As cost-of-living pressures bite many Aussie families, private school bosses’ salaries reveal a different reality

The leadership salaries in some of Sydney's top private schools have been revealed - and the amounts are high.

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Salaries for leadership at some of the country’s high-fee private schools have been disclosed for the first time, revealing one Sydney school pays its bosses almost half a million dollars each year.

The financial information has been disclosed following changes to reporting rules for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). The recent shake-up means that, from 2022, schools must now detail how much ‘key management personnel’ make in salary and additional benefits.

But some independent school principals are pushing back by saying that comparing the pay packets of key executive staff at different schools is not clear-cut, due to disparities in how reporting requirements are interpreted by each school.

In the city’s inner-west, Presbyterian Ladies’ College (PLC) Sydney is one of Australia’s oldest girls’ schools and is the educational home of more than 1400 students from pre-kindergarten to Year 12.

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The salary disclosure shows that, on average, $474,876 was paid to each of the school’s four members of management in 2022 – the highest of any of Sydney’s high-fee schools, and $350,000 more than the average staff member at that school.

Private school principal says ACNC data does not reflect full story

PLC’s Principal Dr Paul Burgis said the four staff members whose salaries have been put under the microscope each worked between 70 and 80 hours a week during term time. He also claimed that other private schools paid even higher salaries to some of their staff, but that it was not reflected in the data from the ACNC.

“Other schools have interpreted this new requirement to be the figures for the whole executive and senior leadership team (up to 20 staff members),” he says. “We respect this methodology, but this has made the reported averages of other schools lower.”

Mr Burgis calculated that. when the school’s full executive team’s salaries were included, the average remuneration for PLC Sydney’s management came down to $253,844.

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“I know that I, and our senior staff, are very grateful for the payment we receive for the strong commitment we have to the school,” Dr Burgis says. “I also know that there are schools that pay higher salaries than PLC Sydney does to the principal and comparable staff.”

Some of state’s oldest schools top list

Next on the list of highest-paying (on average) independent schools in New South Wales was Cranbrook School – currently an independent day and boarding school for boys but another single-sex school about to make the transition to co-ed by welcoming girls for Year seven and Year 11 from 2026. With just four key managers listed, the ACNC data shows they were paid a total of $1,874,843.

St Ignatius’ College Riverview in Sydney’s Lane Cove appears third in the data disclosure list, with three staff members listed as ‘key management personnel’. The ACNC figures show the amount paid to those leading staff totalled more than $1.2 million.

At the prestigious private boys’ school, Newington College – recently in the media following a decision to open the single-sex school to a co-ed student cohort – 20 staff members are listed as being part of the management team responsible for key strategic decision-making, with the ACNC figures revealing $4,161,467 was paid to the key leadership staff members to place the school 18th on the list of highest salaries paid.

A spokesperson from Shore School – a Christian school with four campuses and a heritage stretching back to 1845 – says several staff changes resulted in a higher-than-average annual figure. It appears ninth on the list, with a total of $3, 876, 985 paid to 11 key management staff.

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“The roles included in the overall calculation encompass the entire leadership team, including individuals in academic and support staff positions. We firmly believe in transparency, especially concerning how parents’ fees and taxpayer contributions are spent,” the spokesperson says.

Public school principals paid less

Industry data previously showed the average salaries of top private school heads was around $664,000, but when extra benefits, including housing, were included, the average total packages exceeded $768,000.

Meanwhile, public secondary school principals take home around $215,000 a year – a figure that shifts slightly, depending on enrolment size and each individual school’s funding allocation.

More transparency needed when it comes to taxpayer funding of private schools

Greater scrutiny of spending by private schools, which receive federal government funding, is set to be in the pipeline after a report released in October 2023 highlighted recommendations increased transparency measures around expenditure of taxpayer funds.

In response to queries about further disclosure requirements for principal’s’ salaries, Federal Education Minister Jason Clare said: “I want taxpayers’ money to glow in the dark.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]