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 2017. This rate of growth has slowed in recent years.


Full-time (FT) enrolment share by sector, selected years, 1970 to 2017

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 2.0 per cent, has consistently exceeded the average growth at Catholic systemic and government(1.0 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 1.5 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 (2.9 per cent), Australian Capital Territory (2.6 per cent) and Western Australia (2.3 per cent).

Growth in the Independent sector by state, 2007 to 2017

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 3.2 per cent, accounting for about 90 per cent of the sector’s total growth between 2007 and 2017.

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, 2017 to 2028

2017 2028** Change (no.) Equivalent
number of
new schools*
Government Schools
Primary 1,553,865 1,793,450 239,585 632
Secondary 962,613 1,223,081 260,468 687
Total 2,516,478 3,016,531 500,053 1,319
Catholic Schools
Primary 405,695 446,065 40,371 92
Secondary 360,956 389,208 28,252 64
Total 766,650 835,273 68,623 156
Independent Schools
Primary 254,988 287,328 32,340 62
Secondary 302,134 358,572 56,439 107
Total 557,121 645,900 88,779 169
All Schools
Primary 2,214,547 2,526,843 312,296 766
Secondary 1,625,703 1,970,861 345,159 846
Total 3,840,249 4,497,704 657,455 1,612

Source: Australian Government Department of Education and Training
*Based on average school size by sector for 2017 derived from ABS schools data.

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