Friday, January 23, 2015

Is a $500,000 private school education really worth it?

A point overlooked below is that in choosing your son's school, you are choosing his friends for life.  Except for the army, men rarely make new friends far into adulthood, and even if they do, their old school friends will still usually predominate in their friendship circle.  So choosing a school is choosing a lot for a son.  What sort of friends do you want  your son to have?  He will tend to have smarter and more socially competent friends if you send him to a private school.  And if you send him to a sink school ....

All parents know that having children is like firing up a backyard bonfire but you substitute wads of cash for kindling and wood, but this week's study about the cost of private schooling would give anyone pause.

The Australian Scholarship's Group's research showed that a baby born in 2015 would cost over half a million dollars to be educated in Sydney's private schools.

Forget the six-million-dollar man, we have the half-million dollar kid – and we two of them!

But you are only going to get sticker shock if you insist on putting your kids into a private school and I don't plan on doing that. There are a number of factors at play here, not least the cost of the schooling and my inability to pay for it.

One problem is that "private schools" often seem to come under an umbrella brand that brings with it a belief of quality when, just like public schools or even hospitals or restaurants, quality varies quite significantly. For some private schools you may be getting top quality, out-of-the-box education, but at others you are just paying a lot more for a fairly standard education.

Many people send their kids to private school in the belief it comes with more advantages than the quality of teaching, that it can help one muscle in on the old boys' network.

There is little doubt that this network can be of some assistance. As an inexperienced twentysomething my friend, a former Geelong Grammarian, got us a face-to-face meeting with a member of the Fairfax family to discuss our fledgling men's magazine and there was little doubt that his school contacts were instrumental in getting that meeting. It certainly wasn't our business plan for the magazine, because we didn't have one.

But it is not the shortcut to nepotism many in the Comments section of school news stories like to believe, our would-be patron was polite but firm about our need to go and get our shit together before bothering to sit down with him or anyone else again (and quite rightly so).

There is also a fairly irrational fear of public schools. Just like the private equivalent these vary greatly and you need to do your research but we are lucky in Australia to not have to worry about our kids having to pass through metal detectors.

After spending the past two years in Singapore, paying a private school fee for a public school level of schooling I am readily embracing the amazing offering that is a virtually free education in this country and more of us should do the same. If more of the families that wanted their kids well educated put their efforts into the public system it would surely improve. Perhaps this huge hike in private schools fees is actually a boost to the public system, making their elite nature even clearer and sending the upper middles back into the arms of the state.

Other downsides for me include the fact many private school kids have to travel further to get to school (we know one mum with a nearly two hour school run between two far-flung male and female private schools) and the fact that you often have to select these school so far in advance that you can't know they are a good fit for your kids.

The question of what school to go to is more than a Naplan score or a natty blazer, it is the people, the community, the proximity to friends and after-school play. There are so many variables that you can't be sure you will achieve the desired result you had pictured when they were an infant – no matter how much you pay.

And what about the opportunity cost to a $500k education? Few of us will be able to pay such bills without forgoing certain things, things like the mind-opening world of international travel. I would not trade my kids Cambodian road trip for private schooling, if you can have both knock yourself out but at these projected rates that will not be a large slice of the population.

Far too many assumptions are made about schooling choices. We recently met a family from the US on a trip through Indonesia. When they said their kids – four of them 17 through to 11 – were home schooled our first instinct was to inch slowly away from them on our tiny boat. But spending a few days with these caring, erudite kids was a great reminder or our inbuilt prejudice as they were some of the most calm, well-rounded young people we had ever come across.

Now home schooling is not for us. And it's not the cost that is putting us off, it's the fact that we might have to reintroduce the cane for it to work. But private school is something I know is not the right fit for us either. I want my kids to have diverse range of fellow pupils, of races, of backgrounds. I do not want the common unifying factor to be the almighty dollar.

This is a very emotive debate but it is often framed in the reductive cry of wanting "the best" for our kids. We all want to give our kids a great start and, with some budgetary axing and a second job, I could probably send my kids through the private school system, but like a lot of things – as a not-particularly wealthy parent – it comes down to value for money.

And, at a half-million-dollar price tag, I do not see the clear and overwhelming benefits of a private school education.


'Strong welfare cop': Scott Morrison's new self-proclaimed title

He stopped the boats, now he's going to stop the rorts. New Social Services Minister Scott Morrison has issued a warning to would-be dole bludgers, Disability Support Pension rorters and terrorists who want to wage war while on government benefits: a tough new welfare cop is on the beat.

In one of his first broadcast interviews in his new portfolio, the former immigration minister told Sky News' Graham Richardson that Australians "generally are quite happy to have a system that helps people who are genuinely in need and deserve our support".

"But what they won't cop, just like they won't cop people coming on boats, is they're not going to cop people who are going to rort that system," he said. "So there does need to be strong welfare cop on the beat...I will be doing that because I want to make sure this system helps the people who most need it."

It's a marked change of tone from his predecessor Kevin Andrews, who always seemed happier handing out relationship counselling vouchers than cracking down on welfare recipients.

Cutting back on welfare spending, Morrison explained, is needed to pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. "I see achieving the NDIS as one of the worthy goals of going through the hard tasks of reforming the welfare system to make sure we can accommodate this," he said.

Labor announced the scheme, which is all well and good, Morrison said. Now the Coalition must deliver and fund it.

While Richardson ostensibly hails from the opposite side of politics (he's a former Labor social security minister, no less), this was not blowtorch-on-the-belly stuff. For anyone fed up with the adversarial style of interviewing served up on 7.30, Lateline or even Today, Richo's your guy.

"You're the tough guy of the place, you also know which way is up, I think you know the electorate pretty well, I don't think you live in some on-high castle, I think you've been pretty good at what you do," purred Richo.

Morrison's face beamed brighter than the MCG floodlights.  It was just the beginning.

"You and Julie Bishop have been the standout successes of a government that hasn't gone all that well in its first 15 months, 16 months," Richo continued. "Whether you want to admit that or not everyone knows it ... that's a fact."

Morrison responded in turn, prefacing his answers with "you make a good point" and "that's a good question".

A rare and welcome ray of bipartisanship in these politically polarised times.


Why private health insurance is getting so expensive, and what can be done about it

For private health insurance customers who cannot understand why their premiums are set to rise at triple the rate of inflation, the experience of CUA Health may shed some light.

The fast-growing health fund just paid out its biggest claim ever. A patient receiving end of life care in an intensive care unit just cost the fund $270,000 over a few months. "That was unique," chief executive Philip Fraser told Fairfax Media. "But utilisation across the board is rising."

In line with other insurers CUA Health, which has 50,000 members and premium revenue of about $118 million, is facing a rise in the cost it pays hospitals and healthcare providers of "about 6.5 to 7 per cent", he said.

"Australians are living longer and they're using their health funds more."

Fairfax Media has revealed that insurance bosses expect new Health Minister Sussan Ley to approve an average industry premium rise of between 6 and 7 per cent, which is triple the rate of inflation.

The reason for the hefty rise, which is scheduled to come in on April 1, is because of rising use of health services, increasing care costs and more expensive medical technology, the executives said. This results in what the industry describes as high claims inflation.

The rise will come after an average boost to premiums of 6.2 per cent was approved by former Health Minister Peter Dutton in 2014, and rises of between 5.1 and 5.8 per cent in the four prior years were approved by Labor ministers.

Executives have mixed views on how the rising cost of cover will impact the $19 billion industry, with some, but not all, warning affordability is becoming an issue.

But they all agree that left alone claims inflation will continue to rise. So what is the answer?

The chief executive of listed fund nib, Mark Fitzgibbon, proposed three solutions to ease the pain: encouraging greater take-up of insurance by young people; increasing collaboration between insurers and healthcare providers; and reconsidering risk equalisation - the policy that shares the costs of the industry's most expensive customers among all funds.

Mr Fitzgibbon said because young policyholders do not require the same level or frequency of care, they can reduce costs on a per policy basis. "The younger the insured population the lower the rate of [claims] growth," he said. "[Insurance] depends on having a lot of good risk to support the poorer risk."

Healthcare collaboration

Health insurers want to play a greater role in determining where and how their members are treated, as well as in preventative care. Mr Fitzgibbon said greater collaboration between insurers and health professionals is needed to "avoid unnecessary hospitalisations".

The holy grail for insurers - and a subject which they lobby heavily on - is to collaborate with general practitioners, but by law they are prohibited from playing a role in primary health care. Mr Dutton made comments about potentially reviewing these rules, but it is unclear what path Ms Ley will take.

Risk equalisation

This scheme partially compensates health funds for the hospital costs of high risk patients. It supports "community rating", which means funds can't price their policies based on risks such as age and pre-existing conditions. Equalisation shares a proportion of costs for members aged 55 years and older on a sliding scale with the industry. Funds pay a share based on the size of their membership.

However Mr Fitzgibbon argued it drives up prices, discourages young people from signing up and creates little incentive for funds with an older population to behave in a way that improves their members' health and reduces the need for care.


Amusing: Foreign backpackers recoil after trying new Vegemite crust pizza... but Australians love it so much they'd 'have it for breakfast'

I'm a bit surprised the Poms didn't like it as their Marmite has a similar taste.  But Marmite doesn't have the big following in Britain that Vegemite has in Australia

They say there's a fine line between genius and insanity and Pizza Hut will have the country divided on which category their new Vegemite crust pizza falls in to.

Just in time for the Australia Day weekend, Pizza Hut has launched the quintessential Aussie pizza, combining two of the country's most loved foods - cheese and Vegemite.

In a promo for the new pizza, the fast-food chain took to Noah's Backpackers at Bondi Beach to carry out a taste test on non Australians, in a quest to prove the pizza is 'Made for Australians'.

Not surprisingly, travellers from Spain, The Netherlands, France and Chile were appalled at Pizza Hut's latest crust-stuffer, with some describing it as 'disgusting' and 'horrible'.

The 'Mitey Stuffed Crust Pizza' takes a regular cheese-filled crust of molten mozzarella and fills it with Australia's favourite breakfast spread, but judging by this video, the Vegemite pizza craze won't be going any further than our shores.

The video, which has been viewed over 82,000 times since it was uploaded on Monday, begins with a booming didgeridoo playing in the background, as the Vegemite spread is squeezed onto the pizza crust.

The taste testers seem genuinely pleased that they are about to receive free pizza until they see the black crust.

'Is that a Yorkshire pudding?' a girl from the UK asks, insisting that the pizza doesn't smell that bad. 'What's the black thing' a girl from Germany asks, later questioning the cameraman on whether or not there's 'sh**' in the pizza crust.

A range of wild guesses are thrown around as the astounded backpackers try to distinguish exactly what they've eaten.   'Medicine? Petrol? Fish jam?' the men of the group say as they appear to be resisting the urge to vomit.

Two men from Chile are persistent that the Vegemite is fish jam, claiming that the substance is 'horrible'.

One man looks defeated as he realises that this is one of the most-loved foods in Australia. 'But if females in Australia like this I don't know, they're very crazy people,' he says as he relaxes with a beer.

Cementing the fact that this pizza has been created solely for Australians, two Aussie men take to the couch a the end of the promo, and devour the controversial treat.

'That's nice, I'd have it for breakfast I reckon,' one of the men says. 'Yep, full of Vegemite keeping Aussies strong' the man in the blue hoodie says.

Pizza Hut has more than 14,000 restaurants around the world but the Vegemite crust is only available in Australia. It will cost $3 extra to add to any pizza.


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