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Private schools get public money;Public-private partnerships;Briefing;International

AUSTRALIA

The Australian government is to spend more money on private schools in a move that it hopes will help low-income families access education.

Under a new scheme outlined by education minister David Kemp, private schools will also for the first time have to meet national targets in areas such as literacy, numeracy and science.

Under a new system of allocating grants, parents' socio-economic status will help determine the cash a school gets. This will be assessed by matching the addresses of school families against socio-economic data about the area from the last census.

Dr Kemp said the aim was to produce a transparent, simpler and fairer funding system for private schools. The arrangements would particularly extend choice to low-income families, he said.

Overall, central government funding for private schools - which enrol 30 per cent of Australia's students - will increase 9.4 per cent on 1998 to almost $3 billion (pound;1.2bn) next year .

This compares with central government spending on state schools of only $1.9bn - an increase of 4.6 per cent in a year year. (Most of the costs of state schools are borne by local government.) The biggest winners are Catholic schools, which will receive an additional $560 million over the next four years.

But the Australian Education Union has condemned the move as "cake for private schools, crumbs for government schools".

Sharan Burrow, the union's president, said the Government's latest decisions represented "the most blatant attack yet on children in government schools".

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