Fee and Funding Increases Give Elite Private Schools a Massive Resource Advantage

Australia’s wealthiest private schools have become more exclusive over the past decade, despite receiving millions in Federal Government funding which is supposed to make them more accessible. Fee and funding increases for these schools have far exceeded funding increases for government schools. With the aid of generous funding by the Federal Government elite private schools have double or more the resources of government schools.

Fees in the most exclusive private schools in Australia have doubled or nearly doubled since 2001. Fees in 22 elite NSW schools more than doubled between 2001 and 2011, increasing by 104 per cent. Fees in 17 Victorian schools increased by 88 per cent over the same period.

Year 12 fees increased by well over 100 per cent in several NSW schools including Kambala (120%), Loreto Normanhurst (146%), Pymble Ladies College (112%), SKEGGS Redlands (113%), SHORE (134%) and Trinity Grammar (153%) [see Chart 1 & Table 1]. Fee increases of around 100 per cent also occurred in several Victorian schools including Geelong Grammar (96%), Ivanhoe Girls Grammar (101%), Melbourne Girls’ Grammar (96%), St. Leonard’s (104%), Trinity Grammar (98%) and Wesley College (99%) [Chart 2 & Table 2].

Private schools have long claimed that their high fee increases are necessary to meet increasing costs. This is a complete furphy. The fee increases far exceeded rising education costs, being double the increase in education costs. The wage price index published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that private education and training costs increased by 44 per cent between 2001 and 2010. Salaries account for about 80 per cent or more of total school costs.

The huge increase in fees over that justified by rising education costs has meant that elite private schools have become more exclusive. All these select NSW and Victorian schools, apart from two, now have Year 12 fees of over $20,000 a year. Nine of the 22 NSW schools have Year 12 fees of over $25,000 a year. The Scots College in Sydney has fees of $28,296 and Geelong Grammar in Victoria is the most expensive school in Australia with fees of $29,200 a year. Only the wealthiest families in Australia can afford such fees.

The fee increases have continued despite massive increases in Federal Government funding over the last decade. Federal funding per secondary student in the selected NSW elite schools increased by an average of 118 per cent between 2001 and 2011 and by 211 per cent for the Victorian schools.

Federal funding per secondary student in several NSW elite schools increased by over 200 per cent: the King’s School (256%), Newington College (226%) and Trinity Grammar (300%) and by nearly 200 per cent for PLC (178%) and St. Andrew’s Cathedral School (181%). Several others received increases of over 100 per cent.

The increases for many Victorian elite schools were even higher: Geelong College (389%), Geelong Grammar (315%), Haileybury College (359%), Ivanhoe Girls Grammar (270%), Peninsula School (359%), and PLC (270%). Sixteen out of 17 select schools received increases in Federal funding of over 100 per cent.

In contrast, federal and state government funding per student in NSW government schools increased by only 70 per cent between 1998-99 and 2007-08, the latest year for which figures are available, and total funding per student in Victorian government schools increased by 63 per cent.

Many elite private schools are receiving massive amounts of funding from the Federal Government. Many get over $4 million a year and some receive much more. In NSW, the King’s School will receive $4.9 million in 2011, Newington College $4.8 million, PLC Sydney $4.2 million, Pymble Ladies College $4.1 million and Trinity Grammar $7.4 million.

In Victoria, many of these select schools receive over $5 million: Carey Grammar will get $5 million in 2011, Geelong College $5.5 million, MLC $5 million, Peninsula School $5.6 million, and St. Leonard’s College $5.1 million. Haileybury College will receive a massive $13.4 million and Wesley College $8.1 million. Geelong Grammar, the most expensive school in Australia, will get $4.8 million.

The result of these increases is that the wealthiest schools and families in Australia are now being subsidised to the tune of $3000 – $5000 per student. Several NSW schools will receive Federal Government funding of over $3000 per student in 2011, including King’s School ($3589), Loreto Normanhurst ($3852), Newington College ($3290), PLC Sydney ($3733), St. Catherine’s ($3135), Tara Anglican ($3589) and Trinity Grammar ($4032).

Nine of 17 select Victorian schools will receive over $3000 per student in 2011, with several receiving over $4000. These include Geelong College ($4929), Geelong Grammar ($4187), Haileybury College ($4630), and the Peninsula School ($4630).

In contrast, the additional Federal funding to be provided to disadvantaged schools under the Smarter Schools National Partnership program is less than $500 per student. Thus, Federal Government funding for high fee private schools is 6 to 10 times greater than the additional funding provided to disadvantaged schools. It is a national disgrace.

The massive increases in Commonwealth funding for private schools were intended to make them more affordable and accessible to families. Clearly, this has not happened in the elite schools. They continue to be the preserve of the wealthiest families in Australia.

The huge fee and government funding increases, well beyond the increase in education costs, have allowed elite private schools to maintain exclusivity and improve the quality of education by reducing class sizes, increased education opportunities, more education technology and new sporting and other facilities.

The increases have given them with a massive resource advantage over government schools, which enrol the vast majority of low income and Indigenous students. Elite private schools now have two to three times the resource levels of the average government school. Average government school expenditure per student in 2007-08 was $10,578 in NSW and $9,858 in Victoria and average expenditure in secondary schools would have been a little higher. In contrast, total expenditure in these elite schools is $25,000 – $35,000 per secondary student.

There can be no justification for providing millions in government funding to schools that are the preserve of the wealthy. It means that less funding is available for schools serving the education needs of the most disadvantaged students, Indigenous students and students with disabilities. The diversion of millions of dollars a year to schools least in need while those most in need are denied the full funding they require is an indictment of the SES funding scheme.

It is up to the School Funding Review to put a stop to this appalling misuse of taxpayer funds. The issue at stake is whether we are to continue to provide huge amounts of taxpayer funds to the wealthiest schools and families in Australia while the most disadvantaged students are denied the resources they need to get an adequate education.

The current funding model for private schools should be replaced with a scheme that better links funding to education need. A huge funding boost for government schools is needed to improve education outcomes for students from low income and Indigenous families and reduce the large achievement gap between rich and poor in Australia.

Trevor Cobbold

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