It’s often claimed private schools outperform public schools. In recent days, a media report revealed the Liberal Party candidate for the Melbourne seat of Macnamara had previously written in support of public funding of private schools. The report said the candidate, Kate Ashmor, wrote a newspaper letter in 2001 in which she said:
I was only able to attend a private school via a heavy subsidy due to the income restraints of my parents, and I firmly believe that I would never have achieved the high VCE score I did if it hadn’t been for my private school education.
But our analysis of MySchool data and Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) results between 2014 and 2018 shows public schools have similar, or even better, VCE results than private schools with similar rankings of socioeconomic status. And these public schools achieve the results with far less funding per student.
Returns on investment
Those who argue in favour of public funding for private schools claimprivate schools are more efficient and academically outperform public schools.
The conservative side of politics believes there is no equity problem to address in Australian education. The current federal government relies on conservative researchers’ evidence denying any causal link between socioeconomic status and student academic outcomes.
Our analysis compared the results of 229 private and 278 public schools. Schools with fewer than 20 students at Year 12 were excluded, as were select-entry public schools. The analysis compared both VCE results and school-based data including funding details available from MySchooland individual school websites. The analysis took into account the socioeconomic status of the schools, using the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA).
The ICSEA is a scale that allows a comparison of the levels of educational advantage or disadvantage students bring to their academic studies. The average ICSEA across all Australian schools is 1,000.
In Victoria the average ICSEA is 1,031, while in Tasmania and the Northern Territory the average is less than 1,000. Schools above that figure are deemed more advantaged than those below. The school with the highest ICSEA in Victoria is Presbyterian Ladies’ College in Burwood (1,210).
There are 38 other private schools at the top of the rankings before the first public non-selective school, Princes Hill Secondary (1,156). In Victoria 318 schools are above 1,000, while those below average include only eight non-government schools, either Islamic or Catholic. The lowest ICSEA among these eight is 926 while the lowest public school ICSEA is 876.