Public vs Private & ‘value-adding’


Yesterday (June 2nd 2015) ‘Private, Catholic schools do add value to student results’ was published on The Conversation by Gary Marks, a professor at the University of Melbourne. It outlines his recent research which has found that so-called ‘private’ schools* do ‘add-value’ to students’ education, particularly when looking at ATAR scores for university entrance. The article is brief, and I found some of the more technical aspects of the discussion a bit confusing, but it is an interesting contribution to a debate that has been building momentum over the past two or three years. Namely, what are the educational benefits that come with paying large amounts of money to educate your child in a non-public school? The article is followed by lots of interesting comments that build in a great deal of complexity to the discussion.

It seems interesting to me that this research has come to a very different conclusion to other recent studies into this same issue. Personally, I am interested to know to what extent Marks’ study accounted for the fact that public schools tend to cater for a much broader range of students – from different backgrounds, with different educational ambitions – and the fact that it is fairly common practice for private schools to encourage lower-performing students to find somewhere else to complete their schooling. Both of these factors are likely to result in a higher average score in private school ATAR results. And if students are shifting from private to public schools before their final years of schooling at year 10, after the year 9 NAPLAN results, surely this will skew comparisons of how students progress from year 9 to year 12. Perhaps a longitudinal study of individual high-performing and ambitious students attending a range of different schools would provide a clearer comparison? I don’t know if this already exists… or perhaps I have misinterpreted aspects of Marks’ argument. It is interesting that in some of the later comments Marks responds that “my general conclusion is that the whole system is mainly driven by student ability with SES having a much less important role”– a very different emphasis to that suggested in the article and certainly in the title.

Also published yesterday in The Age was an article by David Zyngier, from Monash University; ‘Public schools’ good report card on value for money’. Zyngier suggests the reverse of Marks’ argument – that private schools do not significantly value-add. While Marks focused on ATAR scores, the research Zyngier discusses is focused on NAPLAN results.

Obviously this is a vexed issue with all schools invested in showing their families and the public that they are a good choice for students’ education. Increasing numbers of parents are sending their children to private schools, but with more and more research coming out that says public schools are offering an equal, if not better, education, is this trend likely to reverse? Or are the main reasons for choosing a private education less to do with educational benefits, and more to do with social benefits? What do you think about the ‘value-adding’ of private schools compared to private? Is any possible advantage worth the cost of a private education?

*I say ‘so-called’ because of the significant amount of public funding they receive