No class envy in the classroom

By Dallas McInerney, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Schools NSW

First published in the Financial Review 14/03/2024

Over the summer, a series of reports have argued for greater funding for government schools. Regrettably, many of these arguments have referenced the need to take support away from non-government schools.

This has included emotional overstatements and fantastical references to the value of a Catholic’s or independent school’s real estate (as if all government schools occupy worthless land). It’s an approach that is damaging to the targeted school community and designed for a punchy headline, not policy headway.

Schools are the essential ingredient for our nation’s future, just as they are for the students who are provided opportunities to prepare them for a life of growth, citizenship and human development. On the basic value proposition of school education, we have broad agreement; on the question of school funding, there is no consensus.

Now, the persistent campaign targeting funding for non-government schools risks undermining the stability of Australia’s mixed model in a way that means taxpayers would lose.

What you won’t see in the selective reports from government school advocates is an incontrovertible fact. Australian taxpayers save billions of dollars each year when the government contributes to non-government schools.

In updated research released by Catholic Schools NSW, the means-tested funding for Catholic and Independent schools results in massive savings to taxpayers who are relieved from the full cost of educating Australia’s entire student population.

The targeted support for non-government schools not only allows the resulting savings to go to other essential services; it also underpins school choice, which parents highly value and has been a bipartisan feature of Australian policy for over half a century.

The flurry of envy-tinged attacks belies a lingering unease with the mixed model (government, Catholic, independent) of school provision among public education union leaders; sectarianism was a historical source of animus towards non-government schools given the predominance of the Catholic sector. More recently, there has been a growing panic in response to falling enrolment figures for government schools, particularly in NSW.

Since 2021, more than 24,000 NSW families have taken their children out of state schools and opted for an alternative, Catholic schools in NSW are growing at their fastest rate in a decade. Some of the biggest losses of enrolments in the government sector have been in the key intake years of kindergarten and year seven, meaning these smaller cohorts will move through the year groups in future years.

The overprivileged, elitist narrative pushed by the Australian Education Union and others does not survive impact with the facts. For example, NSW’s Catholic Systemic schools have enrolled a growing percentage of families from the lowest income quartile over the past 10 years, with annual fees averaging $3000 a year per child.

The Catholic sector has too much regard for all schools and students to return fire. Our position is a positive one. All schools should be properly resourced, including government schools funded to their level of need. The national tide rises when all schools are supported and perform strongly. We certainly want success for government schools. Thousands of Catholic families have opted for public education. Our hopes aren’t just for those who wear our uniform.

Ironically, some of the biggest diversity advocates in our community do a backflip when it comes to the rights of minority providers of Catholic and independent education.

For the sake of reasoned debate and insulating students from the collateral damage of hit jobs on their school communities, let’s return the class envy to the bottom drawer of the 1970s.

Instead, let’s celebrate the power of education to promote the common good and agree on a positive way forward for every school, no matter its crest.

Research confirms parental choice in education saves taxpayers billions

New research from Catholic Schools NSW (CSNSW) confirms the extent of money saved by taxpayers by government support of school choice for parents.

Published today, it reveals that non-government schools save taxpayers at least $4.59 billion each year in recurrent funding and that Catholic schools in NSW alone represent a $500 million annual saving for taxpayers. It also shows that if all government and non-government schools received their full funding entitlement under the Australian Education Act 2013, savings to taxpayers would be $6.31 billion each year in recurrent funding. These savings include $2.04 billion for primary students and $4.27 billion for secondary students. Catholic schools make up $2.96 billion of the total amount saved, and Independent schools $3.35 billion.

Parent contributions to capital funding for schools save further taxpayer money, as non-government schools typically cover over 90% of capital expenditure from private sources – around $4.48 billion in 2022.
Dallas McInerney, CEO of Catholic Schools NSW, said the research cut through the hype to demonstrate the tangible benefits of parental choice in education and the strength of Australia’s diverse education offerings.

“The recent debate on school funding is too often presented as a zero-sum game between different schools and unhelpfully tinged with appeals to envy and populism. The fundamentals of the mixed model of school provision remain strong: parents value choice and critically, the taxpayer is way better off when non-government schools are supported, as we see with the billions saved every year.”

“Parent’s contributions to capital funding increase savings to the taxpayer and the government, as non-government schools typically cover over 90% of capital expenditure from private sources—around $4.48 billion in 2022.”

“The Catholic school system in NSW alone saves the state $500+ million while also offering a low-fee, values-based educational alternative and people are voting with their feet with enrolments in the Catholic sector at a ten-year high.”

“It’s a win for parental choice in education and it’s a win for the taxpayer.”

The research paper can be accessed here.

Catholic Schools NSW represents the state’s 592 Catholic schools and their 268,000 students.

Unions receive an “F” for school funding mathematics

Catholic Schools NSW has today couriered calculators* to the offices of the Australian Education Union and the NSW Teachers’ Federation after the massive failure of arithmetic in today’s reports on capital expenditure in Australian schools.

Claims from the unions are embarrassingly wrong and are the result of either poor scholarship or deliberately misleading propaganda – perhaps both. Here are the facts on school funding:

  • The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) reports. By comparison, capital funding from the NSW and Commonwealth Governments for non-government schools in NSW reached a total of $83 million in 2021 and $74 million in 2020.
  • The Australian Education Union claims governments’ spent only $175.4m on capital works in a single year for half of the nation’s government schools (3,372). This figure is grossly inaccurate, and would mean state and Commonwealth governments have distributed only 3% of capital funds to 50% of government schools, with 97% to the remaining half of government schools in Australia.
  • It is wrong and misleading to compare the top-funded non-government schools with the bottom-funded government schools. However, a like-for-like comparison reveals the top five government schools in NSW and Victoria had a total capital expenditure of $248.2m in 2021, $72.6m more than the amount quoted for the top five non-government schools in the same year.
  • The claim that the Commonwealth Government helped private schools “divert” $2.5 billion is false. This term is deliberately used to imply that this money is being misused. The reality is that non-government school parents pay for 80-90% of capital works in non-government schools, and all funds are heavily scrutinised, audited and acquitted in accordance with legislation.

The CEO of Catholic Schools NSW, Dallas McInerney, said it was a shame, but unsurprising, that union members were again misled on funding and that members deserved better.

“It is telling and disappointing to see the Unions fight endless self-interested funding wars rather than focus on improving student’s results. Union members deserve better value for their dues than false and misleading advocacy. These union officials would be at the bottom of the class for this effort.”

“Hardworking parents of non-government school students contribute to 80-90% of capital works, but this fact is conveniently omitted.”

“The NSW Catholic school sector wants all school sectors to receive appropriate funding without the constant funding myths and misinformation peddled by the Unions. Catholic Schools NSW is happy to host a sit-down lesson with the Unions and explain how school funding works.”

*Calculators are solar panelled noting the union’s commitment to renewable energy.

Catholic Schools NSW represents the state’s 592 Catholic schools and their 268,000 students.




Geographical and subject diversity acknowledged as Catholic Schools NSW congratulates the First in Course HSC recipients

Catholic Schools NSW celebrates the 22 students from 20 Catholic schools across NSW who were recognised for achieving 23 First in Course honours at the 2023 HSC First in Course ceremony today.

The First in Course subjects represent a diverse range, including History Extension, Visual Arts, Japanese in Context, Information and Digital Technology, and Mathematics Standard 2.

Two students from St Mary’s Catholic College came First in Course for Community and Family Studies and Retail Services Examination and at Marist Catholic College Penshurst, two students came first in Croatian Continuers and Macedonian Continuers. One student from Brigidine College in St Ives, came first in both Geography and Mathematics Standard 2.

A total of four First in Course awards were achieved by our students in Mathematics Standard 2 and one in Mathematics Standard 1 Examination (equal top score).

Three of the students achieving a First in Course also received a place in at least one other course. In addition to the First in Course recipients, another 139 students were awarded places across multiple other subjects.

Catholic Schools NSW acting CEO, Danielle Cronin, congratulated this year’s students on their First in Course awards and recognised the geographical and subject diversity of the Catholic schools and their students’ achievements.

“Congratulations to all First in Course winners. It is an incredible achievement, and to overcome many challenges, not least the significant disruptions Covid-19 during your high school years, makes it even more special.”

“Your hard work and success in the HSC place you in great stead for the future, for university or elsewhere, and I wish you the very best in those endeavours.”

“It’s encouraging to see that the First in Course students come from a wide geographic range, from Bankstown to Bathurst, Punchbowl to Clarenza. The diversity of subjects also speaks to Catholic education’s aim to provide a broad and holistic education for the individual. Top Achievers came from half of the schools in our system, demonstrating that wherever students learn in a Catholic school, they can be supported to realise their full potential.”

Catholic Schools NSW represents the state’s 592 Catholic schools and their 267,000 students. 

Response to Disability Royal Commission report

Catholic Schools NSW supports the fundamental and universal right of all children to an education.

Catholic education supports families in educating their children across a range of settings including mainstream schools, support classes within mainstream schools and specialist settings.

Catholic education has always upheld the sanctity of life from conception, and finding ways to care for individuals born with a range of special needs is a focus in our communities and schools. Students with disability have a diversity of learning needs and Catholic schools seek to cater for this diversity through diverse education settings.

Our schools are committed to providing a holistic education for students that builds capacity to become participating members of their community while dignifying their unique gifts. This is achieved through specialised programs, high staffing ratios, purpose-built school sites and support for parents and carers to empower their child to live enriched and independent lives.

Catholic Schools support parents’ right to choose the most appropriate educational setting for their child. Maintaining funding support for specialist schools is essential to continue to uphold the ability of parents to make a choice in the best interest of their child.

Catholic Schools NSW welcomes the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. Catholic Schools NSW looks forward to engaging with the Commonwealth Disability Royal Commission Taskforce on the recommendations relevant to education, especially in relation to special education settings and inclusive education.

Comments attributable to CEO of Catholic Schools NSW, Dallas McInerney:

“Specialist Catholic schools and classes in NSW are not ‘segregated’ settings. Our families value participation within the community and local mainstream schools. In some cases, our specialist school campuses are co-located with mainstream schools. In others, buddy programs and other initiatives ensure integration with the mainstream Catholic community and school system.”

“The last thing students with a disability need is to have their futures hostage to activists seeking to re-ignite school funding wars. These schools need more care and support and less ideology.”

“Catholic Schools NSW acknowledges Commissioners hold different views about the need for special schools to be phased out over time. We support the Commission’s view that the complex question of ‘wholly separated and wholly inclusive settings’ is nuanced and requires consideration of the specific circumstances in which the physical separation takes place, we believe that special education settings are crucial to parental choice and can have an important role to play in supporting students with disability.”