Private Independent, Catholic Systemic & Government Schooling

There are three broad education sectors for schooling your children in Australia, Private Independent (“Private”), Catholic and Government schools.  It is common to continue along the one pathway throughout a child’s schooling, however, the start of secondary school in Year 7, is a normal transition point from one sector to another.  As competition for Private school places continues to increase, anecdotally, parents are transitioning their children in primary years in order to guarantee their secondary Private school of choice.

The Private school sector including private Catholic schools enrolled over 16% of the Australian student population in 2017.  The Private sector’s enrolment share is more significant in the later years of schooling.  While 11.5% of primary students attend Private schools, this proportion rises to 18.2% at the junior secondary level and to 19.4% at senior secondary (Independent Schools Council of Australia).  Systemic Catholic schools make up the remainder of the non-government school sector, enrolling 19 per cent of students, and Government schools account for the remaining 65% of students.

Private schools include small and large day schools and boarding schools, co-educational and single-sex schools. 85% of Private schools are affiliated with a particular religion.


The majority of schools in the Private sector are co-educational although single-sex schools remain a feature of the sector, with 20% of boys enrolled in boys-only schools and 22% of girls attending girls-only schools. In 2017, 79% of Private Independent school students attended co-educational schools (Independent School Council of Australia).

Most Catholic schools belong to a system to provide Catholic education across the country to all Catholic students, regardless of their means.  Such schools are sometimes called systemic schools. Systemic Catholic schools are funded mainly by the government, and most remain very accessible financially.  Although bound by the same regulatory and curriculum frameworks as schools in other sectors, Catholic schools are also motivated by a Christian ethos and normally expect the majority of their students to be Catholic.

All schools in Australia operate according to state, territory and Australian Government legislation which together impose requirements in relation to financial operation, accountability, the curriculum, assessment and reporting.

What distinguishes Private Independent schools from other non-government and government schools is their independence of operation within the government boundaries. Apart from systemic schools, where the system authority has a management role, Private Independent schools are set up and governed on an individual school basis, connected directly to their community and answerable to their own governing board or management committee.

Responsibility for the public funding of schools is shared by the Australian Government and state and territory governments.  State and territory governments are the main public funding source for government schools.  Commonwealth Government are the main source of funding for Private and Catholic sectors.  In 2017, the updated Gonski funding model aims to transition all schools to a set share of Commonwealth funding and a needs based funding model.  A needs based model provides additional funding for students from low socio-economic backgrounds, with disabilities, non-english speaking backgrounds, rural and remote schools.  While overall Commonwealth funding to schools will increase, some Private and Catholic schools will face cuts or reductions in their funding while others will be unaffected or better off.  Funding negotiations are continuing between the Commonwealth and State Governments about transition funding arrangements for the Private and Catholic schools to determine the final impact on schools fees in these sectors.  The capital works of Private independent schools attracts attention in the debate between Government vs non-government schools, on average, parents and donors in independent school communities in 2016 contributed 89% of funds for capital developments such as school buildings, grounds and equipment.

In our next article we will look at the Private Independent School Associations in NSW.

– Written by Andrew Livermore, WealthPartners Specialist Adviser
This article contains information that is general in nature. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider you financial situation and needs before making any decisions based on this information.


Andrew Livermore is a Financial Adviser with WealthPartners who specialises with professionals and their families.  He is known for his method and strategies to help families pay for their children’s private school education in Sydney.

Over the coming weeks Andrew will address a range of topics related to deciding and paying for private education.  Andrew will share the lessons and perspective of his family, his wife and their three children on Sydney’s North Shore.