Do school teachers send their children to government schools?

I’ve often wondered whether teachers more or less likely to send their children to private schools, and in surfing through back issues of the Australian Education Researcher, I found at least a partial answer. A 2008 paper by Helen Proctor, titled “School Teacher Parents and the Retreat From Public Secondary Schooling: A View from the Australian Census, 1976-2001”, uses custom-made census cross-tabulations. The results are only for Sydney, but make interesting reading nonetheless.

First, here’s the overall pattern, where the columns are the type of school the child attended.

And now, let’s look at school teacher fathers and mothers (rows) and the type of school their children attended (columns).


In both censuses, Sydney school teachers were less likely to send their children to government schools than the Sydney average parent, and they have shifted towards non-government schools at about the same rate as everyone else. About half of all teachers now send their children to a non-government school.

One way to explain this is that teachers parents value education more highly than the typical parent, so spend more on it. But you might also think that part of the shift is due to teacher parents sending the children to their own school (to make drop-offs easier, or maybe to keep an eye on junior in the playground). Just as the share of private school children has grown, so has the share of private school teachers. Usefully, Proctor addresses this by showing a breakdown by school type:


So it is true that government school teachers are more likely to send their children to a government school than are Sydney parents in general. Overall, 58% of Sydney children attend government schools, but among the children of female teachers, the share is 63%, and among the children of male teachers, the share is 75% (we know that men are in general more likely to join a union, so I wonder if this is partly male teachers being more ideological about where their children attend school?). Nonetheless, with about one-third of government school teachers choosing private schools for their own children, you have to wonder how well these ‘public is best’ advertisements play with public school teachers.

Of course, these data are 2001 Sydney figures, so it’d be neat to have some national analysis using HILDA or the 2006 Australian census. It would also be useful to know what happens when you use individual-level data and hold constant parental education, household income, region, etc.

12 thoughts on “Do school teachers send their children to government schools?”

  1. Again I think you are misreading the results, or at least that your interpretation reflects your priors. As a general statement of the results how about Private school teachers are about as likely to send their kids to public school as vice versa
    On the analysis, I think income/SES would explain a lot
    (i) Teachers are more likely than average to send kids to private school because their incomes are above average
    (ii) Families where the mother is a teacher probably have higher incomes than families where the father is a teacher (more likely to be two-income for one thing).


  2. John, your italicised statement is certainly correct, but I’m not sure where you think I’ve misread the results.
    And yes, I too would like to see some regression analysis, though my priors are weaker than yours.


  3. Mine did!

    Best of all I have a well rounded education with little or no sense of entitlement.

    If I may say.


  4. This data is very interesting, but inconclusive on its own. Breaking the data down by gender has advantages, but it would be even better if we could get data by <i>household</i>. A personal example shows why. An old friend of mine attended an elite GPS boys school, and his sisters a femal equivalent. The father was the main breadwinner. While he was no means stinking rich, his real estate business did very well. I remember being stunned when I found out his mother was a teacher at a public high school. Every cent of her salary went into paying the children’s school fees.
    Now if my friend’s father had been a male school teacher, his salary would be lower than average earnings in Sydney. His mother’s income would have to supplement the father’s just to live. No elite private school for them.
    Perhaps this one data point is typical of a broader pattern, where female school teachers salaries are mostly the second income in the family, with the non-teacher husband/partner/father earning more money.
    we know that men are in general more likely to join a union, so I wonder if this is partly male teachers being more ideological about where their children attend school?
    OTOH, it could just be that traditional ‘male’ occupations are more dangerous and ‘shitty’, which traditionally inspired unionisation.
    Either way, if the pattern of male primary breadwinner also prevails in male school teacher households, a salary of around $60,000 is not going to be putting too many kids through private schools.
    Thus, the gender gap in choice of schooling among Sydney secondary school teachers might well reflect that Sydney male high school teachers earn a below average salary. That is, they have little choice, regardless of their ideology.


  5. I am retraining to become a secondary teacher. In my graduate course there are a number of mature age students of both gender. All acknowledge that this is a career choice only made possible by having a higher income earning partner. Every one (the mature age students) is ideologically comitted to public education.


  6. As far as I can tell, a decision to put your child in a private school is virtually proportional to your education level and income – no matter what your philosophical bias on private schooling may be.
    Apart from public school teachers, it would be even more interesting to see the stats from Labor politicians and bureaucrats who inhabit the school administration system. My hunch is that most o their kids are now private school educated.
    The tendency is to live according to your (purported) ideology when the child is of primary school age and then to switch the child to a private school for secondary education. The pretext is often conveniently couched in terms of a scholarship won or something of that nature to save face, but it seems that if we have enough money we will almost certainly hedge our bets and make a presumption that if we fork out many dollars our darlings are likely to either receive a better education or a better chance of career advancement if private school educated.


  7. I have been a male teacher in the state (TAS) system for three decades. I was the only breadwinner and my wife and I busted a gut to send our kids to private school. I have seen the results of “inclusion” and did not want my kids exposed to these juvenile “gangstas”. I wouldn’d send a dog to a state school.


  8. Chris
    Absolutely. Gough Whitlam sent his son to Harvard, and Paul Keating despite all his public black-Irish ranting sent his son to a private Anglican GPS school.  That great Rage Against the Establishment Machine icon – Peter Garrett – sent his daughters to the poshest most upper-class girls boarding school in Australia – Frensham.
    I would like to see a journo compile a list of where ALP cabinet ministers send their children to school.
    The big silenced story in Australian education is that if rather than giving Commonwealth funds directly to the schools they were given to individual parents who wanted to opt out of the state system, the stampede out of the state schools would cause a riot.


  9. Benson,

    I presume that you are proposing a voucher system. It’s an idea with a lot of merit to it. Even left-of-centre Sweden has such a system.

    The only potential issue would be that of supply – what would happen if a majority (or even significant minority) of parents opted out of the state system?

    On the other hand, I suspect that many of the perceived benefits of a private school education may be less than meets the eye. Does any evidence indicate that private schools create more opportunities for their students or are the opportunities due to private chool parents possessing (much) higher incomes – and the opportunities that arise from that factor? 


    It’s rather sad to hear that a 30-year employee of the state school system does not believe in it. What do you propose should be done about it?


  10. DP
    I would propose that pollies stop listening to their “expert” education advisors (who have never spent a day in the classroom), re-open the special schools, shut down because “inclusion” is not only PC but cheaper (a pollies win-win). Fund the state schools properly (at the Federal level) and stop saying that their funding is primarily a State issue. Finally, don’t go down the path of League Tables. If I were a teacher in a school that didn’t score well I would quit rather than be tarred with an unfair brush.


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