Independent schools are a significant, large and growing component of the Australian schooling system. They have a reputation as providers of quality education and are recognised for their leadership and innovation in school education. Including independent Catholic schools, 1,104 of the 9,414 schools in Australia are in the Independent sector. In 2016, they enrolled over 594,200 students, 16 per cent of the Australian student population.
Catholic systemic schools make up the remainder of the non-government school sector, enrolling 19 per cent of students, and government schools account for the remaining 65 per cent of students. Like both Catholic systemic and government schools, Independent schools are diverse, in terms of the communities they serve, their student population, their size and nature. This diversity has long been considered a major strength of the Australian schooling system, serving well the needs of a geographically dispersed, socially mixed, multicultural and multi-faith population.
Independent schools are located in all states and territories. The majority – 69 per cent – are in metropolitan areas, although there are also many Independent schools, including Aboriginal community schools, located in rural and remote areas. Independent schools in the city also attract many students from rural and isolated areas. Independent schools include small and large day schools and boarding schools, co-educational and single-sex schools.
Many Independent schools are affiliated with a particular religion or promote a particular educational philosophy. Some schools with common aims, affiliations or educational philosophies are governed and administered as systems. Within the sector, systems – which account for 15 per cent of Independent school students – vary in size from as many as 37 schools to as few as .
All recognised government and non-government schools in Australia operate within the bounds of state and territory and Australian Government legislation which together impose requirements in relation to financial operation, accountability, the curriculum, assessment and reporting. What distinguishes Independent schools from other non-government and government schools is their independence of operation within these boundaries. Apart from systemic schools, where the system authority has a management role, Independent schools are set up and governed on an individual school basis, connected directly to their community and answerable to their own governing board or management committee.