Jeni O’Dowd: Why you should care some elite schools cost $50k a year

Jeni O’Dowd
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Kambala Rose Bay is charging more than $50,000 per student
Kambala Rose Bay is charging more than $50,000 per student Credit: Supplied

Education is becoming a luxury rather than a right, with fees at Sydney’s private schools reaching unprecedented heights, threatening to create an exclusive enclave for the elite.

It’s hard to imagine for most of us, but some parents are now paying more than $50,000 a year after across-the-board fee hikes earlier this year of more than 10 per cent. And that is per child.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

And these hikes, which are killing the dream of a private school for many parents, will only exacerbate the already gaping divide in educational accessibility.

It’s not just the rich who send their children to these schools. For some families, grandparents pay the fees and for others, they go without luxuries such as holidays to ensure their kids receive a private education.

But for many, the choice of a high school is severely limited. In Sydney’s east and inner city, there are only six public high schools compared with more than 20 private high schools.

Consider the 2024 fees at Kambala in Rose Bay — where former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie and PR queen Roxy Jacenko went. For Year 12, you are looking at paying more than $51,000 a year, compared with $46,300 in 2023 (which was a 7 per cent increase on the 2022 fees).

Jeni O’Dowd is the founder and editor of
Jeni O’Dowd is the founder and editor of Credit: Supplied

Likewise, Catholic independent school Kincoppal-Rose Bay lifted fees for Years 11 and 12 students from $36,096 in 2023 to $40,248 this year. Ascham, in Edgecliff, lifted fees for this year’s group to $45,060 from $42,550 the year before.

And some of these fees do not take in compulsory levies (for computers, camps and the like) and extra activities such as sport. And let’s not forget the added cost of tutoring if it’s needed, which, at $100 an hour in some suburbs, is a huge extra burden.

Here are more of the yearly fees for Year 11 and 12 students in private schools in Sydney: Shore $43,200; Cranbrook $46,497, SCEGGS Darlinghurst $46,436, PLC Sydney $42,060, St Catherine’s at Waverly $41,000; Loreto Kirribilli $32,550 year 10-12 2023 (a steep increase from the 2023 cost of $27,660 for Year 11 and 12).

And so it continues. It seems no private school in Sydney was immune from a hefty hike in fees this year.

An easy solution may be to pull your child out and put them in a public school. But this is hard after teenagers have formed friendship groups and harder still if you live in Sydney’s east, as your options are severely limited.

This has been acknowledged by the Minns Government, which is investigating building another public high school after considerable pressure from independent MPs Alex Greenwich and Allegra Spender (the daughter of the late and brilliant Carla Zampatti and the former head student at Ascham).

There’s no doubt parents should have the freedom to choose the type of education that best suits their child, whether it be public, private, or independent.

Greenwich argues another high school in Sydney’s east cannot come soon enough.

On his website, he says: “High school options in the eastern suburbs are very limited. While there are many private schools in the region, fees can be out of reach for families, especially at a time when other cost of living expenses are rising”.

He also points out that enrolments close years before school begins (and many of these schools charge a non-refundable enrolment fee which can be as high as $7000 which doesn’t go towards any fees). And let’s not forget the non-refundable fees of up to $500 just to put your child on the waiting list.

“Existing public schools are at capacity while residential growth for the region is set to boom,” Greenwich says.

“With … Allegra Spender and Woollahra Mayor Susan Wynne, I’ve written to the education minister calling for urgent planning to start to find a site and build a public high school in the region.

“The longer we wait, the harder it will be to secure land as more sites are sold to developers.”

Many parents wonder whether a private school is worth the extra money. They undoubtedly have more resources, leading to smaller class sizes, better facilities, and additional extracurricular opportunities but they do lack diversity and social cohesion which happens when you bring together students from diverse backgrounds.

But there’s no doubt parents should have the freedom to choose the type of education that best suits their child, whether it be public, private, or independent.

(And that includes co-ed or singular sex. Sorry Kate Emery, but it is definitely not a no-brainer. It should be about choice.)

However, escalating fees at Sydney’s private schools increasingly constrain this freedom of choice, limiting this option for many families.

Jeni O’Dowd is the founder and editor of

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 15-04-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 15 April 202415 April 2024

Justice Lee finds Lehrmann ‘hell-bent on having sex’ with Higgins and ‘didn’t care if she knew what was going on’