Education Department census data reveals more students enrolling in WA private schools than public – The West Australian

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The number of kids being sent to public schools in WA has gone backwards in the past year while private school enrolments have increased — with their rapid responses to the problems thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic cited as a key reason.
Latest Education Department census data has revealed the number of students enrolled in WA private schools this year rose to 157,864 — up by 3710 compared with the same time last year.
At the same time, enrolments in public schools dropped by 1242 pupils to 318,332 children.
This meant the public schools’ overall share of the WA market fell for a second consecutive year, from 67.5 per cent to 66.8 per cent, after eight years of solid growth.
Private schools’ market share surged from 32.5 per cent to 33.2 per cent.
The drift towards private schools reflects a national trend, with most growth seen in the independent sector rather than Catholic.
A national report on enrolment trends released last month by Independent Schools Australia, based on last year’s data, revealed the sector grew by 3.1 per cent from 2020 — its strongest growth in more than a decade — compared with a 1.4 per cent increase for Catholic schools and a decrease of 0.3 per cent in public schools.
The report said that as COVID-related border closures effectively stopped migration to Australia during this period, the total student population across Australia only grew by 0.6 per cent.
But the independent sector’s share of enrolments increased across every State and Territory.
ISA’s analysis suggests the pandemic influenced parents’ choices, with many choosing to switch to an independent school when pre-COVID they may have enrolled in a government school.
Bethany Hiatt
ISA chief executive Margery Evans said independent schools had seen “significant” enrolment growth over the period of the COVID pandemic.
“We believe that parents are seeking schools that can quickly adapt to changing circumstances,” she said.
“We also know that the autonomy of independent schools is something parents value. This is revealed by surveys we have conducted.
I do feel like they get that little bit of extra help academically, and the teachers are all very good at communicating.
“Our survey shows that parents recognise that independent schools were generally quick to move to online or remote learning.
“Parents perceive that independent schools are able to make decisions quickly in response to their particular circumstances and school community expectations.”
Many of Perth’s priciest schools either froze their fees or kept increases to a minimum when COVID lockdowns were affecting businesses and jobs.
But the strongest enrolments growth has been in low-fee independent schools charging below $5000 a year, with some schools expanding so quickly they are scrambling to build enough classrooms.
Bethany Hiatt
Graeme Cross, chief executive of Swan Christian Education Association which operates seven low-fee schools in WA, said enrolments had grown an “outstanding” 24.1 per cent between 2020 and this year.
“During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant perceived risk of a potential negative impact on enrolment numbers within independent schools,” he said. “However, the opposite has actually been the case for SCEA.
“The greatest challenges facing us in response to this high level of enrolment growth are recruitment of staff and provision of buildings.”
Education Minister Sue Ellery said the semester one student census recorded a small negative reduction of -0.4 per cent across public schools from last year, below the 0.7 per cent growth the previous year.
“This is in line with enrolment trends often seen during periods of strong economic growth, as well as the experiences of other Australian states and territories in 2021,” she said.
Education Department strategy and policy executive director Raechelle Lee said the impact of COVID was “a factor in the small decrease” in WA’s public school enrolment numbers.
Two parents who spoke to The West Australian agreed they had been happy with the way their school reacted to COVID issues, but it did not play a part in their decision to send their children there.
Clare Byrne said she sent all three of her sons, including Tiernan Fitzgerald, now in Year 3, to SCEA’s Kalamunda Christian School because she believed it would have a stronger focus on student behaviour than a public school.
“I wanted it to be stricter basically,” she said. “I do feel like they get that little bit of extra help academically, and the teachers are all very good at communicating.”
Theresita Ratulevu said while her family had a long association with the school, that was not the only reason she sent her four kids there, including seven-year-old Sulueti who is in Year 2.
“For me it was knowing the school values were pretty close to mine,” she said. “And having them connected into a smaller school environment, with the pastoral care.”
“It’s about investing in good humans.”
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© West Australian Newspapers Limited 2022

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