Above: Broken Bay Catholic Schools Director Peter Hamill
As many public schools buckle under the pressure of growing student numbers, the Catholic diocese of Broken Bay has blamed a rise in fees, brought about by the Turnbull government's school funding changes, for enrolments slumping between 10 and 23 per cent in 31 of its 44 schools.Interviews conducted with parents who had decided to withdraw their children revealed 50 per cent were moving to public schools, 20 per cent to Catholic schools elsewhere, and 12 per cent had opted for an independent school.
Most of the 642 losses had occurred since August.The trend has been supported by 2018 school enrolment figures provided to The Weekend Australian by the NSW Department of Education, adding weight to the warning of Broken Bay school director Peter Hamill of the "potential for flow-on impacts for the state government budget as families move students from lowfee systemic schools to already stretched public schools".
In a letter to state and federal MPs, Mr Hamill said the losses had coincided with the public debate around school funding, which has intensified since federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham unveiled a new schools funding package last May. While the government has promised funding for schools will grow over the coming decade, the Catholic sector believes it is being shortchanged by more than $1 billion, giving it no choice but to hike fees.Meanwhile the NSW government is spending $4.2bn building or upgrading 120 schools to meet an expected enrolment spike of 21 per cent, or 164,000 students, by 2031.
At Kambora Public School in Davidson, enrolments have swelled 27 per cent in two years to 217 students. However, 400m away at St Martin's Catholic Primary School, enrolments fell 23 per cent to 97 this year. Enrolments at the school, which charges up to $4524 per student, are down more than 30 per cent since 2016.Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary School in Waitara has shed 13 per cent of its enrolments in the past year, on top of a 9 per cent loss between 2016 and 2017.
At nearby Hornsby South Public School, however, enrolments jumped from 588 to 661.Prouille Catholic Primary School suffered a 14 per cent drop in enrolments in the past year. Its closest school is Wahroonga Public School, which reported a modest increase. However, nearby Waitara Public School, also in Wahroonga, has seen a huge growth in student numbers, up 7 per cent to 935, with enrolments tipped to reach 1000 by mid-year.
Catholics Nick and Christine Berman considered sending their daughter Kate to a Catholic school but opted for Waitara Public because it offered a quality education in an inclusive, multicultural environment.Mr Berman said he knew of families that were reconsidering Catholic schools due to the rising fees.
"I know of one in particular that is struggling to justify spending thousands to send their child to a particular school when every day they walk straight past a high quality public school to get there," he said.
From: Weekend Australian, Australia by Rebecca Urban24 Mar 2018