Satire of private school placement pressures exposes awkward truths

Dan Barrett
Dan Barrett
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Over your weekend’s Instagram feed, you may have seen a scathing satirical video about sending your kid to private school. The video was written and performed by comedian-journalist-podcaster Antoinette Lattouf and fellow multi-hyphenate comedian-writer-broadcaster Mark Humphries – and for so many of us who regularly consider the value of independent school education, it was a great conversation-starter.

The two comedians are seen in the video in dual roles as a set of wealthy private school-obsessed parents and a pair of more earthy every day human beings/parents. Being a comedy sketch, the performances are unashamedly broad and over-the-top, but they do speak to honest truths we should be considering about public vs private education.

Mark Humphries is an ardent supporter of a public school education. He told EducationDaily that he is proud to have been educated within the public system.

“People often assume I was privately educated, but I think that is due to having what some might consider ‘a punchable face’. No, I went to public schools all the way through from primary to high school – and proudly so. I’m a great believer in strong funding for public education.

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“I hesitate to generalise about private/independent schools because they are, of course, not all the same. But the sketch is obviously targeting those so-called ‘prestigious’ schools, which not only put their hand out for taxpayer money but then gouge parents for exorbitant annual fees.”

Difficult conversations

The video is funny, with some charmingly silly jokes about the excess of of private schools and their desirability. As with all good satire, there are truths to be found in the video.

“I just don’t understand how you would be okay with your child not having access to an Olympic-grade swimming pool on a daily basis,” Lattouf asks in the sketch.

This is followed by Humphries asking, with full bombast, “And there is a prestige to private schools. Don’t you want your child to be able to proudly say ‘I went to a school that was investigated by Four Corners?'”

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The joke is obviously about how the culture of inequity can be pushed to the extreme, resulting in disappointing stories, like the March 2024 expose on Four Corners by reporter Louise Milligan into the toxic culture at Sydney’s Cranbrook School. It led to headmaster Nicholas Sampson resigning from his role soon after.

There is a culture that surrounds elite private school education that can lead to supporters trying to defend the indefensible. It is this tone-deaf thinking that leads to a wonderfully pointed comment where the everyday pair in the park are scratching their heads over the attitudes of the private school-focused elitists:

Does private schooling give students a winning edge?

We all want our kids to have the best opportunities made available to them. Many parents feel that they are not meeting their responsibility to their children by not finding the money to go private. As interest rates rise, more and more parents are feeling the economic squeeze.

Late last year, EducationDaily spoke with parent ‘Andrew’, who said he sent his son to a private school after sensing that he had fallen behind in his education after COVID-related lockdowns. Andrew was happy to see his 15-year-old was actively involved with the school’s debating and rowing teams, while also getting positive academic results. Andrew considers the expense “a great return on the investment”.

“I think any parent just wants their child to be happy and healthy – and when it comes to school, we wanted him to enjoy it and for it to be something that could be a really good springboard into a life he loves,” Andrew said.

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The expense of private schools is not insignificant, with many across Australia now costing parents over $40,000 a year.

In a 2023 paper The Public-Private Debate: School Sector Differences in Academic Achievement from Year 3 to Year 9, researchers found that there were no differences evident between public, private, or independent school educations once control measures were put in place to study socioeconomic status and prior NAPLAN achievement. Academic success was governed more by the postcode that a student lives in, rather than the educational opportunities provided by the school.

But some parents are seeing benefits in a private school education, whether that is real or simply perceived. Parent Andrew was happy with the extracurricular activities available to his son. Many public schools are scaling back on sports programs, while private schools generally offered a better student to teacher ratio.

Last year, NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos spoke of the teacher shortages affecting schools across NSW: “There is a classroom crisis in NSW,” he said. “The number of students per teacher is above what it was (14.1) in 2011 when the Coalition took office in NSW, and since that point, we have had significant increases in the number of students with higher needs in public schools.”

When discussing his own kids’ education, Mark Humphries was sympathetic to parents who sought a private education for their kids – even if the option isn’t one he would choose. He told EducationDaily: “I have no desire to enrol my own children into private schools. They currently attend public primary schools. I understand what can drive parents to want to educate their children privately, but I feel this would be much less of a conversation point if governments had not underfunded the public system for so many years.”

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Dan Barrett is the Head of Content at EducationDaily's publisher. He is a Brisbane-based writer/producer/comms professional who has worked for organisations including SBS, Mediaweek, National Seniors Australia, iSentia, the NSW Dept of Customer Service, and Radio National. He is passionate about the Oxford comma and is one of Australia's earliest podcasters.