Laurie Atlas

The state v private schools: Not such a smart argument…

private schools
Image: AAP

The state vs private schools debate has been ongoing for decades, but after a recent study suggested a correlation between poverty and mental capacity and development, Laurie Atlas was compelled to share his two cents with us…


The private vs public school debate has been raging for generations. Recently a study came out to suggest that poverty has a direct correlation to the brain capacity and development of a child, again placing a spotlight on the value of education. The study suggested that the surface of the cerebral cortex was six percent smaller for children who grew up in families that earned less than $25,000 per annum. This shows a direct link, between the brain structures of children from educated and uneducated families, and the pivotal role a solid education has on early childhood development.

However, I recently read yet another article trying to justify the state school system as opposed to the private school system as if somehow parents who chose a private school option were wasting their money. I listened, I read, but I’m tired of it.

This latest study was conducted by a Queensland university using the Naplan figures of primary school children from grades three and five. Reviewing not only their results, but the manner of communication, seems nothing more than an opportunity to justify the chance to tell parents they were wasting their money sending their children to private schools, and trying to change the perception “private schooling enables children to achieve better academic results.”

Can I just say, this is absolutely preposterous, but really who cares? Not the parents who send their children to private schools. They do not judge or spare an iota of thought to those who choose to send their children to a state run school – because, who cares? To suggest that a study like this may change the minds of those who can and do send their children to a private school is fundamentally flawed and also insulting. Parents send their children to a school for many reasons, and a major one is because they feel it suits their child – no study could knock that, and no associated articles to shame the intention of parents of private school kids will change that.

Articles like these indicate to me that there is a certain amount of guilt attached to those who send their kids to state schools when they could possibly afford to school their children at a private school. Maybe this is what we should be researching, analysing and then releasing studies on. I would like to look at the varying degrees of guilt associated with parents who cannot afford private schooling, and what that says about our society. That is far more interesting to me, and quite frankly, more likely to have a greater impact on our society. Unpacking unrealistic demands made on parents, rather than approaching our various options and choices in a cohesive and collaborative way, is what should be made as a priority.

Personally, I see placing an emphasis on the haves vs have-nots of the education industry as another myth perpetrated by the Greens and mean-spirited Lefties.

Statistically, parents who send their kids to mainstream private schools are actually not privileged wealthy snobs with money to burn. Take a look, read the statistics; they are often people who struggle just like you and I, but have chosen to place an importance on private school education because they feel it suits their child. They don’t care what a study says about their choices.

If you send your child to a state school, that is your choice and no one should judge you for that – but let’s not place emphasis on devaluing the various education choices out there for parents to navigate; using misguided guilt to justify attacking the quality of private schools does nothing more than perpetuate a gap that should not be widening further, but rather, be understood. The social media backlash courted by statements that one’s brain and childhood development are directly impacted by socio-economic conditions in addition to private schools being a waste of time, don’t only render the article redundant but a red-herring when the focus needs to be actually just one thing: what is the best environment for your child, that suits your financial situation.


Laurie Atlas

Laurie Atlas is a radio host and has a daily afternoon talk show called ‘The Daily Agenda’ that goes out every afternoon on stations right across Queensland. And just a little piece of quiet advice for the Prime minister before the next election. Go to a store by 3 pairs of socks and gently insert them into the mouths of Joe Hockey, Eric Abetz and George Brandis just as a little safeguard between now and the next election….better to be safe than sorry.....

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  1. Robert Dodgson said:

    Why even bother having publicly funded education if the attitude of the public is that it will not provide a first rate result.

  2. Marika said:

    To add to my post, I did also think that private schools were better…

  3. Marika said:

    I think the question is not always that what school suits my child best. It is often fear of the “terrible” State schools where all kids behave badly and you/ your child runs in all kids of trouble.. That obviously not being the truth.

    There is a culture of “big scare”. Both my children went to private school to begin with, because I too feared the public school. Stupidly. 1child moved to state high school and she loves it and she has more subject choices than she did in a private school. The other one still goes to private school, because all her friends are there. But don’t understand me wrong, I am very happy with the school, I just don’t think it would have been necessary.

    I know many parents who have the same experience , for example one mum told me that her son went to two different private schools and due to work circumstances they couldn’t afford it any more, the boy moved to state school. His comment: The best school he has been to.

    I think we certainly need more discussion and more realistic approach to both school systems.
    As mentioned here, there are areas that you would not want your child to go to state school and that then leaves you with a private school or to apply to another state school (not in your catchment area), if they have space.

    But as I said, lot of it is not what suits your child better, but the culture of fear and maybe a bit the (misplaced) pride, that my child goes to private school, which actually nobody gives a hoot.

  4. Sigh said:

    The bio should read: “the author is a private school parent who’s feeling defensive about his educational choices”.

  5. Mike Zeederberg said:

    I think it’s interesting that all the focus has been on this meaning that public schools are as good as private schools – for me, there’s an interesting take out around the fact that throwing a further $15k a year per student at education doesn’t produce any significant increase in outcomes. So all the debate about how our public school system is massively underfunded and needs a massive injection of funds seems to have been undone by this study – it would appear that even with significantly more cash, the outcomes are the same, providing a researched basis for not changing a thing. Given that there is lots of other research showing how underfunded schools have poorer outcomes, it would seem that someone must be wrong.

    Part of it is the broad classifications – Public includes schools in low income areas, rural schools, but also selective schools. Private includes the elite, but also much smaller faith-based schools, so the categorisation is so broad it’s almost useless from a parent’s perspective of comparison.

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