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 2016. This rate of growth has slowed in recent years.


Full-time (FT) enrolment share by sector, selected years, 1970 to 2016














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 2.2 per cent, has consistently exceeded the average growth at Catholic systemic (1.2 per cent) and government (0.9 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 and 2010.

This growth in full-time enrolments has occurred in all states and territories, with the strongest rates of growth in the Northern Territory (3.5 per cent), Western Australia and  Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory all growing by (2.7 per cent).


Growth in the Independent sector by state, 2006 to 2016

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics
Note: 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 2.1 per cent, accounting for about 50 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 48,500 students in 2016.


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, 2016 to 2030

2016 2030** Change (no.) Equivalent
number of
new schools*
Government Schools
Primary 1,520,008 1,723,587 203,579 546
Secondary 952,657 1,153,024 200,367 538
Total 2,472,665 2,876,611 403,946 1,084
Catholic Schools
Primary 404,869 458,655 53,786 122
Secondary 361,952 418,743 56,791 129
Total 766,820 877,398 110,578 251
Independent Schools
Primary 250,548 292,032 41,484 79
Secondary 296,384 376,214 79,830 152
Total 546,931 668,246 121,315 231
All Schools
Primary 2,175,424 2,474,274 298,850 743
Secondary 1,610,992 1,947,981 336,989 838
Total 3,786,416 4,422,255 635,839 1,581

Source: Australian Government Department of Education and Training
*Based on average school size by sector for 2016 derived from ABS schools data.

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