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Exodus from public to private schools stops

Matthew Knott, Henrietta Cook and Judith Ireland

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Labor has committed an extra $37 billion in schools funding over ten years and demands the government match it in the first question time of 2016.

The long-running exodus from public schools to the non-government sector has halted, with the proportion of Australian students in public schools increasing for the first time in decades.

According to new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released on Thursday, 65.2 per cent of Australian students attended public schools, up from 65.1 per cent the previous year. The proportion of students in non-government schools dropped from 34.9 per cent in 2014 to 34.8 per cent.

In Victoria, 63 per cent of students attended public schools in 2015, up from 62.8 per cent the previous year.

In NSW, 65.3 per cent of students attended public schools in 2015, up from 65.1 in 2014. NSW public school enrolments grew by 1.1 per cent over the year, on par with the 1.2 per cent growth in the non-government sector.


This is a shift from the long-term trend, which saw enrolments in independent and Catholic schools surge by almost 10 per cent from 2004 to 2013 while public school enrolments grew by just one per cent over the same period.

Trevor Cobbold, national convenor of the public school lobby group Save our Schools, said the drift towards the non-government sector began in the late 1970s and has continued ever since.

He said the recent shift could be explained by historically low wage growth and media coverage given to studies questioning the educational benefits of private schooling.

"Several recent studies have shown the results at private schools are often no better than public schools when socio-economic factors are taken into account," he said.

"Increased awareness of this could be influencing the decisions people are making."

The growth in public schooling has driven by an increase in enrolments in government primary schools. Non-government schools continued to gain market share in the high school years.

A separate report released by the Productivity Commission showed that NSW schools received $16,449 per student in federal and state funding in 2013-14, up from $15,608 the previous year. This was just above the national average of $16,177, up on $15,910 the year before.

The Productivity Commission report also found that childcare costs continue to rise, with the weekly cost for long-day care increasing by five per cent from 2014 to 2015. 

Nationally, the median cost for 50 hours of care a week was $400, but costs varied between states and metropolitan and regional areas. 

The ACT had the highest weekly cost, nearing the $500 mark, while Queensland had the lowest, at around $350. Both NSW and Victoria sit around the national median at $400 a week. 

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