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School of hard knocks: public vs private education

13 February 2017

Money & Life team

Money & Life contributors draw on their diverse range of experience to present you with insights and guidance that will help you manage your financial wellbeing, achieve your lifestyle goals and plan for your financial future.

From kindergarten to Year 12 the total cost of putting a child through private school in Australia ranges from $296,806 to $543,334, depending on what state or region you live in.

By comparison, the cost of public school education for the same years varies between $50,950 in regional Queensland and $69,589 in metropolitan New South Wales.

Whether public or private, it might almost be worth moving to the country if you live in a major metropolitan area to save money on school costs. But of course this is not an option for the majority of families.

Do your homework

Whether you are deciding to send your child to a new school or choosing a school for the first time, it’s important to research what the costs will be.

Money expert, Bessie Hassan, from leading comparison website,, says the cost of textbooks, stationery, laptops and other school supplies can add up. “You will typically be spending more on these options at private schools, particularly when purchased through the institution, and more of them may be mandatory for students,” she says.

Investigate scholarships and part-scholarships

If your child is academically gifted, it’s worth looking at the possibility of getting a scholarship. Although there are costs involved in sitting for scholarship tests, if your child shows an aptitude beyond their years it might be money well spent. Typically the tests are held just before the start of the school year, but you may need to register several months prior. For more information:

Uniform or no uniform?

Hassan says that according to the Australian Scholarships Group, clothing alone could cost over *$570 per year for senior high school students at private schools in Victoria.

“Some public schools do not require their students to wear uniforms. When they do, the uniforms are usually quite basic, practical and cost-effective. Meanwhile, at private schools there will almost always be uniforms and they may be much more expensive and elaborate,” says Hassan.

A single private school uniform blazer can cost upwards of $200, to say nothing of dry cleaning costs over the years.

How to save, save, save

It’s not all gloom and doom though. When it comes to back-to-school shopping for the new year, Hassan has some great tips.

  • Know your budget. Allocate a specific amount for school needs.
  • Make a list of all the school requirements. Teachers will usually provide a list.
  • Find reusable items from last year’s supplies. Remove those from the list so you don’t buy them again.
  • Buy in bulk. Packs of basic school supplies might be available for less.
  • Leave the kids at home. Children will be tempted by flashy gadgets.
  • Compare prices at different merchants and look for deals.
  • Shop for quality supplies. Don’t just buy the cheapest.
  • Shop online. Save time, resources and enjoy the convenience.