Many parents view academic achievement as the key factor when debating whether to send their children to private schools, but there is far more to take into account.
In addition to academic merit, a child’s schooling incorporates a wealth of social education that can help to prepare them for life, and foster relationships that last through school and beyond.
This has been highlighted in a new study that reveals parents who pay school fees for their children are likely to see them develop greater peer-to-peer relationships during their school years and – subsequently – in later life.
The research was conducted by experts from the University of Queensland, the University of Southern Queensland and Curtin University, and published in the Australian Journal of Labour Economics.
They focused primarily on children at the younger end of the spectrum – based in either state primary schools, Catholic schools or preparatory schools – and observed that in the earliest years, there is little to separate the children academically.
Numerous annual reports into exam results indicate that private school pupils are more inclined to perform well in tests compared with their publicly-educated counterparts in secondary education and beyond, but this appears to be of little significance among five-year-olds.
One thing that does appear to be substantially affected, however, is the relationships that are formed between youngsters at this stage of education.
Among children whose parents paid school fees, the connections formed between them and their peers appeared to be far more solid, specifically in relation to developing lasting friendships.
Study co-author Professor Luke Connelly, from the University of Queensland, says that at this age children will be just as influenced by what happens at home as at school, but the results still point toward greater social bonding among privately-educated pupils.
He noted: “For some of the behavioural issues that we look at, including in this case peer-to-peer relationships, the performance seems slightly better for private school kids.”
Interestingly, several key factors are outside of the child’s control or influence, with some of the main drivers of academic achievement being the level of education of their parents, the number of books in the home, the residential neighbourhood and its characteristics, and the overall household income.
The working hours of the mother also has an inverse effect, it seems, with test scores declining as the hours the mother works increase.
“I guess that latter result really just shows some of the importance of the parental time input in relation to kids’ success at school as well,” Professor Connelly explained.
Despite suggesting that private education has little effect on academic achievement at a young age, the study has been queried by some in the independent education sector, who say it only takes a broad view.
Yvonne Luxford, executive director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia, noted that in pre-school testing referenced in the study, the raw results show that children in independent schools actually scored higher than their publicly-educated counterparts.
Meanwhile, David Robertson from the Queensland Independent Schools Association said the decision about whether or not to send your child to a private school hinges more on the individual needs of the child, rather than potential academic results.
“The reason they make that sacrifice is they believe what those independent schools provide, in educational opportunities and educational programmes, is what is in the best interests of their child,” he explained.
“Parents are not paying to give their children an advantage but rather the “right” education. That money is parental contribution. That is what parents contribute to the costs of schooling.”
Regardless, the study will act as complementary material to other research into secondary school education and be an influencing factor determining whether parents decide to pay school fees from an early age or not.