Last updated on November 25th, 2019
Choosing school for our kids is the topic of heavy debate and discussion, especially for us, Asian parents. We are highly focused, rather obsessed, with our kid’s education. No matter where we go around the world, we try to find the best school for our kids. Naturally, since my daughter will start primary school from next year, I started to gather all the information about schools in Australia.
According to Wikipedia, Australia ranked highest in the world on the education index based on 2008 data. Keep numbers aside but it’s a common knowledge that Australian education, especially higher education, is highly regarded all over the world. 5 Australian universities rank in top 50 from around the world and 2 of them in the top 20. No doubt, this is a great place to raise your kids and give them a better future. Here is what I understood about how schools in Australia work.
Usually, working parents put their kids in the daycare centres from early on. Those who can’t afford high costs of daycare every day, usually send their kids to Kindergarten program run by the council only when he or she is four years old.
This is a reduced hours kindergarten which runs for about 15 hours per week. It is highly subsidised by the government and usually costs just about $2000 for the entire duration. Though it is not compulsory to enrol kids in the kinder program, government encourage people to do so as it makes a smooth transition to the school. Once your kid is eligible to start primary school, you can start looking for schools around your area.
Types Of Schools
Primary and secondary education is compulsory in Australia. Kids don’t start schooling until the age of 5. Every kid between age 6 and 16 must attend school as per Australian law. Schools in Australia can be divided into two grades based on years of study:
1. Primary school starts at age 5 or 6. The first year is called prep (short for preparatory)/kindergarten/pre-primary/reception (different states, different names 😆). This is a transition grade to help kids get accustomed to the new environment. After prep, primary school runs from year 1 to year 6, except in South Australia where it runs till year 7.
2. Secondary school starts from year 7 (year 8 in South Australia) and runs till year 12. Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania further break this down into the secondary school from years 7 to 10 and senior secondary/college from year 11 to 12.
Public or state schools are mostly funded by the state or territory government, however, the federal government can provide some additional funding. As a result, the cost of education in public schools is significantly low. Of course, you need to pay for stationery, uniforms, excursions etc. The school may also ask you to pay for parental contributions towards different specialised programs such as photography course or camping excursion. But these costs are set at a level where they are affordable to most of the families.
However, that doesn’t mean that quality of education in a public school is any less than that in a private school. In fact, coming from India where government schools are in a sorry state of affairs, it might come as a shock to see the highly sophisticated and modern facilities that public schools in Australia provide. It should come as no surprise that most of the top schools in Australia are public schools. Obviously, most of the people prefer public school over private school.
Private or independent schools are privately owned and funded primarily through fees. However, the federal government provide a heavy subsidy to reduce the fees burden on families. In spite of that, you need to pay hefty fees each year to a private school.
Some parents prefer private schools because they have no choice in the sense that there might not be a public school nearby. In other cases, nearby public schools might not be good enough in terms of the results. Plus, only those who can afford higher fees send their kids to the private school. As such, private schools usually have students from the affluent families who want to excel in studies and as a result, it creates a better peer environment.
Also, some parents feel that in a private school, due to their smaller class size and better student to teacher ratio, teachers can give personal attention to the students than in a public school. Having said that, it’s mostly a personal choice and quality of education differs from school to school. As such it is always better to visit the school to see the facilities and meet the teaching staff. It will almost always give you a better understanding of the school and put things in perspective rather than doing a lopsided comparison.
There is a subset of private schools which are run by local religious authorities such as Catholic school, Jewish school etc. These schools are also funded by the federal government, however, they charge fees too. However, usually, these schools are significantly cheaper than private schools. Though these schools accept kids from all religion, usually the kids of certain religious faith are given preference. For example, a Catholic school will give first preference to Catholic families before accepting kids from other religion.
How Costly Are The Schools In Australia?
Here is the comparison of estimated school costs for 2017 based on ASG survey data. As you can see, private school costs more than 5 times than public school whereas religious school costs more than twice than a public school. That means, if your kid goes to private school, you need to set aside whopping $350,000 to $400,000 just for their primary plus secondary school fees! On the contrary, a public school will cost merely $60,000 to $70,000 for the same. No wonder, public school is such a popular option 😀
Usually, each public school has a catchment area or geographical boundary from which it accepts kids. Some of the states provide online tools to check your school zone. Below are useful sites to check school zones for each state:
New South Wales – Department of education of NSW has created a tool called School Finder. All you have to do is type your address and it will show you the nearest school to you. You can use it to search for either primary or secondary school. You can also search for schools with kindergarten as well as outside schools hours daycare centres. This can be tremendously useful for working parents. Not just that, it will also give you a nice little profile of the school with options to explore further.
Victoria is probably the only state where the state government doesn’t provide any tool to find out school catchment areas. I mean come on! Even Tasmania provides one, despite a very basic one. Department of education of Victoria has launched a new tool – Find My School – to find the school catchment areas. You can either type in your address to find the schools in your zone or you can type school name to find out its boundary. Oddly, when I typed in my address, I found that the school which actually denied admission to my daughter for being out of the zone, is actually within my school zone. Bottom line, use tool to do the research but always contact the school to find out if you are within a zone or out of the zone.
South Australia – Similar to NSW, department of education of SA has done a great job by building an online school finder tool – https://www.education.sa.gov.au/sites-and-facilities/education-and-care-locations/find-school-or-preschool. You can use it to find a preschool, primary or secondary school. Similar to NSW school finder, you can find the nearest school and plenty of information about the school itself. Plus, you can also see a list of schools and their details per suburb by visiting https://www.education.sa.gov.au/sites-and-facilities/education-and-care-locations/school-zones. Isn’t that useful?
Queensland – Queensland government also provide a similar online search tool for schools at http://www.qgso.qld.gov.au/maps/edmap/. Though it doesn’t give school profile, it links to the school website where you can find more about school.
Australian Capital Territory – Government of ACT has a similar finder tool – http://app.actmapi.act.gov.au/actmapi2/index.html?viewer=Education You can also see the list of primary, secondary school and colleges per suburb at https://www.education.act.gov.au/school_education/enrolling_in_an_act_public_school/priority_placement_areas. This can be especially useful if you are choosing a suburb based on the school. This list is updated every year. For example, you can find the list of schools per suburb for 2018 here.
Western Australia – Department of Education of WA also provides a similar tool to search for schools based on address – https://www.det.wa.edu.au/schoolsonline/home.do. It’s quite a sophisticated tool to search for a school based on school name, school type, region, town, electorate etc. In addition, it also can show a map of your locality and schools around it. Similar to NSW and SA websites, it also gives detailed information about the school, staff information, students numbers, attendance, results and so on. A great resource for the families in WA!
Northern Territory – Government of NT does not have a school finder tool however it provides updated maps each year to indicate priority enrolment areas which is another name for the school catchment areas. You can find updated maps here – https://education.nt.gov.au/education/policies/enrolment
Tasmania – Education department of Tasmania makes innovative use of Google maps to indicate the school catchment areas – https://www.education.tas.gov.au/about-us/school-directory/school-home-area-maps/. However, it is a very crude map which basically displays school and it’s geographical boundaries. However, there is no school profile or even link to the school website.
These tools will be especially useful for those people who want to zero in on a suburb based on school. Sometimes, depending on your location, you may be able to enrol in more than one school but usually, school zones don’t overlap. Also depending on student intake from the catchment area and if they have more space, some schools might take a few kids from outside the catchment area as well. You can contact the school to check if they accept students outside their catchment area.
A small caveat here. Not all schools have strict geographical boundaries defined. So in spite of all the online tools, you should still check with the school if they have such catchment area and what are the boundaries of it. Sometimes, these tools are not updated regularly and boundaries change. So it’s always a good idea to confirm it with the school.
Age Requirement For Primary Schools In Australia
In Australia, the age at which kids can enrol into the primary school differs from state to state.
|State||Eligible if turns 5 on or before|
|New South Wales||31st July|
|Australian Capital Territory||30th April|
|South Australia||30th April|
|Western Australia||30th June|
|Northern Territory||30th June|
Usually, the families who migrate during the year are concerned whether they will be able to enrol their kids in the school during mid-term. In my observation, usually, a public school will accept kids throughout the year as long as they are eligible as per the age criteria and reside in the catchment area. However, it is always a good idea to check with the school if that’s the case.
When Does The School Open In Australia?
Again, each state in Australia has a different date for the start of the school term. Schools in Australia follows the calendar year. That means they start between the end of January/early February and finish by mid-December. You can find school opening dates for each state on the Australian government website – https://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/special-dates-and-events/school-term-dates
I hope that gave you a basic idea about the schools in Australia. If you have got any questions or suggestions, please let me know in comments and don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list.