The tide may be turning in the flow of enrolments moving from state schools in New South Wales with many Catholic schools recording a moderate or even steep drop in numbers.
The Daily Telegraph reports public shools are bracing for an influx of children fleeing the private system, as new figures show some independent schools have shed hundreds of students.
In the past five years the student body at 439 private schools has shrunk.
The Department of Education and Training will start tracking the origin of new public students to determine how many have turned their backs on independent education.
A confidential list prepared by the department, based on declared enrolments for public funding, shows 33 private schools lost more than 100 students over five years to 2007.
And those losses are forecast to rise this year as families hit hard by the economic downturn turn to public education.
Public schools in the Lower North Shore and Eastern Suburbs, havens for the private system, are believed to have already been knocking back students from outside their catchment areas to handle newcomers locally.
"We were noticing the trend back to public schools right at the peak of prosperity so it's very dangerous for people to assume the rise is only occurring now because of the economic downturn," Education deputy director-general (schools) Trevor Fletcher said.
While solid enrolment figures will not be known until February, principals say that, anecdotally, there is a rise in interest from private school students since the credit crisis.
The worst case of declining private enrolments, 357, was experienced at Patrician Brothers College, Fairfield.
Spokesman for the Catholic Education Commission Ian Baker said the downturn was being felt most keenly in Sydney's wealthier eastern and northern suburbs.
"Some people will be asking for help who have not done so before," Mr Baker said.
But New South Wales Education Minister Verity Firth says it is not yet clear if parents leaving the private system are enrolling their children at public schools, the ABC says.
"During the 80s and 90s there was a loss from public schools to private and the Catholic sector but over the past five years we have seen a marked change," she said.
"Parents are obviously trusting the public school system to provide their children with the highest quality of education."
Ms Firth says they are keen to find out what is behind the shift.
"We're going to be looking at whether the students are coming from overseas, from interstate, from other public schools in New South Wales or from other independent schools," she said.
State schools swell amid private exodus (Daily Telegraph)
Falling schools enrollments (Daily Telegraph)