Private schools face collapsing enrolments

With unemployment set to rockets and households all over the nation facing falling disposable income, Australia’s private schools are facing a big drop-off in enrolments and fee revenue:

The Association of Independent Schools in NSW, which represents 33 per cent of all independent school students in Australia, said COVID-19 coming on top of the bushfires has hit parents’ ability to pay.

Chief executive Geoff Newcombe said the deadline for the next set of school fees was rushing towards parents.

“Independent schools are not-for-profit and operate on thin margins; they rely on school fees to meet their expenses, 75 per cent of which are salaries for teachers and support staff.

“Our association, together with other states is calling on the federal and state governments to ensure that vulnerable independent schools can continue to offer teaching in either an online mode at home or at school.”

Private schooling is a form of discretionary expenditure for households. When times get tough, they can simply move their children out of private schools into the public system in order to save money.

Hopefully a beneficial side effect from the coronavirus is that it will bring down school fees, which grew at nearly twice the rate of inflation over the past decade:

Evidence suggests that the academic benefits of private schools are, at best, very marginal (see here).  While at the same time, the costs of private schools was already becoming difficult to justify.

With Australian households facing extreme financial pressures, private schools are facing heavy losses of both students and fee revenue.

Leith van Onselen


  1. I think they should be bailed out!

    * Dom holds hands up to fend off hail of stones from MB members in repeat of stoning scene from Life of Brian *


    • happy valleyMEMBER

      But, they are mainly owned by religious bodies (eg catholic and anglican churches) who are loaded? And how many state public schools could cope with many more enrolments? The private schools should bite the bullet on fees – the unis are going to have to do it?

  2. My entire family for many generations went through the elite schools.

    Maybe 3% of the people who attend these institutions comes out anywhere near socially adjusted to the point they would not be diagnosed sociopaths – almost all of them have deep psychological problems adjusting to society and accepting the normalcy, the fact they are not special, nor elite, nor chosen, nor better than anyone else as they have been told – on the hour every single hour for their entire school life.

    The drop out and failure rate from these schools at the tertiary level is fearsome and one of the most closely guarded statistics in all of education.

    The almost total inability to self discipline, to show respect, and basic humility is astounding – the total lack of social conscience is desperately sad, while the problems with the “opposite” gender are the stuff of legend.

    The level of drug taking is off the charts as is sexual assault – whilest at least 10% of my year level topped themselves within the decade of leaving. Many more since – its an unspoken epidemic.

    That said I also grew up amongst kids from high schools from inner Melbourne (Melbourne High, Melbourne University High School, Princess Hill, Mac Robertsons and many others) – self determined, intelligent individuals.

    Arrogance was equally distributed – as was drug taking.

    M.C.E.G.S. – in the picture – would be difficult to get away with sundries for much under $50k – I could send my child on 4 international educational trips with week long stays at the Hague, United Nations, Egypt Museum, Hermitage – and still have enough left over for private tutors in sport, Latin, music, maths, physics, chemistry.

    It is the most ridiculous waste of money – $600k 1 bedroom kerosene sky kennels in Broadmeadows are saner.


    • Thank you saying that. My son attends a comfortable Catholic high school and I am starting to notice many of the unfortunate character traits you describe. This virus crisis is a good opportunity to remove him.

      • Some of my relatives went to a well known inner city Melbourne school and are amongst the MOST well adjusted family I know from these schools – fantastic people. Out of 4 children one has (had) a job.

        The most common career path for kids from these schools has become a “builder”. Why bother ?

        The only wealth path they follow is into banking, mergers, lawyers. If thats what you want then go for it., I want my kids to have a life and be decent people.

      • boomengineeringMEMBER

        Mine went to St Paul’s Manly, was bullied for being tall and obese
        Lives by himself now in 40s yo.

      • Catholic high schools were once good at helping the Catholic community deal with anti-Catholic sentiment ‘back in the day’. It was Catholics helping over Catholics during times of adversity. It was more affordable so that all Catholics could get their kids a quality education and within the network, and hopefully help push them into the ranks of professionals such as doctors and lawyers.

        I don’t think we have such a need now, at least in the Catholic community.

    • +many on the drugs.

      One of the reasons it isn’t more broadly discussed is that it can be covered up during the schooling and afterwards. The only difference I’ve noticed between drug users who attempt recovery is that some have means behind them and others don’t. The means, and network of connections that the family may have, allows the recovered person to restart their life. The social stigma means that it isn’t discussed. An unfortunate side effect is that drug abuse and its associated problems get tied to the poorer sections of society when it is much broader and should be dealt with as such.

    • Must have changed since I went to one. Lots of entitled people but they progressed through university no troubles. No major drug issues or sexual assaults that I am aware of. Nor have any of my sisters reported anything similar.

      • I went through state but my other half went through the private system – all her circle and their partners are solid middle class, well-adjusted people. Maybe she just avoided the psychos, who knows.

        There seems to be a lot of sweeping statements being made about private/independent schools.

      • The stats on private school kids dropping out early is simply a matter of public record and has been well documented for decades. There are plenty of kids like yourself who went through the private school system who were blissfully unaware of absolutely anything – and continue to think that their incredibly restricted circle of 5 friends is indicative of things overall.

        I’m glad you, or your sisters are not aware of any sexual assaults – that really covers the several million kids passing through every year – you are very broad minded, money well spent I see.

      • I wonder if private school boarders, who typically come from the country and farms, are more robust and therefore do better at university by nature of being more resilient based on being away from home growing up, and time spent on the farm?

        • I don’t know how well they do in life (in aggregate) but, yeah, boarding would certainly help them grow up (and toughen up) a lot quicker. Mind you, most of them have come from tough backgrounds to begin with — at what age did you shear your first sheep?

    • went to St Pius in Newcastle.13 people from my year have suicided. paedo central apparently. 2 of my teachers in jail for life. I was oblivious to all of it.

      • Definitely a fair amount of paedo activity from back in the day (judging by the stories I hear) but it really has changed an awful lot since then. Can’t speak for the Catholic schools.

  3. turncoatMEMBER

    We need to ramp up promotional efforts in China for private primary and high schools. Government support is critical. Chinese parents can already buy homes here and the whole family should be fast tracked to permanent residency.

    It is the only way to save this important export industry.

  4. should be nationalised and private schools banned for good

    they are not making our education or country any better

      • darklydrawlMEMBER

        I suspect the Gov Schools would be pretty decent if they got the same level of funding that the private schools do. There is a vast gap in funds.

        • They consistently out perform the private schools every year. With funding the private schools would be empty.

          • So, what is the problem? You say Govt schools are superior – great. What’s there to whine about? Let people send their children to private schools if they wish. Isn’t that what free choice is about? I don’t want to live in a world where the Gubmint dictates what I can and can’t do, even if YOU need to be instructed …

            If I were in your shoes, I’d feel self-satisfied that I were saving myself $125,000 per child in school fees AND getting a superior education in the process. So, why the complaints – I don’t understand. I don’t understand why women spend $1,000 on Gucci hangbag – but I don’t complain about it or beg the Gubmint to make it illegal.

          • Dom, education isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a product. Finland seems to top the testing or nearly does every year and it’s education system other than just results appears to be highly regard and no private schools.

        • turncoatMEMBER

          The government schools do get more funding. In 2017 Government schools received $13,444 per student from state and federal governments whereas independent schools received only $9,601. To the extent that the private schools received any more it is because the parents chose to make a contribution over an above this.

          Blind Freddy can work out that private schools save taxpayer funds and thereby allow greater payments to be made to public education. Why people believe the teachers union BS is beyond me.

          • darklydrawlMEMBER

            Yep, I know that, but my personal feeling is if those folks want a private school with all the fantasic facilities they provide – than they can pay for it and leave the taxpayers out of it. The different in quality and availablity of ‘everything’ is staggering (and IMHO, unfair). Let me reword my original post

            “Gov Schools would be pretty decent if they got the same level of overall funding”.

      • Yes – they consistently out perform the private schools – and have done for decades.

    • When my kid – 9 started at his primary school in an inner leafy suburb there were 200 kids and they played footy at lunch.

      His younger brother – 5 – is in the same school with 400 students (200 more coming) with rotational play time – triple story portables and ball sports banned.

      Reckon another couple of hundred kids wont hurt – none of them are being educated anyway.

  5. Independent schools are not-for-profit and operate on thin margins

    Bwhaa Haaa Haaa! These guys are the cash cows for religious institutions. Most have balance sheets in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.

    • roylefamilyMEMBER

      I agree. My nephew is in one. Gold plated everything. Even him and his mother are embarrassed at times.

    • darklydrawlMEMBER

      Another Vote for Glamb. That’s one a day so far. “Glamb for President” flags will be going up at ours shortly.

    • Yeah, I laughed at that, somewhat like the NFP crap the churches run funded by the gov that pay “rent” to the church for office space etc. No different to how multinationals avoid paying tax here.

  6. I wonder if Caulfield Grammar will have to delay building their new swimming/diving complex with a moving/adjustable floor to allow water polo to be played. Basic education resources!

    I suspect the money is already in the bank.

    Oz has the highest proportion of private school students in the first world – where do we stand in education rankings?

  7. It was the private schools who shut down first and closed ranks on overseas students – maybe being able to think and act independently to the gov has a few upsides? Agree this does not justify the excessive gov funding many receive.

  8. Right now, it’s hard to think of anything more important than the $13-14b federal LibLab program to cripple the state schools and ensure that church schools are the provider of first resort.

    • darklydrawlMEMBER

      They hate the state schools as they pushed back on Access Ministries and the whole “Chaplins in the school” fiasco.

      Most of the staff vote Labor too, and the LNP know it too.

  9. You’re making me like COVID-19, MB. Seems like a lot of upside for a horrible disease.

    • migtronixMEMBER

      There really is. The cap in mass immigration alone means there are pay rises coming for those of us still in jobs, and no the throngs of unemployed won’t be able to tamper the rise else they wouldn’t be unemployed now…

  10. To be fair, not all Independent schools are loaded and often the fees are quite reasonable.

    But the comment about thin margins is hilarious – they get the same funding per student as public schools PLUS they get the fees (however modest those might be). So it cannot be harder than what every single public school has to deal with.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      The margin is thin because they exists to funnel government money to their landlords.

  11. My kids go to a private school. A very high proportion of the parents are financial advisors.

  12. Maybe states should not have offered free public school to the children of those on temporary work visas?

    Just like those on temporary visas and their dependents don’t get access to Medicare and have to go private, perhaps temporary worker’s children should have to go private too?

    This would have pushed more customers, I mean students, to the private schools? More money kept in the economy.

  13. When will the 835,000 TR ‘foreign students & partners’ have their visas cancelled & be forcibly deported?

    Their pretext visa & Coe excuse for even being in Australia no longer exists.
    The fake international ‘schools’ & colleges & ‘Unis’ are or will be all shut down.
    1. They are foreign nationals.
    2. Most have no real health cover at all & will overload our public health care system in times of crisis when it’s needed for Australian citizens first.
    3. These foreign students can all pay their fees and to ‘remote school’ from their country of nationality – China, India, Bangladesh or Nepal.

    They won’t. They were never here to be educated.

    Round them all up and park them in Darwin or somewhere well away from the rest of Australia & make it a responsibility of their country of nationality to repatriate them all back to China, India, Nepal, Bangla, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil etc.

    Not our problem.
    They are all in blatant visa breach and need to be cleaned out.

    And there is half a million jobs & 200,000 or so ex Australian dwellings that they have stolen released back to Australians.