are from the ABS National Schools Statistics Collection. Data on household expenditure on education and characteristics of households are from the ABS 1993–94 and 2003–04 Household Expenditure Surveys. The Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) and the Report on Government Services (ROGS) provide data on government expenditure on school students. Data on school completion are from the ABS 1996 and 2005 Surveys of Education and Work.
Government schools operate under the direct responsibility of the relevant state/territory Minister, while non-government schools are established and operate under conditions set by state/territory government registration authorities. Non-government schools are either Catholic or Independent schools. Catholic schools are generally administered by Catholic education offices while Independent schools comprise other non-Catholic, non-government schools.(EndNote 4)
Teaching staff are staff with teaching duties who spend the majority of their time with students. It includes principals, deputy principals and senior teachers mainly involved in administration but excludes teacher aides and assistants and specialist support staff.
The full-time equivalent (FTE) student/teaching staff ratio presents a measure of the number of students relative to the number of teachers. It is calculated by dividing the number of FTE students by the number of FTE teaching staff. This ratio can broadly reflect the workload and availability of a teacher. In theory, the lower the student/teacher ratio the higher the availability of teacher services to students. These ratios are not intended to provide a measure of class size.(EndNote 5)
Source: Schools, Australia, 2005 (ABS cat. no. 4221.0).
GOVERNMENT AND NON-GOVERNMENT FULL-TIME SCHOOL STUDENTS
(a) Student/teacher ratios were calculated using full-time students only in 1995, and using full-time equivalent students in 2005.
Source: ABS National Schools Statistics Collection.
FULL-TIME EQUIVALENT STUDENT/TEACHING STAFF RATIOS(a)
| Government |
(a) Full-time students.
|Special needs students
Government and non-government schools provide education for students with special needs. Two of the special needs groups are Indigenous students and students with a disability.
In 2004 the 130,500 Indigenous full-time students accounted for 4% of all full-time school students. Most Indigenous students (114,000 or 87%) attended government schools in 2004, while 8% attended Catholic schools and 4% attended Independent schools.(EndNote 6)
Students with disabilities are those students who satisfy the criteria of enrolment in special education services or programs provided in the state or territory in which they are enrolled. These criteria vary across jurisdictions.(EndNote 7) In 2004, 4% (or 129,200) of all full-time equivalent students had a disability. Most students with a disability (81%) attended government schools.
SPECIAL NEEDS GROUPS BY SCHOOL SECTOR – 2004
Students with a disability(b)
(b) Full-time equivalent students.
Source: SCRGSP, Report on Government Services, 2006.
As student numbers have increased in schools, so have the number of teachers. In 2005 there were 235,800 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching staff in Australian schools. This was an overall increase of 16% on teacher numbers in 1995 (202,400) and twice the rate of increase of student numbers (8%) over the same time period.
Reflecting student enrolment patterns, two-thirds of all teachers (66%) worked in government schools in 2005. The growth in proportion of FTE teachers in the non-government school sector was much greater than in the government sector over the 1995–2005 period. The number of FTE teaching staff in government schools grew by 9% between 1995 and 2005 compared with 35% in non-government schools.(EndNote 5)
Between 1995 and 2005, student/teacher ratios have decreased across all school sectors and all levels of education. In 2005 Independent secondary schools had the lowest student/teacher ratio (10.7), followed by government secondary schools (12.4) and Catholic secondary schools (13.1). Student/teacher ratios between 1995 and 2005 have been consistently lower for secondary schools than for primary schools.
FUNDING FOR SCHOOLS
Education is seen as a common good that benefits both individuals and the nation. Under the Constitution, state and territory governments have the responsibility for providing schooling to all children. School education in Australia has both public and private funding components. The Australian Government provides funding to state and territory governments for schools as well as providing funding directly to schools. State and territory governments have responsibility for providing, regulating and administering government schools.(EndNote 7)
Education is free in government primary and secondary schools in all states and territories, although fees may be charged for the hire of text books and other school equipment.(EndNote 5) Voluntary contributions may also be sought from parents of students in government schools.
Non-government schools receive funds from parents in the form of fees and charges and other private income in addition to government funding. In 2004 Independent schools received more than half of their funding (53%) from fees and charges while Catholic schools received 22% of their funding from fees and charges.(EndNote 8)
GOVERNMENT FUNDING PER FULL-TIME EQUIVALENT STUDENT – 2003–04
GOVERNMENT EXPENDITURE PER STUDENT
Government expenditure on school education has been increasing over the past ten years. Real government recurring expenditure on primary and secondary education was $28.6 billion in 2003–04, a funding increase of 26% from 1999–2000 ($22.7 billion).(EndNote 7) Government funding (per full-time equivalent student) of government schools increased by an average of 2% per year between 1999–2000 and 2003–04, while government funding of non-government schools increased by an average of 6% per year over the same period. However, in 2003–04 governments still contributed almost twice the amount of money to educating a student in the government school system ($10,000 on average) compared with educating a student in the non-government school system ($5,600 on average).
Government expenditure on education of secondary school students was greater on average than spending on primary school students. Secondary schools received more per student than primary schools mainly due to increased teacher numbers which account for smaller student-teacher ratios in Years 11 and 12 and the greater range of subjects on offer in secondary school.(EndNote 8)
HOUSEHOLD EXPENDITURE ON SCHOOL EDUCATION
In 2003–04, expenditure on school fees for households with children at school averaged $2,038 per household over the year. However, costs to households for school fees vary widely depending on the type of school sector and level. Expenditure on secondary school fees was between 2.0 and 2.6 times more than expenditure on primary school fees (within each sector), and household expenditure on non-government school fees around 14 times more than government school fees.
The greatest expenditure differences between the school sectors was for secondary education fees. In 2003–04 the average annual household expenditure on secondary Catholic school fees ($3,600) was 9 times higher than expenditure on secondary government school fees ($390) and Independent secondary school fees ($8,690) were 22 times higher than the government secondary school fees.
All schools receive both Commonwealth and state/territory funding, with the proportion of funds received varying by school sector.
The average costs of educating a child in the government school system are known as the Average Government School Recurrent Costs (AGSRC). Commonwealth funds are provided to all schools as a percentage of the AGSRC.(EndNote 8)
Government schools receive the majority of their funds from public sources, mainly state and territory governments. In 2003–04, 91% of total recurrent expenditure on government schools was provided by state and territory governments.(EndNote 8)
The Australian Government provides supplementary funding to government schools at a fixed rate. Government primary school students are funded at 8.9% of AGSRC while secondary students are funded at 10%. Voluntary parent contributions also add to government school funding. In 2003–04 estimates from the ABS Household Expenditure Survey indicate that parents contributed over $400 million in school fees and donations to government schools.
Non-government schools receive the majority of their government funding from the Australian Government. Funding is based on the socioeconomic status (SES) of a school's community and is calculated as a percentage of the AGSRC.(EndNote 8) In 2004 the maximum funding rate for a non-government school was equal to 70% of the AGSRC and the minimum rate was 13.7%. Catholic schools had their funding set at a flat rate of 56.2% of the AGSRC (51.2% for ACT Catholic schools).
In 2004, non-government schools received over half (57%) of their total funds from government grants and 43% from private income. The majority of government grants (73%) came from Commonwealth funds with the remainder provided by the states and territories. All state and territory governments provide funds to non-government schools, although the method of allocating funds differs from state to state.(EndNote 8)
Comparing school funding
At first glance it appears that students in government schools are funded at a higher level than are non-government school students. However, taking into account the expenditure on non-government school students arising from private income, e.g. school fees, etc., total expenditure per non-government school student in 2004 ($9,800 on average)(EndNote 8) is close to the average total amount spent per government school student ($10,000)(EndNote 6)) plus a relatively small parent contribution). Expenditure per student in the non-government school sector can vary greatly between schools due to the diversity in school funding. For example, in 2004 total expenditure per student averaged $8,300 in Catholic schools compared with $12,100 in Independent schools.(EndNote 8)
(a) Includes only those households that had expenditure on school education and persons attending school.
Average annual household expenditure on education fees by sector and level of schooling(a) - 2003–04
| Catholic |
Source: ABS 1993–94 and 2003–04 Household Expenditure Surveys.
REAL GOVERNMENT(a) RECURRENT EXPENDITURE ON SCHOOLS PER FULL-TIME EQUIVALENT (FTE) STUDENT(b)
Given the differences in the cost of fees among the types of schools, it is not surprising that household income is a major influence in parents' choice of school. That said, parents' aspirations and attitudes are also important in determining the type of school best suited to their child. Thus for some households, school choice may be relatively independent of their level of income.
In 2003–04, over one-quarter (26%) of students at government schools were from low income households, compared with Catholic and Independent schools which had 17% and 16% of their students respectively from low income households. In contrast, 26% of students at Independent schools were from high income households compared with 16% at Catholic schools and 8% of students at government schools being from high income households.
Students: household income(a) by Students: highest qualification in household(b) by
school sector attended – 2003–04 school sector attended – 2003–04
The majority (77%) of households with children at school in 2003–04 were couple households, with one parent families making up around one-fifth (20%) of households. One parent families made up 23% of the households with children at government schools, compared with 16% at Catholic schools and 11% at Independent schools.
Research has shown that the level of parents' education has an effect on student achievement, and may influence school choice.(EndNote 9) Among children attending government schools in 2003–04, the highest non-school qualification held by anyone in their household was most commonly an advanced diploma or lower (48%), followed by no post-school qualification (32%) while 20% of children in government schools had a household member with a bachelor degree or higher.
In comparison, 39% of children attending Catholic schools and around half (51%) of children at Independent schools had a household member with a bachelor degree or higher.
COMPLETING YEAR 12
Secondary school education is important in providing young people with increased opportunities for further study and employment. Formal education for children has traditionally taken place in schools, but in recent years there has been an increase in alternative pathways to education outside of formal schooling. (EndNote 4) In 1996, almost two-thirds (65%) of people aged 20–24 had completed Year 12 and this proportion rose to almost three-quarters (74%) in 2005. The proportion of students who had completed Year 12 differed between the school sectors. People who had attended non-government schools had a greater proportion of Year 12 completion compared with government schools. In 2005, 91% of people who attended Independent schools completed Year 12, compared with Catholic schools (83%) and government schools (69%).
1. National Office of Overseas Skills Recognition 2000, Country Education Profile, Australia, viewed 18 May 2006, <http://aei.dest.gov.au/
2. Marginson, S 1997, Educating Australia: government, economy and citizen since 1960, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
3. Buckingham, J 2001, 'The case for school choice and how to fund it', Policy, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 18–24.
4. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002, Education and training indicators, Australia, 2002, cat. no. 4230.0, ABS, Canberra.
5. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Schools, Australia, 2005, cat. no. 4221.0, ABS, Canberra.
6. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006, Year book Australia 2006, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra.
7. Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision 2006, Report on Government Services 2006, SCRGSP, Melbourne.
8. Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs 2005, National Report on Schooling 2004, Curriculum Corporation for MCEETYA, Melbourne.
9. Evans, M D R, 2004, 'Choice between Government, Catholic and Independent schools: culture and community, rather than class', Australian Social Monitor, vol.7, no. 2, pp. 31–42.