How Australia's education system is shifting

How Australia

The non-government sector’s Independent and Catholic schools are becoming demographically more similar in the type of communities they serve, according to an analysis of 2016 census data.

The analysis, undertaken by the Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA), found that both sectors are now predominantly made up of middle income families.

ISCA’s analysis of the Census data looked at trends across all school sectors in areas including family income, enrolment share and growth, dependent children and religious affiliation.

The Census results show an increasing similarity in income between Independent and Catholic school families, with a continuation in the trend of strong Independent sector growth for medium-income families ($52,000 to $155,999).

ISCA executive director, Colette Colman, said the new data “helps to understand the ongoing demographic trends and changes in the ever-evolving makeup of Australia’s education sectors”.

“The perception that all Independent schools are high-SES schools serving only high SES families is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Independent sector,” Colman said.

“For the last thirty years most of growth in the Independent sector has been in low to middle-fee schools.”

Colman said Catholic systemic and Independent schools and school communities now have more similarities than differences and over time have moved to serve substantially similar populations.

The proportion of low-income families (below $52,000) in both the Independent and Catholic sectors is identical at 13%. Government schools show a distinctly different pattern, with 26% of their students from low-income families.

Private school enrolments on the rise

Enrolments in the Independent, Catholic and government sectors have all grown since 2011. The Independent sector has been growing the fastest at 10%, the Catholic sector at 8% and government schools at 9%.

“Despite reports of a shift to government schools in recent years, the 2016 Census shows that since 2011 the Independent sector enrolment share has remained unchanged at 15.2%,” Colman said.

Catholic schools have experienced a slight decline from 21.6% to 21.3%, while government schools have increased from 63.3% to 63.5%.

Census results show that the average number of dependent children in an Australian family has remained relatively stable at 2.42 from 2011 to 2016.

Independent schools remain unchanged at an average of 2.40 children, while Catholic schools have had a slight decline in family size, dropping from 2.42 to 2.39 children. Government schools have the largest families with an average of 2.43 children.

When it comes to the religious affiliation of students across the three sectors, probably the most notable trend is the continued growth of the No Religion category.

Since the previous Census, students with no religion have increased from 30% to 37%.

“It would be fair to say that all three school sectors are, on average, becoming increasingly non-religious,” Colman said.

In Independent schools the No Religion category grew from 24% in 2011 to 31% in 2016. In Catholic schools families selecting No Religion went from 10% to 14%, and in the Government sector it grew from 38% to 45%.