involving parents in schools

Can your canteen make money? Depends where you live

Parent and Citizen Associations are traditionally linked to school fundraising  through cake stalls, fetes and trivia nights. Now their emphasis has shifted to commercial ventures run at scale. That’s led to new tensions, roles, and relationships. Here’s what we found.

The issue of school funding in Australia remains controversial. The Review of Funding for Schooling, known as the Gonski report, found that school funding mechanisms are complex, lack coherence, transparency, and contribute to inequitable student outcomes. The report recommended a sector-blind, needs-based model of school funding to improve student outcomes. The report also suggested that philanthropic giving could be one avenue for improved funding for schools in disadvantaged contexts. This advocacy for philanthropy is often forgotten when discussing the Gonski report, but we think it is timely to consider the role of philanthropy in Australian school funding. 

In the US, philanthropy tends to be dominated by venture capital consortia and billionaires. However, in Australia the common type of philanthropy is more grassroots and centres on the roles of parent groups such as Parent and Citizen Associations (P&Cs). 

P&Cs are school-based organisations that work in partnership with schools and the community to enhance outcomes for students. The fundraising now include running profitable school-based businesses including canteens, uniform shops and Outside Hours School Care services that generate large-scale funding that can be reinvested in essential education services that is not captured in official funding data. 

Re-prioritising P&Cs as philanthropic organisations

This reconfiguration to commercial ventures in Queensland emerges from both the systemic restructuring of Australian education privileging school autonomy, between-school competition, and performative metrics and the struggle to fund core educational services in public schools. The mobilisation, and reconfiguration of philanthropy is a pillar of systemic marketisation, yet it rarely receives as much scrutiny as autonomy, performativity and competition.

Research into philanthropy has tended to focus on either the ideological work of billionaires and venture capital consortia and their ability to influence systemic public school policy and practice (see Scott, 2009) or the strategic alliances between P&Cs and philanthropic donors (see Yoon et al., 2020). This research into philanthropy has tended to focus on North America, and fails to speak to concerns emerging in Australia. 

Tax law regulations in Australia prevent philanthropists from donating directly to state education departments or to public schools, meaning there is less evidence of philanthropic influence over public schooling policy and practice. However, in Queensland alone in the 2021/22 financial year, P&Cs generated more than $83 million in contributions to public schools. Put simply, venture philanthropy appears less significant in Australian schools than in contexts such as the U.S. 

From community building to commercial fundraising

In our paper, we argue that there are new tensions, roles, and relationships emerging in Queensland state school P&Cs as they strive to overcome limited government resourcing. The logics of marketisation have shifted responsibility for discretionary school funding to parent consumers, setting up an equity challenge as not every school has the same community resources, socioeconomic advantages, or economies of scale to leverage this philanthropic behaviour.

We draw three significant conclusions from this research.

First is the differentiated capacity of P&Cs to engage in profitable school services leading to a two-tiered public school system. One P&C representative, from an advantaged metropolitan school, spoke of how low student enrollments had forced them to close their canteen as it was continuing to make significant losses year on year. This evidences a relationship between student enrolment and profitability. Indeed, it is difficult to mount a case that schools with smaller enrolments, in rural and remote locations, or those that service communities with complex needs will generate the same benefits as large, metropolitan schools in leafy green suburbs. 

Second is that makingpublic school communities responsible for funding that governments should provide is not a good idea. We argue that when parents and P&Cs accept responsibility for fundraising to meet the gap in government funding shortfalls, they stop asking or agitating the government to provide adequate resourcing for their school. 

Third is that this shift from community building to resource extraction produces a different set of community relations. While some P&Cs reported that the community and commercial forms of fundraising co-exist, the emphasis continues to shift towards profitable commercial ventures. The argument made by the P&C representatives interviewed is that the financial needs of many public schools is greater than support for excursions or replacing a class set of textbooks. Larger infrastructure projects such as equipping schools with air conditioning or building science labs necessitate more commercially minded fundraising.  

Moreover, P&C representatives reported that many parents no longer had the time or energy to engage in community building. The traditional approach of appealing to parent volunteers to run fetes, cake stalls and trivia nights was falling flat even as the need for fundraising became more urgent. The view of those participants involved with P&Cs was that engaging in commercial fundraising both lightened the load on parents and generated funding at a scale to enable larger projects. Participants reported that, given the scale of what schools needed, bake sales were never going to be enough.

What we have found through this exploratory study is that philanthropy is different in Australia than what we might expect given the international literature. P&Cs can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to a public school’s budget, yet it is unlikely that these same schools are accessing philanthropy from venture capital or billionaires. 

Understanding the work that P&Cs are doing, and their justifications for that work, is important because of what it tells us about public school funding and the challenges that schools are facing.

Anna Hogan is senior research fellow in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership at the Queensland University of Technology. Her research focuses on education privatisation and commercialisation. She currently works on a number of research projects, including investigating philanthropy in Australian public schooling, the privatisation of global school provision, and the intensification of teachers’ work.

Greg Thompson is a professor in the Faculty of Creative Industries, Education & Social Justice at the Queensland University of Technology. His research focuses on the philosophy of education and educational theory. He is also interested in education policy, and the philosophy/sociology of education assessment and measurement with a focus on large-scale testing and learning analytics/big data.

How the brilliant democracy sausage reveals the secrets of school funding

WATCH: There’s a snag in school funding.

New Education Minister Jason Clare is like any other student on their first day of school – there is a lot to learn about the problems facing the education system in Australia. But, in this case, Mr Clare can discover the answers by revisiting one of the highlights of the recent election campaign – the democracy sausage. 

Federal election day 2022 has arguably marked a new beginning for Australian federal politics and policy, and the road forward will be tough. Education is one of the portfolios that was policy-lite during the campaign, from all sides of politics. But it is through equitable education policy, that many of the key challenges facing Australians can be addressed. 

A key to understanding this is the humble democracy sausage.

The distribution and availability of a sausage on election day represents a country with the fourth most segregated schooling system and a major housing crisis connected to gentrification.

Approximately $8billion dollars in non-government or private funding flows through the school system each year. Those who receive the most are the very advantaged school and the very disadvantaged schools, probably due to targeted philanthropic donations to both. External income raising for a school is time intensive and in most public schools done by Parent and Citizen organisations. Basically, the quality of resources available to teachers is connected to parents’ inclination and willingness to donate funds, time and skills to a school. The least willing are middle income earners in gentrifying suburbs. 

The democracy sausage and volunteering

Volunteer organisations barbequing sausages on bread has become a familiar sight on election days in Australia. It has a hashtags and a hashflag (automatic emoji of a sausage on bread). Facebook community pages advertise where to find a sausage on election morning when choosing where to vote. There is even a dedicated website to tracking the availability of sausages and other stalls around the country. 2022 Federal Election data suggested that 43.4% of Australian voters had access to a sausage on election day based on Australian Electoral Commission poll booth attendance statistics from the 2019 election.’s data correlated with publicly available data about schools shows that only 46.9% of school-based polling booths provided access to a sausage.

This incorporates data from © Commonwealth of Australia (Australian Electoral Commission) 2022, and ACARA School Profile 2021

Information on other treats provided by school-based fundraising, like whether a polling booth had a cake stall, halal or vegetarian options, or coffee, mapped against a school’s socio-economic school ranking (Index of Community Socio-educational AdvantageICSEA), reveals something Mr Clare should pay attention to. 

The provision of options outside the sausage shows there is not much difference between different school communities. However, when the percentage of booths that provided variety is mapped against the ICSEA value of the school, things look different.

This incorporates data from © Commonwealth of Australia (Australian Electoral Commission) 2022, and ACARA School Profile 2021

Schools within the middle socio-economic range are less likely to have a P&C provide a variety of options for voters. So, what does this data mean for Education policy?

The ability to volunteer is related to demographics

That more than 50% of schools are unable able to field fundraising barbeques is a reflection of a nationwide trend in all community volunteering over the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, a two-thirds drop in people willing to volunteer was reported, with work commitments and family care being the reason for less people being willing to volunteer. 

Variety in election barbeques is directly related to the number of volunteers an organization can field. The more options, the more people are needed. This reality explains why school P&Cs in the medium-to-high ICSEA ranked areas are less likely to provide variety in their election day stalls. 

Schools in middle income areas are most likely to be schools in areas which are gentrifying. This means that the homeowners in the area are most likely to be double-income earners juggling high mortgages or rents alongside expensive child-care. They are, therefore, less likely to donate time or money to public schools. The families in these areas who earn higher incomes, and therefore have less financial and family pressure, are also more likely to bypass the local public school and enroll their children in schools in the higher ICSEA ranked areas. Those are the P&Cs they will donate to. This means that it is harder for P&Cs in the medium-ranked 50% of schools to attract donations. They are also less likely to attract the large philanthropic donations of low and high ranked schools. 

Australia’s market-driven approach to school funding means that schools are more reliant on an active Parent and Citizens Association. Parents and teachers are exhausted in at least 50% of schools. Teachers are exhausted because they are under-resourced. Parents have volunteer fatigue. The downward spiral in school-based volunteering will severely affect schools going forward. School funding, and subsequently quality, is affected by housing affordability and participation in the community. 

The market-based approach to schooling is not working in Australia and it has to change. So next time you buy a democracy sausage, remember your access to this little symbol of Australian civic duty is determined by enormous inequity in Australian schooling policy.

Dr Naomi Barnes is a network analyst and theorist interested in how ideas influence education policy. She is a senior lecturer in literacy teaching and has worked for Education Queensland as a senior writer and has worked as a secondary English, history and geography teacher in government, Catholic and independent schools.

The map in our header comes from

Parent-teacher partnerships: poisoned by ‘bad parent’ click bait

onnecThe late January back-to-school ritual has turned ugly. Among the cute little stories about multiple sets of twins beginning school together and the healthy snacks parents can concoct for their child’s lunchbox, is a new form of click-bait that blames parents for coddling their child and turning them into monsters that harried teachers then have to deal with.

One particular piece would have us believe parents feed their children nothing but junk, allow them to stay up to all hours then pass their “already tired” offspring to beleaguered teachers at the end of six weeks of holiday chaos. Mums and dads (but typically mums) then lie in wait for about the first two weeks, at which point they begin to “whinge” about their child’s teacher.

Have you noticed how opinion pieces like this follow a predictable pattern? First come the generalisations, then incitement to outrage, followed by the taking of sides (always the right one) and self-righteous advice gained from the perfect personal experience.

Another example of this type of ‘bad parent’ click bait features a series of rants by anonymous teachers about the horrors of teaching today’s school students. Seriously.

These articles may well do what they have been created to do, act as click-bait, but they are just plain awful when it comes to nurturing parent-teacher relationships in Australia.

They also have a nostalgic air; they present as a short-form journalistic ode to the ‘good ‘ole days’ when children were seen and not heard. Are we supposed to believe that no one parents well these days, even though a large proportion of teachers are also parents?

Evidence shows that today’s parents are probably working harder at parenting than at any time previously. Whilst it is always possible to find examples of neglectful or ineffective parenting (both now and in mythical golden-ages), those parents aren’t helped by contempt directed at them by the media.

And here I will add that teacher staff room gossip about parents should be included in things that are not helpful. Staffroom gossip can also breed an unhealthy feedback cycle that works to build reputations around particular kids and families. The result is that some students never get a fair go.

What’s worse is that it can set up a vicious triangle that works to keep teachers, students and parents at odds. The teacher generally ends up being at the long end of the triangle and it is very difficult to get a positive outcome from there.

What my research tells me

One thing that has come across very loud and clear in the many student interviews I have conducted is that no matter how dysfunctional their family background, children still feel love for their main caregivers.

When asked if there was anything they would change about themselves if they could, one boy replied that he wished that he could turn back time. He wanted to go back to the time before he was taken away from his mum, before she became addicted to drugs and alcohol, before she would lie on the floor in her own blood and vomit.

Children often know when teachers speak and think ill of their families. The resentment towards teachers felt by some of the young people in my research was palpable and many indicated that they reserve their worst behaviour for the teachers they perceive as judging them and their families.

Many teachers will know that one sure-fire method kids use to start a fight in the playground is to call another kid’s mum a “slut”.

But, what doesn’t seem to be as well understood is that the disapproving glances, dismissive air, imperious tone, and short shrift that some teachers give when interacting with parents is picked up by their children.

And it makes those childen angry. It makes them both defensive and protective. It makes them feel inferior. What it doesn’t do is help.

The strongest message that came through these student interviews is that, if forced, kids will back the people they love.

We need to reject the parent versus teacher positioning

That’s what worries me about click-bait that positions parents as inept and teachers as victims. Such articles exacerbate an “us v them” mentality.

It gives licence to hostile teacher behaviours that can affect a whole school’s culture. Over time, the more positive teachers may leave, taking with them the possibility of seeing and doing things differently.

The end result can be a war-zone with rampant bullying and physical aggression between students, complete disrespect for teachers, high absenteeism and very little learning.

Places much like the schools described in one of those articles. But rather than question how these schools became like that or what we can do to fix them, it seems easier or perhaps more entertaining to just blame parents and the ‘monsters’ they’ve produced.

Schools need involved parents

Parents are great advocates and many (mothers in particular) contribute a significant portion of their time to fund-raising for their local school, sitting on P&C committees, and/or supporting teachers in reading groups, going on excursions and donating class supplies.

This occurs much more now than in the good ‘ole days because many schools are critically under-resourced.

Children who have parents who are involved in their schooling, even on a very simple level, can have a much more positive experience. Teachers who get to know parents can find new ways to connect with their students.

For this to occur, we need to acknowledge that productive parent-teacher partnerships benefit all involved: students, parents and teachers.

So, as tempting as it might be, we have to resist the click bait because it won’t help any of us form those partnerships.

GrahambigLinda Graham is Principal Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology (QUT). She is the Lead Chief Investigator of two longitudinal research projects focusing on disruptive behaviour. One examines the experiences of students enrolled in NSW government “behaviour” schools (Australian Research Council DP110103093), and another is tracking the language, learning, experiences, relationships, attitudes and behaviour of 250 QLD prep children through the early years of school (Financial Markets Foundation for Children FMF4C-2013). In 2014, she was elected Editor of the Australian Educational Researcher (AER) and serves as a member of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) Executive Committee.