The Sydney private school charging parents $7275 just to secure enrolment

The Sydney private school charging parents $7275 just to secure enrolment

September 14, 2023

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Parents are being charged thousands of dollars to lock in their child’s place at some of Sydney’s top private schools, with non-refundable fees billed years before entry and months ahead of the release of public selective school places.

Independent all-boys school Trinity Grammar hiked its enrolment fee by almost 80 per cent to $5000 in the past year, while Shore School has lifted its combined confirmation and enrolment fee by one-third to $4000 since 2021.

Summer Hill all-boys school Trinity Grammar lifted its enrolment fee to $5000 in 2023.Credit: Louise Kennerley

Many of the city’s wealthiest schools charge parents application fees of $400 to join a waiting list, but also require a non-refundable payment of between $2000 to $7275 to confirm a student will accept a place – in some cases two or three years before they start.

Critics say the enrolment fees – or down payments – are designed to stop parents “school shopping” by joining multiple waiting lists, but then withdrawing applications once a spot is secured at a preferred option or after being offered a selective school place.

“These fees are used to give schools greater certainty about revenue, and to force anxious parents to make early and binding decisions about where to enrol their child,” says John Simpson, an education governance expert and former member of council at Scotch College in Melbourne.

“But very high upfront fees really can’t be justified if they don’t go towards school tuition costs once a child starts at the school,” Simpson said.

“As school fees and cost of living pressures rise, enrolment charges will go up. Schools need to be wary of fee gouging before a child has started at the school. A modest enrolment fee is justified – but what we are seeing in the sector cannot any longer be described as modest.”

Many schools do not allow the fee to go towards tuition costs, which can reach up to $45,000 for year 12, and parents forfeit the payment if the family decides to enrol elsewhere.

Cranbrook, which is planning a DA application with Woollahra Council to lift its enrolment cap by 260 students before shifting to co-education in 2026, charges parents a $300 application fee and $7275 fee to secure a place at the school.

The school received about $1.7 million in enrolment fees last year, however this was down from about $2.2 million in 2021.

In recent letters to prospective parents, Cranbrook principal Nicholas Sampson said the non-refundable enrolment fee is required for all incoming students to “help build an endowment fund to ensure the financial security of the school”. Parents who turn down their place up to eight months before a child is expected to start are also charged a term’s tuition fees.

Cranbrook School, which is planning to lift its enrolment cap by 260 students, charges $7275 in non-refundable enrolment fees.Credit: Brook Mitchell

In NSW, the Department of Education releases thousands of public selective school places about six months before the start of the new school year. About 4200 offers went out for 2024 entry at the end of last month.

Trinity Grammar principal Tim Bowden said it had been a decade since its school council last reviewed the enrolment charges.

“One of the functions of the fee is to require families to demonstrate their intention to come to Trinity. Otherwise, they could accept places at half a dozen schools and walk away at the last minute,” he said.

Another eastern suburbs school, Ascham, makes enrolment offers two to three years before entry, and parents are required to pay $6000 fee that is not credited towards tuition. The King’s School charges an enrolment fee of $4500, St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, $4800, Newington $5000 and Sydney Grammar $7032.

One former school executive with detailed knowledge of the independent sector, who asked to remain anonymous to be able to speak freely, said if enrolment fees are charged schools should consider allowing a “large proportion” to go towards tuition.

“The enrolment charges are now higher than the total annual fees at some of Sydney’s low-fee and newer private schools.

“When it is getting beyond $5000 schools should be able to explain to parents what the money is going towards, and even if it should be put towards first terms tuition fee.”

However, Melbourne-based education consultant Paul O’Shannassy, who helps families choose schools, said the enrolment fees are often used as an insurance policy for the school in case students drop out at the last minute.

“It is somewhat understandable from a school perspective who have ‘list cloggers’ and may have turned other families away on the basis of others accepting a spot,” O’Shannassy said.

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