Public vs. Private School: Working Out What’s Right For Your Family

Originally published by Katie Francis, 1 June 2017.
Last modified: 8th April 2024
William Jolly  |  

The number of Australian children attending private high schools in Australia is growing. According to the Melbourne Institute, the number of children attending private schools grew from 34% in 2012 to 41% in 2022. On the other hand, public school attendance fell from 63% to 57% of kids during that time.

The choice of private vs public schools is a major one for many Australian parents. Not all of us have the means or opportunity to choose which school we send our kids to. But for those of us who do, it can be an incredibly stressful and complicated decision.

In this article, we’ll compare the pros and cons of public and private schools in Australia to help you weigh up your options and make an informed decision.

On this page:

What are ‘public’ and ‘private’ schools?

To be clear, there is technically no such thing as a 100% private school. According to The Conversation, all schools in Australia receive some level of government funding, which is the commonly accepted definition of a public school. On average, Catholic schools receive around 75% and independent schools around 45% of their funding from state and federal governments.

However, a public school is generally defined as an educational institution funded and operated by the government. They are open to all students within a designated geographic area, typically based on school district boundaries, adhere to government-mandated curricula and follow educational standards set by the relevant education authorities.

On the other hand, private (aka independent schools) are independently operated and funded through various means, such as tuition fees, private donations, and endowments. Private schools have more autonomy in determining their curriculum, teaching methods, and admission policies than public schools.

What about catholic/religious schools?

The Catholic system accounts for around 20% of students in Australia, with nearly 2,000 of them. These types of schools are private schools affiliated with the Catholic Church - others are associated with specific religions as well. These schools incorporate religious teachings, values, and practices into their curriculum.

Like other private schools, Catholic/religious schools rely on tuition fees, donations from religious organisations, and community support to fund their operations. They may have specific admission criteria, including prioritising students from the affiliated religious community, but they also admit students from diverse backgrounds.

Download the Better Credit App now!

Key differences between public and private schools

The key difference between public and private education is how it’s funded. Private or independent schools are usually owned and operated by individuals or entities. In comparison, public schools are run by the Australian government.

This means private schools can often provide more resources per student because of the money they make from tuition fees. As an independent institution, they also have more freedom regarding curriculum and are not required to be religiously ‘secular’ like public schools.

Here are some core differences between public and private schools, which we’ll break down in further detail below:

Private schools

Public schools

  • Fees are much higher in comparison.
  • Facilities are usually more modern.
  • Admissions are lengthier and more complicated, and there are usually more requirements.
  • Class sizes are usually smaller.
  • Accommodation is offered in some schools
  • There is religious education taught in many private/independent schools.
  • Considerably lower school fees.
  • No accommodation is offered.
  • Usually older facilities.
  • Admission is usually decided upon your catchment area.
  • Class sizes are generally larger.
  • Not religiously affiliated.

Public vs private schools: costs

Since they’re privately funded, it should come as no surprise that private schools are much more expensive overall than public schools. However, public education in Australia is not free either. The reality is all education costs money when you consider the following factors:

  • Tuition fees
  • Computers
  • Uniforms
  • Travel
  • Excursions
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Tutoring and other outside-school learning.

According to Futurity Investment Group, the average annual tuition fee for public schools in Australia is $433 - a fraction of the roughly $6,300 in costs each year in total per child.

In comparison, tuition fees for private schools can be around $24,000 per year on average, with the total cost over 13 years setting parents back $349,404.

According to Futurity’s Planning for Education Index, here’s what you can expect to pay on average in each capital city and regional area in Australia for public and private schooling:









NSW (regional & remote)








QLD (regional & remote)








SA (regional & remote)








VIC (regional & remote)








WA (regional & remote)




Note these figures are for 13 years of schooling.

See also: Australia’s Most Expensive Private Schools.

So private schools cost a lot more, but the main argument in their favour is that privately-schooled children receive more opportunities. 

Public vs private schools: academic outcomes

Private schools don’t necessarily offer better academic outcomes than public ones, although they offer other educational benefits. A 2022 study by the Australian Educational Researcher found there was no tangible difference in academic achievement between public and private schools. An overseas study came to a similar conclusion.

While private schools tend to place higher in the all-important final-year exams, these studies have found socioeconomic factors, such as family status and the postcode, play more of a role in determining a student’s performance. 

"Quite likely, it is the family status that determines which type of children go to private schools, and this is normally very highly correlated with the very high educational attainment of the parents and children belonging to better-off families – this is the reason why private schools perform better," Dr Vera-Toscano, a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne, told the ABC.

However, there are academic benefits to private schools beyond grades, such as:

  • They can determine their own curriculum
  • There are generally more resources available per student
  • There can be more specialised subjects available
  • Students from private schools tend to benefit more in terms of career prospects

There’s also the potential benefit of greater choice in extracurricular activities.

Public vs private schools: extracurricular activities

Extracurricular activities contribute to a well-rounded education and personal growth. Private schools often have a wide range of extracurricular programs, including sports, arts, and clubs. These schools often have dedicated resources and facilities to support such activities. 

Though they may have fewer resources, public schools also provide opportunities for students to participate in various extracurricular activities.

Public vs private schools: diversity

If you’re looking for your child to benefit from being around a wider range of backgrounds and experiences, a public school could be a better option for that. 

Public schools are usually deeply rooted in the local community and often serve as a hub for neighbourhood activities. They can offer a strong sense of belonging and connection to the community. By their nature, public schools often have a more diverse student population, reflecting the broader community.

This can also be true for private schools, but sometimes to a lesser extent, and they have acquired a reputation for being more homogeneous in the past. Private schools, while not necessarily tied to a specific community, often provide a tight-knit community within the school itself

The bottom line: are private schools better than public schools?

With the cost of living soaring at the moment, there’s an obvious trade-off to be made here: do you opt for a private school and the associated benefits in exchange for much higher costs? Or do you send your child to a public school instead and save the money?

From a pure cost perspective, public schools could be the better option. Ultimately though, you need to consider your children’s needs and what’s best for them. Academic excellence, cost, extracurricular activities, diversity, and community influence are essential factors to consider, although, as we touched on earlier, there’s a minor-at-best correlation between private schools and increased academic achievement. 

Researching and visiting different schools, speaking with educators, and assessing your child's unique needs and preferences are crucial. By making an informed decision, you can help provide your child with an educational experience that sets them on the path to success.

Check out our education loans

If you need a hand paying for tuition fees, computers & books, or your child’s extracurricular activities, an education loan with Jacaranda could be the solution you’re after. Our flexible loans of up to $25,000 can be paid in manageable instalments over 25-48 months.

Check out how our fast online loans can help you today!

The information on this website is for general information only. It should not be taken as constituting professional advice from the website owner - Jacaranda Finance. Jacaranda Finance is not a financial adviser, and the content on this page does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider seeking independent legal, financial, taxation or other advice to check how the website information relates to your unique circumstances.

Jacaranda Finance is not liable for any loss caused, whether due to negligence or otherwise arising from the use of, or reliance on, the information provided directly or indirectly by use of this website.

Written by - William Jolly

Content Manager
William is the Content Manager at Jacaranda Finance. He has worked as both a journalist and a media advisor at some of Australia's biggest financial comparison sites such as Canstar, Compare the Market and, and is passionate about helping Australians find the right money solution for them.

You can get in touch with William via
Related Topics