ACT News

Mem Fox says private school spruiks "false advertising"

Author Mem Fox tore apart the arguments for the superiority of a private school education while speaking at the National ...
Author Mem Fox tore apart the arguments for the superiority of a private school education while speaking at the National Press Club. Photo: Ben Searcy

She's Fox by name and possums assured her reputation, but Australia's most popular picture-book author played the attack dog on Friday night as she elegantly tore apart the arguments for the superiority of a private school education.

Mem Fox told a room of public school educators at the National Press Club the "confidence trick" of private schools marketing was being shown up, but governments persisted with unfair funding models.

"The federal government spends two-thirds of its school education dollars on the one-third of students in Australia who go to private schools – where is our national sense of shame at that statistic?" she said.

"The fact that private schools confer no material or educational benefit in comparison to good public schools is becoming widely known and must be sending a shiver of panic down the spines of private school boards.

"Any minute now, surely, they'll be sprung for false advertising."

Fox, 69, the author of Australia's most popular children's book, Possum Magic, said differences in resources were also being widened by the disproportionate growth in funding to private schools by state and territory governments, the primary funders of public schools.  

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"I'm worn out by the argument that people have a right to choose where their children are educated," she said.

"We should allow those parents the choice to pay more of the cost themselves, they shouldn't be asking to be generously subsidised by cash-strapped governments across this country, that have no choice but to educate every child lining up outside their public schools."

The Adelaide-based former teacher and retired associate professor of literary studies told an Australian Education Union ACT awards night the popular arguments she heard in favour of private schools – from their claimed better discipline, uniforms, teachers and peer group pressure – did not withstand scrutiny, describing the experiences of her successful daughter and her high-achieving public school-educated friends. 

"In my experience as an associate professor, the students who had graduated from public schools had a particular kind of self-reliance, self-assurance and discipline," she said.

"As Waleed Aly said [recently], sending your kids to a private school is like buying a new BMW each year and driving it into a wall."

Of the 20 Canberra schools the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority identified this year as demonstrating above average gains in results, 13 were public schools.