Australian Parents Moving Away From Public Schools as Pandemic Exposes Education Quality Gap

By Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at
February 24, 2022Updated: March 1, 2022

Australian parents have turned away from public schools during the pandemic, flocking to private schools with higher educational standards and faith-based schools with stronger values and beliefs.

Private schools have seen a 6.1 percent increase in enrolments between 2019 and 2021, compared with 2.2 percent for Catholic schools and 1 percent for government schools, according to the annual Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) schools report released on Feb. 23.

The most notable shift could be observed in the primary level with free primary schools losing 13,368 students, compared to 12,532 extra enrolments in fee-paying schools.

Meanwhile, enrolments soared in both private and state secondary schools, with the private sector taking in 10,000 more new students than the state sector last year. (17,599 extra enrolments compared to 6,980 extra enrolments)

But overall, free state schools still held the greatest share of enrolments (65 percent), followed by Catholic schools (19 percent) and independent schools (15 percent).

Geoff Newcombe, Chief Executive at the Association of Independent Schools NSW (AISNSW) told The Epoch Times “independent school parents were delighted with the way teachers and schools managed the challenges of remote teaching and learning since the pandemic started.”

“Many of these schools have hundreds of students on waiting lists due to arbitrary enrolment caps imposed on them by local councils,” he noted in a media release.

Projections indicated the independent sector would absorb an additional 50,000 students by the end of this decade—the equivalent of 100 new schools by 2030, he added. “This will require a significant increase in school infrastructure.”

Glenn Fahey, Research Fellow in Education Policy at The Centre for Independent (CIS) Studies, said the pandemic has “revealed the gap in the quality of education being delivered by schools.” As a result, it’s “no surprise to see a flight from public schools” as many parents consider fee-paying schools “better able” to meet their children’s needs. This trend, he said, is likely to continue in the years ahead.

“Parents really value schools having high expectations of students,” he told The Epoch Times.

“Previous CIS research shows students in private schools spent more time studying during the home-based learning period of the pandemic. This is one signal the expectations on students in private schools may have been higher.”

As parents were more involved in schooling during the pandemic, they also value that independent schools give them a greater say in the school’s priorities, Fahey added.

“This revealed some of the issues that affect public schools the most —inflexibility, bureaucracy, and poor educational standards.”

Meanwhile, a religious organisation has argued the rapid growth of faith-based schools underlines the urgency of providing religious protections to ensure the schools can teach, employ staff and conduct their schools in accordance with their beliefs.

“The growth in enrolments, where parents are putting their hands into their wallets and choosing a Christian school, bears out the value placed on schools with strong and explicit values and beliefs,” Christian Schools Australia Director of Public Policy, Mark Spencer, said in a media release.

“Where will these parents have to send their children in the future if Christian and other faith-based schools were forced to close?” he asked.

Spencer also noted that reports show small regional Christian schools experience growth of more than 65 percent while larger metropolitan schools in growth corridors experience more than 57 percent growth.

‘There are certainly numerous Christian schools across Australia once again recording double-digit enrolment growth,” he said.

According to CIS polling in 2019, parents who send their children to independent schools are more satisfied with their choice than those who choose state schools.

Education researcher Fahey noted Australia has some of the highest levels of private schools in the developed world, and it’s also among the most affordable in the world.