What is the difference between public and private schools in Australia?

Are public or private schools better? Are private schools in Australia worth it?

It is important to highlight that each family should judge all schools upon their merits and the fit for your circumstances and child’s needs, as your local public school may be just as ideal for your child as the top private school in the country.  Make your decision from your own educational experiences, work commitments, school hours, proximity, student support services, religious beliefs, costs and other contingencies.  Additionally, schools with supportive, active parents tend to have better reputations than those that do not.

The Australian primary and secondary school system has primarily two options: private (higher-fee paying) or public (State funded).  For families, the choice to study under either arrangement is one of cost and opportunity.

Schools in Australia generally fit under the following categories:

  • Public                 State funded

  • Catholic and Independent         Mostly privately funded and run like a business

    Public/State Schools

    Private/Independent/Catholic Schools


    Public school education is free to residents of Australia for those wishing to complete the minimum requirements.

    Schools will request a volunteer annual contribution from parents, the amount which is set by the principal in consultation with the school community and budget requirements. This payment isn’t compulsory but it greatly assists the school with its resources.

    In addition, parents are usually required to pay for textbooks, uniforms, disposable equipment, excursions, missing library books, meals and other extra-curricular activities.

    Many families are eligible for education assistance from The Dept of Human Services and should check with the Department for full information.

    Secondary schools will publicise their set fees per subject at the beginning of the semester but this varies according to each school and subject.

    Important note: NSW, temporary residents are charged unsubsidised fees.

    Private institutions request the payment of fees to attend.  The government does provide a portion of funding to each school in addition to the tuition costs of each family.

    Each school sets its own fees and can vary from $2500 per year to more than $20,000.  You will need to contact each school for a schedule of fees.

    Additional costs will include uniforms, excursions, extra-curricular activities, meals, textbooks, subject extras (such as technical) and library fines.

    Non-payment of fees will result in the student being excluded from the school


    The quality of teachers is similar between both systems.  Each system has its own way of motivating the teachers and regardless of the school, some teachers will better relate to the children than others.

    Teachers from both public and private systems are paid comparable rates and are sourced from the same universities, so it comes down to the individual.

    It’s recommended to meet with the teachers of the school you’re interested in prior to enrolling.

    Please see point to the left.


    Public schools have fewer resources than private.  Being dependent on government expenditure and funding guidelines means there is a limit to what each school can spend.

    Public schools still meet the needs of the students with working facilities, playgrounds, equipment and technology and have to meet educational criteria and occupational health and safety principles.  However, these are updated less frequently and are often older technology.

    Strong economic management can also contribute to a public school having excellent resources as some institutions are better placed to utilise the finances and institutions given.

    What makes private education attractive to many families is the quality of teaching resources.  Having higher incoming funding, the schools usually have more updated classrooms, facilities, equipment, technology and educational devices (such as laboratory apparatus).

    Schools may also offer a wider variety of excursions, sports, extra-curricular activities, events and educational opportunities (such as external competitions).

    A family with child/children enrolled in a private school should be aware that annual fees are often base rates and additional costs throughout the year will apply.


    Will only accept children from a designated catchment area.  Some families will move into an area to get access to a certain school.

    Not zoned.


    Currently, public school curriculum is issued by each state and can vary.  However, upon the rollout of the national curriculum in 2013-2015, the main four subjects of maths, science, English and history will have standardised content, meaning both public and private schools will teach from the same structure.

    Private schools have worked within educational guidelines for curriculum but have largely been independent of regulations.  Private schools will have to adhere to the National Curriculum when its released, meaning public and private schools will be teaching from the same structure.

    Special Needs

    Public schools are the better system to utilise if your child requires special education.  The government provides extra funding to the school for aides and extra resources if certain criteria are met.  Also, a public school is more likely to have a dedicated class for students who require extra attention.  You will have to enquire at all the schools in your catchment to determine which has the resources to suit your child’s requirements.

    Private schools do have some support services for students with special needs but each institution is varied from strong support systems to an inability to cater for special needs students at all.  It’s advisable to contact the individual school you’re interested in.


    In 2011, there were approximately 6700 government run schools in Australia and approximately 1800 non-government institutions.  The majority of students in Australia attend State schools.

    Numbers are rising of the children attending independently-run schools, a trend which has continued consistently since 2001.  This sector accounts for around one-third of all students.

    Class sizes

    The ratio for students to teachers in both systems is very similar (around 15:1).  Each school has class sizes according to school size and teacher numbers and needs to be assessed individually.

    Please see points to the left.

    Selective Schools

    There are some selective high schools in the public system, the majority in Sydney.  Students are tested for entry.

    Some private schools do informal testing upon entry but their selectivity is more about high fees.

    There has been much debate over which system is the best for educating children.  The general consensus is that independent/Catholic education provides a better rounded education because of higher-quality facilities and education resources.  Whether public or private, each school can be excellent or struggling according to innumerable variables such as staff management, internal culture, teacher support, anti-bullying policies, financial administration, family involvement, location and socio-economic influences.  Each family should analyse all schools available to them on what the child needs, rather than focus on system generalisations.

    To learn more:

Go to ‘Get Assessed’ at the top or bottom and in your own Client Area, receive personalised information from your assigned consultant.


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