Education Matters

Head Master: The facts about school funding

Posted by Tim Bowden on Aug 11, 2018, 6:00:00 AM

By Tim Bowden, Head Master, Trinity Grammar School

Head Master: The facts about school fundingWe are entering, once again, into a political debate about school funding. The education of children will become a contested battleground. The metaphor of ‘battle’ is appropriate, because there will be sides, alliances, winners and losers, and a high likelihood that the same territory will continue to be contested into the future.

The terrain of school funding in Australia has a long and complex history, and I don’t know that it can be retold here. However, it may be worthwhile providing some facts about school funding in Australia and three landmarks to help orientate yourself to the debate.

1. The language of ‘public’ and ‘private’ schools 
The first point to understand is that there are virtually no private schools in Australia. Every registered and accredited school receives funding from the government to deliver education. Therefore, the language of ‘public’ and ‘private’ is inaccurate and misleading in Australian education. The difference between our schools, to which people are referring, is whether the schools are owned and operated by the government, or by a community group. In Australia, each of the State governments owns and operates a system of schools. We could accurately refer to these schools as ‘State’ schools, or ‘government’ schools. The rest of the schools in the country are owned and operated by community groups; the best way to refer to this diverse collection of schools is ‘non-government schools’. Instead of referring to ‘public’ and ‘private’, we should be referring to ‘government’ and ‘non-government’.

The government is committed to providing education for our nation’s children as a public good. All Australian children have a right to be educated. However, the government does not need to own the schools in order to provide education, any more than the local council needs to own the garbage trucks to provide rubbish removal or the State government needs to own all the buses to provide public transport.

2. Types of non-government schools
The second feature that may help you to orientate yourself to the political debates around education is that, with reference to funding, there are two sorts of non-government schools. This distinction hinges on whether a school is in a system or whether it is independent. Most of the Catholic schools in NSW are systemic; that is to say, they belong to a system with a head office, centrally-determined policies and support structures. These systems are based on the 11 Catholic dioceses.

In contrast, Trinity is an independent school; we are not part of a system. Independent schools stand alone with their own particular ethos, culture, authenticity and goals. Trinity is ‘owned’ and operated by the Council of Trinity Grammar School, which is the legal entity that enters into contracts, owns property and meets the government requirements for owners and operators of schools. Every five years we are subject to a Registration and Accreditation process, which verifies that we are meeting our obligations as a school; Trinity will go through the Registration and Accreditation process next year.

With reference to enrolment numbers, about two thirds of Australian school students attend a school that is owned and operated by a State government. About 20% are in a Catholic systemic school, and about 15% are in independent schools.

3. Sources of income
The third point has to do with funding or school income. The State governments are responsible for most of the funding of the State schools. The Federal government is the main public funding source for non-government schools. However, most of Trinity’s annual income does not come from government, but from parents via tuition fees. About three quarters of our annual income comes from parents, about 15 percent comes from the Federal government, and about five percent from the State government. A breakdown of these sources of income can be found in our 2017 Annual Report, which is on the School website. The estimation is that the annual recurrent savings to governments from independent school fees is approximately $4.4 billion.

The indications are that the impending battle around school funding will have to do with the way that school funding increases are divided up between the three school sectors: government schools, Catholic systemic schools and independent schools. It appears that one key issue will be whether Federal funding is allocated to individual schools or whether the Catholic systems will receive a ‘bucket’ of funds that can be divided amongst the system schools at the system’s discretion.

Another issue will have to do with a school’s ‘capacity to contribute’ to school fees. Wealthier school communities will, and should, receive less per-capita funding than less wealthy communities. For a number of years, the Socio Economic Status (SES) score of a school was the accepted measure of a school’s capacity to contribute. It appears that the new calculation of a school community’s capacity to contribute will be determined by a de-identified data-matching process between school family addresses and ATO records. This change is being viewed with some apprehension across the education sector because of concerns about the lack of transparency, the paucity of testing for validity and because of the uncertain impact.

I trust that those three features are helpful as you try to make sense of the noise and heat that seems likely to descend on us in this area in the lead up to the Federal election. In the midst of it all, thankfully, teachers will teach, schools will operate, and students will learn, grow and move into the world of adulthood, well-served by their school experiences.


 For over a hundred years Trinity Grammar School has educated boys in mind, body and spirit. Fuelled by a pastorally aware culture with exceptionally high levels of individual student attention, we aim to know, understand and nurture every student to help them realise their potential, passions and purpose in life.

We maximise the potential for boys to pursue their passions by providing a multitude of opportunities. Ultimately, Trinity allows boys to grow and mature into men of good character who have developed a strong sense of companionship, identity, leadership, and worthiness.

To learn more about our education offering and to experience the Trinity difference, watch our Trinity in action videos.

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Topics: Education, School funding