Independent schools are highly diverse with 80 per cent operating as autonomous entities.
Independent schools are a diverse group of non-government schools serving a range of different communities. Many Independent schools provide a religious or values-based education. Others promote a particular educational philosophy or interpretation of mainstream education.
Independent schools include small and large day schools and boarding schools, co-educational and single-sex schools.
Types of Independent schools include:
- Schools affiliated with Christian denominations, for example Anglican, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Uniting Church, Seventh Day Adventist and Presbyterian
- Non-denominational Christian schools
- Islamic schools
- Jewish schools
- Montessori schools
- Steiner schools
- Schools constituted under specific Acts of Parliament, such as grammar schools
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community schools
- Schools that specialise in meeting the needs of students with disabilities
- Schools that cater for students at severe educational risk due to a range of social/emotional/behavioural and other risk factors.
Most schools in the sector are co-educational. In 2021, 80 per cent of Independent school students attended co-educational schools. Single-sex schools enrol 19 per cent of boys in boys-only schools and 21 per cent of girls in girls-only schools.
Some schools with common aims, affiliations or educational philosophies are governed and administered as systems. Almost 20 per cent of Independent school students are enrolled in a school that is governed and administered by a system. Systems vary in size with as many as 34 schools or as few as 3.
The largest systems within the Independent school sector are the Lutheran, Anglican and Seventh Day Adventist school systems. There are many other groupings of Independent schools throughout Australia that are not formal systems, but which provide member schools with support.
The Independent school sector differs from Catholic systemic and government schools in the proportion of enrolments in primary and secondary education. In the Independent sector, primary schooling accounts for less than half the total student population (43 per cent), whereas in Catholic systemic and government schools, primary students account for 54 per cent and 60 per cent respectively.
Secondary students make up 57 per cent of Independent school students, compared with 46 per cent of Catholic systemic school students and 40 per cent of government school students. This appears to be largely due to parents choosing an Independent school for secondary or senior secondary education, although this pattern differs across states and territories.
Primary and secondary students by sector, 2021
The Independent sector also differs from Catholic system and government schools in the number of combined schools offering both primary and secondary schooling in the one school. Around 64 per cent of all Independent schools are combined schools. Several Independent schools also offer middle school programs, designed to meet the specific developmental needs of early adolescence.
Schools of all sizes and places
Independent schools are in all Australian states and territories. They include small and large day schools and boarding schools, co-educational and single-sex schools.
Two thirds of Independent schools) are in major cities and one third, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community schools, are located in rural and remote areas. Independent schools in the city also attract many students from rural and isolated areas.
The Independent school sector contains some of Australia’s largest schools and as well as having a significant number of smaller schools. Twenty-six Independent schools (2 per cent) have more than 2,000 students, while at the other extreme, 140 schools (12 per cent) have fewer than 50 students enrolled.
In Australia, 38 per cent of Independent schools have fewer than 200 students, and 42 per cent have enrolments between 200 and 1,000 students.