Schools for the A.C.T: How public? How private? Report of the Committee of Review into the Impact of Radford College (1983)
- The decision to provide capital funds––$803, 000 in the form of land and building subsidies––for the proposed Radford College provoked a divisive controversy in the ACT. The College took on the heat of a political flash point, as ideological issues to do with school funding and elite education were publicly debated.
- On the one hand, an influential group of parents argued that the long waiting lists of independent Christian schools, in particular the Canberra grammar schools, demonstrated a need for a new Anglican school; while on the other, public school teachers and parents voiced concerns about the practical and ongoing impact that Radford would have on public schools in the area. The admission that, despite intentions to the contrary, it was going be necessary for the College to charge sky-high fees only added fuel to the fire.
- On 19 April, 1983 the Committee was appointed to report on the impact of Radford College on existing ACT schools, how this impact could be monitored, assessed and disruptions avoided, and what an appropriate fee structure for the College would be to ensure it was accessible to the general community and would have resources comparable to those available in public schools. The Report also addresses broader issues relating to the planning and funding of public and private schools.
- Historical background: “In the changed economic situation, and with stabilised and declining enrolments, efficiency in the use of public resources became increasingly important. It was no longer feasible to consider individual rights of parents in respect of the education of their children in isolation from broader considerations of public interest and welfare of all schools. The controversy over Radford College symbolised this situation in the ACT.” (Summary, 3)
- The Committee tried to take a comprehensive approach to assessing the impact of Radford College on existing schools by considering demographic effects (enrolments), economic effects, educational and social effects (student diversity) and educational need. They recommended, by extension, that this form of impact analysis should be undertaken for all new school proposals.
- Based on the results of their assessment the Committee concluded that:
- there was no need for additional places in years 7 to 10 in Belconnen in the near future, and that increasing enrolment pressures would likely hasten the closing of a nearby public school
- the claim that private schools save the Government money did not hold in the case of Radford College, given the land allocation, building grants, and diseconomies of scale that would occur in the public system
- the inevitably high fees of the College could produce a homogenising effect as educationally advantaged students from affluent families leave the public system
- consideration should be given to meeting the needs of the Christian community (and other cultural groups) in ways other than a new school; this could include establishing a Christian public school or creating sub-schools within existing schools, or following New Zealand and England’s lead and integrating private schools into the public system.
- Ultimately, the Committee concluded that the decision to build Radford College “was, in economic terms, expensive, and in demographic terms unnecessary.” (106) They recommended that, as a way forward, the Radford College Board formally approach the ACT Schools Authority with a view to integrating the College into the public system thus making it, as was its original stated goal, accessible to the general population.
- More generally, the Committee expressed concern about the inequality of the dual system of education in Australia. They recommended that private schools should not automatically receive public funding, and propose the establishment of an ACT education planning board to handle matters relating to new schools. At its most aspirational, the Committee envisages “new, integrated planning arrangements for all schools in the ACT, and possibly in the long term a voluntary, integrated school system in which the needs of all children are the primary consideration, and diverse aspirations of parents for their children are accommodated.” (Summary, 18)
Assistance of A. Pippard 2013