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 14.7 per cent in 2018. This rate of growth has slowed in recent years.



Full-time (FT) enrolment share by sector, selected years, 1970 to 2018

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics
Note: The ABS classifies independent Catholic schools as Catholic, rather than Independent.
Percentages my not add up to 100 due to rounding


In the last decade, the average annual increase in full-time enrolments in the Independent sector, at 1.8 per cent, has consistently exceeded the average growth at Catholic systemic (0.9 per cent) and government (1.2 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 1.3 per cent increase between 2015 and 2016.

This growth in full-time enrolments has occurred in all states and territories, with the strongest rates of growth in the Australian Capital Territory (2.3 per cent), New South Wales (2.1 per cent) and Victoria (2.0 per cent).

Growth in the Independent sector by state, 2008 to 2018

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


The highest rates of enrolment 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 2.6 per cent, accounting for about 80 per cent of the sector’s total growth between 2008 and 2018.

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 50,400 students in 2007 to less than 47,200 students in 2017.


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, 2018 to 2028

2018 2028** Change (no.) Equivalent
number of
new schools*
Government Schools
Primary 1,579,864 1,793,450 219,586 556
Secondary 973,660 1,223,081 260,421 649
Total 2,553,524 3,016,531 463,005 1,205
Catholic Schools
Primary 405,369 446,065 40,696 93
Secondary 360,143 389,208 29,065 67
Total 765,512 835,273 69,761 160
Independent Schools
Primary 261,927 287,328 25,401 48
Secondary 307,590 358,572 50,982 97
Total 569,518 645,900 76,383 145
All Schools
Primary 2,247,160 2,526,843 279,683 697
Secondary 1,641,394 1,970,861 329,267 812
Total 3,888,554 4,497,704 609,150 1,509

Source: Australian Government Department of Education and Training
*Based on average school size by sector for 2018 derived from ABS schools data.

**2028 figures based on Department of Education & Training enrolment predictions.


Back to top