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18 February 2015

6 out of 10 parents say choosing a secondary school for their kids is as stressful (or more) than buying a new home

New research finds:
  • Waitlists are artificially inflated as 55% of parents hedge their bets at multiple schools
  • It’s not just about results, a varied education and school values matter too
  • The majority of parents (58%) are considering both public and private schools
  • 38% of parents with kids at private school worry about how they will manage if fees keep increasing; 10% are already considering other options

A report released by School Places today is set to challenge perceptions about what matters most to parents who are choosing a high school for their kids, while highlighting that affordability and feeling under pressure to make “the right decision” are universal concerns.

A Parent’s Perspective: School Selection in a World of Choice, School Place’s inaugural report, is based on an online survey of more than 1,000 parents around the country who currently have children in primary school. It has found that the vast majority of parents are not making decisions based on public versus private, single-sex versus coeducational schools, or even schools’ academic results.

The number one thing parents are looking for is a varied education that exposes their child to lots of different subjects (38%), followed by personal attention, tailored to their individual needs (27%), and being part of a community with strong values and a focus on pastoral care (12%). Ninety-one per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: ‘Values, and the school community are just as important to me as a school’s academic results’. In fact, only 12% of parents say that the highest possible university entrance score is what they most want for their child.

When asked how important their choice of high school is to their child’s future opportunities, 58% of parents said ‘extremely important’, 41% said ‘important’, and less than 2% said ‘not important’. In addition, 78% of parents agree that it is more important to choose the right high school now than it was when they were growing up. As a result, parents are feeling under pressure, with a quarter of all parents saying choosing a high school is more stressful than choosing a new home and 37% saying it’s just as stressful a decision.

An unexpected finding was that the majority of parents, 58%, are considering both private and public schools for their children’s high school years. Parents who will only consider public secondary schools make up the next largest group at 26%, and the remaining 16% of parents will look only at private schools.

School Places CEO Natalie Mactier says that the findings present a very different picture regarding parents’ motivations, concerns and preferences than has traditionally been understood.

“Affordability and access to a school that best suits their child’s individual needs are the two biggest issues for Australian parents. Parents are doing considerable research, they are comparing schools in both sectors and they are prepared to make financial sacrifices for a school they really like.

“Sixty-six per cent of parents state that they expect to make significant financial sacrifices to fund their children’s schooling, rising to 80% for parents who are only considering private schools and 73% for people who are considering both public and private. However, 40% of parents intent on public schools also anticipate financial challenges.

“Among parents who already have children in private schools, 38% worry about how they will manage if fees keep increasing, 10% have already reached the point where they are considering other school options because they are struggling to pay fees, and 83% report that they are making financial sacrifices.

“Our research has also found that 65% of parents are a lot like swinging voters. They want to hold off making their decision until one or two years before their child is due to start secondary school, but many private schools require early applications. School waitlists are being artificially inflated because 55% of parents will put their child’s name down at more than one school as a way of keeping their options open. A sizeable group of parents (13%) will apply for three schools and 4% will apply for four or more. Meanwhile, 37% of parents say that having to go on a wait list stops them applying for high schools they are interested in.

“The bottom line is that the current private school enrolment process is out of kilter with the needs of today’s parents who are considering multiple schools and want to make an informed decision based on their child’s needs and talents and what the family can afford”, Ms Mactier said.

The typical parent of primary school aged children
  • 35 – 44 years of age
  • Sees the choice of high school as being extremely important to their child’s future opportunities (58%) and more important in this regard than when they were growing up (78%)
  • As a result they find choosing a high school as stressful (37%) or more stressful (25%) than choosing a new home
  • They are open minded to both public and private secondary schools for their children (58%) and rank quality teaching as the most important attribute of a school.
  • Their number one concern is being able to get into the school that best suits their child’s needs, followed by not being able to afford fees and school expenses in the future.
  • They view values and the school community as being just as important as academic results (91%)
  • They expect to make significant sacrifices to fund their child’s schooling (66%)
  • They would prefer to apply for their school of choice just one-two years in advance (65%), but put their child’s names down at more than one school (55%) due to fear of missing out.