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Much ado about school fees

There has been a flurry of articles about Australia’s education system this year*. Most have focused on fee inflation and the impact of Covid-19, but the relevance of the HSC system is also in question after its running costs were revealed.

NSW state schooling over 13 years costs parents approximately $90,000. In contrast, Sydney parents who choose non-Catholic private schooling pay a third more in fees than in any other Australian city once all school related expenses are included, approximately $450,000. Sydney’s Catholic schools, meanwhile, are among the countries cheapest, at $130,000. All the schools charging more than $30,000 a year are in Australia's two most populous states, NSW and Victoria.

The cost of education has risen at more than double the rate of inflation over the past decade Kate Hill from Futurity Group Executive says. 'Education costs, including outside tuition, school camps, sports equipment and electronic devices, are demanding a far greater share of the family budget than in the past,' Ms Hill said.

Covid has hit most family budgets hard, even those traditionally considered to be ‘untouchable’. 'There are parents who work three jobs to keep their children at one of these schools… schools are very aware of the pressures on parents,' Association of Independent Schools NSW chief executive Dr Geoff Newcombe said.

As they try to provide relief to families effected by coronavirus and the resulting economic effects, NSW’s independent schools raised their fees by 1.74 as opposed to 3 per cent in 2020. With the lowest inflation rate for private school tuition in more than a decade, four out of five NSW private schools increased their fees by less than usual this year, while one in five did not raise their fees at all.

Meanwhile, the cost of conducting examinations for the Higher School Certificate has been revealed as almost $100 million a year or $250 per student who sits an exam. This per-exam cost outstrips exam fees for overseas credentials such as the International Baccalaureate and the United States’ Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs).

The expense is justified by the ‘breadth and rigour’ the HSC gives students and teachers, its supporters say, but critics say it’s outdated and that the cost is just another reason to get rid of the exams.

Greg Whitby, the head of the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta refers to the HSC system as “a bloated credential that is no longer relevant. A clear-sighted skim of school rankings, socio-economic status data on selective schools, and so on, shows that the HSC is not the great leveller or defender of the status quo it would like to pretend it is.”

Want to read more about school fees?

The cost of getting into a private school

School fees

*Recent news articles about schooling:

‘I could have paid a mortgage’: Private school education costs revealed – Jordan Baker, SMH

The Australian cities where parents are paying nearly $90k for their kids' 'free' education - and some are coughing up almost half a MILLION to send them to private schools – Tita Smith 28/1/21, Daily Mail

One in five NSW private schools freeze fees for 2021 – Natassia Chrysanthos, SMH

Australia's most expensive private schools are revealed as yearly fees continue to surge - with some colleges charging parents almost $500,000 for an education – Charlie Coe, Daily Mail

‘Gold standard’ HSC exams cost almost $100 million a year – Jordan Baker 7/2/21, SMH