The decision by some Sydney private schools to pay principals higher salary packages than university principals has sparked dismay and disbelief, particularly as inadequate salaries are causing both teachers to flee the profession and declining enrollments in college degrees .
Confidential industry data on salaries and benefits paid to top staff at high-fee independent schools, including figures for deputies, principals, chaplains and other employees, obtained by the agency heraldLucy Carroll, education editor of , revealed that salary packages — which include base salaries, pension benefits and perks including housing and cars — ranged from about $496,000 to $1,034,000. At least one head earned more than $1 million and five cashed in bonuses of almost $100,000 each.
Nearly 20 schools took part in the closely guarded 2021 survey including Abbotsleigh, Ascham, Barker College, Cranbrook, Kambala, Knox Grammar, MLC School, Moriah College, Newington College, PLC Sydney, Queenwood, Ravenswood, SCEGGS Darlinghurst, Shore, St Catherine’s , Scots College and Frensham.
Many of these schools averaged about 1500 students and 170 staff. Still, they offer remuneration more akin to the salaries and packages paid to New South Wales vice chancellors who can head up universities with more than 70,000 enrolled students and 8,000 staff. Other private school principals in NSW earn significantly less, while the highest-paid public school principal can get a total package of up to $215,000. A principal of a Catholic school in Sydney can earn a total of $245,000.
These affluent schools generate most of their income from parental contributions, but depending on the number of students, federal and state governments contribute between about $3,000 and $10,000 for each student — or at least about $5 million per year.
Of course, all schools are entitled to state funding. The Schooling Resource Standard, introduced as part of the Gonski Reforms, calculates how much government support is required for private schools when parental income is taken into account. However, private school head salaries in NSW are generally not published. Such government funding requires some transparency to avoid issues such as the client bonanza that the funding exposes herald.
John Simpson, a specialist in education governance, believes that school principals’ salaries are of interest to paying parents and should be disclosed in financial reporting. “A $1 million salary for a principal is outrageous, no matter how good he may be,” he said.
The acting chief executive of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, David Buley, said that non-government schools already face far higher disclosure rates than government schools and that disclosing an individual’s salary raises legitimate privacy concerns: “There is no evidence.” This suggests that disclosure of such sensitive personal information would improve the operation of a school.”