There was little surprise when a report on NSW HSC results came to the fore as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald late last year in an article by Amy McNeilage that public schools did better than private school students.
Even in my own experience and as a parent of now four adult children and a grandparent, a life time of interest in education and policy matters, the overwhelming input into a child's education are the parents. This has been borne out by numerous educational responses from Christian schools, Catholic schools and the public sector.
The private sector seems to have a different sense of responsibility as to the intimate role of parent's in the formal education of their children, as many of these private schools are 'boarding schools' or if not, parents expect that the school take proper steps in this matter by the large sums of money being forked out.
As McNeilage points out, paying for an education does not necessarily deliver better marks. Out of the 60 most advantaged schools in the state, public schools scored above 90 in 38 per cent of their exams, on average, while the rate was 26 per cent in private schools.
Moreover, the researchers Chris Bonner and Bernie Shepherd found that almost 90 per cent of the schools which topped the HSC last year were also the most advantaged schools in NSW, showing social class is a far stronger indicator of how a school will rank than the quality of teaching.
This coincides with the already well established, if some of it, anecdotal, that what was happening at home and the attitudes of parents are of far greater benefit to the outcomes of students than the school. This also reflects the nature of church attendance in Australia, it is this aspiring middle class fill the churches with an 'expectancy theology' – hand in glove. I've spoken previously in this column of this.
In that column I reported that as one example, the Reverend Russell Hinds has now on three separate occasions over a forty year ministry established Baptist churches with a handful of people and not only grew the church to 400-600 people but had a multi-purpose building constructed over a three day period with tradesmen coming from around the nation to erect it. He ministers to Australia's middle class aspirations.
The same can be applied to the growing Pentecostal churches and indeed to both Hillsong and the 3C church movement. These sociological and demographic factors sit hand in glove with what's happening on the education front as demonstrated in the cited report as published in the SMH (above).
Education is a State issue
Previously I have noted in this column that in Australia, education is constitutionally, a matter for the States. This situation places a different kind of burden, not so much upon students but open the teaching profession.
The reason is that a lack of a nationally accredited teacher program affects thousands of Australians who are teacher trained but are unable to work as teachers, even with years of teaching under their belt. In rural centres associated with the mining industry in both NSW and Qld, this is heart breaking to entire communities as husbands and partners are relocating to these States to work in the mining industry.
Their spouses or partners, many of them highly trained teacher professionals are being told they are unqualified and many of these rural communities are crying-out for teaching professionals. One State does not recognise another State's teacher training in a host of areas. Unbelievable? You better believe it!
Here is part of the issue: The Australian State Education Ministers have been discussing this for some years and it is on the agenda, but States like Queensland and Western Australia in particular, are preoccupied that their distinctive conservative education programs, and are uninterested in being hood-winked into, what might be broadly deemed as 'latte set' agendas. I understand that completely.
The ACT recently established a Teacher Quality Institute . They now have a registration process so teachers wanting to move to another state/territory would be covered by the Mutual Recognition process, except in NSW.
The issue with NSW is that accredits rather than registers teachers. This creates difficulties with all other jurisdictions except Victoria which operates a Memorandum of Understanding specifically with NSW. In all other areas it is my understanding one would need to go through the complete registration process in order to be accepted for teaching. Would be teachers in NSW from interstate need to do their own homework.
Accredited education must be mandatory
In another of my columns on education I pressed that school must be mandatory for our children for the national good. This came from a court case in Western Australia where the court determined that parents could not without their children from accredited education (home schooling is accredited education).
Attending school has many advantageous features than a simply a mechanism to ensure children have learnt the three R's. We might not realise how lucky we truly are that school is mandatory. The overall benefits of increased schooling can be seen in developing countries, where, as the proportion of girls is educated better, then the whole society benefits.
In our developed society, we 'take it for granted' that children should go to school. School is a microcosm of the wider society. Children make friends and enjoy the close bonds that friendship provide. Children learn to accommodate other people and their opinions and begin to develop cognitive understanding of a community. The playground and classroom of Australian schools are also places where children learn about team work in sports and in project work; and the implied importance of challenge in learning and the broadening of their immediate horizons.
They also learn various disciplines of behaviour that society deems important, and they may need to learn to overcome personal barriers to achieve their goals. For example, in some states, wearing a school uniform (or even just a sports uniform) brings a sense of school identity; and the need to settle down and conform to classroom rules can bring personal rewards when children see that it helps to enhance the learning for everyone.
Children also learn that at school 'pushing in' is not tolerated, that cheating is seen as a failure of character, and that telling lies is not tolerated. These things carry over into the adult world of commerce, business and personal interactions. School has also been beneficial to assist immigrants understand these social mores that function as "given's" in Australia but which may be foreign to other cultures.
But the school community is nonetheless only as effective as are student's home environments. Having compulsory schooling is an important aspect of imparting society's values. Governments have a serious role in enforcing the law.
Moreover we're blessed in Australia as the education system was initiated by the Christian churches. This foundation retains an historical value system which has not been lost on education authorities.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html