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Tuesday, 12 October 1971
Page: 2202

Dr CASS (Maribyrnong) - The vexed question of State aid was raised and I would like to deal with it a little. The real question is not whether the Commonwealth should provide more funds for education; of course it should. This country spends 4.3 per cent of its gross national product on education while many western countries are spending 6 per cent to 8 per cent of their gross national product on education. But the real question of State aid concerns aid for private nongovernment schools. When the schools are rich, well endowed, with standards of buildings, equipment, facilities and staff superior to the State schools, surely there is no case for giving these schools aid. Yet the allocation of funds by the Commonwealth is very favourable to the rich private schools compared to the State schools. For instance, the allocation of funds for science facilities for the period 1968-71 was as follows: Government secondary schools with 75.2 per cent of total pupils received 57.8 per cent of the funds; Catholic schools with 16.8 per cent of the pupils received 28.4 per cent of the funds; non-Catholic private schools with less than 8 per cent of the pupils received 13.8 per cent of the funds Of the projected spending for 1971-75 60 per cent will go to government schools with 75 per cent or more of students, 27.2 per cent will go to the Catholic schools with less than 16.8 per cent of students and 12.8 per cent will go to the non-Catholic private schools with less than 8 per cent of the students.

The allocation of secondary school scholarships further highlights the grossly unfair distribution of assistance. In 1970 State schools, with 75.2 per cent of students, received only 57.8 per cent of the scholarships; Catholic schools with 16.8 per cent of pupils received 20.5 per cent of the scholarships; non-Catholic private schools with 8 per cent of the pupils received 22 per cent of the scholarships. Finally, the projected dollar aid per student for 1971-75 shows a marked discrepancy between the State schools receiving $36.83 for each pupil and the Catholic schools receiving $73.60 per pupil. Each non-Catholic private school pupil will be subsidised to the extent of $74.28. The fact that parents of children going to private schools pay fees is irrelevant to the argument. If non-Catholic private schools did not offer better facilities, quite apart from the other attractions such as class and status, then people would not be so foolish as to send their children to these private schools. Why pay private school fees to have one's children in schools inferior to the State schools? In other words, non-Catholic private schools are already superior to State schools. So why is the Commonwealth Government giving them over twice as much money and equipment as it is giving to the State schools? This is simply aggravating the social inequalities in the community.

It is claimed by some that more taxation revenue goes to State schools than to private schools, but Professor Fensham of Monash University has analysed this claim and has proved that private schools take very little less of taxation funds than State schools. Even so, granting that the State schools may be getting more there is still no case for spending more taxation revenue on private schools which are already superior to State schools. However, this objection to the spending of Commonwealth funds on rich private schools fails to recognise that there is a significant group of private schools - the Catholic parish schools - which are poor, inadequate and over crowded and in which the children in the main come from poor families. This means that 18 per cent of Australian primary school pupils are receiving their education in conditions as bad as or even worse than those suffered by State primary school pupils. There is no question that this canont be allowed to continue.

The Labor Party proposes that an inquiry be held to determine the state of education at all levels. Let us assume that this inquiry establishes that the Catholic primary school is inferior in many respects to government schools. Then obviously something must be done about it since it is politically irresponsible to permit the children in those schools to suffer educational deprivation compared to their counterparts in government schools. If the decision is taken to give money to the Catholic Church for its schools, what controls, if any - what strings, if you like - should go with the grants? Firstly, one would expect conditions in terms of size of classes, standards of teachers, the curriculum and so on - which already are nominally observed - would presumably be rigidly enforced. This would mean almost certainly a dramatic increase in the number of lay teachers in the schools which would tend to diminish the church influence.

Since large sums of money are involved and since it is inefficient to have schools competing with one another for pupils it would be necessary to expect a Catholic school in an area to accept non-Catholic pupils, if needs be, with the only limitation being the number of pupils the school could take and if some must be eliminated then it should be by ballot and not based on religion. With the concept of freedom of religion accepted by all, it would be expected that religious instruction would be provided for non-Catholics by their coreligionists in the schools while the Catholic students are getting their religious instruction. In a sense, the private schools receiving large sums of money from the public purse become community schools. None of this discussion has dealt with the real problems of education in the country. The question is: How do we increase the involvement of parents, remove authority from centralised bureaucracy; and, what is the real nature of education in a modern society? An educationalist, John McLaren, has claimed that the prob lem of over centralised bureaucracy can be solved by changing the State education system: . so that it gives more authority to parents and teachers, more choice to students, and more variety generally, and so that it can be integrated with its immediate social environments without being limited by them. We certainly will not do it by enlarging the State juggernaut.

I quite agree. He claims that the answer is that the Commonwealth should decide how much money should go to education and then finance individual schools directly. He says:

The impossibly reactionary State departments would be eliminated.

He also says that in-service training of teachers could be provided by a subsidy to teachers' professional organisations or incorporating teacher training into the tertiary system. The Commonwealth would pay the complete capital costs of raising any existing school building to an adequate standard and the complete running costs of any existing school which agreed to accept students regardless of academic, religious or social qualifications. In the case of applicants exceeding available places a ballot would be used. In essence, all schools would become part of the public system, but not run by State education departments. It would eliminate the narrowness based on social status or religious denomination of the present private schools, allow greater autonomy of the schools with their staff and the interested parents associated with those schools, and seems to me to offer the best way out of the present sterile impasse our education appears to have reached.

The faults of narrowness and lack of imagination are not confined to the government school sector for the private schools are just discovering that co-education may be a good thing. Whilst theoretically private schools are claimed to have given opportunity for new approaches this is not the case at all and often these new adventures have arisen in the lamentably backward State school system. McLaren continues:

New schools could be set up with Common? wealth finance by any group which could establish at a public hearing, with opportunity for objections, that it commanded enough support to make the school economically viable by current standards . . . and that its establishment would benefit the total educational community in its area.

I agree with these views which, to me, in essence remove the schools from the control of any form of central bureaucracy, whether it be State or church, and permit the teachers and the local parents to have much more say in the running of the school. With all the evidence I can find, both in my own reading and in my own personal experience with the problems of my own children at school, it seems to me that this is the only constructive future for education. It is time we stopped arguing the question of education around the political football of State aid. It is time we stopped using State aid as a means to buy votes. It is time we started to act as if we mean some of the things we have been saying in theoretical discussions for years; namely, that education is not just to teach techniques but to teach one to live and think, lt is time we acted as if we believed these things. It . is time we allowed education to produce free, honest thinking young minds instead of trained acceptors of authority.

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