Private schools in Australia receive significant public funding, but their determination to concentrate social and cultural capital and consolidate positional advantage ‘denies the possibility of their serving the public interest’. A 1998 study of Victorian private schools has confirmed that they produce above-average academic results and are also concentrated in high socioeconomic geographic areas. The few private schools outside this pattern serve mainly provincial areas or ethnic minority groups. High academic credentials depend at least in part on their scarcity, and ‘the selective function of schools, directed towards establishing a hierarchy of performance, overwhelms the pedagogical function of universal learning and social justice,’ especially at transition points in the education system. The governance procedures of schools typically encourage high academic standards ‘through mechanisms of exclusion’. Private schools in particular, at the secondary level, tend to ‘export failure’ through ‘predatory recruitment and selective dumping practices’, and by arrangements with universities for early placement of high performers into preferred tertiary courses. The broader education system reinforces the competitive processes within schools though competitive examinations. A range of steps can address these equity problems. Curriculum should be made more sensitive to disadvantaged social groups. Secondary schools should be aligned more closely to the social, cultural and economic development of their communities through mechanisms such as VET in schools, linkages with TAFE colleges, and a broadened curriculum that addresses community problems.
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