Dear PLC Sydney Community


I thought it might be helpful this week to explain to our community how Government funding to the private sector works. I am surprised by the rhetoric of our politicians on occasion regarding this issue. They should be aware of the structures, yet often seem to play the politics rather than the truth.

If you visit the MySchool website you will see that the amount of funding we received this year is as follows:

  • Federal - $4157 per student
  • State - $1448 per student
  • Total - $5605 per student

Now go to the Burwood Girls High School section and you will see that the amount of funding they received was:

  • Federal - $1957 per student
  • State - $8733 per student
  • Total - $10 690 per student

It is clear that Burwood Girls receives double the funding of PLC Sydney. Yet this is not the impression newspapers give us. 

Often in the media state funding is not mentioned and it is stated that federal funding to independent and Catholic schools is greater than to public schools. This is true. But why is it the case? The answer is rather simple. In Australia it is the states that have primary responsibility for funding education. Yet, if we view schools as institutions which are competing for the patronage of families, the state has a conflict of interest in regard to independent schools. We are in competition with public schools. Our forebears believed that if the state was the only funding body there would be an ongoing suspicion that it funds independent schools less than public schools in order to privilege its system. Thus, the federal government provides more funds to independent schools, in order to ensure that this conflict is resolved.

Overall though, the amount of funding going to public schools is almost double that going to independent schools.

As taxpayers, all parents are entitled to have some of their taxes go to their own children’s education as well as to the education of other people’s children. The question is ‘how much?’

There are really two arguments that are used to justify the discrepancies in government funding. The first is that independent schools are rich and that funding needs to be directed to poorer communities. The second is that independent schools should not expect any funding if they are going to not join in to the mainline system; if they, on religious or other grounds, decide on a separate program.

The argument based on need is a good one. Of course we want all students to have an excellent education. And we seek to reduce the gap where it is greatest. This is a central tenet of both Christianity and the liberal societies it birthed. What is rarely mentioned in the media is that the vast majority of independent schools are small and low-fee paying. Australian families with an income under $50 000 send their children to schools in different systems:

  1. In the public system 26% of students come from families earning less than $50 000
  2. In the Catholic system 13% of students come from families earning less than $50 000
  3. In independent schools 13% of students come from families earning less than $50 000

It is also worth noting that whilst a school like PLC Sydney has excellent facilities, these were built by the generosity of people over a long period of time. It is not often taken into account in the media that a school like ours has wonderful facilities largely because of the generosity of church and school families. And shouldn’t we want our communities to really be getting behind their schools, rather than to think that a distant government should pay for everything? 

The existence of independent schools actually saves the government billions of dollars. If every PLC Sydney student changed to Burwood Girls High School tomorrow, the government would have to find an extra $6 529 140 just to pay for the transfer of our school students (1284 students x $5085 – the gap in funding between us and Burwood Girls High School). The ISCA website provides the precise figures on how much the independent system saves the government If independent schools did all fold, assuming the government did not expand the overall kitty for education, the amount of funding available per student in government schools would actually significantly decline. Far from being a drain on the public system, parents of independent school students actually enable more money to flow to students in need! No PLC Sydney parent should feel any shame in regard to this issue. You are being socially responsible. 

The second issue is an interesting one. I wonder why we assume that only secular schools should receive government funding. The church is no longer the powerful institution it once was. Surely if we believe in diversity, we can believe in diversity of school philosophy – we don’t need to follow the latest secular trend to be funded. In The Netherlands the state fully funds schools run by many different organisations: churches, mosques, temples. The theory, led by the late Prime Minister Abraham Kuypers of the early 20th Century, is that families should be able to expect their own faith or philosophy to be represented to their children and that the government has a responsibility to educate all. Thus, in The Netherlands, schools do not have to agree with the government position in order to be funded. In Australia there appears to be an attitude that if you don’t support the current educational view of the world you shouldn’t receive funding. My own view is that this is a short-sighted vision of education. It is often the independent schools that are leading the way in thinking of new possibilities in education. We gain from having different positions on education in society. 

I plan to explain these things to our students. I welcome your thoughts.

Dr Paul Burgis