While the manoeuvring continues to swirl around the Birmingham school funding reform plan and Labor state governments, the Opposition, Catholic Education and others are engaged in intense lobbying of the Senate crossbenchers, the release of the 2017 Independent Schooling in Australia Snapshot by the Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA) provides current data on the Independents’ profile and where these schools sit in the national education mix.
In 2016 there were 1042 Independent schools, or 1104 when the Independent Catholic schools are included. Of the total, 88% were coeducational, 5% boys, 7% girls and there were 152 boarding schools. 594,200 students were enrolled during the year.
And school size varies greatly, with 11% having less than 50 students and at other end of the scale 18% have between 1000 and 1999. Only 2% have more than 2000 and the average is 535, which compares to the 373-average enrolment in government schools.
Eighty-five per cent of the independents have a religious affiliation of which there were 156 Anglican schools, 204 non-denominational and 146 Christian schools. Smallest of the groups were the five classified as Other Orthodox while 83 international, special, indigenous and community schools were classified as Other.
Of the total enrolment last year, 65.2% attended government schools, 20.3% Catholic and 14.5% Independent; 69.9% were primary students. And the data shows the decline in the number attending government schools – in 2000 the government schools’ share was 69.2%, there were 19.8% in Catholic and 11% in Independent schools. This contrasts with the 2016 shares with government down by 4%, Catholic up by 0.5% and the Independents’ share growing by 3.5%.
Student-teacher ratios have changed for the better across the three sectors with the Independent schools’ ratio last year reaching 14 in primary schools and 10.4 in secondary, government primary schools at 15 and secondary at 12.6, and a slightly higher ratio in Catholic primary schools at 16.6 and the same 12.6 in secondary.
With the various pressure groups taking varying positions from total rejection to better deals for their children, the ICSA has taken a more measured approach in a statement released on 26 May that states:
“Recent media coverage and statements from Catholic school system leaders give the impression that Catholic systemic schools are the only schools adversely impacted by the proposed changes. ISCA modelling shows that around 420 Independent schools, or nearly 40% of the sector, will be worse off under the proposed arrangements than the current legislation. That such a large proportion of Independent schools are impacted by the proposal clearly dispels any perception that the government is targeting one section of the non-government sector over another.
“However, ISCA believes that the opportunity to establish a consistent and equitable funding baseline for all non-government schools should be our highest priority. Continuing to seek to protect inconsistently applied funding arrangements that distort the non-government school relativities is no longer in anybody’s interests, particularly not Australian school students.
“ISCA acknowledges that particularly for stand-alone Independent schools, the transition to the proposed new funding arrangements will be extremely difficult and challenging for those schools’ communities.
“However, on the whole, the majority of Independent schools will be better off under the proposed arrangements. This reflects the genuine profile of the Independent sector with its large number of medium to low fee schools. The median fee level for Independent schools is around $5000, far less than is frequently portrayed in commentary.”