Policy report

Choice of school is among the most formative decisions for a student’s education—and beyond: to their future job prospects, contribution to society as a citizen, and their interest in further learning. As consumers of education and guardians of their children’s best interests, parents are central to education, especially when it comes to school choice; placing it among the core foundations of a free and open society.

Australians generally consider there to be a high degree of choice in the nation’s schooling, thanks largely to the alternatives offered by the relatively large non-government sectors of schools. Around a third of Australian school students attend a nongovernment school, with proportionately more choosing this option for secondary education. In Australia, the unique tripartite system of schooling—with government, Catholic, and Independent sectors operating side-by-side—is enshrined in legislation and enjoys bipartisan political support. Unlike in some comparable countries, many non-government schools in Australia are relatively affordable, including the offer of many low-fee nongovernment school options.

Survey overview:

Parents believe their schools have enough resources

  • 88% of parents think their child’s school is at least adequately resourced. This includes 86% of the parents whose children attend government schools
  • A majority of parents across each school sector—government, Catholic, and Independent—think their child’s school is ‘well resourced’ or ‘very well resourced’.

Schools use resources well, but parents favour more flexible spending approaches

  • A majority of parents across each school sector are ‘very confident’ or ‘extremely confident’ that their child’s school uses its resources well.
  • Parents with children in non-government schools are more likely to report high levels of confidence in how school resources are used (70%) than parents in government schools (56%).

Parents believe that system spending priorities are wrong

  • The most common funding priority for parents is infrastructure and facilities (29%), followed by offering more extra-curricular activities (24%). These options are more popular than hiring more support staff (18%), increasing teachers’ pay (15%), and hiring more teachers (14%).

Implications for policy makers

  • There should be less focus on how much school funding is spent, and more attention paid to how it is spent—since most Australian parents think their child’s school is at least adequately resourced.
  • School funding could be less tied to staffing decisions (remuneration and workforce numbers) and more focussed on ensuring the best facilities and learning activities are available to students.
  • School spending decisions could be more devolved and transparent, as a way to increase parental confidence in their school’s use of resources, particularly for government schools.
  • State and territory governments should consider removing school location constraints on parents—such as restrictive zoning regulations.
  • Strategies to make government school alternatives more affordable should be considered
  • Governments should assist parents in accessing helpful information to choose schools, such as by increasing awareness of the MySchool website, so more parents can make a better informed choice of school.
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CIS Policy Paper 26