What does the economic downturn mean for private schools?

With the Australian economy slowing, private schools may start to feel the squeeze by frugal parents.

A taste of what might be coming can be seen in Western Australia where, for the first time in 30 years, public school growth has outstripped that of independent schools.

Between 2009 and 2014, WA public schools experienced the biggest spike in student enrolment market share in the country, up 0.4%.

Valerie Gould, Association of Independent Schools of Western Australia (AISWA) executive director, told The Educator that in recognition of the economic climate, the state’s independent schools have tried to keep fee increases low.

However, she added that with other costs increasing – particularly with enterprise bargaining agreements – this was not always possible. Still, Gould was optimistic about the strength of the independent school sector.

“New independent schools are still being established and some of the existing schools are expanding to additional years so the sector is still very strong,” Gould said.

Catholic Education Commission of WA executive director, Tim McDonald, told Business News that some schools were making concessions for parents who were struggling to afford fees.

“Our data shows growth, rather than a loss of students. We are very sympathetic to those parents who can't pay fees, and have mechanisms in place to assist,” he said.

“Our policy is clear - no one who seeks a Catholic education for their child will be refused because of financial hardship.”

While fee-driven independent schools understandably feel the strain during recessions, NSW Secondary Principals Council president, Lila Mularczyk, explained how public schools can also be affected in the event of an economic downturn.

“Unexpected downturns in our economy often result in significant increased demand for places in public schools. This situation is highlighted in concentrations of some communities,” Mularczyk told The Educator.

However, she added that the NSW state education system was “well positioned” to provide quality education for all public education students. 

“The NSW Infrastructure Report 2030 frames future planning of the growing and anticipated growth of student enrolment in public schools,” she said.

Mularczyk added that when the upturn in economy occurs, many families choose to remain in their “new inclusive, quality public school”.