Children’s author Mem Fox slams private school funding

Mem Fox.

Australia’s most popular children’s author, Mem Fox, has criticised the federal government’s unfair funding of private schools.

Fox was addressing an audience of public school educators at the National Press Club. She said the "confidence trick" of private schools marketing was being revealed, but governments persisted with unfair funding models.

"The federal government spends two-thirds of its school education dollars on the one-third of students in Australia who go to private schools,” she said. “Where is our national sense of shame at that statistic?

"The fact that private schools confer no material or educational benefit in comparison to good public schools is becoming widely known and must be sending a shiver of panic down the spines of private school boards.

"Any minute now, surely, they'll be sprung for false advertising."

Fox, an Adelaide-based former teacher and retired associate professor of literary studies, told an Australian Education Union ACT awards night the popular arguments she heard in favour of private schools — their claimed better discipline, teachers and peer group pressure — did not withstand scrutiny. She used the experiences of her daughter — a former ALP member of the South Australian parliament — and her high-achieving public school-educated friends as examples of the success of public education.

But, she said, the differences in resources were being widened by the disproportionate growth in funding of private schools by state and territory governments, the primary funders of public schools.

"I'm worn out by the argument that people have a right to choose where their children are educated," she said.

"We should allow those parents the choice to pay more of the cost themselves. They shouldn't be asking to be generously subsidised by cash-strapped governments across this country, that have no choice but to educate every child lining up outside their public schools.
"In my experience as an associate professor, the students who had graduated from public schools had a particular kind of self-reliance, self-assurance and discipline.

"As Waleed Aly said, sending your kids to a private school is like buying a new BMW each year and driving it into a wall."

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