School Funding


Primary school in the 1970s – much more inclusive in those days

Prompted by the announcement on school funding I thought I would look at the facts in my local area.

I live in an area with a preponderance of schools, particularly high schools. There are 14 high schools within an easy commute of my house – eight of them within the 2km that the government says a high school student should walk before a bus pass is issued (only one of those eight and three of the 14 are comprehensive government high schools that will take all comers).

The Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) is an estimate of how much total public funding a school needs to meet the educational needs of its students, as recommended by the 2011 Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling. The SRS is made up of a base amount for every primary and secondary student, along with six loadings to provide extra funding for disadvantaged students and schools.

The base amount is set at $10,953 for primary students and $13,764 for secondary students in 2018.

According to the Myschool website,  not one of the primary or secondary government schools in my area was funded to that standard, either by state and federal government funding alone, or including the contributions by parents. My area is well above average – the ICSEA (Index of Community Socio Economic Advantage) for all of those schools is well over the average of 1,000, with an average of the schools in my sample of around 1,175).  All numbers below are the most recent available, 2016 (and a larger table is shown at the bottom of this post).

All of the independent private schools charged fees higher than that amount – at least 50% higher. The highest parent contribution received per pupil was for Redlands – just over $31,000 per annum. But all of them also received government recurrent funding per pupil of an average of $3,500 (Redlands received just over $3,000 per pupil).

And the catholic schools? My area is interesting – it includes a couple of “traditional” parish schools, but also some very upmarket ones. All of them got a fairly close range of government funding per pupil – a range of $7,000 (St Aloysius, Kirribilli) to $9,500 (Marist College North Sydney).  St Aloysius, which covers primary and high school, receives an average of just over $16,000 per pupil per year from parents. Marist  receives an average of $5,500 per pupil per year from parents.

In most areas of federal government spending, the Australian government has a very targeted approach.

This article from Andrew Leigh (who I’m quoting because he is an economist, even though he is also Shadow Assistant Treasurer) explains it better than I can:

Put simply, a dollar spent in the Australian social security system does more to reduce inequality than a dollar spent in any other welfare system in the world.

As the Australian National University’s Peter Whiteford has shown, this didn’t happen by accident. Our pension has both an income test and an assets test. Unemployment benefits are set at the same level regardless of how much you were earning when you lost your job. We stopped paying the Baby Bonus to millionaires. One reason that so many people were critical of Tony Abbott’s parental leave plan is that it was a wage-replacement model, which gave the most to those who earned the most.

The result of so much targeting is that the size of government in Australia is considerably smaller than in most advanced countries. Put together the spending done by local, state and federal governments, and you’ve got 36% of the economy.

Figures published by the advanced-country OECD put us second-lowest of 29 countries, with only Switzerland spending less. Government in the US makes up 38% of the economy. In most developed countries, government is over 40% of the economy. In eight advanced nations, government is over 50% of the economy. A targeted welfare system means Australians pay a lot less tax than citizens in most rich nations.

Generally, people and institutions are only funded if they need the money. But education is an exception. Very rich institutions are still funded, even if they are already receiving income multiple times the amount required to do their jobs.

Some would argue that the children of rich parents who go to public schools are getting too much. Should they be contributing also? But education is a public good, a bit like roads. You don’t have to use a public road, but everyone contributes to it. That means that until we have funded the public system appropriately (which we clearly haven’t, even according to the standards set by our governments), we shouldn’t be giving extra to the private system.

As John Green says:

Public education does not exist for the benefit of students or the benefit of their parents. It exists for the benefit of the social order.

We have discovered as a species that it is useful to have an educated population. You do not need to be a student or have a child who is a student to benefit from public education. Every second of every day of your life, you benefit from public education.

So let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don’t personally have a kid in school: It’s because I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.


The Aunts

Myra,Kathy,Lottie,Hilda,Elsie,Annie ,Lang

Myra, Kathy, Elsie, Hilda, Lottie and Annie Lang

Writing this post, partly about my Aunt Mary, has renewed my desire to write something about the people known in my family as  “The Aunts”. The Aunts, pictured above, were my father’s Aunts on his father’s side. My grandfather was the third child of eight; six girls and two boys. When he was thirteen, in 1904, his father died, leaving my great grandmother  with eight children aged from 18 down to 3 and the family sheep farm.

The six girls, in order, were Elsie, who at 18, was already learning to be a nurse in Whangerei (about 50 km away), Annie, 17, Lottie, 12, Myra, 11, Kathy, 9, Hilda, 7, and then there was Bill (my 13 year old grandfather) and Ian the baby, who was just 3.  Of the Aunts, only one  (Hilda) used the name on her birth certificate, those Scots did love a nickname!

After my grandfather left school, to farm (with his Uncle Davy, his father’s brother, who I imagine at the beginning was probably managing it), all of the younger children were eventually educated in Auckland, at Auckland Grammar. That must have been a significant impost on the family finances, LottieMyra and Ian won scholarships, which probably helped, which is quite impressive from a one teacher school in the middle of nowhere. Myra won a maths prize after she had been there a year.

After school, the younger ones all went on to get a profession of some kind. Kathy, Lottie and Myra all went to the teacher training collegee. Lottie and Kathy and Hilda married. Annie seems to have been designated companion to her mother (a family story says that Annie wanted to be a nurse too but by the time she could be spared from home she was told she was too old – a blow to her), and Elsie and Myra never married.

Family report says that Myra was close to engaged to a friend of Bill’s who died on the Western Front in WW1. New Zealand lost a lot of its young men in that war – despite it being on the other side of the world, 1% of the population died, mostly young men.

aunts & Ian

Ian, Myra, Hilda, Kathy and Lottie, probably at their house in Auckland

Once the family had been educated, they mostly left my grandfather behind on the farm and decamped to a rented house in Auckland until the big adventure (more below).

I’ve been trying to piece together the story of the Elsie and Myra, later joined by Hilda, of them in their heyday and their big adventure overseas.

Mary Christina (Myra) Lang

Myra on the way to the US

In 1924, Myra and Elsie decided to go off to the United States. They were in their 30s, and had been working long enough to save up. Plus they each borrowed 120 pounds from a family friend (as their advance share of their inheritance from their father, which wasn’t able to be paid until two years later when the estate was finally settled), and decided to spend it on a big adventure.

Myra was a teacher, and Elsie was a nurse (and what was then called a masseur – now a physiotherapist), and Myra was (according to family report) following a man over there. Sadly when she got there, it turned out he was already married, so they stayed for a while, working and visiting around. We have a record from the Census of Myra living in Buffalo New York in 1930. She was living in a flat, by herself (she is described as “head of house”). Elsie wasn’t with her, but they must have been in touch.

From the connections they managed to create and recreate, while they were away, they managed to get back to Nova Scotia, to St Anns in Cape Breton, where 100 years before, many of their forebears had emigrated from Scotland. They still had relatives there, who took them in with open arms, and made them very welcome. I have tantalising hints of that visit (or visits?) from Myra’s letters to my dad. For example “Once, on my way back from Nova Scotia to Utica N.Y., I stayed at the historic Parker House, Boston…We had fun! We were young!”

After quite a while, they decided it was time to come back, and were in Chicago, ready to catch the train back to (I assume) the west coast, and find a ship to take them back. Unfortunately Elsie was run down by a taxi, and left in the street with a broken leg. Myra was so busy looking after her, trying to flag down help, that she was unable to stop someone stealing Elsie’s handbag, which soured both of them on Americans.

Elsie was quite badly hurt, badly enough that Hilda (who had married, and then divorced, after losing a baby and nearly dying from complications of the pregnancy, back in New Zealand) decided to come over the New Zealand and help out.  Given the only way of coming was shipping, it would have taken at best a month to get from Auckland to Chicago (probably via Fiji, Samoa and San Francisco), which hopefully meant that by the time they got there, Elsie was better and they could have fun again.

They were still on their way home, so after the three of them together and Elsie was well enough, they resumed travelling, going home the long way around, via Scotland. Myra and Elsie, at least, arrived in Southampton from Quebec in 1932. They then went up to Scotland and visited some more distant relatives and the places where their ancestors had come from 100 years before.

I suspect that this was how, 40 years later, there was a relative in Scotland for my parents to visit (in Plockton, near the ferry to Skye).

From talking to people who knew them, Aunty Myra was the family historian. She was on the 1953 Centennial committee and in about 1951 started the work of writing to all the descendants asking for their family trees and then collating them into the six ships.  This was ready for the ’53 celebrations and the original papers are held in the archive room at the museum.  Her niece remembers “all of those papers, permanently spread out on the table at the southern end of the veranda, all hand written on foolscap in those days and all the letters from people.  We were allowed to look but not touch or move anything.  Of course Aunty Myra never so much as boiled an egg if she didn’t have to but I used to go and stay with her in Auckland when she would apartment sit for various friends and she could cope with cooking so as not to starve”.

Whereas every cousin I’ve talked to remembers Hilda’s cooking – mostly the delicious cakes for visitors. Which is probably lucky given they all lived together in later life and Myra certainly wouldn’t cook much!

Elsie loved purple – for clothing and her table napkin. She had beautiful white hair. And compared with her (somewhat disapproving) sisters she was very left wing. And she was also fascinating by the family history, showing relatives around the local museum and completely ignoring all the ‘do not touch’ signs at the House of Memories as she picked up exhibits and told the stories about which relative or family friend had owned them.

Donald July 10 025When I first met the Aunts 50 years later, they lived in what was affectionately known (by us at least) as The Auntheap, not quite the original family house in Langs beach, pictured here around 1925.

P1050693 Myra, Hilda, Donna, Annie and Elsie

Myra, Hilda, Annie and Elsie in the mid 1960s, with their niece Donna on her wedding day.

For me and all of my cousins who visited they were a fixture. I only remember meeting the adventurers – Elsie (who died in 1976), Myra (1982)  and Hilda (1985). They were in their 80s by then, and I don’t remember much of them, since I spent my days at the beach if I had the choice, rather than visiting elderly relatives. There were always cakes and cats when we visited.

In many ways their lives were ordinary ones of the times. The women, particularly the unmarried women, often don’t get remembered properly. So I’ve written as much of their story as I know, in the hope that my cousins will remember more. And to remember them when as Myra said,

“We had fun! We were young!”



Back ten years ago, I wrote a lot on this blog about books I had read about the history of settlement and the aboriginal experience of it in Australia. And last weekend brought me back to that reading.

I spent the weekend in Richmond, by the Hawkesbury River (the Deerubbin shores, in the local Darug language) learning songs responding to aboriginal culture, and learning songs written by local aboriginal women.

Richmond is a beautiful colonial town, one of the five “Macquarie towns” with many historic buildings dating back to the 1810s and 1820s.

It is also very close to the location of the Secret River, a fictionalised exploration of one man’s experience, with his family, of the gradual colonisation and disposession of Australia by the British settlers. Deerubbin is the Secret River of the book, and the aboriginal women I was learning from over the weekend were descended from the people whose land was taken to build the beautiful Georgian town we were singing in.


Barangaroo on Australia Day 2017

It was a strange feeling to wander around at lunchtime admiring the Georgian architecture, and come back to singing this song with its Darug words:

Gurugal wirri galgala guwi
(Long ago bad sickness come)
Biyal marri iyora booni
(No more big people)

words about the vanishing of a people to make way for that beautiful Georgian architecture.

Aunty Jacinta Tobin, author of the words of that Australia Day song, talked to us a lot about  her vision is for all of us here in Australia to share the aboriginal history. She wrote a song for Australia Day for whitefellas to sing to be inclusive. Her words, in the most beautiful part of the song make that real.

(We care)
(Let’s love)
Wugul marri
(One big)

Part of sharing the aboriginal history is realising how anyone sharing in the riches of modern Australia is also sharing in the dispossession of its original people.

Family gathering

New Year's Day, Waipu, 1933

New Year’s Day, Waipu, 1933

This photo is one of my favourite photos from my family history collection. My great grandmother, the elderly lady standing third from the right, is gathered with all her descendants, by blood and marriage, on New Year’s Day 1933.

There are so many great things about the photo – seeing them all dressed in their Sunday best, at the depths of the depression in New Zealand, looking at my stylish great aunts, with their flapper fashion and hats, some of whom had just come back from a big adventure travelling the US and Canada, checking out the latest in pram technology, and seeing the children who became my aunts and uncles looking cute and adorable.

Sadly, the first death of a person in this photo was not my great grandmother, it was the child at the far left – my father’s cousin Donald, a RNZAF bomber pilot, who was killed in 1943 aged 22.

This week I went to the funeral of the last survivor, my Aunt Mary, who is second from right in the front row. It was a tribal gathering, much like the one in this photo.

My grandfather and grandmother are the two adults standing at the left of this photo. They had 19 grandchildren and 14 of us were at my Aunt Mary’s funeral. Knowing your family and how we are all connected is a big part of the family tradition.

Being the Australian connection of a clannish New Zealand family has meant that I’ve always felt a bit separate from the main family; not in a bad way; but you can’t be as much a part of a family when you see them once every year or two if you are lucky.

Mary on graduation day

Mary on graduation day

But coming back for what felt like the passing of an era made me remember how fortunate I am to be part of a family that really knows where it comes from. Watching the swirling conversations at the funeral, I know there are parts of the family that get on with each other better than others, it isn’t a romantic dream of perfect harmony. But everyone gets together to celebrate life and mourn its passing, and I am fortunate to be a part of that almost tribal experience.

My Aunt Mary has been part of the fabric of my life; even from afar she has watched me and my brothers grow up; congratulated us at appropriate milestones, done the same for my children and she has been a source of family history when I ask my father about some particularly interesting piece of ancient gossip (particularly about his own childhood). Even though it is six years since I last saw her in person she has felt part of the world I live in my whole life.

There is one almost survivor from this photo – my dad (still known as Donald Beag in some circles, little Donald,  in contrast with his big cousin Donald) is hidden in utero in this picture. We were treating him a bit like porcelain this week.


Oral History

Tui (Hugh Gordon) Haswell in 1915

Tui (Hugh Gordon) Haswell in 1915

Over dinner last night, as the conversation turned to Israel, my dad started reminiscing about his father‘s first cousin – Hugh (Tui) Haswell, who was killed in 1917, in an Arab village in (then) Palestine called Ayun Kara. That village is now Rishon leZion, part of greater Tel Aviv.

Tui used to love to imitate his father, Henry Haswell, when he was in full flight complaining about his dinner table. To tell the story, my dad started putting on the accent of Henry Haswell and quoting him – who apparently had the scottish accent common to the people in their part of New Zealand at the time (Henry’s parents were part of the great Nova Scotian migration to northern New Zealand in the 1850s).

So my father was imitating the voice of a man who died more than a hundred years ago, which had been passed on to him by his father, via Tui. It is quite amazing to see oral history in action like that.

Dad finished up by saying that Tui had been such a part of family folklore around the family dinner table that he was astonished to find out in the 1950s that Tui was dead.

According to Mexican legend, there are three types of death: The first occurs when all bodily functions cease and the soul leaves the body; the second occurs when the body is interred, returning one’s physical shell to the earth; and the final, most definitive death, occurs when no one remembers you.

Tui must have been a remarkable man, to have lived so strongly in the collective memory.

I did the Sydney half marathon today (made it to the end!) and because of the design of the course, the most thrilling moment was the point when the front runners ran back towards us back-of-the-pack-ers. The top runners, of course, got a cheer from the field. But the cheers for the top women were, if anything, louder, as they ran past us amongst the men (Nikki Chapple, the top woman was ranked 16th overall, with the next two ranked 32nd and 38th). Australian female marathon runners have (like many of our sportswomen), on average done better internationally than our men, and it’s great to see them getting their deserved cheers.

Shoe frontier2.001

In financial economics, there is a concept called the efficient frontier of investing. You can combine a portfolio of shares and other investments in many ways. In theory, there is one line which consists of the intersection of the best return for each level of risk (or alternatively, the lowest risk for each level of return),

While I was futilely trying to convince myself that the shoes I was trying on would become more comfortable with a bit more wear, in my annual shoe buying expedition, I realised that it’s quite a useful concept for shoes, as well.

In buying shoes, there is generally an optimal level of comfort for a given level of dagginess. So in buying shoes, I try to optimise comfort at the least stylish point on the curve I think I can get away with for a given occasion. Others will choose comfort, and optimise fashion, but either way we will end up in the same place.

In putting together the efficient frontier graph, I realised something else. Changing gender from female to male moves the line upwards AND makes it much flatter. The only place the two lines intersect is at runners, and the dagginess factor at that point is MUCH higher for me than women.

Cross posted at actuarialeye.