In February, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed that the proportion of Australian children enrolled in government schools had increased slightly over the past year.
According to the data, public schools now educate 65.4% of all Australian school students (2,483,802), rising slightly from 65.2% in 2015 and 65.1% in 2016.
Interestingly, the figures showed that the percentage of students from high income families enrolled in public schools has risen by almost 7% over the last decade.
In NSW, 50% of all families earning over $156,000 a year are now sending their kids to public schools, compared to 43.6% a decade ago, while 27.8% now attend Catholic schools and 22% go to private schools – down from 29% in 2006.
This week, there was more good news for public schools with data revealing public secondary school enrolments have risen for the first time in seven years. According to the figures, more than 300,830 students enrolled in these schools last year.
This represents an increase of more than 760 students from 2016, reversing a strong decline in numbers since 2011.
So what’s driving this overall trend towards public education?
Some experts say parents are beginning to recognise that sending their child to a private school doesn’t necessarily equate to them getting better academic outcomes.
Dr David Zyngier, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Education at Monash University, said research in Australia and overseas shows that student academic outcomes in private schools are no better than their equivalent ‘like’ public school on the basis of socio-economic status.
“Parents are starting to realise that their local public schools can provide all the necessary resources and quality teaching and high academic and personal outcomes even though they might not have a state of the art aquatic, equestrian and well-being centers, rowing sheds, a dedicated music auditorium and assembly hall, or campuses in China,” Zyngier told The Educator.
“Parents have also understood that enrolling their children in the local public school will be both a financial saving [around $500k over 13 years before tax] while ensuring the best possible academic and social outcomes for their children.”
However, despite the welcome boost in student enrolments for public schools, some states, such as NSW and Victoria, are experiencing issues around how to accommodate the surge of extra students.
In the next 20 years, NSW public schools expect student enrolments to spike from about 800,000 to almost one million students, with private school enrolments also expected to increase from 400,000 to 500,000 students over the same period.
To cope with this issue, the NSW Government said it will use demountables and “contemporary modular classrooms”.