Cost Of A Free Education In Australia

There’s No Such Thing
As A Free Education
In Australia

free education

In Australia we have a free public education system. But it’s easy to forget that our children’s education is apparently free when we open up an invoice for $800 for two children attending public school. That’s not really my definition of free.

Though as much as it makes me cringe to pin that particular bill to our notice board I’m happy to pay it knowing that my children are receiving a quality education. Well, maybe not HAPPY paying it, but I understand why we pay it. We’re lucky that we send our children to a school where most parents will be able to afford to pay those fees. Even if it stings a bit.

The bill is itemised to show that we’re paying for. It includes a levy for a music teacher, art program, as well as new laptops, computer programs like reading eggs – which we can access from home – and so on. We can see that is money well spent.

But it’s definitely not free.

What Does A Free Education Really Cost?

  • “Voluntary” school fees can be anywhere from $30 to $1000 per child.
  • Books, pencils and other stationery are around $100-200 per child.
  • School uniforms are usually $50-100 for a complete outfit (and you’ll likely need at least 3 sets per child)
  • Incursions and excursions can cost anywhere from a gold coin to a couple of hundred dollars each.
  • Other expenses can include: laptops or tablets (especially in high school), before and after school care programs, extra activities, and other fundraising throughout the year.

Are The Fees Really Voluntary?

In theory the bill sent by the school is actually voluntary. We don’t have to pay it. In Australia our children are entitled to a free education. Though that fee starts to feel a whole lot less voluntary when you are sent reminder notices to pay it. Or when there’s a date on the form suggesting that it must be paid by a certain day. I’ve heard people say they’ve been publicly shamed for not paying the voluntary fee. Parents had their names printed and attached to the schools notice board in an attempt to coerce them into paying.

I don’t actually think this is the school’s fault. I think it’s a sign that schools are so inadequately funded that they must hound parents for money. I’m sure schools don’t want to be chasing parents like debt collectors. 

Who Is Responsible For Covering The Costs?

Firstly, can I say who isn’t responsible for bridging the gap between what school funding provides and the education our children deserve: Teachers.

The biggest indication that our education system is inadequately funded is that teachers are forking out their own money for school supplies. A whopping 92% of teachers use their own money to meet their needs of their students. A third of whom are paying more than $500 a year. While one in ten are spending more than $1000. Each and every year. Out of their own pockets.

Which is equal parts heartwarming and devastating. It’s beautiful that there are so many teachers who care so deeply about our kids that they’re willing to pay to educate them. But they shouldn’t have to.

What About The Parents?

So, should we simply say “They’re your kids, you pay for them.” Or do we as a country have a responsibility to ensure that all children receive a quality education? Regardless of whether or not their parents can afford it. Heck, even if their parent CAN afford it and choose not to – why should a child be punished for that? The quality of their education has a lifelong impact. 

Even if children are able to attend classes without their parents paying the voluntary fee in some cases that means they’d be doing so without books and pencils!

And it’s great that there are organisations like “Got a Pen”  helping to supply children who are going to school empty handed, but surely these necessary supplies should be included in a “free education”. 

Increase Government Funding

Okay, so I know it’s not as simple as just diverting funds to education. The money has to come from somewhere. And I’ll admit I don’t know the first thing about running a federal budget, but providing a quality education to all children, not just those who can afford it, means that all children have the same opportunities to learn and become successful, contributing members of our country.

That seems like a wise investment to me.

What do you think? Should Australia have a truly free education or should parents have to still pay to cover some of the costs?

Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner. Rachel is obsessed prams, car seats, carriers and all things baby. She has worked in the baby industry for several years, for both suppliers and also in a retail setting and has developed a passion for connecting parents with the right products to make their lives easier. When Rachel isn't playing with prams she's enjoys crocheting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.


  1. I never realised how much extra time and (their own) money that teachers contribute until I saw a family member up to midnight most nights preparing lesson plans and prepping for individual student needs.

  2. I think we definitely need to find public schools more equitably. Perhaps some of the money the govt provides to private schools is a place to start.

  3. Everything does add up at the start of each new year and as they grow older, costs increase as well. They need a lap top, an iPad etc and I always wonder what about the families who can’t afford these? Surely something must be done so that these children are not disadvantaged.

  4. It’s tough and it’s definitely not equal or fair for schools who have kids from various socio-economic families who can’t afford to go on excursion and so forth. But it only goes up as they go into college/university! I can’t look at my uni debt ? wish that was free lol

  5. Our class levy fees are $40 per year, which covers stationery etc
    There are additional fees for some sports programs, excursions etc but these are often subsidised to a degree.

  6. After having my kids at private schools, I’m quite happy to pay the voluntary fees at our public school… The uniforms are also not as expensive and many schools have a buy,swap,sell page as well.

  7. My son is at steiner no uniforms & all materials provided ut the 3% increases each year with my dropping income are really starting to bite from 4500 to 7200 while my income is 22.500 a year big ouch

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