Starting a New Independent School in NSW

NSW Regulatory Requirements

The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) regulates independent schools in this state. Registration through NESA provides a school’s licence to operate, and provides assurance that the requirements of the (NSW) Education Act 1990 are being, or will be met.

Where a school intends to nominate candidates for the Record of School Achievement (RoSA) or the Higher School Certificate (HSC) there is an additional requirement for the school to be accredited, which provides assurance that the requirements for these credentials are being, or will be met.

The minimum requirements for registering and for accrediting a non-government school are set out in the NESA Registered and Accredited Individual Non-Government Schools Manual (the Manual), which covers governance and operational matters including requirements for the proprietor and principal of the school, management and operation of the school, staff, curriculum, premises, buildings and facilities, a safe and supportive environment, discipline and attendance, and educational and financial reporting. A school applying for initial registration must demonstrate its capacity to comply with the registration requirements which includes having in place policies and procedures that detail how the school will operate once established. A school would also need to have in place planning for the curriculum to be delivered by the school.

Boarding schools have additional requirements, as do schools outsourcing courses to external providers, and these are also set out in the NESA Manual.

An application for initial registration (and accreditation where relevant) must be submitted to NESA by March 31 in the year before the school is due to open. NESA Inspectors will assess documentation and visit the site. The Education Act requires that the Minister for Education make a decision on the application within 6 months.

Governance and financial viability requirements


Proper governance requires a school to have in place structures, policies and procedures for governance, leadership,authority, decision-making, accountability and transparency. The NESA Manual sets out minimum requirements for governance matters including policies and procedures, conflict of interest, related party transactions, induction processes and professional training of ‘responsible persons’, and an external, independent, attestation audit of an annual financial statement.

Section 47(b) of the Education Act requires each ‘responsible person’ for a non-government school to be a fitand proper person or body. This includes the proprietor ensuring that the school’s ‘responsible persons’ and governing bodies have experience and expertise in administering a school and providing education at a school. The school must also implement policies and procedures to assure that ‘responsible persons’ and the governing body of the school are and continue to be fit and proper whilst holding the role of a ‘responsible person’ or governing body for the school. The ‘responsible persons’ for a school include each director of the legal entity that owns and operates the school, each member of the school’s governing body and the principal of the school.

Recent additions to regulatory requirements include the demonstration of financial viability for all schools. At the time of making an application for initial registration of the school (and for each subsequent renewal of registration), NESA requires evidence of financial viability to be submitted. Evidence may be in the form of financial viability certification, as prescribed by NESA. AISNSW is approved by NESA to certify financial viability, and offers this service for a fee.

School Funding


Schools are funded under a single system. If the school is eligible, the Commonwealth and State Governments will provide funds which contribute to the cost of operating the school. Schools which operate for profit are not eligible for funding. Since government funds can only be paid once the school is established, it is critically important to consider funding eligibility, along with proposed enrollments, fees and expenditure etc., to determine the feasibility of the school.

Commonwealth Government funding 

The approved authority for a not-for-profit school may also seek approval for eligibility for funding by the Commonwealth Government. Schools are encouraged to apply as soon as NESA has provided approval to operate the school. A summary of current funding arrangements is available here, with further detail in the Australian Education Act 2013 and the Australian Education Regulation 2013.

Application for Commonwealth funding is via an online application at Schools Entry Point (SEP). The SEP application process ensures that all the legislated requirements (under both the Australian Education Act 2013 and the Australian Education Regulation 2013) are met, including necessary supporting documents (demonstrating NESA registration etc.).

Payments to new schools are made after the school opens, and after the school’s entitlement has been calculated from a compliant application. For a school that opens before August, the estimated entitlement uses the initial student cohort from when the school starts to deliver education (opens). Entitlements are then updated with the actual student numbers from the August census day.

For new school approvals, the proportion of the entitlement paid as an initial amount is shown below, with the balance paid in October to take into account data from the August student census:

  • for approvals before July, the payment is a 50 per cent advance, calculated from their estimated entitlement
  • for approvals from July to August, the payment is a 75 per cent advance, calculated from their estimated entitlement
  • for approvals after August, the payment is 100 per cent of their actual entitlement (using student census data).

Further information on Commonwealth funding for a new school is available from Grantsanddata.help@education.gov.au.

State Government funding 

State Government funding, for registered schools operating not-for-profit, is aligned with the the Commonwealth’s funding model with the Commonwealth determining each schools’ funding entitlement. The Commonwealth pays 80% and the NSW Government pays 20% of the funding entitlement. The NSW Department of Education (DoE) Non-Government Schools Unitmanages the payment of State Government funding to NSW non-government schools. 

Further information about NSW non-government school funding is available here.

Teacher accreditation and Teacher Accreditation Authorities


As all teachers delivering the NESA curriculum, and all early childhood teachers working in an approved early childhood centre, are required to be accredited, all NSW schools are required, as part of school registration requirements, to have an approved Teacher Accreditation Authority (TAA). This can be achieved either by the school operating its own approved TAA, or by having a formal written agreement with an external TAA approved by NESA. 

The NESA Guidelines for the Regulation of Teacher AccreditationAuthorities for Non-government Schools and Early Childhood Education Centres set out the requirements for schools to operate an approved TAA. Independent schools may apply for AISNSW to act as their TAA through the Independent Schools Teacher Accreditation Authority (ISTAA). Enquiries about ISTAA may be directed to Estelle Lewis, Head, Teacher Accreditation, at elewis@aisnsw.edu.au.

AISNSW support for new schools


The AISNSW may be able to provide further support prior to your school obtaining registration, through referral to a number of experienced NSW school principals who can provide support as consultants in drafting school policies and assisting to draft curriculum documents which are required for your application to NESA for registration and/or accreditation.

If you are interested in applying for membership of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW), once registered with NESA, please contact Michael Carr, Deputy Chief Executive, by email at mcarr@aisnsw.edu.au.