There is a vigorous debate over the relative merits of private and public secondary schools. Of course, this has been going on for as long as I can remember, so I don’t expect any great new developments soon. But an article in the Fairfax press did catch my eye – or at least one research result that it presented.
Marks’ research indicates that private schooling does account for slightly better outcomes: private school students score an average 7.5 points higher out of 100 on the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, when adjusted for socio-economic background.
Now I am not sure what ‘slightly better’ normally means but a 7.5 mark advantage in ATAR scores strikes me as huge. Remember, these are a ranking of students from zero to 99.95. So if there are 100,000 students sitting VCE in Victoria (which is in the ballpark of the true number each year) then going to a private school rather than a public school shifts you up 7,500 places on average.
To get into (say) Monash Law you essentially need an ATAR above 98 (i.e. you are in the top 2%). To get into Monash Commerce you need at least 90. A 7.5 ATAR advantage makes a big difference. Say you have a child who is at the ninety-second percentile. Then send them to a public school and (on average) they miss out on Monash Commerce (they get crowded out by private school students below them who get on average a 7.5 ATAR advantage). Send them to a private school and chances are they get in.
Now, the Universities have various schemes based on access and equity to try and assist students from low income backgrounds to reach university. But if you are in middle-class Melbourne, then these schemes are not relevant for you. So what we need to know is – why the difference? Unfortunately when it comes to explaining the difference:
It’s difficult to say why that is,” Marks says.