Growth of the Independent school sector
Over the past 40 years, and particularly since the expansion of Australian Government recurrent funding for both government and non-government schools following the recommendations of the ‘Karmel Report’, Schools in Australia: report of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission (1973), the Independent school sector’s share of Australian full-time (FT) enrolments has grown from 4.1 per cent in 1970 to 15.0 per cent in 2020. This rate of growth has slowed in recent years.
Full-time (FT) enrolment share by sector, selected years, 1970 to 2020
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics
Note: The ABS classifies independent Catholic schools as Catholic, rather than Independent.
In the last decade, the average annual increase in full-time enrolments in the Independent sector, at 1.7 per cent, has consistently exceeded the average growth at Catholic systemic (1.0 per cent) and government (1.4 per cent) schools. The rate of growth in the Independent sector has been progressively slowing, although in recent years has increased again from a low 1.3 per cent increase between 2015 and 2016.
This growth in full-time enrolments has occurred in all states and territories, with the strongest rates of growth in Victoria (2.1 per cent), New South Wales (2.0 per cent) and Queensland (1.9 per cent).
Growth in the Independent sector by state, 2010 to 2020
Source: Department of Education, Skills and Employment Non Government School Census
The highest rates of enrolment growth have been experienced by the larger schools in the sector, schools with enrolments of more than 1000 students. The average annual rate of growth for these schools was around 2.8 per cent, accounting for about 81 per cent of the sector’s total growth between 2010 and 2020.
Smaller schools, with fewer than 250 students, have been experiencing a lower rate of enrolment growth. Enrolments in smaller schools have only increased by an average annual rate of 0.5 per cent between 2010 and 2020.
As a result of Australia’s declining birth rate, the Independent school sector is expected to continue to grow, but at a slower rate, over the coming years. Projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that the Australian school population as a whole will continue to grow, but will represent a smaller proportion of the total population over this century.
Enrolments in Independent schools will be influenced by the education and funding policies of governments as well as national and local social and economic development.
Projected enrolment growth in all sectors, 2020 to 2028
Source: Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment
*Based on average school size by sector for 2020 derived from ABS schools data.
**2028 figures based on Department of Education & Training enrolment predictions.
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