The vanishing private school – Chris Bonnor and Bernie Shepherd

CPD fellows Chris Bonnor and Bernie Shepherd have released a new analysis of public funding for private schools, calling for a new debate about whether this funding should come with the same obligations that govern the public school sector.

Their paper, The vanishing private school, argues that most private schools can no longer be considered truly private, with the majority close to fully funded by federal and state governments:

Australia is in the middle of a remarkable transition that may pass unnoticed. Most of our private schools, which enrol about a third of our students, are on the verge of disappearing. Not physically; they are vanishing because most are now funded close to, and in some cases above, similar public schools. In financial terms they should no longer be considered ‘private’.


Private schools have long been funded by fees, with additional support from governments. This arrangement has now been tipped upside-down. All but the wealthier private schools are essentially funded by governments. For a majority of private schools the fees provide additional income which is increasingly taking their total resourcing to levels well above similar public schools.


The rapid growth of their public funding component raises serious questions about the relationship between private schools which are open to some – and public schools which must be available to every child from every family in every location and circumstance. To what extent is it now possible to maintain such an inclusive public system alongside privately owned and operated schools – with similar levels of public funding but significantly fewer accountabilities and obligations?

Chris and Bernie wrote about the paper in The Guardian:

Chris also appeared on Channel 10’s The Project to discuss the findings.

The vanishing private school is the latest in Chris and Bernie’s long-running research series into equity and achievement in Australian schools, based on the data available through My School. This included Uneven Playing Field: The State of Australia’s Schools, a major CPD report released in June 2015. You can see more of there work here.

Photograph: Fairfax Media via Getty Images