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Australia's schooling system: everything you need to know

By Talk Education
12 October 2021

Thinking of moving to Australia? Here’s everything you need to know about the country’s education system.

OVERVIEW

Australia is widely renowned for its very high standard of education. There are two main sectors of schooling: public/government schools and independent schools, often referred to as private schools or Catholic schools (many have a religious affiliation). 

THE INDEPENDENT-SCHOOLS MARKET: KEY POINTS

There are more than 7,000 government-run schools and around 2,000 independent schools in Australia.

The most notable difference between the Australian and UK schooling systems is the term dates. In Australia, the academic year runs from the last week of
January (after Australia Day, which falls on the 26th) until the first week of December. Australian schools have four terms, with holidays around Easter, in late June/early July and September/October. 

Independent schools tend to have longer days than government-run schools, with sport and clubs on offer after the final bell. 

Most independent schools in Australia are
single-sex. Government-run schools tend to be mixed (which many Australians prefer, and so is one reason why these schools are very popular).

Pupil numbers at independent schools tend to increase in size as pupils get older (for example, numbers might jump from 100 in Year 6 to 200 in Year 7). 

Children tend to start school in Australia at
age five, but rules are less strict about starting ages than they are in the UK – some pupils don’t start until six (which can make the gap between the youngest and oldest child in a class as much as 18 months). School is then compulsory between the ages of six and 16. 

Schools tend to be split into
Primary Schools (kindergarten to Year 6, which is the equivalent of the UK’s Year 6) and Senior/High Schools (which run from Year 7 to Year 12). 

THE EDUCATIONAL JOURNEY

Many families choose their independent school (which is often the same school that the parents attended) and keep their children there all the way from kindergarten to Year 12. Very few will switch schools midway through. 

Others might opt to send their children to state school for the first few years of their educational journey (government-funded schools in Australia are free and – area depending – tend to be very good), and then move on to a private school in Year 3, 5 or 7. 


ADMISSIONS PROCESS

In contrast to the UK market, there are very few selective schools in Australia that require pupils to pass an exam in order to get in. Most schools advise registration as early as possible – and at a few, the only way to get in is by registering at birth. 

THE CURRICULUM

The Australian curriculum involves a lot less compulsory testing than the UK’s. All Australian students must sit a NAPLAN (National Assessment Programme in Literacy and Numeracy) test in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, which assesses reading, writing, language and numeracy skills – but the exam is purely used to compare data, and the schools themselves rarely use the results, except for internal use. 

Most schools test in Year 6 to help with streaming in Year 7 and up (which is usually just in maths and English). 

In the final year of secondary school (Year 12), pupils study towards a government-endorsed certificate, which is required in order to attend an Australian university or vocational-training institution (it is also recognised by an increasing number of international universities too). These exams have different names depending on the state:

  • New South Wales – Higher School Certificate (HSC)
  • Victoria – Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE)
  • South Australia – South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE)
  • Queensland – Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE)
  • Western Australia – Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE)
  • Northern Territory – Northern Territory Certificate of Education (NTCE)
  • Tasmania – Tasmanian Certificate of Education (TCE)
  • Australian Capital Territory – Australian Capital Territory Year 12 Certificate
These exams are the only notable, big exams sat by students during their time at school (bar internal yearly assessments) and are assessed via a series of internal assessments throughout the year, and then final exams at the end of September. 

A few independent schools may offer the IB as an alternative, and this tends to be the more popular option for expats or students with ambitions to attend university overseas. 


BOARDING

Boarding is not hugely common in Australia. Some of the bigger city schools do accommodate boarders, but often only a small majority of pupils board, and these tend to be those who live out in the country. 

There are a few true ‘boarding schools’ with more boarders than day pupils, but most of these schools offer weekly or flexi boarding only. In general, boarding options exist only from Year 7 upwards, with the exception of one or two very small schools in each state that offer boarding from Year 5. 


AND FINALLY…

Children can attend preschool between the ages of three and five – but it’s not compulsory. Preschools are government-funded and run during school terms from Monday to Friday. 

Many working parents also opt to send their children to privately owned day care until the age of two. The government offers a non-means-tested rebate that covers 50 per cent of the cost of childcare.

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