Tuition hikes at private schools in Sydney under the School Resource Standard could exclude middle-class families, principals fear

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None of the non-governmental constituents contacted by the Herald complained about funding changes. They spoke anonymously to allow them to comment freely. However, they said the loss of funding would require measures that could change the character and makeup of the school community by making them too expensive for middle-class families.

Tuition fees for private schools generally increase by about 3% per year; the schools concerned are expected to further increase tuition fees.

Waverley College, which costs up to $17,400 a year, wrote to its families predicting it would lose $27 million in government funding over the decade to 2029, equivalent to a decrease in 37%.

“It is a significant challenge to balance affordability with the high quality educational offerings that Waverley is known for,” he writes.

Principal Graham Leddie told the Herald the school absorbed a $1.6 million decrease in public funds in 2021, but this year had to increase fees by about $375 per student per term. A survey of parents found they viewed the increase as reasonable and affordable.

Waverley College is losing about $27 million in government funding.

Another headmaster of an Anglican school facing multimillion-dollar losses said the budget would be cut as much as possible, and “when we can’t cut it any further, we will have to increase the fees”.

“What we’ll end up with is like England – independent schools will only be available to the wealthiest people,” the headmaster said. “So the schools will be really elitist, they won’t be accessible to the middle classes.”

The principal of another independent Catholic school, which will lose millions a year, said the school hoped philanthropy would help. “Approach the alumni, back to fundraising,” they said. “We will have to increase the fees. There is no room to increase the numbers. We will survive, but it is difficult, the transition period is really hard.

The principal of another school, who received a large sum of money on top of his SRS due to funding deals struck under the Howard government, and had fees similar to those at Waverley, also feared losing school middle-class families. He did not want to reduce the school’s educational offering, as families had come to expect a standard from the school.

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“Raising the fee completely changes our mission,” they said. “Some parents are richer, but we still have poor parents and many parents with massive mortgages.”

However, NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said private schools were continually raising their fees and families were no less willing to pay them. The most pressing issue was to get public schools to 100% of their SRS.

“We have to accept a harsh reality in Australia. Our public schools remain underfunded while private schools are overfunded,” he said. “It’s the discussion, not the private schools that are crying foul. The funding did not go where it was needed.

Chris Bonnor, co-author of a book on funding reform, Waiting for Gonskisaid tuition fees for private schools had been steadily rising even as their government subsidies increased, and that there was no reason why schools could not reduce their educational offerings instead of raise tuition fees.

“They need to understand the fact that they are getting the same results as similar public schools, regardless of the amount of fees they charge,” he said. “Schools that enroll similar children achieve similar results, but the non-governmental sector injects more money.”

Geoff Newcombe, the head of the Independent Schools Association of NSW, said 27 independent schools had been designated by the government for transition support, and the association identified a further 23 regional schools as needing support.

The association also helped schools develop business models and financial governance structures as they transitioned to a lower level of funding.

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