Enrolment trends

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 14.5 per cent in 2015. This rate of growth has slowed in recent years.

Full-time (FT) enrolment share by sector, selected years, 1970 to 2015

02j-Enrolment-trends-Table-1-Full-time-enrolment-growthSource: Australian Bureau of Statistics

*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 2.3 per cent, has consistently exceeded the average growth at Catholic systemic (1.3 per cent) and government (0.8 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 1.6 per cent increase between 2009 and2010.

This growth in full-time enrolments has occurred in all states and territories, with the strongest rates of growth in the Northern Territory (4.2 per cent), Western Australia (3.3 per cent), Queensland (3.0 per cent) and the Australian Capital Territory (2.7 per cent).

Growth in the Independent sector by state, 2005 to 2015

02j-Enrolment-trends-Table-2-Growth-in-Independent-sector

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics
*The ABS classifies independent Catholic schools as Catholic, rather than Independent.

The highest rates of 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 2.2 per cent, accounting for about 58 per cent of the sector’s total growth.

Smaller schools, with fewer than 250 students, have been experiencing a lower rate of enrolment growth. Enrolments in smaller schools have decreased from a peak of over 50,000 students in 2007 to 47,000 students in 2015.

Projected growth

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, 2014 to 2023

 20152025**Change (no.)Equivalent
number of
new schools*
Government Schools
Primary1,484,2491,637,834153,585420
Secondary942,0111,112,599170,588467
Total2,426,2602,750,433324,173887
Catholic Schools
Primary403,910437,03733,12775
Secondary361,147404,81043,66399
Total765,057841,84776,790174
Independent Schools
Primary246,917277,28130,36458
Secondary292,460360,02067,560129
Total539,377637,30197,924187
All Schools
Primary2,135,0762,352,152217,076547
Secondary1,595,6181,877,429281,811710
Total3,730,6944,229,581498,8871,258

Source: Australian Government Department of Education and Training
*Based on average school size by sector for 2015 derived from ABS schools data.
** Note: Projections beyond 2015 impacted by shift of Yr 7 from Primary to Secondary in WA & QLD

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