New figures show that the arms race in ostentatious facilities between elite private schools in Sydney is being fuelled by more than $170 million a year in government over-funding. Over-funding frees up private income from hefty fees and donations to finance opulent buildings and facilities in competition with other elite schools. It denies much needed resources for disadvantaged schools facing severe shortages in teaching staff, educational materials and modern classroom buildings.
According to a recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald, seven wealthy Sydney private schools have development plans totalling $365 million, including a $25 million library designed like a Scottish castle, a 5-story innovation centre, an orchestra pit, theatres, aquatic centres and other lavish sporting facilities. It said, “the plans look like something from a fantasy holiday getaway brochure”.
Commonwealth and NSW Government over-funding of private schools is contributing to this arms race. One form of over-funding is that Commonwealth and NSW Government funding for many elite private schools exceeds their entitlements under the current funding arrangements. Over-funding for 27 elite Sydney private schools is estimated at $50.9 million in 2018, including $19.1 million in Commonwealth over-funding and $31.8 million by the NSW Government.
Eight elite Sydney private schools are each over-funded by about $2 million or more, including Loreto Kirribilli ($5.8 million), Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy ($5.6 million), St. Augustine’s ($4.7 million) and William Clarke ($5.4 million). Other very wealthy schools that are over-funded include Abbotsleigh ($1 million), Barker College ($2.9 million), Kincoppal ($1 million), Moriah College ($2.4 million) Queenwood ($1.9 million), Reddam House ($1.4 million), Sydney Grammar ($1.3 million) and Wenona ($1.6 million).
Many of these elite schools will remain over-funded under the Turnbull Government’s Gonksi 2.0 funding plan. While Gonski 2.0 purports to end over-funding by capping Commonwealth funding of private schools at 80% of their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) by 2027, many will remain over-funded because NSW Government funding exceeds 20% of their SRS. For example, schools such as Barker College, Loreto Kirribilli, Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College and Moriah College will be over-funded by around $3 million a year, unless the NSW Government reduces its over-funding.
These elite private schools also have a more general and lucrative form of government over-funding that will continue even if they are only funded according to their strict entitlements under Gonski 2.0. They will continue to receive Commonwealth and NSW Government funding even though their income from fees, donations and other private income vastly exceeds the base SRS, which is the level of recurrent funding required to support a student with minimal educational disadvantage.
The private income of 14 elite K-12 schools is double or more the average of the primary and secondary school base SRS and exceeds the average in another six. The private income of Ascham is three times that of the average SRS and nearly three times for Abbotsleigh, Barker College, Cranbrook, Kambala, SCEGGS Darlinghurst, SCEGGS Redlands, and SHORE.
In addition, the private income of six elite secondary schools also exceeds the secondary school base SRS. The private income of Sydney Grammar is nearly three times that of the secondary SRS, while that of the Loreto Normanhurst is nearly double the SRS. In contrast, most public schools are funded well below the primary and secondary SRS.
Total Commonwealth and NSW funding for the 27 elite schools was $169 million in 2016 (the latest year for which figures are available), including $115.6 million by the Commonwealth and $53.6 million by the NSW Government, and it will be more in 2018. It includes the funding over their Gonski 2.0 entitlement.
All 27 schools, except one, had government funding totalling around $4 million or more. William Clark College had a massive $14.6 million. Barker College, Brigidine, Loreto Kirribilli, Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy, Santa Sabina and St. Augustine’s were funded at $8 million or more. Sydney Grammar got $6.5 million.
All the schools serve highly privileged families. On average, 75% of students are from the top socio-educationally advantaged (SEA) quarter and only 1% are from the bottom SEA quarter.
For example, 97% of students at Sydney Grammar are from the top SEA quarter and none from the bottom quarter; 80% of students at Loreto Kirribilli and Barker College are in the top SEA quarter and none are from the bottom quarter; Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy has 77% of its students from the top SEA quarter and none from the bottom quarter; Loreto Normanhurst has 73% of its students from the top SEA quarter and only 1% from the bottom quarter; Santa Sabina has 64% of its students from the top SEA quarter and only 2% from the bottom quarter; and William Clark College has 62% of its students from the top SEA quarter and only 2% from the bottom quarter.
Their generous government funding allows a lot of private income that would otherwise have to be spent on recurrent needs to be diverted to the arms race in opulence and ostentation. It compounds their large resource advantage over public schools, which are currently funded at significantly less than their SRS.
Public schools in NSW are currently funded at 89% of their SRS. Commonwealth funding is 17.7% of their SRS and is due to increase to 20% by 2027. However, NSW Government funding was only at 71% of their SRS in 2017 (the 2018 figure is not available). If the NSW Government fails to increase its funding share, public schools will be funded at only 91% of their SRS by 2027 while the 27 elite private schools will be funded at average of 128% of their SRS unless the NSW Government reduces its funding share.
Government funding for elite private schools is an unnecessary cost. It is not needed to provide a fulfilling education for their students, it is a waste of taxpayer funds and diverts much-needed funding from under-resourced public schools.
There is no justification for providing millions in government funding to schools that are the preserve of the most advantaged families in NSW. It means less funding is available for schools serving disadvantaged students. It means fewer teachers, fewer support staff, lower salaries, fewer books and less equipment, that is, less of everything that matters for those who need it most.
A new approach to the funding of private schools is needed from the Commonwealth and NSW Governments. It is not enough to end the over-funding of entitlements under Gonksi 2.0. Governments should end all funding of wealthy private schools.
Trevor Cobbold is National Convenor of Save Our Schools