It goes without saying that every parent wants the best education for their children. Increasingly, however, this may come at a price.

The definition of a good education is always open to debate, but for many parents, an option outside of the public school sector has become an alternative cost they are willing to bear.

At the last census, nearly one third of school children in Australia were being educated outside of the public school system. This number has been slowly increasing since 2001 with around 59% of students going to public high schools in 2016 versus 64% at the beginning of the millennium. More and more parents are electing to go the private route when it comes to educating their children.

At some point all parents debate which path to take with their children. It’s important to make the decision based on your own needs rather than the peer pressure or expectations of others. Here are some of the key things you need to think about before finalising your decision.

What will it cost you financially? The private sector does have freedom to choose what it charges for its services and you will find a large difference in prices across the private education sector. Depending on who you consider, you may find fees varying from as little as $10,000 per annum for a secondary school year to as much as $40,000 or more. As with any purchasing decision you need to determine what represents a fair return for the investment you are making.

What’s the risk factor? Placing your child in a private school is not a short-term decision. The annual cost will need to be multiplied by the number of years you intend to have them educated at this level, and the number of children you plan to put through the private school system. As such, you will probably be committing several hundred thousand dollars from the household budget over a period of time. This level of commitment comes with uncertainty. How secure is your job long term? What options do you have if maintaining this cost proves financially challenging, or you suffer a redundancy? How would you fund it in the event of bereavement or divorce? You can always return your child to the public-school system but no one wants to put their child through this disruption if it’s not necessary.

Look at all the options available. Not all schools are created equal. In some cases, the fees being charged don’t necessarily correlate to the school’s achievement and perceived prestige. It’s important you determine the priorities you need for your child and determine how the school excels in this area. Key questions such as student achievement levels, classroom sizes, resources available, staff turnover etc. can pinpoint how each school measures up.

See if scholarships are offered. Some schools offer student scholarships for those with a high level of achievement. Seldom, however, will these scholarships provide you with the full level of funding. If your child is an achiever it’s worth enquiring about each school’s scholarship program and what level of achievement will see your child secure it.

Talk to your child. It’s important to involve your child in the process. Are they happy with the schools being considered? Does their potential career path justify the cost involved? It’s important to understand their desires and needs. Sending your child to a prestigious secondary school when they would be better joining a trade college, or their career path doesn’t justify it, will prove expensive for you and frustrating for them.

Consider when to make the change. Many parents leave the decision of private schooling until secondary education begins and this can reduce your education costs substantially while losing little in the way of your child’s development.

The starting point is always the question should we consider private school in the first place? Seek the advice and opinions of others who have been down this path before you. It’s a significant financial commitment and not one that should be taken lightly.

If necessary, you should consider getting professional advice. This will help you understand your options. Fear often comes from not understanding and simply having a good Advisor explain your situation will go a long way towards improving how you feel and what you can do.

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The information in this article is general in nature and does not take into consideration your personal situation or circumstances. You should consider whether the information contained in this article is suitable to your needs and where appropriate, seek professional advice from a Financial Advisor or other finance professional.

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