Is private or public better in Australia?

She says My School shows similar NAPLAN scores for schools claimed to enrol similar students, and that the last word probably comes from the OECD.


An international program assesses 15-year-olds across OECD countries.

The 2009 results found students in independent schools got the best scores, followed by Catholic, then public schools; However, after adjusting for students’ socioeconomic background there were no significant differences between their average scores.

In other words, the socioeconomic background of the school is what matters, not school type.

The research also said schools with students with higher socioeconomic status had fewer disciplinary problems, better teacher-student relations and teacher morale, a performance-oriented climate, and often a faster-paced curriculum. They attracted talented teachers.

In almost all countries, and for all students, there was a clear advantage in attending a school whose students were, on average, from more advantaged backgrounds.

Regardless of their own background, students going to schools with a high average socioeconomic origin tended to perform better than in a school with below-average intake.

In most countries, the effect of the average background of the students on performance far outweighed the effects of the individual student’s background.

You could read this and think, well, I’m not sending my baby genius to Stonewall High to get dragged down.

Alternatively, you could trust in the good start you’ve given them in life, and think, if we support our local schools and stop draining them of children from a more advantaged background, these kids could lift each other up.

It could be a principles-based decision, not fear and self-interest-based (though I am not saying every parent who chooses a private school is acting out of those. Families have their own individual values, circumstances and considerations).

The top schools for Commonwealth overfunding for 2022-28 in terms of percentage over their Schooling Resource Standard, which estimates need. By comparison, public schools get a maximum of 95 per cent of what they need. Credit:Graphic: Kathleen Adele

But let’s not forget that if you are a parent who makes research-based decisions that consider the common good, your child will learn this too.

Also, public schools might even be doing better than private in some ways.

The 2009 data highlighted three major issues in Australian education: declining reading and mathematical literacy; Large gender gaps in these two subjects and significant levels of educational disadvantage related to socioeconomic background.


This was not inevitable – some countries had acted to mitigate inequality and had students achieving at a high level across the board.

So, have we acted? I dug out the most recent assessment from 2018.

Australia’s reading, maths and science achievements are still declining.

After adjusting for socioeconomic background there were still no differences in reading or science achievement between the public, Catholic and independent sectors.

In maths, however, once socioeconomic background was accounted for, students attending public schools achieved at a higher level than Catholic schools, a first in Australia.

Public schools were the only sector not to record a decline in reading since 2009.

This is despite the hundreds of millions in over-funded independent schools have received.

Last week, Curtin University School of Education Associate Professor Karen Murcia, an expert on learning theory, told me the biggest determinant of a student’s educational success was self-efficacy.


This is an offshoot of social cognitive theory, a respected research milestone of the 1990s. In a nutshell, a belief in one’s own ability to learn and perform.

Students with strong self-efficacy, Murcia said, were more likely to set themselves tasks and create environments for themselves to succeed, and interpret their own performances and achievements productively.

They learned by observing the behavior of their role models. Newer research also suggested parents were still major influences on students’ career choices.

“It comes down to what they see modeled and what they can relate to,” she said.

A school could contribute to self-efficacy, but was only one element.

The main thing was for the child to have a sense of wellbeing, and connection and belonging to that school community.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that children from high socioeconomic families might have a better chance of good self-efficacy, too.

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