Canberra's two most expensive private schools charge more than $20,000 in annual fees for Year 12, but it has been a relatively good year for families across the ACT non-government sector with most schools charging modest fee increases – the majority below the cost of education inflation.
The final year at Canberra Grammar will now cost $21,860, in tuition fees and charges, but its overall fee rise between 2015 and 2016 is a fairly modest 3.9 per cent.
Similarly Canberra Girls Grammar School is charging $20,810 per Year 12 student but its rate of increase is 3.8 per cent.
The rate of education inflation is currently 5.5 per cent with government funding increases coming in at around 3 per cent each year.
Meanwhile, St Edmund's College has delivered an unusually low fee rise for senior school families of just 1.2 per cent. Principal Daniel Lawler said it was a conscious decision to tie fee rates more closely to the costs of particular years. Year six fees went up, while Year 11 fees actually went backwards – delivering a saving to families of over $250. Overall fee increases came in at around 3.5 per cent.
"We always recognise that families may find it difficult to meet fees – even those who are fully employed – when there are so many other costs to cover. So we identify where we can save money internally and reduce our costs so as to minimise these yearly fee increases as much as we can," Mr Lawler said.
Trinity Christian School is believed to be one of just two Australian schools which means-test fees.
Principal Andrew Clayton said families on combined incomes less than $107,206 would be automatically eligible for fee concessions, while the school also offered a 30 per cent income for every second child attending, a 60 per cent discount for a third child and a fourth child was educated for free.
Overall, the school's Year 12 fees rose by 4.1 per cent this year.
Mr Clayton said the school's fee system was "admittedly quite complex" but it was very much appreciated by families who were eligible for concessions and also "allows us to enroll a good spectrum of families from all socio-economic backgrounds".
"We really hope to provide a faith-based education for any family which wants to access it."
Like many of the city's non-government schools, St Clare's College always made exceptions to fees where a family was in particular financial hardship.
Principal Paul Carroll said: "Absolutely we take it on a case-by-case basis with any family which approaches us with particular issues, such as job losses or unexpected medical costs."
"We would never turn a family away when they were down on their luck."
In the meantime, St Clare's was always looking at efficiencies whether through the allocation of teaching and administration staff or subject offerings.
"There tends to be a bit of juggling as we always look to minimise our costs while we try to provide the best education opportunities for our students. I don't think I would be the only principal to describe it this way," Mr Carroll said.
Marist College principal Richard Sidorko said a school finance committee helped deliberate yearly fee increases.
"We put in a few scenarios and then try and come up with something that meets the school needs while still being acceptable to parents," he said.
"We put a full schedule of fee increases out at the end of each year. We rarely receive any sort of a backlash, but we do field some family conversations about flexibility."
With this year's increase at 4.6 per cent, Mr Sidorko said: "It is always challenging to squirrel away additional funding and some of our 50-year-old buildings are in their original state. But we just have to make it work."
Canberra Grammar principal Justin Garrick said that the move to coeducation this year would help ease some of the financial pressure on the school into the future.
"The move to coeducation was made both on educational grounds but also because it does allow us to have more certainty about future funding through a broader base of enrolments."
"Contrary to popular perception, Canberra Grammar gets some of lowest federal government funding per capita of any school in the country let alone any school in the ACT and the big challenge is that funding does not keep pace with the rate of education cost inflation," Dr Garrick said.
"We are acutely conscious of the burden on families while we try and balance staff costs, building costs, insurance, technology, co-curricular options – all of which rightly comes with high community expectations that we will match standards comparable to other schools in other cities where fees are often much higher."
Meanwhile Burgmann Anglican School, which has had among the biggest fee increases in recent years has managed to almost half its Year 12 fee rise this year on two years ago when it reached 12.1 per cent.
Principal Steven Bowers said the need to raise fees in recent years was due to the school's rapid expansion – from just 24 students in 1999 to reaching its limit of 1530 students and holding a substantial waiting list.
"We have had to fund major growth and want to attract quality staff to our school and provide for future capital works. But we have been working hard to keep fees as low as possible."