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Australia - Secondary Education

public schools private subjects

Secondary Education is provided by a mix of private and public educational institutions, relationships between which have reflected larger class and social tensions in the country. As government budgets shrink relatively, competition for federal and state funding has intensified, leading to some remarkable public outbursts. The NSW Labor government, for example, has recently supported teacher trade union calls for a review of Commonwealth spending on private schools, shifting blame for its own allocations on the basis that Commonwealth priorities have provided for a 12 percent real increase in funding to private schools and no real increase to public schools. The case of private schooling has not been helped by bitter public debates over, for instance, the teaching of creationism in some Christian schools, and several celebrated student abuse cases in a number of large and prestigious private colleges. In the larger framework, these debates should probably be seen within the context of "new knowledge" professionals attempting to push the boundaries of secularization in an age when governments are more committed to retaining diversity across the educational system and support from subcultures within the multicultural mix of Australian society.

Increasing public provision in the context of an aging population is a large budget proposition in an age of decreasing budgets. In an attempt to quell the issues of class in the debate, on May 11, 1999, Dr. David Kemp (Commonwealth Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs), issued Choice and Equity: Funding Arrangements for Non-Government Schools 2001-2004, which abolished the Education Resources Index (ERI) and replaced it with a measure of socioeconomic status (SES) of school communities. The means-testing of aid, however, has not stopped the criticism, since the real issue is the shrinking hold public education has on the Australian imagination and the budgetary policies, which reflect a shift in attitude to education as a relative rather than an absolute good.

In 2000, some 81,000 students enrolled for the School Certificate (year 10 matriculation) in NSW, around a core of subjects relating to mathematics, English, and science. The next most common subjects were personal development/health, commerce, computing, geography studies, technics I, history, and visual arts. The movement towards the integration of VET subjects in secondary education is evident, even to the extent that students may opt for courses taught in technical and further education colleges rather than on the campuses of high schools. This process is even more advanced in Victoria. By contrast, there were some 66,000 students who sat for the Higher School certificate in NSW in 1999, of which 52 percent (slightly above population average) were female, and most of whom sat for the Board of Studies' developed courses rather than Board endorsed subjects. The status of public examinations for matriculation to universities, though criticized as elitist in some circles, still holds considerable attraction in the market place. Some 77 percent of students received a university admissions score, indicating an offer of a place in a higher education institution attached to the Universities Admissions Centre (NSW Board of Studies 1999).


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