Enrolments that were once growing at a rate of 20,000 a year will slow to as little as 3000 by the middle of the next decade, according to the projections.Public school enrolments will also slow from their current boom, but will still grow faster than they did in the Howard years and up to 2011, a period when private school growth outstripped that of their public counterparts.
Of the 367,000 additional fulltime equivalent students projected to be in schools by 2027, it is expected 288,000 - or 78.5 per cent - will be in government schools. At present, 65.6 per cent of the country's children are in the public system, which will inch up to 66.8 per cent by 2027 if the federal Education Department's projections are accurate.Meanwhile, the Turnbull government has committed an extra $300 million for private school infrastructure over the next 10 years to "take account of student enrolment growth".
The funding has been criticised by teacher unions, who are calling for a similar fund for public schools, but the federal government says that is a responsibility of the states.The projections show private school enrolments increasing from 1,324,360 in 2017 to about 1,333,000 this year, and climbing to 1,375,000 by 2021. From there until 2027, growth in enrolments is expected to slip to an average of 6000 a year, and as little as 3000 in year 2026.
In recent years that figure has been growing by about 20,000 students each year.Conversely, public school enrolments are expected to leap by 150,000 in just three years, then slow to a growth of 15,000 to 20,000 a year by 2026-27. Until 2012, public schools were adding only about 10,000 students a year and, as recently as 2008, enrolments were actually declining.
The projections provided to The Sunday Age by the department are national, but Australian Bureau of Statistics data show the trend towards public schooling is happening in NSW and Victoria, where the vast majority of Australian children are educated.Last year, enrolments in NSW Catholic schools declined for the first time in 20 years. In Victoria, Catholic school enrolments rose by just 746 students, or less than half of 1 per cent.
Ray Collins, acting executive director of the National Catholic Education Commission, blamed demographic changes, financial pressures on families and government funding decisions for weak enrolments in the Catholic sector.Some Catholic schools that wanted to expand their capacity were also hamstrung by state and local government planning rules, Mr Collins said.
"In NSW, for instance, state and local government requirements to contribute to infrastructure around new developments make it extremely difficult for Catholic schools to build new schools because of affordability," he said.Colette Colman, executive director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia, said enrolment growth in the independent sector had been "strong in recent years". She said 90 per cent of infrastructure funding for independent schools came from parents and the community, not the government.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham defended the extra $300 million for private school capital works, saying the funding was indexed to the growth in building costs and enrolments."If enrolments flatline then federal funding only keeps up with building cost growth and there will be no enrolment-based growth in funding," he said.
Senator Birmingham said building public schools "has always been the primary responsibility of state governments" and Labor's global financial crisis-era school hall program "shows how much of a disaster federal intervention can be in this space".Labor's federal education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said the enrolment projections highlighted the case for more public school funding.
"If Malcolm Turnbull thinks this is the case, why do his cuts hit public schools hardest?" she said.
The department warned the projections were only estimates and could not account for future changes in education or immigration policy. Projections beyond five years were potentially less accurate, it cautioned.
From: Sunday Age, Melbourne by Michael Koziol22 Apr 2018