Public, Catholic or Private? It really depends on your child and what you can manage financially.
“Remember who this is about – your child, not you. Your decision will have a major impact on your child’s life, during their school years and in later life. This does not just refer to academic achievement, but overall development and long term prospects as individuals, members of groups, members of the work force”, say D&B Mann, founders of education research hub Aussie Educator.
Yes, choosing a school for your child is a massive decision. And, yes, you’ll be influenced by budget. It’s also a big question about value vs cost: what kind of school will help your child shine?
Questions to ask yourself
- What does the school offer that will make my child’s day? (Having something to look forward to makes giving things a go much easier!)
- What does the school offer that will get them through tough times?
- What teachers, programs and resources are available to address my child’s individual educational, extracurricular and personal support needs?
- Do we share enough of the school’s promoted values and priorities? (Educational, extracurricular, social mobility, ethics and beliefs, support, community?)
- Will my child make good friends?
- What are the real travel costs: time and money? Will travel time cut into my child’s school/life balance?
- How does the school help parents participate in children’s school life, also support home life?
- What resources are available to help with homework and what commitment does the school expect every day?
- When choosing a program/extracurricular activity, how will it help my child develop, or is it meeting a need to improve performance to open more opportunities?
The money question
Every parent will pay something towards their child’s education, even if you can get government subsidies, discount or scholarship. A 2014 Australian Scholarships Group (a non-profit education savings plan organisation) study uncovered some big numbers for education from Kindergarten to Year 12.
|Primary and Secondary city estimate||$63,252||$228,942||$458,995|
|Primary and secondary regional estimate||$51,656||$169,870||$323,006|
|Yearly for city high school*||$4,455-7,000+||$12,599-15,000+||$22,450-30,000+|
|Yearly for regional high school*||$3,708-5,000+||$9381-12,000+||$16,973-$20,000+|
*top figure includes higher tuition and/or higher extracurricular
- Bang for buck
There are plenty of public schools that rank high in whatever areas of achievement matter to you, including academic scores and tertiary entrance, arts, sport, and community participation. They also offer fantastic opportunities for all round development to all students. Your tax dollars help fund part of your child’s education already and, with lower overall costs, you might have more room in your budget for other things such as travel and extracurricular activities.
- Social mobility
Social anthropologists note that mixing with other people creates stronger communities, can improve empathy, tolerance and understanding of diversity, with mental health benefits stemming from those things, too.
- Diversity and opportunity
Public schools are visibly accountable for educating and supporting students of all abilities, needs and backgrounds. As a result, there is a strong emphasis to give budget and commitment to extra resources where needed such as special needs classes, for example.
- Broader curriculum
While location and reputation can influence staff the school hires, public schools tend to offer broader subject choices.
- Closer to home
If you choose your local public school, you can take advantage of the subsidised public transport scheme, or a shorter walk or drive to school. This means more time to get ready in the morning and less stress getting from work/home to collect your child if they’re not old enough to get themselves home. If you apply as an out-of-area family, you won’t get this benefit.
Generally you have more choice about where to buy uniforms, equipment and stationery, which can reduce costs. For extracurricular activities, it’s a matter of financial resources and your child’s interests.
- Before and after school care
Getting a place in a child minding program for primary school can be difficult and you may have to go on a waiting list. Plus, it’s an extra few thousand dollars a year for most families, even with government subsidies.
- Quality of staff
No-one likes to admit it, but the location and reputation of a school has a massive influence on whether people apply for teaching and support staff positions.
- Community stress
If there are social problems in your area, they may filter into school.
The Catholic education system was set up centuries ago to give children from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds more educational and personal development opportunities – plus a strong foundation in faith education and pastoral care.
- Faith-based education
The spiritual values of Faith, Hope and Charity all strongly feature in daily Catholic school activities. Weekly religious lessons aim to nurture faith. Students are also encouraged to find meaning and purpose in life by serving and supporting each other and people in their communities, as well as participate in charity work and fundraising.
- Social justice
Many Catholic schools encourage families to contribute to the Church’s social justice programs.
- Pastoral care
Schools’ pastoral care programs and expected behaviour standards are based on Catholic beliefs and values. Some of this translates as a service-focus to help nurture positive relationships, and can also include help with building resilience. Support for students is frequently extended to their families.
Connected with pastoral care, enforcing high standards of behaviour through constructive means can improve students’ ability to focus, cooperate and push themselves to achieve more.
- Subsidised by the Church
All non-government schools receive some government funding, though the main reason Catholic school fees are lower than other Private/Independent schools is that they’re financially supported by church communities and related business organisations.
- Committed staff
Catholic schools proudly note many staff have made it their mission to serve a school for the long term. High staff retention rates can result in stronger community connections and improved knowledge and experience, rather than ‘corporate history’ walking out the door each time someone leaves.
- Stricter discipline, behaviour and service expectations
Your child may need to be prepared for strict but fair rules; learning to sit still in Mass and adopting slightly formal manners at a young age. Students are also expected to participate in community service activities.
- Achievement varies school to school
School culture can have a big influence on how focus is spread across academics, creative arts and sport. A school that celebrates sporting achievers above other high achievers is only great if your child loves and excels at those sports.
- Longer school days
Some Catholic high schools have compulsory extracurricular activities or community service after school and/or on weekends and are strict about participation.
Depending how far away you live from school, you and the kids could also face a longer commute.
- Socioeconomic standing
Whether you ask the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a Board of Studies, other parents or former students, the greater expense of private school fees is a strong social filter. Statistically, people with higher education levels and who earn more are more likely to choose a private school. The system essentially nurtures its next generation, which leads to the benefits of…
- Old school networks
It’s not always what you know… and a private school will certainly encourage networking among alumni, as it helps raise donations and expand the school’s reputation. In turn, some alumni are passionate advocates of the school’s history. Old school connections can open doors for jobs, social clubs, and boardroom opportunities, as members are bonded by a shared camaraderie.
- Investment in achievement
Parents and former students frequently make financial contributions to the school. Private schools with big coffers can acquire the best staff, equipment and other resources to aid success in the classroom, concert hall or sporting arena. Most private schools offer scholarships for high achievers, while others quietly invest in emerging talent.
- Investment in buildings, facilities and grounds
Every private school has a building fund to maintain impressive architecture, lawns and extracurricular facilities. This ongoing commitment to looking after and improving the school’s infrastructure and appearance can positively influence a sense of belonging, as well as status.
- Extracurricular commitment
Private schools proudly promote their wide range of creative, sporting, community and adventuring activities, marketed as extending your child’s abilities, resilience and competitive drive. While many of these activities are compulsory – or have penalties for non-attendance – there’s something to be said for taking on a challenge and sticking with it, and also about strong social connections through mutual interests. On the upside, your child will be supervised for longer afterschool, so after-care is less of an issue.
- Achievement varies school to school
As with Catholic schools, areas of high achievement for a private school depend on school culture and related financial commitments.
- Longer school days
Particularly in high school, most students will have daily commitments before and after class such as sport, creative arts and school community service. A bigger homework load than their public school peers is also more likely – homework is generally highly policed, with mandatory penalties. Every extracurricular activity also brings with it extra commitment, including weekends.
Higher tuition fees, extra activities, more expensive uniforms, text books, stationery with the school crest – it’s a hefty bill, to which you can add excursions, extra sport uniforms and equipment, and even cadet camps.
On top of longer school days, you could also face a longer commute to and from your preferred private school.
Having the right Income Protection and Life Insurance cover can help ensure your children’s education is never at risk. Find out more.
Aussie Educator – an independent library run by education experts, offering research about school systems, plus several handy checklists.
Raising Children – a partnership of early childhood agencies with Government support (Department of Social Services), offering commentary and guides to parenting, children’s development and schooling.
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