NSW public school enrolments drop by more than 24,000 since Covid

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NSW public school enrolments have dropped by more than 24,000 since Covid, as families opt to send their kids to non-government schools.

New figures released on Tuesday show a year-on-year fall in enrolments for the fourth consecutive year.

Public school enrolments dropped by 5001 enrolments between 2022 (791,435) and 2023 (786,434), in what was the starkest drop over the four-year period, according to figures from the NSW Department of Education.

The numbers for 2023 were nearly 3 per cent below rates from peak 2020 (810,705) enrolments, which fell to 802,776 in 2021.

Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics also showed total school enrolments in NSW increased by 0.6 per cent between 2022 to 2023, but parents are opting to send children to non-government schools, with rates growing 2.6 per cent year-on-year.

NSW Department of Education secretary Murat Dizdar acknowledged that public school enrolment figures were “still not where we want them to be,” following falls during the pandemic.

“I am determined to win back parents and students,” he said.

“I want our schools to be the first choice for parents when deciding where to educate their children.

“There is no limit to where a public education can take you – our alumni include the Reserve Bank Governor, prime ministers, high court judges, leading performing and creative artists and Australian sporting legends.”

Since taking government in 2023, Labor has been vocal about the funding and staffing difficulties facing public schools.

The first week of the 2024 school term reported 1782 teacher vacancies, however, that was an improvement of about 20 per cent since 2023 figures of 2242.

NSW Education Minister Prue Car also criticised the former government for not prioritising infrastructure growth in areas with an “explosion in school-age students”.

As a result families were being “forced to turn to the private sector,” she said.

Recent analysis from the government found student population in Sydney’s north-western and southwestern corridors – which saw the largest booms, and makes up nearly 40 per cent of the state’s growth in students – were surpassing 2016 projections by thousands.

Topping the list was Schofields East in Sydney’s northwest, which reported about 4800 enrolments in 2023, 3300 more than estimated.

This was followed by Marsden Park and Shanes Park – also in Sydney’s northwest and west. The area recorded about 2500 students, 2200 more than the projected figure of 300.

Box Hill, where Ms Car recently promised a public school just last week, was the state’s sixth highest student and dwelling growth area, surpassing its original projection by 600, to about 1400.

Ms Car said addressing dropping public school enrolments was a priority for the government.

“Private schools in these growing suburbs have picked up the slack from 12 years of Liberal National neglect,” she said.

“They have benefited, while families weather the cost of living without a local public school.

“Dropping student numbers are a real concern because enrolments are tied to Commonwealth funding, which impacts all public school students and is another reason why we are addressing this issue as a matter of urgency.”