The old school yard

The excellent myschool website established by the Australian government (www.myschool.edu.au) offers a vast amount of data about various schools, including the state high school I attended and look back on with feelings of nostalgia and gratitude for some dedicated teachers. Among other things, the site reveals that 13% of its students are from the top 25% of families according to the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage, while 10% are indigenous (16% are at the main feeder primary school.) The National Assessment Program reveals that the students’ performance is below average in many areas, substantially so in some. 96% of the income of the school comes from the Australian and state governments.

The attendance is 916, quite a bit lower than it was when I was a student there. In the meantime two new non-government schools have appeared, both operating under Christian auspices. Of the 111 students attending one, 19% are in the top 25% in terms of advantage, and 12% are indigenous.  Again, many areas reveal lower than average performance by students, in some cases substantially so; 83% of the income of the school is from government sources. The other school has a distinctive set of statistics. Of its 286 students, 29% are from the top quarter in terms of advantage, only 3% are indigenous, the students’ performance is above average more often than below, and only 55% of its income is from governments.  Oddly enough, it does not seem to teach languages.

It’s possible to do all kinds of things with statistics, and other things could be pulled out from the material on the site, but that extracted here is thought provoking. The data for the second and third schools includes primary as well as secondary students, and so comparing them with the first may be a bit unfair. But the profile of the small second school, generously supported by the governments, is broadly similar to that of the first, whereas the third has a significantly higher level of advantage, a far lower proportion of indigenous students, a much stronger set of performance data, and a markedly lower level of government funding.

I’m not sure what to make of this. Part of me is saddened at what looks to have been a migration of students from relatively privileged backgrounds from my old school to the third one, which has left it with a worse set of numbers than it would otherwise have had. This cannot be good for the students at that school, and is arguably bad for society as a whole. On the other hand, the third school is far less dependent on government money, and if parents wish to send their children to a school that is saving the governments from recurrent expenditure, they surely not only have a right to do so but to an extent are benefactors of society.

Perhaps this is one of those areas where there are competing goods, and one’s final judgment will reflect the good one esteems the most.

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