Back 24 November, 2023

More independent schools mean more choice for families

Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, Margery Evans, talks about the significant growth in the sector and the reasons why more parents than ever are choosing an independent school.

More parents than ever before are opting for a school that aligns with their own values and beliefs.

Fifty years ago, Government schools enrolled 78.1 per cent of all Australian students, with Catholic schools educating 17.8 per cent and other non-government schools, ie Independent schools, educating just 4.1 per cent. 

Today, the proportion of students in independent schools has more than quadrupled to 17.1 per cent of all Australian students – and that percentage continues to rise each year (the Government and Catholic proportions are currently 64.4 per cent and 18.5 per cent, respectively).

The picture is even stronger in NSW where 114 new independent schools and campuses have opened since 1990.

On average, the total number of school students in all sectors in NSW grows by 10,000 to 12,000 each year; since 2000, more than half of those students have been enrolled in an independent school and that trend shows no signs of slowing.

NSW Independent schools now educate 228,602 students, or 18.3 per cent of all the state’s students.

This growing preference for independent schools should not be seen as a reflection on any other school sector.

It is simply a case of more families being able to choose a school that aligns with their own values and ethos than they could 50 years ago.

There is now a burgeoning range of independent schools available that reflect modern Australia’s increasing cultural, religious and philosophical diversity.

Nowhere is this phenomenon clearer than in NSW’s thriving Islamic schools.

Before the first Islamic school opened its doors in 1983, almost all Muslim families enrolled their children in government schools.

Today, there are 29 Islamic schools and campuses in NSW, educating more than 20,000 students, representing almost nine per cent of independent sector enrolments.

The establishment of these schools has provided Muslim families with an opportunity to educate their children in their preferred setting – a similar opportunity to that which existed decades earlier for Christian families.

Today, the NSW Independent school sector offers families 18 different faith-based learning environments including Ananda Marga, Anglican, Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Hare Krishna, Jewish, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist and Uniting schools.

There are also many non-faith school choices available to families – schools based on educational philosophies (Steiner and Montessori), International schools (German, Japanese, French), schools which promote a specific culture (Armenian and Turkish schools), Special Schools, Special Assistance Schools and schools whose educational focus is through music or nature.

All are part of the kaleidoscope that makes up the independent school sector. Finding the right school for your child is about understanding your child’s needs and selecting the school that best meets those needs.

Selecting a school

All parents want a school that will play a significant part in their child’s personal development and provide

 them with skills that they can use throughout their life.

A good start would be to ignore the so-called ‘league tables’ that the media publish each year. 

These take no account of each student’s unique and complex characteristics or the advantages and disadvantages that come with family background, context, wealth and other factors.

Identify your child’s needs and ask yourself what type of school environment would best suit their aptitudes, strengths and challenges. What level of learning or wellbeing support will they need? What values do you want them to grow up with? Some schools have expertise in particular subjects; others promote a particular world view and others offer extra-curricular activities that may be suitable for your child. 

Another good school barometer can be other parents. Speak to families with children at different schools about what makes their school unique or outstanding. Ask them about their child’s experience and the quality of interaction they have with the principal and teachers.

Attend Open Days to inspect a school’s facilities and speak with the principal about what the school offers and what it expects from families. Ask about admissions processes, which can vary between schools.

Once you have explored the options, it is important to trust your instincts.

Choose the school that left you with the best impression – the school where you feel your child could belong, be happy and will grow into the person you wish them to become.

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