Education in Australia

books in a pile

Understanding the different education systems and schooling options can be daunting when first investigating options for children.

In Australia there are government and non-government pre-primary, primary and secondary schools. It is compulsory for all children to attend school from six years old with the leaving age varying between 16 to17 years of age depending on the state. Most students continue their formal education until they are 18. Both state and federal government legislation ensures high educational standards and quality premises. The educational programs in all schools are monitored and standards regularly evaluated through testing programs. Most government schools are co-educational. Non-government schools can be either single gender or co-educational. All schools teach a varied and relevant curriculum taught by committed, professional teachers. While education varies slightly in each state all schools share a common approach to learning, based around the individual needs of the student. Schools regularly report to students and parents regarding the educational progress and well-being of the students. The focus of this article is an introduction to primary and secondary education in Australia. For younger children there are many options such as nanny services, long day care, kindergartens and Early Learning Centres. For post-secondary students there are many higher education choices.

Choosing a School

It is important to identify and cater for the needs of your children (social, academic and individual needs) and to match the expectations and values of your family with the philosophy and offerings of the school. Finding a school where your children are going to be happy is usually a family’s main objective.

School Uniforms

Most Australian schools have uniforms from simple school uniforms for government schools that are not compulsory (although most students tend to wear them) to more formal uniforms compulsory uniforms for private schools.

Academic year

The academic year in Australia is based on the calendar year and commences in late January or early February and finishes in December with the year being divided into four terms, two in each semester. Please see below for the 2013 school term dates for Melbourne, Sydney, and Perth as well as other relevant information for those locations.

School Start and Finish Times

School start and finish times vary but generally most schools start between 8.30am and 9.00am and finish between 2.30pm and 3.00pm.

Finding out about Academic Records of a School

In Australia there is no “league of tables” as such. However, in January 2010 the federal government launched the “My School” website to enable parents to search the academic profile of almost 10000 schools nationally. It is based on the results from the National Assessment Program-Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), which is an annual assessment for all students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. These tests are administered across the nation on the same days. It is important to understand that the NAPLAN tests are only one aspect of each school’s assessment and reporting process and do not replace the extensive, ongoing assessments made by teachers about each student’s performance. More information about NAPLAN can be found at

International Baccalaureate (IB) Programs

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is an internationally accepted certification. Students study a range of subjects including a foreign language, humanities, science, arts and philosophy subjects. Students are expected to participate in sport and community service activities. There are 148 IB World Schools in Australia offering one or more of the three IB programmes. 83 schools offer the Primary Years Programme, 43 schools offer the Middle Years Programme and 62 schools offer the Diploma Programme. It is always worthwhile contacting the participating school and asking about places as there is always a little movement with families moving and children changing schools for individual reasons. For more information about schools and programme offerings visit

Government Schools Zoning

Many government schools, both primary and secondary, are zoned to their local neighbourhood boundaries. These boundaries are strictly adhered to by the school administration. This means that the family of the student will need to reside within that defined area. It is often not possible to organize a school tour unless you can provide proof of residency within the zone. Evidence can be in the form of a signed Residential Tenancies Agreement if renting, or council rates notice for families living in their own homes. With the exception of a few, the school must accept enrolment if you live within its zone. It should be noted that there are some excellent government schools that are not zoned.

Special Dispensation for Relocating Families

Private schools are often bound by rules regarding the capping of numbers in any given year level. Therefore if there is no vacancy, no special allowance is made for relocating families so it is helpful for families to have a few options. Occasionally, at certain year levels, more enrolments are taken and an extra class is created. Government School Costs There are no fees* for Government schools other than the costs associated with the purchase of books, uniforms and subject levies that cover contingencies such as excursions and the purchase of special materials.

*New South Wales Government Schools

Holders of most temporary visas, including temporary resident visas, visitor visas and bridging visas, enrolling in New South Wales government schools will be required to pay. Further detail on these fees is provided below under the Education in Sydney section

Private School Fees

Tuition fees vary however a general guideline is from $12000-$16000 for primary schools years and up to $32000 in the upper secondary school years. Extra-curricular activities such as music, excursions and uniforms are an extra expense.

Private School Registration Fees

To register a child on a waiting list will normally require a registration fee of around $50 – $150 per child.

Personal contact

As most private schools have long waiting lists it can be very worthwhile to make personal contact with registrars at private schools via email or telephone before arrival. The personal touch can work to your advantage.

Expert Assistance

The information in this article is of a general nature. Understanding the different education systems and schooling options can be daunting when first investigating options for children however Toll Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable relocation consultants are adept at providing tailored information to suit each individual student’s needs and to support families to find the most appropriate education option for each student wherever the destination in Australia.

Tips for School Visits Government Schools

School visits are typically not possible during school holidays as schools are usually closed. Private Schools These schools have Bursars that can assist with inquiries and arrange for schools visits. Schools are generally staffed by administrative personal during school holidays although not always for the entire summer holidays. Generally schools will close before Christmas and open the second or third week of January. If viewing a school during school holidays there is no opportunity to see a school “in-action”.

What to Bring to Interviews
It is recommended to bring the originals of the following documentation to school interviews and to attach copies to school applications.

  • Birth certificate
  • Most recent school reports
  • References/reports/ samples of work from previous schools
  • Academic, sports, musical achievements and recognition awards
  • Visa, immunisation certificates
  • Letter from the parish priest/vicar for church schools

Wendy Allgood

Wendy Allgood National Corporate Real Estate Services Manager

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