JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Why should I pay for elite kids' education?

Date

Marcus Padley

It's time to end the 'pay and suck it up' private school culture, writes Marcus Padley.

Michele Mossop

Michele Mossop Photo: Michele Mossop

Emma and I have four kids, and have collectively paid twelve years of school fees so far with another twelve years ahead of us. That’s about $250,000 post tax so far which is a lot more pre-tax and a horrendous amount if you consider the compound return or cost of that money over twelve years.  

We chose to send them to private school so no complaints there, but as a financial man I’ve got to say that I think the private school culture that has developed in Australia is bending us all over. I thought the banks were at the premium end of protected monopolies but the schools have their own unstated monopoly culture that exploits something that really shouldn’t be abused, a parent’s duty to do the right thing by their kids whatever the cost.

I’m not poor, but you’d have to be extraordinarily rich for private school fees not to condemn you to decades of extra debt. And in the face of that commitment you have to ask, does it really cost that much to educate my kids? 

I’m not poor, but you’d have to be extraordinarily rich for private school fees not to condemn you to decades of extra debt. And in the face of that commitment you have to ask, does it really cost that much to educate my kids? Because I wonder whether it does, and whether the existing culture of ‘pay and suck it up’ can’t be improved upon. Is more expensive really better? In particular should I really be paying for the scholarships of other kids just so my kid's school can achieve a marketing coup with their academic average? Is that right? Because I don’t know that it helps my kid. In fact it almost certainly doesn’t. In fact it might even hurt them, make them feel dumb or something because if they don’t fit the marketing profile they don’t fit and extraordinarily I’m paying extra for that pressure culture, I’m paying for the education of elite kids on top of my own kids. Really, is that right?

Costly commitment: The private school fee system burdens families with decades of extra debt.

Costly commitment: The private school fee system burdens families with decades of extra debt. Photo: Jim Rice

I’d rather prefer they went to a school that celebrated average achievement, quite honestly. Chucking them into a culture of ‘success or you’ve failed’ only suits my kids if they happen to be very smart. They may not be. I’d far prefer them to be an average kid in a common academic spread than below average in a school populated by brighter kids that don’t pay as much because the school wants to show off. It’s not as if they have a problem attracting students. Why else would some private schools now be charging almost $1,000 in non-refundable down payment just to reserve a place? They couldn’t do that if they were desperate for students.  

All I want is for my kids to be happy and have the opportunity, not have them left out whilst they try to be something the school wants to market but they’re not capable of living up to.

So can it be done better?  I can’t help thinking that it can, that some school has the opportunity to pioneer a new culture that leaves the implied arrogance of the current private school customs exposed. It would include a few elements. Here is my first pass:

  • The first would be certainty. Knowing what your school fees are going to be. The current system of unexplained fee rises above inflation leaves all parents feeling abused. That needs to stop.

  • The next is a promise that they are going to spend your money on your kids not other peoples'. The culture of scholarships has been perverted. It used to be the domain of generous benefactors to give back to under-privileged children and families that couldn’t afford an education. Now it’s a culture of the schools literally ‘buying’ the best kids with other parent’s money in competition with other schools. “You only pay for your own kids education” would be a better motto.

  • Third comes financial transparency. You simply can’t have parents being financially suspicious when they are paying so much money. The accounts need to be transparent and management accountable for them. It's business, we’re the shareholders. What are you spending our money on? Tell us.     

  • Fourth comes a culture of welcoming all kids, smart or clever, sporting or not and the stated goal of turning out happy, well-educated, socially capable kids - not just academics and elite achievers for the marketing brochures.

The first would be certainty. Knowing what your school fees are going to be. The current system of unexplained fee rises above inflation leaves all parents feeling abused. That needs to stop.

The next is a promise that they are going to spend your money on your kids not other peoples'. The culture of scholarships has been perverted. It used to be the domain of generous benefactors to give back to under-privileged children and families that couldn’t afford an education. Now it’s a culture of the schools literally ‘buying’ the best kids with other parent’s money in competition with other schools. “You only pay for your own kids education” would be a better motto.

Third comes financial transparency. You simply can’t have parents being financially suspicious when they are paying so much money. The accounts need to be transparent and management accountable for them. It's business, we’re the shareholders. What are you spending our money on? Tell us.     

Fourth comes a culture of welcoming all kids, smart or clever, sporting or not and the stated goal of turning out happy, well-educated, socially capable kids - not just academics and elite achievers for the marketing brochures.

We still have twelve years of school fees to pay. Another $250,000 post tax. We’re happy to pay that for good teachers and good facilities, some of my kids' teachers have been worth their weight in gold, but we’re not happy to pay that much for a culture that serves a marketing purpose but not our kids. No-one’s trying to spend less, we just want it spent well. Because if those fees go up again, I’m sorry kids, but I think we’re going to have to let one of you go. 

If you would like continue the conversation please email me on marcus@marcustoday.com.au and post your comments on smh.com.au/money.

Marcus Padley is the author of the stock market newsletter Marcus Today. For a free trial, go to marcustoday.com.au.

270 comments

  • Easily solved send your kids to a State School. If you think that's not good enough for your precious ones put a sock in it. It was your choice when there were others.

    Commenter
    Roary
    Date and time
    June 17, 2014, 1:11PM
    • +1. You may or may not be intending to argue for Public education, but I'm pretty sure that's what you've achieved Marcus.
      Either that or your article's purpose is click-bait. That being the case - well played, well played indeed.

      Commenter
      Lindsay
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 1:39PM
    • The real problem with public schools is that it's been ruined by left wing values:
      - Inability to fire dud teachers - who inflict their incompetence on 25 defenceless kids every year
      - Students can run riot with teachers having no real power (eg impossible to expel)
      - No values. In place of Christian values there's just empty rhetoric

      Well done Leftists - you destroyed our public education system, to the point where parents will go to the extreme lengths Marcus describes to avoid it. Parents are voting with their feet.

      Commenter
      Gatsby
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 1:53PM
    • Gatsby sadly you are correct. A good system ruined by politically correct wallys who of course send their kids to Private Schools. I remember a survey done by the Teachers Union and it found that of the 20 top people in Education Dept none sent their kids to a State School and it was the same with blighs cabinet. They stuffed it up but they don't care because their kids were tucked away at a neat Private School. What did happen to the Labor Party?

      Commenter
      Roary
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 2:02PM
    • +1 Gatsby and lets not forget about the dismissing of any male influence or
      actually acknowledging their worth in the teaching profession and lets
      not forget the dumbing down of education.
      Correct English, grammar, spelling and basic maths is not a choice for the
      little darlings its a must.
      Being average is not an achievement. Also while I'm at it just because the teacher is overweight and doesn't like running around doesn't mean school sport and exercise should be dropped.

      Commenter
      J Walker
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 2:06PM
    • +1

      The author seems to be acknowledging that the only reason private schools appear to achieve better academic results is by offering scholarships to bright students - in effect, poaching these kids from the public mainstream and selective systems. Seeing as there's no educational advantage, why not just send your children to public schools? I'm sure that $500,000 plus interest would fund many other advantages more likely to benefit your child than a fancy uniform and an old-boys network.

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 2:09PM
    • Exactly! You chose to send them to an elite school. If you want them to be surrounded by average, send them to an average school.

      Commenter
      Di
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 2:10PM
    • it's very hard to empathise with the writer when he and his children are clearly in a highly priveledged position.

      we can't afford to send our kids to private schools, but we did buy an albeit, smaller, house in a good area. with the amount he can afford to spend on private school fees, it's not unreasonable to surmise marcus is living in an area with good public schools for his children.

      perhaps he should consider what kind of reaction an article like this will generate before he starts whining about how inequitable the whole private school financial framework is.

      I doubt that there will be many comments with a favourable response here.

      Commenter
      simon
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 2:17PM
    • Gatsby, some of what you say is true but I'll tell you one thing public schools are much better at and that is managing money. How any private school can charge a family $25K a year and still say it would close down without government funding is beyond me.

      Commenter
      andyl12
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 2:21PM
    • @gatsby. Applying your ideological argument, rightists fundamentally believe in user pays, so they will send their kids to private schools. Any rightists who cannot afford the fees must not be working hard enough, in which case they will have to rely on the state, therefore they are actually leftists. Since all the children at public schools have leftist parents, then naturally they should have a say in the operation of the school and apply the leftist doctrine that you speak of.

      Returning to reality, public schools have the power to remove under-performing teachers and uncontrollable children. Further, you don't need to adopt Christian values to achieve success, that is passing on the responsibility of teaching to the Church.

      A good school is the product of a supportive local community.

      Commenter
      bio logical
      Location
      perth
      Date and time
      June 17, 2014, 2:25PM

More comments

Comments are now closed
Featured advertisers
Money newsletter signup

Executive Style newsletter signup The latest news delivered to your inbox weekly.

Sign up now

Special offers

Credit card, savings and loan rates by Mozo