New school enrolment figures have provided further evidence of the growing demand for public education and of the deep inequality entrenched in the distribution of capital funds across Australia’s education system.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), public schools enrolled 34,313 additional students in 2020, compared to 8,886 more students in Catholic schools and 14,964 more students in private schools. There are now over 2.6 million students enrolled in public schools in Australia.

Public schools already teach two thirds of all students, yet over the five years from 2016 public school enrolments rose by 5.9%, compared to those of the next largest sector, Catholic schools, where enrolments grew by 1.5%.

Despite these figures, the Federal Government has given Catholic and private schools a $1.9 billion capital works special deal while providing no equivalent federal funding to public schools to build and maintain essential school infrastructure.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that booming public school enrolments demonstrated the urgent need for the Federal Government to provide capital funding for public schools to cater for the growth in student numbers.

“Public school enrolments continue to skyrocket yet public schools get no federal funding to build and maintain essential school infrastructure. Instead, the federal Government has handed private schools a $1.9 billion capital works special deal,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Two thirds of Australia’s school students attend public schools, and this proportion is growing. More parents than ever before are sending their children to public schools, creating a need for more buildings, more classrooms, and improved infrastructure such as libraries, sporting facilities and science labs.”

“Yet the question must be asked – why is the Federal Government ignoring public schools where the need is clearly greatest and instead funnelling billions of dollars into private school infrastructure?” Ms Haythorpe said.

Ms Haythorpe said that in May’s Federal Budget the Commonwealth must establish a capital works fund for public schools.

“If the Morrison Government wants to give all school students a fair go, it must immediately end capital funding inequality and provide funding to public schools for the capital works necessary to meet growing enrolments” Ms Haythorpe said.