McAuley Westmead | CSPD Parramatta

Catherine McAuley Westmead students

Parents are fast figuring out they don’t need to fork out $40,000 for a grade-A education, and are overwhelmingly rejecting free schooling for their kids as the number of high-performing, low-fee Catholic and independent options grows.

Enrolments in Catholic schools in low-socio-economic parts of Western Sydney have increased, up by 27 per cent in Liverpool and 10 per cent in Blacktown since 2017.

Meanwhile enrolments in NSW’s public schools declined for the second year in a row, the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figured show.

Catholic Schools NSW CEO Dallas McInerney has “no doubt” the sector is offering parents who would otherwise enrol in the local primary school better bang for their buck.

More than two-thirds of secondary and combined systemic Catholic school charge less than $5,000 per annum, while more than half of the sector’s primary schools cost less than $2,000 a year.

“We’re the best value education option in Australia, no doubt about it. For the fee-paying sector, we’ve got the lowest fees and the best results,” Mr McInerney said.

“Cost of living is going up, economic times are more uncertain, however the free schooling option is going falling through the floor.

“Parents are looking for quality … (and) money will always go where the quality is.”

St Ursula’s College is ranked number 100 for last year’s Year 9 NAPLAN exams, putting the all-girls school in the top tier despite its relatively low $3631 per annum tuition fee.

Principal Mary Leask said she was “happy” with the results, but teachers “are already talking about how we can make them better”.

“Parents who send their daughters here want (them) to be not only cared for, but really nurtured and stretched,” Mrs Leask said.

Best value Sydney private schools based on NAPLAN
Al-Faisal College (Auburn) $2745 – ranked 25th
Al Noori Muslim School $2850 – 27th
Montgrove College $3510 - 49th
St Clare's College $2923 – ranked 78th
St Ursula’s College $3631 – ranked 100th
Wollemi College $3510 - ranked 114th
Brigidine College Randwick $2818 – ranked 124th
The Athena School $3220 – ranked 127th
Marist Catholic College Penshurst $3894 - ranked 140th
Catherine McAuley Westmead $5757 – ranked 153rd
Domremy Catholic College $3778 – ranked 165th
St Patrick's Marist College $5958 – ranked 169th

“We have a wide range of parent capacity to pay fees, some who are unable to pay any fees and some who say to us, ‘is that all you’re charging?’”

Even in the independent sector, the elite sandstone institutions aren’t the only ones with long waiting lists, with combined and secondary schools like Montgrove College, Al Noori Muslim School and Al-Faisal charging less than $5,000/year for senior students while ranking in the top 50 schools.

Association of Independent Schools NSW CEO Margery Evans confirmed mid to low-fee schools in her sector are seeing the greatest growth, providing “an excellent education for an affordable cost”.

“The difference is, they really pay attention to what parents and students want. If parents and students are paying fees … schools really have to pay attention to what it is that attracts them,” she said.

Not every private school is offering brilliant value for money however: secondary boys’ school St Joseph’s College at Hunters Hill ranks among those offering the least value for money based on NAPLAN data, charging a minimum of $39,075 per annum but ranked 185th overall – putting students in the bottom 77 per cent of the 807 schools for which scores were available.

Fellow all-boys school Waverley College in Sydney’s east, which is slightly cheaper at $17,955 – $22,555 per annum, similarly ranks 181st and has a history of below average scores according to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) metrics.

Waverley’s deputy principal Mrs Elizabeth Watson said the school uses a different tool, the Statistically Similar School Groups, to compare their results with other boys’ schools in the state.

Lowest value for money Sydney private schools - Secondary
St Joseph’s College at Hunters Hill $39,075 - ranked 185th
Wollondilly Anglican College $8220 - ranked 289th
Toongabbie Christian College $7845 - ranked 240th

Lowest value for money Sydney private schools - Primary
Wycliffe Christian School $6850 - ranked 1305th
Korowal School $5891.60 - ranked 1792th

“After analysing our NAPLAN writing data in 2019, we launched a whole school initiative to improve our students’ writing skills … (and) as a result our 2022 NAPLAN scores have us sitting above the SSSG boys’ average in Years 5, 7 and 9,” she said.

“Last year, we reviewed our 2022 data and identified inferential reading as an area where students required further development and have launched a school wide inferential reading strategy to address this need.”

Irfan College in Sydney’s south west experienced a slight drop in their performance in last year’s exams, owing in part to the impact of Covid, but the $2253 per year K-11 Islamic school has seen its students’ performance progressively improve year on year.

Primary Curriculum Coordinator Ms Semra Abali said it was important to provide a high quality Muslim education option in the Fairfield area at a “quite affordable” price.

“We are a lot different to some of these private schools that are charging quite a large amount. The idea is that even if you do come from a background of English as a second language, these parents … are still able to afford sending their kids to our school,” Ms Abali said.

10-year-old Mikail Yalcinkaya said the school makes him “feel safe and happy”. Seven-year-old Zakaria Zakaria said he loves how “fun” the school is: “The teachers help you a lot”

Read the full article by the Daily Telegraph

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