Cost of Living in Australia: School Fees

In a previous post where I discussed cost of living comparisons, I promised (rather foolishly I think) to try to unravel school fee variations from state to state. I am often saying what a big country Australia is, perhaps I should bear that in mind when I make such rash promises!

The BobinOz rough guide to school fees in Australia.

First, let me make it clear that these are the fees that apply to Australian citizens and permanent residents. If you are here on a temporary visa then different fees may apply or you might get a grant.

The three main types of school:

  • Public (state) – run by and funded by government.
  • Private – run privately but subsidised by the government.
  • Catholic – run by Catholics and also subsidised by government.

schoolsPublic schools.

The Australian Government has an obligation to provide state education via public schools to all children in Australia. Each public school has an obligation to accept all of the children within its catchment area. If they don’t have enough room, they must find some. If they don’t have enough teachers, they must hire some more.

All public education in Australia is free, but there is confusion because each school can charge a “Voluntary Contributions” and these seem to range from $60 per annum to as much as $1,000.

Interestingly, the $1000 figure came from a news article entitled “anger over school fees” from the Herald Sun and was about schools in the state of Victoria. Victoria is where Vivienne was talking about when she mentioned high public school fees in Australia in her open email to me.

So what happens if you don’t pay these voluntary contributions? I spoke to somebody who didn’t pay and they told me they got bombarded with reminders constantly, but that ultimately nothing specifically happened. But she only missed the payment for one year, she couldn’t handle the pressure!

I’m sure each school deals with it differently, some may prevent your child from taking music lessons or sport for example and no doubt if too many people don’t pay, the voluntary contributions fees would go up for those that do. I’m sure they will get their money from somewhere.

If you want to know some of the alleged tricks schools get up to to ensure these voluntary contributions are paid, then check out the above mentioned article over at the Herald Sun.

In addition to the voluntary contributions, parents will also have to pay for stationery, books, school uniform, sports equipment, musical instruments, school trips and any other items needed that are relevant to their studies.

About two thirds of Australian children go to public (state) schools.

Private schools.

If you want to send your child to a private school, you’re better off doing it here in Australia than you are back in England. That’s because, if I’m not mistaken, if you choose private education in England the government says “thank you very much” and pockets the money it saved by you choosing not to send your child to one of the government run schools.

Here in Australia, the government realise that your decision to go private is saving them money, so they effectively subsidise your payments by paying a grant to all private schools who in turn can reflect that in their fees to students.

So how much is private education? This is where it could get messy but I have found a way to make this real simple…………

Between $800 and $29,000 a year.

Want to try and guess where you need to go to spend $29,000 a year on education? Yes, you’ve got it. Victoria! Geelong Grammar apparently.

So as you can see, fees vary wildly. But generally speaking, the older your child the more expensive it gets. Typically the fees are in these bands:

  • Prep to year 6.
  • Years 7 to 9.
  • Years 10 to 12.

Furthermore, good discounts are available for sending more of your children, if you have them, to the same school. Some payments are tax deductible as well.

Catholic schools.

Catholic schools are funded in the same way as private schools in as much as they charge a fee to their students and they receive a government grant. But it appears that Catholic schools are substantially cheaper on average than private schools.

Expect to pay between $600 and $3000 a year.

According to the government, they pump $22.7 billion of public funding into state education (2.2m students) and a further $7.6 billion into private (independent and Catholic) schools (1.1m students).

School fees rough summary: as at 2009

  • Public (state) schools: $60-$1000 a year. Average $150
  • Private schools: $800 to $29,000 a year. Average $6,300
  • Catholic schools: $600 to $3000 a year. Average $1,200

Plus the cost of uniforms, books and other stuff as previously mentioned. The average figures quoted are purely a BobinOz guess. I don’t think they’d be far out, but then I wouldn’t, would I?

Education costs in England.

Over in the UK, public (state) education is completely free, providing that hasn’t changed since I went to school.

Average private school costs are around £11,000 a year and Britain’s most expensive private school is Eton at £24,000 a year.

You could argue that private schools in the UK are more “elite” than they are here in Australia. After all only 7% of UK children attend private schools compared with over 30% here.

You could also argue that the quality of education in some of the UK’s state schools is equal to the education that some Australians pay for here privately. If that argument could be proved, then without a doubt the UK would win this cost comparison on the price of education. But until anybody can prove that……..

Who wins?

Public (state) schools here in Australia are more expensive than they are in the UK. But not by a lot. (Unless you go to Victoria). Once you’ve bought all the extra stuff, like the school uniform, stationery, sports kit etc, I’d like to wager Australian public schools can’t be anything much higher than 30% more expensive than the UK’s schools.

But private schools are cheaper here than in England. Quite a bit cheaper. In fact, at the least 50% cheaper, possibly as much as 70% cheaper when you compare the average £11,000 a year (that’s nearly $20,000) with the average of $6,300 here.

So, dare I award this category, the cost of education between England and Australia compared, to Australia?

No! But I’m calling it a draw.


Don’t be too afraid of the cost of schooling here in Australia, it’s not that bad. And you do have the choice, you can pretty well spent as much or as little as you want.

Lesson 2:

I am pleased to announce that our teacher has returned to give us a second lesson, this one is called State School Fees for Temporary Visa Holders in Australia.

If you are coming here on a temporary 457 visa, you really must read it.

Update 2016

Obviously school fees change each year and this article is now a little out of date. Finding up-to-date information is incredibly difficult as many schools do not publish their fees online. Also, not only do fees vary from school to school, they can also change from grade to grade.

A Year 7 student will not pay as much as a Year 12 student.

During the last year we have been looking at high schools for our daughter Elizabeth here in the Brisbane area. For what it’s worth, the school fees we were quoted were:

  • Catholic School 1 = $7000 per year
  • Catholic School 2 = $12,000 per year
  • Independent Private School = $15,000 per year
  • Additionally, the above-mentioned Geelong Grammar now charges around $35,000 per year

These fees are not averages, they are specific fees quoted by four different schools. Any of you seriously looking at private education in Australia would be advised to get the up-to-date school fees directly from any individual school you might be interested in.

Those of you looking at those Catholic school fees will be thinking they have risen massively; I’m not sure that’s the case. Maybe the two Catholic schools we looked at were unusually expensive. My understanding is that you can still get a Catholic private school education for much less, I have certainly seen plenty of Catholic schools quoting fees of between $1000 and $3000 per year.

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{ 108 comments… add one }
  • Chris Newton May 25, 2016, 6:33 am | Link

    Dear Bob,
    My son, aged 40, hopes to come to Australia for an extended visit of about 6-12 months.
    He has a brother & sister who are both Australian citizens.
    He would ideally like to do some work. He is a teacher, & for his 3 children aged 10, 8 & 6 to go to school.
    Your comments regarding cost of schooling don’t apply to non-Australians.
    Assuming he is able to obtain a visa etc can you give me some idea of the cost of schooling his children, please?
    They are UK passport holders.

    • BobinOz May 26, 2016, 12:29 am | Link

      Hi Chris

      My comments do apply to non-Australians for the most part, many people live here on permanent or temporary visas that allow them to work in this country and therefore get education for their children as part of that and they are not Australian.

      I really cannot answer your question, because I have no idea what kind of visa your son intends to visit on. Your son should really talk to a MARA registered migration agent about this, they know all the rules and they can clear it up for him.

      Good luck, Bob

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