tip off

The rich paying $25k a year to learn to be good to the poor

If the Jesuits want to be a “church for the poor”, why are they only educating the extremely rich? Marion Maddox, director of Macquarie University’s Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, looks into inequality in schools.

More than 3.5 million students returned to school last week, increasingly segregated by wealth. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 65% will attend public schools, with the remaining 1.2 million students divided between Catholic schools (700,000) and independent schools (500,000), which are almost all religious.

In the last decade, Catholic and independent enrolments have grown 12% and 31% respectively, while enrolments in public schools have grown just 2.6%.

Many Catholic and independent schools declare an intention to develop students’ commitments to “social justice”, “compassion” and “generous service”, as taught by their sponsoring religions.

Explaining why he chose the name Francis, the freshly elected Pope told journalists: “Oh, how I would like a poor church, and for the poor.” His Jesuit order is noted for its commitment to social justice, and Jesuit schools aim to mould their students into “men and women for others”.

The price of such training varies. The only Australian Jesuit school to open in the last 60 years, Redfern Jarjum College, is a primary school for indigenous children in inner-city Sydney that charges no tuition fees. It was partly an initiative of another Jesuit school, St Aloysius College Milsons Point, for which year 12 students’ families in 2014 pay $14,256.

Jarjum also received support from another Jesuit school, St Ignatius’ College Riverview. The annual fee for a year 12 student in 2014 is $23,505, or $40,305 for boarders. Putting it another way, a year 12 day boy’s family has to put aside around one-third of a median Australian household’s pretax income, while boarders’ families needed to find an amount just short of the Australian median wage.

According to the My School website, 83% of students at both St Aloysius and Riverview students come from the top quartile of socio-educational advantage (calculated from factors like parents’ occupation and education levels), while only 1% at either comes from the bottom quartile.

These fees are significantly higher than the cost of educating a public school student, yet the federal and NSW governments still find it necessary, between them, to supplement the schools’ income with a further $5958 per St Aloysius student and $4313 per Riverview student.

A much smaller operator of schools than the Catholics, with only 52 schools nationwide, is the Uniting Church. Its schools promote the denomination’s teachings on social justice; indeed, some schools appear to make their social justice orientation a key part of their marketing strategy, differentiating them from other elite schools.

Only one NSW Uniting school going to year 12 charged annual fees below $20,000 in 2013, with most over $25,000, or more than a third of Australian median household income. In NSW, the least economically diverse Uniting school is Wahroonga Prep, whose 124 students from kindergarten to year 6 come almost exclusively from the top quartile (97%), with two or three stragglers in the second quartile.

Melbourne’s Uniting Church Wesley College teaches 2909 students across three metropolitan campuses (Elsternwick, Glen Waverley and St Kilda Road). In 2011, Wesley’s recurrent costs were covered from $64.8 million in fees, over $10.3 million from governments and $4 million from “other private sources” (e.g. investments).

Wesley’s My School profile states that it is an “open-entry” school, presumably meaning it is not academically selective, because annual fees for a year 12 student are close to 40% of Australia’s median household income.

Coupled with substantial fees and historical endowments, government contributions enable impressive facilities. Wesley students’ experience is broadened by three outdoor education sites at Healesville, Portland and on the Gippsland Lakes, a residential campus in the Victorian township of Clunes and a studio school on Leopold Downs Cattle Station in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The college’s profile on My School assures “each campus has a strong culture of promoting social justice”.

Nineteenth-century political campaigns for “free, compulsory and secular” schools were sometimes countered by arguments that religious schools would keep down the prison population. Parliaments were sceptical, but 2013 finally brought evidence that they can.

In April 2013, a corporate lawyer pleaded guilty to intentionally causing injury after punching and glassing another man at a Melbourne casino. The magistrate imposed a $5000 fine and 18 months’ imprisonment but suspended the custodial term, explaining to the defence lawyer that “I don’t think [your client] would last very long”, partly because “not many people are in jail who went to Haileybury”.

The magistrate was probably right that the attacker would have stood out: 68% of Haileybury students come from the top socio-educational quartile while, as the magistrate spelled out, few prisoners have the attacker’s “privileged background”.

The Uniting Church’s Haileybury charged secondary students over $25,000 in 2013, or around 37% of median household income. Governments chipped in over $5000 per student. The attacker’s parents’ fees and neighbours’ tax contributions had amounted to quite a pricey “get out of jail free” card.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Education Minister Christopher Pyne were all taught by the Jesuits, who also produced Pope Francis, now urging a “church for the poor”. Meanwhile, the school year resumes with the Abbott government guaranteeing Gonski funding increases for private schools, but not for public schools, which still educate most students — including the poorest.

*Professor Marion Maddox is Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the Politics Department at Macquarie University and a member of the Uniting Church. Her latest book —  Taking God to School: The End of Australia’s Egalitarian Education?  — is published by Allen & Unwin.

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  • 1
    Dogs breakfast
    Posted Tuesday, 4 February 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Many Catholic and independent schools declare an intention to develop students’ commitments to “social justice”, “compassion” and “generous service”, as taught by their sponsoring religions.”

    And yet …………….

    Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Education Minister Christopher Pyne were all taught by the Jesuits, who also produced Pope Francis, now urging a “church for the poor”.

    Indeed, I often wonder to myself how it is that Abbott’s, Pyne’s and Hockey’s heads don’t explode from the cognitive dissonance.

    I also sometimes find myself musing on what psychological gymnastics they employ to get around these obvious anomalies.

    But mostly I try not to think about it too much. It just makes me sad. :-(

  • 2
    mikeb
    Posted Tuesday, 4 February 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Only educating the extremely rich?” Not on those figures Marion. My three girls and I went to Catholic schools (not Jesuit) and the fees were comparatively modest. Certainly saved the taxpayer a dollar or two by subsidising my own kids while paying for everyone else as well. Don’t recall having religion shoved down my neck although religious education was compulsory. Was it worth the money? Certainly. Would I pay it all again? Absolutely.

  • 3
    Posted Wednesday, 5 February 2014 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    The Australian and State government grants to private schools should be converted to income contingent loans to parents to pay school fees, to be repaid when parents’ combined income exceeds c $100,000 per annum.

  • 4
    CML
    Posted Wednesday, 5 February 2014 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    ALL government funding to schools, other than State secular schools, should be abolished.
    ALL private, independent, and especially religious schools, are an abomination! They only foster extreme prejudice and superiority in the children who attend them. After all, the best examples of this are right in front of you - Abbott, Hockey, Pyne, et al. If they are displaying religious (Christian) ‘values’, we would all be better off without any.
    If you want your child/children indoctrinated, do it in their own time, at weekends or after school hours. AND YOU PAY FOR IT. ALL OF IT!!!

  • 5
    MJPC
    Posted Wednesday, 5 February 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    The Catholic church, like all organised religion, are corporations first and ideologues next. What did Cardinal Pell pay (sorry, the Catholic Church) $50m to buy, a home for the poor and dispossessed or a hotel for him and his fellow travellers to have some luxury accommodation in Rome?
    If they can pay $50m for a Hotel, they don’t need funding from the public purse.

  • 6
    bushby jane
    Posted Wednesday, 5 February 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Using Abbott’s logic re SPC Ardmona being owned by (wealthy)Coca Cola, so therefore the parent company could afford to prop up SPC, surely the wealthy Catholic Church should be propping up their schools without govt funding. As I understand it, it is only relatively new that govt has been funding private schools. The Productivity Commission has suggested that the Feds should not be funding education, and as they are apparently controlling Abbott’s justification for their lack of financial support for business, then it will be interesting to see if this happens. Doubt it though, as all of Abbott’s men are Catholic, including Kevin Connelly, who wrote a silly biased article in The Age yesterday.

  • 7
    drmick
    Posted Thursday, 20 February 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    You have failed to mention the more that 100 students per year that St Ignatius are putting through from primary to senior secondary school for no fees. These students include the children of asylum seekers, children of families who are struggling and children from aboriginal communities.
    A bit of balance doesn’t hurt.
    In the case of the failed students abbot et all; their parents must be lamenting having wasted all that money.

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