License article

Step 1: Public versus private

What you'll learn in this step: Be aware of the costs in both public and private schools, including the hidden extras.

A good education doesn't come cheap, especially if you opt for a private school – as an increasing number of Australians, not all of them rich, are doing.

Arguments about the merits of public versus private education aside, you need to be able to compare the true costs of each.

In either system you'll be dipping into your pocket for school fees, uniforms, materials, sports equipment, musical instruments, excursions, and perhaps even private coaching.

And the older the child, the greater the demands on your resources.

The overall cost can range from a few hundred dollars at a public primary school up to $20,000 (more if you're boarding) at a top independent school.

Many people combine the two, using the public system in the primary school years before moving to a private high school.


School fees themselves vary from state to state and from school to school. A public primary school might ask for $100 to cover textbooks and other materials for the year, while a Catholic school might levy several hundred dollars or even a few thousand.

Then there are private schools like SCEGGS and Ascham in Sydney, where school fees now top $20,000 a year. If you've got a couple of girls, you're looking at $40,000 a year –or a whopping $80,000 you have to earn annually before tax to fund their education. And that doesn't take into account the cost of uniforms, books and the rest.

Even before your child arrives at the school, you'll have shelled out a couple of hundred dollars or more in the form of an administration fee for going on the waiting list, then hundreds more as an enrolment fee when you accept a place. These fees may not be refundable if you end up going elsewhere.

There's the building fund, library fund, foundation fund ... most private schools seek contributions to one or more of these via the school fee statement. With some schools it's obligatory, with others it's optional.

Then there are the fund-raisers – fetes, balls, dinner dances and so on. A word of warning: the flashier the school, the flashier the bids at the auctions at many of these events.

Of course, fund-raising is almost a full-time occupation at public schools because of limited government funding. You'll be asked for both your money and your time, if you can spare them.

Public or private, the parents' association usually asks for an annual contribution – say, $50.

Once you've got over the shock of school fees, there's another fright awaiting parents joining the private education system. Compulsory uniforms, texts, stationery, laptops sports gear, excursions and music lessons can add up to a serious sum.

In a public school, you'll still be shelling out for extras such as excursions but they won't be as costly.

Kitting a child out in winter, summer and sports uniforms can set you back hundreds of dollars at private school. A blazer alone can cost about $150, then there's the boater, the tunics, the trousers, the tracksuit, the ties, the badges and more. Uniforms at public schools tend to be less elaborate and less costly.

Education costs can include:

  • Enrolment and administration fees
  • Annual school fees
  • Parents' association levy
  • Uniforms
  • Textbooks
  • Stationery
  • Laptops
  • Sports gear
  • Activities such as music lessons
  • Excursions
  • Private coaching
  • Building fund
  • Library fund
  • Other fund-raising