No time to comment on this one, but worth going back to for more thoughts.

> This clipping is from the February 18 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit >
> The big obsession: which school?
> SMH – Saturday, 18 Feb 2012 – Page 39
> Next time you’re walking past a playground or picking up breakfast at a cafe or at the council pool at the weekend, listen in on the conversation of any group of parents with young children . You will probably find them discussing ‘‘ which school to choose’’ . In fact, ‘‘ kids’ schools’ ’ is up there with ‘‘ housing prices’ ’ as the topic my peer group cannot stop talking about. >
> Education – including the relative merits of public versus private schools – has been well canvassed over several decades. The clear difference today, however, is that the ‘‘ right school’ ’ discussion is being had by parents earlier, even when their children are still in nappies. And there is an anxious edge to the conversation. Concern about finding the right school has crept beyond the elite and spread throughout society. With the Gonski school funding review due to release its findings on Monday and the new My School website launched soon after, parents will have even more to think and fret about in coming months. >
> Last year I conducted a group discussion involving five men in their late 30s; all of them mates. The topics were open-ended . Tell us about your life, the things that keep you up at night, the things you talk about over beers and barbecues. In groups like this, the conversation often veers towards the economy, work, sport and politics. But these men spent most of their time talking about schools. And only two of them had children and they weren’t even ready for kindergarten. >
> They started with a review of public and private schools in the area. These men were prepared to pay substantially more for a house if it was located near decent schools. They had visited the My School website, knew which zone they fell into and the NAPLAN scores of the schools in the area. One man questioned the quality of the public options. “I wasn’t aware there were any good public schools around here,” he said. He recalled the public school children in his neighbourhood as “complete tools” and “total knuckleheads” . There was no way he was sending his offspring to a school with “ordinary units” like that. Another friend agreed. “As a parent you want to give them every chance.’’ >
> One of the five men was English, married and had been living in Australia for some time. He was puzzled by the extent to which his friends were focused on where they were sending their children to. “I have had so many conversations about private education since coming to Australia,”,he said. “Everyone is very private-focused .” When the time came, he and his wife were planning to send their children to any local school closest to them. A few of his mates looked at him blankly. “Sure, you could do that,” one of them said eventually . But his tone was cautionary, implying his friend was taking a risk with his child’s future. The English bloke began to look worried. >
> These men accept that a private education does not guarantee great marks in the HSC, achievement at university or career success. “There is an argument that just because you go to a private school you don’t necessarily get on in life,” one of them remarked. Would it be better to send your child to a public school and spend the money you save on travel, tutoring and other meaningful activities? Despite all this conjecture, the conclusion was that good private education trumps public education every time. >
> What is driving parent perceptions about schools and the growing preference towards private over public? And why are we talking about it so often and so soon? >
> Research conducted by Dr Adrian Beavis for the Herald in 2004 sought to identify the factors that influenced parental choice about schools. It showed that one factor stood out when it came to the parental selection of a school. This was “the extent to which the school embraced traditional values to do with discipline, religious or moral values, the traditions of the school itself, and the requirement that a uniform be worn” . >
> To me, this means we have to look beneath some of the upfront reasons parents give about why they choose private schools over public (namely, a better education) and search for other reasons. >
> Undoubtedly, peer pressure is at work here. If you can afford private education and all your friends are opting for the same, what does choosing the public path say about you as a parent? >
> Perhaps there is also a fear element. We are looking for peace of mind and are prepared to pay for it, even if we do not have any hard evidence it is going to work. We constantly hear from parents that they believe private education provides a ‘‘ nicer’ ’ learning environment – less bullying, violence, sex and drugs and anti-social behaviour. >
> To be fair, I have met parents whose aversion to public education is based on experience. I interviewed a young mother of primary school-age twins with learning difficulties, who was prepared to take a second job to send them to a private school. She told me: “I hate the local school. My girls are getting behind and their confidence is getting lower and lower every year. There is bullying. The school is too big. You go and see the teachers about getting some support for your kids and they don’t want to hear.” This woman felt she would have more leverage as a fee payer at a private school than she would as a taxpayer in a public school. >
> But there are also many who believe parents have more influence on their children than schools do, and that paying tens of thousands of dollars for a child’s school education puts too much strain on families and is not worth it. >
> In any case, these early and intense discussions about private versus public education increase parental anxiety, often beyond rational limits. >
> Rebecca Huntley is a social researcher and director of the Ipsos Mackay report. >
> Adele Horin is on leave.
> Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald