Saturday, February 18, 2012

Private schooling a big priority for Australian parents

39% of Australian teenagers are sent to private high schools. It makes Britain's 7% look pretty sad. Australian public schools are now largely for the children of the poor, who are more likely to have behaviour problems -- and discipline-phobic public schools now do little to address such problems (though they huff and puff a lot), leading to deaths in extreme cases. Who would not want a safer and more collegial environment for their kid? I sent my son to a private High School, with excellent results

Next time you're walking past a playground or picking up breakfast at a cafe or at the council pool at the weekend, listen in on the conversation of any group of parents with young children. You will probably find them discussing ''which school to choose''. In fact, ''kids' schools'' is up there with ''housing prices'' as the topic my peer group cannot stop talking about.

Education - including the relative merits of public versus private schools - has been well canvassed over several decades. The clear difference today, however, is that the ''right school'' discussion is being had by parents earlier, even when their children are still in nappies. And there is an anxious edge to the conversation. Concern about finding the right school has crept beyond the elite and spread throughout society. With the Gonski school funding review due to release its findings on Monday and the new My School website launched soon after, parents will have even more to think and fret about in coming months.

Last year I conducted a group discussion involving five men in their late 30s; all of them mates. The topics were open-ended. Tell us about your life, the things that keep you up at night, the things you talk about over beers and barbecues. In groups like this, the conversation often veers towards the economy, work, sport and politics. But these men spent most of their time talking about schools. And only two of them had children and they weren't even ready for kindergarten.

They started with a review of public and private schools in the area. These men were prepared to pay substantially more for a house if it was located near decent schools. They had visited the My School website, knew which zone they fell into and the NAPLAN scores of the schools in the area. One man questioned the quality of the public options. "I wasn't aware there were any good public schools around here," he said. He recalled the public school children in his neighbourhood as "complete tools" and "total knuckleheads". There was no way he was sending his offspring to a school with "ordinary units" like that. Another friend agreed. "As a parent you want to give them every chance.''

One of the five men was English, married and had been living in Australia for some time. He was puzzled by the extent to which his friends were focused on where they were sending their children to. "I have had so many conversations about private education since coming to Australia,",he said. "Everyone is very private-focused." When the time came, he and his wife were planning to send their children to any local school closest to them. A few of his mates looked at him blankly. "Sure, you could do that," one of them said eventually. But his tone was cautionary, implying his friend was taking a risk with his child's future. The English bloke began to look worried.

These men accept that a private education does not guarantee great marks in the HSC, achievement at university or career success. "There is an argument that just because you go to a private school you don't necessarily get on in life," one of them remarked. Would it be better to send your child to a public school and spend the money you save on travel, tutoring and other meaningful activities? Despite all this conjecture, the conclusion was that good private education trumps public education every time.

What is driving parent perceptions about schools and the growing preference towards private over public? And why are we talking about it so often and so soon?

Research conducted by Dr Adrian Beavis for the Herald in 2004 sought to identify the factors that influenced parental choice about schools. It showed that one factor stood out when it came to the parental selection of a school. This was "the extent to which the school embraced traditional values to do with discipline, religious or moral values, the traditions of the school itself, and the requirement that a uniform be worn".

To me, this means we have to look beneath some of the upfront reasons parents give about why they choose private schools over public (namely, a better education) and search for other reasons.

Undoubtedly, peer pressure is at work here. If you can afford private education and all your friends are opting for the same, what does choosing the public path say about you as a parent?

Perhaps there is also a fear element. We are looking for peace of mind and are prepared to pay for it, even if we do not have any hard evidence it is going to work. We constantly hear from parents that they believe private education provides a ''nicer'' learning environment - less bullying, violence, sex and drugs and anti-social behaviour.

To be fair, I have met parents whose aversion to public education is based on experience. I interviewed a young mother of primary school-age twins with learning difficulties, who was prepared to take a second job to send them to a private school. She told me: "I hate the local school. My girls are getting behind and their confidence is getting lower and lower every year. There is bullying. The school is too big. You go and see the teachers about getting some support for your kids and they don't want to hear." This woman felt she would have more leverage as a fee payer at a private school than she would as a taxpayer in a public school.

But there are also many who believe parents have more influence on their children than schools do, and that paying tens of thousands of dollars for a child's school education puts too much strain on families and is not worth it.


Green rules deterring new home builders

FAR Northern home buyers are avoiding building new houses because of the cost of government sustainability requirements. That's the findings of the latest Master Builders Regional Survey of Industry Conditions report for the December quarter.

Nearly half the builders surveyed found the increased cost of new housing over existing homes was deterring people from buying or building. "The raft of new requirements (six star, water tanks, etc) imposed on new housing in recent years has added substantially to the cost of building a new home," the report said.

"There are real concerns that the introduction of the carbon tax will further aggravate the differential and encourage people to choose established homes over new homes, despite the fact that the environmental performance of new homes is frequently superior to many older homes."

Master Builders Cairns regional manager Ron Bannah said the extra costs imposed by government requirements were becoming "a real issue". He said water tanks were a waste of money in the Far North. A $7000 3000 litre water tank took less than an hour to fill in a monsoonal downpour and then overflowed, Mr Bannah said.

He said the lack of ventilation in new homes, such as fewer windows and airflow in the roof, because of insulation and other sustainability demands, was causing mould.

Mr Bannah said a carbon tax would add up to $9000 to the cost of a $450,000-$500,000 home.

The waste levy for dumping material from blocks of land was another cost of $30 a metre. "It used to be a $500 exercise, now it's at least three times that," he said.

Dixon Homes managing director Andrew Thomas said most new home buyers accepted the increases as part of the overall price of homes.

He said it was causing people to consider an established home but many still preferred a new home because of lower maintenance costs and they were more energy efficient and modern.


Jeff Kennett calls for penalty rate structure to be overhauled to boost economy, save jobs

As the man who turned around Victoria's economy, Jeff knows a thing or two

JEFF Kennett has revealed his radical plan to reignite the Victorian economy and rescue jobs - scrapping penalty rates.
The former premier says double-time rates should be abandoned for people who work outside normal business hours.

But higher pay should instead be introduced for people working more than 38 hours a week.

It comes as big business is bracing for thousands more lay-offs as massive job cuts at major employers including Qantas, ANZ and Toyota dent consumer confidence. Qantas announced 500 jobs yesterday and put another 1460 under review. Wesfarmers has warned that Target, which is trading at a loss, and Kmart and Officeworks outlets are facing difficult times.

Bonds is sacking 100 workers in Sydney and moving its distribution to Melbourne.

The Australian Retailers Association has warned of widespread cuts as job losses in manufacturing cut spending power.

Consumer confidence fell this week, with 31 per cent of Australians expecting bad economic times ahead, a Roy Morgan survey shows. Interest rate rises by the major banks, independent of the Reserve Bank, were behind the gloomy outlook.

A Treasury official joined the interest rate row, asking why the major banks couldn't have absorbed costs a bit longer given their profitability. Treasury executive director (markets) Jim Murphy told a Senate estimates hearing yesterday: "I would suggest they could hold a bit longer before they increase their mortgage rates."

The further bad news for homeowners is the Reserve Bank expects to keep rates on hold at 4.25 per cent over the next few months until it gets a clearer picture about the true state of Australia's multi-speed economy.

CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian expects the wave of lay-offs to push the unemployment rate to around 5.7 per cent.

Mr Kennett, writing in the Herald Sun, says the penalty rates structure should be overhauled and all penalties scrapped for those who have not worked a 38-hour week. "(Penalty rates) are uncompetitive and stifling job security and growth," he said.

"Those of us who work or wish to work must clock up 38 hours of effort, after which an agreed overtime, for example double-time, applies. "This would prevent an employee who worked an eight-hour shift on a Sunday being paid more, for example, than someone who had worked more than eight hours over more than one day."

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said the idea was a revival of Work Choices, which caused the downfall of the Howard government. "What he's talking about is a significant reduction in the take-home pay of workers in the hospitality, retail and service sectors," he said. "We're talking about people on $17 an hour who rely on penalty rates as a significant part of their income."


Sydney ferries: Another example of government waste and featherbedded unionists

Alexander Philipatos

When it comes to controlling ferry costs, monopolies (private or public) cannot hold a candle to the cost pressure created by a competitive market.

Earlier this week, IPART released a report examining the cost structure of Sydney Ferries and highlighting several areas of possible improvement.

The report included findings from consulting company L.E.K., which estimated that despite some cost savings, yearly costs could be further reduced by 24% from $125 million to $95 million.

These findings are refreshing to hear; however, the story is not new. My report last year about the disappointing performance of Sydney Ferries found that the aged vessels were amplifying maintenance costs, while above-market remuneration and poor workplace culture were straining labour costs.

Interestingly, IPART’s report raised an important but often overlooked question: Over 25% of ferry users earn salaries exceeding $75,000 compared to 11% of bus users and 14% of train users. Given the relatively high proportion of well-to-do individuals using the ferries, the IPART report questioned the basis for subsidising ferries.

I think that to ask this question is to answer it. Throwing large subsidies at an industry that disproportionately services Sydney’s wealthier regions is neither an effective nor responsible use of tax funds. Most of these commuters could and should foot the full cost of their journey rather than be subsidised by the majority of Sydneysiders who do not use the ferries. The government can still use concession fares to subsidise those on low incomes.

But to provide a quality service at the lowest possible cost, government needs to open up the market to competition. A simple analysis of private companies on the Manly route shows costs can be reduced and the industry profitable without subsidising the entire sector.

Two private ferry operators run completely unsubsidised services on the Manly route in competition with the government’s ferry service. The price of a regular adult ticket stands at between $8 and $9.

Contrast this to the government’s service which, after accounting for subsidy (to the tune of 50%–60%), costs as much as $14.

Without the pressure of losing business, Sydney Ferries lacks sufficient incentive to reduce costs and maintain quality service. This is why ferry reform must introduce competition.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 17 February. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Note: My Australian police news blog is getting a lot of entries lately. Two stories about police misbehaviour today alone

1 comment:

Paul said...

Kennett was working on this back in the early 90s. The argument they ran was that penalty rates were an anachronism in these (those) days of 24 hour workplaces. The simple rejoinder at the time was to ask him which Tuesday morning the AFL Grand Final was going to be played on.