The price of raising kids in Australia has never been higher — and school fees are certainly one of the largest outgoing costs that parents face.
In the comments, a combination of Aussie parents, as well as past and current-day students, came forward with their thoughts on Australia's education system. Here are some of the most insightful responses.
1. "I went to a public school and my partner went to private school. We’re really stuck on where we might send our kid."
"He hated his private school's culture, but did benefit from the networking. I loved my public school culture, but wish I’d gone somewhere that pushed me more academically and provided more opportunities. All of his school friends became lawyers, doctors and actuaries. I was one of only two in my friend group who went to university.
It's hugely school and child-dependant, of course. All you can do is research the options and make the best decision you can with the info you have."
2. "I have taught in both public and private schools — primary and high school — across a range of areas. Half of my friends (myself included) went to public schools and half went to private schools (my partner included)."
"My experience: Students in private schools generally get a better education academically because of the opportunities provided to them, limited behavioural issues in the classroom to distract them and because of parents pushing them.
Students in public schools generally get a better education in terms of street knowledge (for lack of a better term). They are better at reading situations, understanding and interacting with a wide range of characters and developing life skills a lot younger.
Bullying and social issues are pretty much the same, if not a bit worse at private schools.
Personally, I would never send my kid to a private school, as I value the experience described. If my child was interested/open to it, I would switch them from public to private for years 11/12 — but I definitely would not push or encourage it."
3. "I can see why people want their kids to go to private high school, maybe not primary though. I went private and had a lot of opportunities that my public school peers didn’t, and developed hobbies that I probably wouldn’t have at a public school. I wasn’t into sports, but did fire cadets, debating, writing camp etc."
"My private high school is mid-tier ($15-20K a year), but I got a scholarship, so opted for that (also because they told me I could skip a year) instead of trying for selective. My boyfriend went to a much cheaper ($3K) private high school in the same area."
4. "The wife and I both teach in public schools. Our kids will be going to public schools. Quality education in a developed country should be free. The only caveat to this is the teacher shortage. It is real and I've even seen kids from an autism unit split into mainstream, because they just can't find teachers."
5. "As a matter of principle, public school for both primary and high school. I like that it's co-ed and that the kids come from all walks of life. I suppose my answer may change if my children needed any special requirements, such as developmental or physical issues. But even then, I simply don't like the idea of religion and same-sex cohorts being forced upon the kids. That's just not real life. I know there are independent co-ed schools, though."
6. "This really depends on the school and how much research you've done on them. Not all public schools are the same and the same goes with private."
"I wouldn't discount the impact a primary school will have on your kid's education though. Even though high school is important for tertiary education, primary school is really important. It will teach them basic reasoning, the foundations for learning, will shape their behaviour and their approach to learning."
7. "I have three kids in private, but they all started at the local public primary. They all moved to private at different stages and each kid was involved in the decision. One stayed through to year 6, one moved in year 5 and one moved in year 3. From my perspective of seeing both systems, if it’s a good public primary then K–2 is a no brainer in the public system and the choice after that should involve how your child is going and what the other options are."
8. "I went to an independent catholic girls school (private school for 'poor people', but by that, I just mean 'less rich'). I got a scholarship, but even with that we struggled to pay discounted fees for my sisters to also attend. The girls there were very entitled. Like, in class once a group of them claimed poor people are poor because they’re lazy. So, not a nice environment for a non-rich kid."
"Also, I was a naughty kid and wagged a lot of school. I barely made it through my HSC [year 12 exams]. Going to a private school didn’t help with anything. I would have been exactly the same if I’d gone to public school, except I would have had friends, so I may have been a better adjusted kid.
I had a mate go to public school and got a 97 point ATAR [final school result], got into Sydney Uni and has a successful life.
All this to say: If your kid is a good kid that works hard and you are an involved parent who cares about their education, they’ll be fine no matter what school they go to. If they’re naughty, struggling or dealing with trauma, no amount of school fees are going to pull them into line.
Just be aware that if your kid is struggling socially or academically that they may need a different environment. But you can never know that without them experiencing it."
9. "I've personally been to both and both have advantages and disadvantages. Just make sure you don’t have blinders on to either, because you never know what your child might need and I think it’s important to be open to options. If so many other parents are going private, ask them why. Ask them if there's a specific reason they’re not looking public or that the school they’ve chosen was their first pick."
10. "It's absurd to me that private schools in Australia receive so much more government funding than public ones — when school fees at Sydney's most elite schools can cost $40,000 per year. Make it make sense."
11. "The benefits of private schooling in Sydney is connections and friendships made at school that can be advantageous later in a particular career. It used to be medicine and law, but increasingly, merit-based candidates get onto programmes now rather than 'old boys'. These connections still work for things like finance, but they are also gradually dying off. The elitism is stupid in my opinion, but that doesn’t stop the bias/discrimination from existing."
12. "The private school 'networking promise' is a total myth — it's not the 1950s anymore, you don't get an automatic leg-up in life just because you went to an overpriced school with dickheads."
13. "It really depends on the area and the schools. My older daughter went to public school from grades K–4. And we didn’t have a problem with the education, it was great. The issue was the behavioural problems of the other kids. I’m talking violent, disruptive behaviour."
"My daughter had two instances of getting attacked by another student. The schools don’t come down hard enough on the kids doing the wrong thing, it’s just excuse after excuse; behavioural issues, social disorders, bad situation at home etc. I don’t doubt a lot of those kids are dealing with those issues, but it shouldn’t excuse the schools from discipline when they are attacking other kids physically. My daughter was LITERALLY choked by another kid over a tennis ball. And the school did nothing.
We now have her (and my younger daughter) in a private catholic school and I couldn’t be happier. A lot may find it strict, but I like it. I’m confident my kids won’t be attacked and if they do, the school will deal with it accordingly. They have the luxury of getting rid of kids doing the wrong thing, whereas the public school really cannot."
14. "Sending your kid to a private school may allow them to stay in the same school for their whole primary and high school experience, which may be better socially/psychologically. Also, most religious schools aren’t actually that religious."
15. "It depends on the student. I have a friend whose parents paid for boarding at the most prestigious school in Sydney, who hasn't worked in over 10 years. I have another friend who went to private catholic school who goes from menial job to menial job and works the bare minimum hours available."
"I went to an extremely rough all boys school — and I have friends I went to school with who now run large organisations with a revenue of over 20 million dollars annually.
In my cohort, we have a neurosurgeon who has studied at the world's top schools for medicine.
An orthopaedic surgeon, a director of a large not-for-profit foundation, a university lecturer etc.
It doesn't really matter what you do, as long as you're happy and don't hurt other people."
16. "I went to a catholic primary and high school, which sits somewhere between public and private. I have mostly positive memories of school and the quality of the teaching."
"I don't think it's that important to pick one or the other in primary school. Mostly high school is where you could think about investing your money.
In terms of high school, I guess it heavily depends on what you can afford, but the catholic school system worked for my parents' budget and was overall a better choice than the local public high schools. However, the reputation of those has changed drastically (for the better) since I finished school 17 years ago."
17. "Networking benefits are undeniable, especially later in life in the workforce and among the more exclusive professions like law, finance, government, and medicine (maybe). Your private education becomes a connecting point, which automatically puts you in the ‘in’ group. Very toxic social dynamics, I know, but the benefits are undeniable."
18. "Based on one of the fairly execrable mums' groups I'm in on Facebook, snobbery/elitism is a huge factor. Women openly admit to only wanting the network. A significant advantage of sending your kid to a government school is not having to mix with parents like that!"
19. "I currently go to a public high school and regret not going to a private school. The networking opportunities provided at a private are far greater due more funding and support network (public schools also have a variety of opportunities too)."
"Facilities are often newer than public schools, with many public schools infrastructure literally outdated and falling apart. There's also a multitude of sporting opportunities domestically and internationally at private schools.
They even offer international excursions far more than public schools. This shouldn’t be an issue, but private schools also provide private transportation, making life easier for the child. I have noticed private school students are typically more academically motivated than of those from public schools."
20. "Having managed grad recruitment for an investment bank, I can tell you that the school you go to, or who you know, doesn't mean shit. Not one director is going to risk his bonus by employing an underachiever who isn't going to generate results, no matter who he went to school with. If you can walk the walk you'll get the job, no matter what school you graduated from."
21. "Private primary school is a waste of money. Private high school worth is completely dependent on the quality of public schools in the area."
"Many parts of Sydney have excellent public schools, as well as selective schools for academic children. I would choose one of these over a private school.
Many regional areas, and some areas of Sydney, have poor public schools and a private school is worth the investment in that instance. I was raised in an area with two public schools with bad reputations — forking out for me to go to the local private school was well worth it in that case. However, in a decent area, I wouldn’t bother going private."
22. "I suggest sending them to public school first, then work towards entry into OC class [Opportunity Class, for gifted children] for years 5/6, then aim for selective high school. I was in my local public school, then went to OC, now in selective."
23. And finally: "I went to private school, a very expensive one in Melbourne. The networking benefit is a myth. I would rather my parents used those money to buy shares in ASX top 10 back then and give it to me. That would be the same amount as a house. The worst to happen is you get a big four accounting job at the end from your excellent private school education. You slave yourself to pay off a house."