Skip to main content

Counting national school enrolment shares in Australia: the political arithmetic of declining public school enrolment

Abstract

In 2017, it was excitedly pronounced across major newspapers in Australia that public schools’ share of student enrolment had increased, marking a “determined end to a 40-year decline”. The claims were bolstered by numerical data, and an accompanied media release, issued by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. These bold claims immediately caught my attention, first for the assertion they were making and the implications for public schools; but second, for the way in which they potentially elided complex and variable units of analysis, to simplify and stabilise the numbers into a depoliticised narrative. Education reform relies on measurements, quantification and statistics to inform policy, but also to inform public opinion. Drawing on Petty’s notion of political arithmetic and Gorur’s “sociology of measurement”, this paper explores and critiques the role of counting in relation to national school enrolment shares, as divided between public and private schools in Australia.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Notes

  1. For example, see ‘PM Queries the value of State Schools’ (The Age 2004), or ‘sex education curriculum in public schools makes the Prime Minister’s ‘skin curl’’ (McGowan 2018).

  2. Some of the ABS datasets make distinctions between junior secondary and senior secondary—this paper incorporates both junior and senior into one category—‘secondary’. The data relates to full-time students only, not part-time students.

  3. Note that numbers may not add to 100 due to rounding.

  4. It is likely that it has declined since the 1970s, but this paper is only focussing on data from 1996 to 2017.

References

Download references

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the anonymous reviewers for their feedback and critique of the earlier versions of this paper.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Emma Rowe.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Rowe, E. Counting national school enrolment shares in Australia: the political arithmetic of declining public school enrolment. Aust. Educ. Res. 47, 517–535 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-019-00365-9

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-019-00365-9

Keywords

  • Public schools
  • Sociology of measurement
  • Large-scale comparisons
  • Counting
  • Enrolment shares
  • Private schools