Are private school fees worth it?

The discussion below is fairly reasonable but omits a lot and is too generalized.

What it omits are the SOCIAL as distinct from the educational advantages of a private schooling. Pupils tend to form lasting friendships from their school days and the friends from private school are often VERY advantageous.

And while private schooling may not greatly help every pupil it can be very advantageous as an escape hatch from a bad government school. The latter point is mentioned but needs emphasis

The experience of overseas travel, a new family car or 12 months’ tuition at a top Sydney school?

Private school fees breaking through the $45,000 a year barrier, as reported by this masthead last week, will leave some parents weighing up what is the tangible value of an elite education if it means trade-offs in other areas.

University of New England lecturer in education Sally Larsen said the difference in academic performance of students at public and private schools was negligible.

“There’s no difference in primary school, and it’s just a segregation effect in high school, where kids from more wealthy families are being funnelled into private schools,” she said.

Glenn Fahey, director of the education program at the Centre for Independent Studies, said there was little overall value added from a non-government education once students’ backgrounds, including socioeconomic status, were accounted for.

“What the data tells us is that students’ backgrounds, largely parental education and employment status, make a big difference,” he said.

But Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research associate professor Greg Marks said there were some tangible benefits in terms of ATAR scores for students who attend a private school.

“There is an incremental benefit, beyond that of socioeconomic status, of going to a private school, to an independent school, followed by Catholic schools, followed by government schools,” he said. “Top ATAR students often come from private schools, and they tend to get into university more, which makes a big difference to employment and lifetime income.”

Marks’ research in Victoria found that students who went to a private school achieved an ATAR rank five or six points higher than those who went to a public school.

He attributed this discrepancy to standards of teaching, discipline and a subculture of strong academic performance.

“I think in private schools, they teach at a higher standard and pitch the lessons at a higher standard so that kids are expected to reach them and therefore do,” he said. “There’s probably more of a subculture of doing well at school, and if kids are causing problems, they can get expelled.”

Marks said while the data was sparse, private school students tended to experience less unemployment, earn higher incomes and hold higher status jobs. But he also said it largely stemmed from the benefits of getting a university degree, and that paying a premium for a private school education would not benefit students of different abilities in the same way.

“Ability is quite stable, so if your kid is a top performer or isn’t going to do very well, sending them to a private school won’t make much of a difference and probably will not be worth $45,000,” he said. “For kids in the middle to top of the class, it might give them a bit of a boost to their ATAR to go to a private or selective school, which would make a difference getting into a prestigious course at university.”

While there are some international studies that show private schools can also benefit students in terms of a “peer effect”, Larsen said that impact was probably “smaller than people think,” and that the cost of private school wasn’t worth its benefits.

“The school sector that kids go into is one factor among many that help to explain where they get academically and socially,” she said. “Personally, I don’t think the benefits justify the costs.”

Marks said that eschewing a private school education and investing the money elsewhere could be better for some people, but rejected the idea of spending it on things such as overseas trips.

“There’s a reasonable argument to put the money that you would have used in the bank and get a return on that,” he said. “But taking them on trips overseas to give them ‘life training’ doesn’t make sense.”

In a Centre for Independent Studies survey of more than 1000 parents, those who chose a government school were more likely to indicate that they would have made a different choice (43 per cent) if it weren’t for the cost than parents who chose a Catholic school (30 per cent).

Redfern resident Maria Vlezko saw an immediate improvement when she moved her daughter from a public school to the International Grammar School in Glebe two years ago.

“I was highly dissatisfied with her old school,” she said. “Kids weren’t receiving as much attention in class, they got teased by other children if they did well and my daughter became very uninterested in school.”

Vlezko said the extracurricular offerings and multicultural component of Anastasia’s school were important factors in her decision to move towards private schooling.

“There’s music, drama, chess, coding, and there are kids from lots of different backgrounds, which aligns with my values and how I want my kids to grow up,” she said. “It’s an investment in our children’s future, and we only have one chance.”

Despite cost of living pressures, Vlezko said the fees of nearly $30,000 a year were worth it for 11-year-old Anastasia.

“There was massive progress straight away,” she said. “Teachers were easy to reach, they identified Anastasia’s strengths and areas for improvement straight away, and she made lots of friends with the same interests who help each other with lessons. It’s worth the sacrifice for us.”


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