Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Sorry, which school system is shedding kids?

The Daily Telegraph ran a story today proclaiming the end of the world (!!!) as far as private schools are concerned in NSW.

PUBLIC schools are bracing for an influx of children fleeing the private system, as new figures show some independent schools have shed hundreds of students.

In the past five years the student body at 439 private schools has shrunk.

The article then links to a table of private schools that have lost kids since 2002.

I bothered to copy the entire table and add up the numbers. Between 2002 and 2007, the 33 schools on this list lost between them a total of 5165 kids. "Lost them where?", you say. They're probably down the back of the sofa, along with some loose change and a remote control.

This list is just those that have lost over 100 enrolments. Another 400 schools have shrunk by less than 100 kids. We aren't told what the total number is, or given a link to the source document.

Let me try and add up all the things that might be going on here. But before I do, have a read of what Maralyn Parker, the Tele's "education expert", has to say on the matter:

AT first look at the plummeting number of private school students in this state, my reaction is this - that this is just the beginning.

I love the use of the word "plummeting". It's so expressive. Maralyn hates the private system with a passion - she's one of those bossy types that thinks she knows what's best for you and your kids. Choice? What's that.

Here is a table that I put together back in November, showing state school enrolments since 2000:

  • 2000 - 761,836
  • 2001 - 756,740
  • 2002 - 754,800
  • 2003 - na
  • 2004 - 745,507
  • 2005 - 741,578
  • 2006 - 740,415
  • 2007 - 738,636

Gee, state school enrolments have fallen since 2002 by 16,164, a decline of over 2%. Why have enrolments at state schools fallen? The Federal Dept of Education, Employment and Sacking People provides some indication, though not much, in its annual study of teacher supply in each state. There are no numbers for NSW, but consider the ACT:

Despite population growth in the ACT of 4.8 per cent between the 2001 and 2006 Census, data show the number of children in the 5 -14 years age group has decreased by 7.6 per cent.
All it says for NSW is:

The underlying demand for primary school teachers in NSW has been subdued in recent years with enrolments having declined slightly over the five years to 2006.

Why, fancy that! In most states, except Queensland, the number of children of school age is falling! Might that partly account for a fall in enrolments in the state system? You think?

Notice that whilst the article tells us that nearly half the private schools in the state have lost kids, it doesn't give us an overall number for enrolment changes. It tells us nothing about enrolments at all the other private schools in NSW. Do we think that of the say 1,000 private schools in NSW, 439 had falling enrolments and the other 561 had static enrolments, with no increase whatsoever?

Of course not! Some of those private schools might have lost students because they moved to another private school. Decline in one place may be met by growth elsewhere at a better private school. That's the beauty of the free market - if you don't like what you are getting from one provider, you can shift to another! (Maralyn Parker would have a fit though if you suggested to her that this was a good idea. No! The state must decide where your child is educated, and how! Choice is limited it the realms of abortion and gay marriage - it has to be excluded from education!)

I would want to see the enrolments at all the other private schools before passing judgement. We might find that parents are moving their kids from expensive private schools to cheaper private schools - but not into the public system. It's like downsizing from a Mercedes 350 to a Camry - but not to a bicycle. Or the bus.

It also doesn't say why enrolments are shrinking at some schools:

At the top of the list of private schools haemorrhaging students was Patrician Brothers College at Fairfield, in south-western Sydney.

According to the Education Department's figures, the college lost 357 students between 2002 and 2007.

But principal John Killeen said the school began closing its primary campus in 2002, which has resulted in decreased enrolments.

"I don't have a primary school at all now," Mr Killeen told the Fairfax Radio Network.

"So therefore, my enrolments have actually increased in the secondary school with 1,089 students next year.

"I have waiting lists for every year except year 10, so there's no drift away from the school whatsoever, in fact those figures (357) reflect the number of boys in the primary school in 2002.

Well, duh! Structural change at this school accounts for all the decline, and as the Head points out, they've actually increased enrolments where they want them!

What about the overall growth in the number of private schools? Let's say we had 1,000 private schools in 2002, and we have 1,050 today (I need to dig up the numbers, but I also have to go to work). Where would those 50 new schools get their kids from? Some would come from state schools and some from existing private schools. We might see shrinkage at some schools, but growth in the overall numbers of kids being educated in the private sector.

I'm sure there could be other reasons, but Maralyn simply wants to trumpet this as a good thing for the state sector. Family hardship is a good thing to her, since it will stem the decline of her beloved statist system. Instead of families choosing what they think is best for their offspring, statist know-all bureaucrats in distant plush offices will make the decisions for them.

But consider this - what does this "expose" in the Telegraph say about the research and thinking skills of those at the Tele, including their "award-winning education columnist, author and former teacher", Maralyn Parker?

I give them an F.

1 comment:

1735099 said...

The print and electronic media doesn't have a clue about education and schooling.
They report it as a compilation of cliches.
One of those cliches is that parents have a public/private choice when it comes to schooling.
Two groups of parents have no choice at all - those who live in remote and rural communities, and those who have children with disabilities. I work with those who are members of both sub-groups. It's illuminating to ask these parents their view of media coverage of education.