Private schools brace for dropouts amid economic crisis

Private schools brace for dropouts amid economic crisis

AIS chief executive Geoff Newcombe said on Wednesday that the independent sector had been struggling under the impact of bushfires, drought and COVID-19, and was looking at ways to support parents and schools.

“This could include bringing forward the scheduled government recurrent payment to all schools due in July and possibly the October instalment. We are having discussions with the federal Department of Education and the government,” he said.

Independent schools receive their recurrent government funding in three instalments, with half in February, a quarter in July and a quarter in October.

The head of the NSW Parents’ Council, Rose Cantali, said most parents had not reckoned with the financial implications of the coronavirus shutdown yet, as the situation was changing so rapidly.

Parents were not yet complaining about having to pay full fees for remote learning, and she believed those who could pay would be willing to do so if the online service was helping their children achieve academically. “Schools have got overheads and commitments; they still have to pay the teachers,” she said.


However, Dr Cantali predicted many families would face financial hardship in coming months, as businesses were forced to close and job losses continued. “There will be a lot of families approaching schools for some relief,” she said.

“Depending on how long this is going to go on for, and depending on the situation with their mortgages, I think you’ll find some parents who will eventually have no choice but to pull [their children] out.”

One private school principal, who did not want to be named, said most parents had paid their term one fees, but some might struggle to pay for term two. Schools had payment plans for families in distress, but, he said, “How far in debt do you want families to go?

“It takes a lot to make a parent change a school, and changing schools during remote learning would be particularly difficult. I don’t see a big exodus during the year, but it could come at the end of the year. The impact really could be substantial.”

A recent paper by Mr Bonnor argued it would only cost an extra $1 billion a year for the public sector to educate all the students at non-government schools, although the capital costs of buying and expanding schools would be greater.

Private schools are not discounting fees due to the COVID-19 crisis, but some, such as International Grammar, have asked parents to contact them if they have serious financial concerns.

“We are aware that the COVID-19 situation is already causing financial hardship for some of our families,” the school said in a letter to parents.

Parents whose children attend Catholic schools in the Parramatta diocese have been told to pay what they can, and that outstanding fees would not be followed up.

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Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald

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