8 Facts about Australian schools for parents (Plus, 27 useful links!)

/ / Life in Australia, Our latest posts, Your family and Australia

The Australian education system is one of the best in the world. Students get individual attention, and the curriculum equips students what it takes to be confident and creative individuals.

In this article, we’ll share the information parents ought to know about Australian schools. We’ll cover all of the following:

  1. Quick facts
  2. The schooling stages
  3. The school curriculum
  4. The types of Australian schools
  5. School zones
  6. Enrolling at government schools
  7. Enrolling at independent schools
  8. Applying at Catholic schools
  9. Useful links for further reading

1. Quick facts about Australian schools

  • Australian children have to go school from the ages of 6 to 16 or until completing Year 10.
  • Children start school in primary school but parents can also send their children to kindergarten or pre-primary (Prep) to prepare for primary school. In some states, it is compulsory to enroll your child in pre-primary school.
  • Classes are small with a maximum of 30 students in a class, which enables teachers to give students individual attention.
  • Australian teachers are university-trained and qualified teachers and specialist teachers in their subject areas.
  • Australian school facilities are top-notch with a high level of technology – all schools have computers and internet access.
  • Top achievers can enrol in ‘Gifted and Talented’ programmes and also in ‘High Achievement’ programmes to study university-level subjects for advance credit.
  •  Students who require additional learning support can enrol in individual learning programs.
  • Australia’s world-renowned Qualifications Framework guarantees that schools meet required standards and are government authorized and accredited.

2. The Australian schooling stages

Australian schooling is divided into three stages which runs for 13 years:

  • Primary school: Seven or eight years, starting at Foundation – also called kindergarten/preparatory/pre-school – through to Year 6 or 7
  • Secondary school: Four year from Years 7 or 8 to 10
  • Senior secondary school: Two years from Years 11 to 12

The Australian academic year begins in late January to early February and runs until mid-December. Most schools have three or four terms a year.

Some jurisdictions have flexibility about the school year to allow for specific community contexts. In northern Australia, for example, tuition times are structured to allow for a four-week break in the middle of the year, when the weather is drier and cooler.

3. The Australian curriculum

The Australian curriculum teaches students what it takes to be confident and creative individuals, and how to become active and informed citizens.

Foundation years: Literacy and numeracy gets priority

In the early years, priority is given to literacy and numeracy development as the foundations for further learning. As students make their way through the primary years, the focus starts to shift  more towards the knowledge, understanding and skills of the learning areas within the curriculum.

Eight learning areas for all students

From the first year of schooling to Year 10, students develop knowledge and skills in eight learning areas:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Health and Physical Education
  • Humanities and Social Sciences
  • The Arts
  • Technologies
  • Languages

Secondary schooling: Specialist teachers and personal development

In secondary schooling, students are taught by specialist teachers. Towards Year 10, the curriculum is designed so students develop skills for civic, social and economic participation.

Students also have opportunities to make choices about their learning and to specialise in areas of interest.

The curriculum assists students to consider pathways for study in senior secondary schooling from a range of academic and vocational options.

4. The types of Australian schools

Australia has three different types of schools:

  • Government schools: Government Schools (or Public Schools) are constitutionally, state and territory government responsibilities in relation to the regulation of school education and the administration and funding of them. Students attending a Government School attend at no, or a minimal cost.
  • Independent schools: Independent Schools (or Private Schools or Non-Government Schools) aren’t run by local, state or federal governments but are self-funded. Due to this, these schools are entitled to choose their students whilst setting their own tuition fee. Non-Government schools often promote exceptional facilities and a broad curriculum not offered in counterpart schools.
  • Catholic schools: Catholic Schools are also known as ‘systemic’ and are funded mainly by state and federal government and have low fees. Students are drawn mainly from the associated religious sector with staff also aligned to the same values as the school.

5. School zones and catchment areas

All government primary schools and the majority of government high schools have designated intake areas. Schools may accept enrolments from outside their local area if places are available.

What is the difference between school zones and catchment areas?

  • School zone: A school zone is a defined geographic boundary surrounding a school from which the school accepts its core intake of students.
  • Catchment area: A catchment area is a geographic area surrounding an unzoned school that is closest by road than any other unzoned school. The school gives priority enrolment to children who live inside that zone or catchment area.

This means that if you live in an area that’s not part of a school zone, you’ll enroll your child in the school that’s closest to you by road.

Out-of-catchment enrolments

You can still enroll your child in a government school outside of your catchment area, but enrolment is not guaranteed and you’ll be placed on a waiting list.

A state school’s ability to accept students who live outside of its catchment area depends on whether the school:

  • Has capacity once all in-catchment enrolments are met
  • Needs to allow for students relocating into their catchment area during the year
  • Can ensure an even spread of students across all year levels while maintaining class size targets
  • Can ensure their out-of-catchment enrolments do not reduce their capacity to meet in-catchment enrolments

6. Enrolling at government schools

The enrolment process at government schools generally follow the same format:

  • You’ll complete and submit an enrolment form, which you can get directly from the school. Some schools also publish enrolment forms and requirements on their website.
  • You’ll get a letter from the school either offering a placement or indicating that no place is available
  • If your child gets an offer of placement, you’ll provide verification of the information you submitted. This could be, for example, proof of address, birth certificates, identity documents, emergency contact details, etc. You may have to submit these documents at the school.

Some schools also invite future students for an enrolment interview. This interview usually takes place at the school and it is with the principal or other senior staff such as the deputy principal.

7. Enrolling at independent schools

Independent schools don’t generally place any restrictions on their enrolment, although many use waiting lists and have enrolment processes that begin much earlier than in government schools.

Keep the following in mind if you want to enrol your child in an Australian independent school:

  • Selection process: Independent schools can be selective or nonselective. Selective schools require students to complete an examination prior to admission. Students may also have to attend an interview with the principal or headmaster to determine their suitability for the school. Non-selective schools generally rely on waiting lists, admitting students on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Application deadlines: It’s usually possible to submit applications throughout the year, although there are cut-off dates each year. Application forms are usually available through the school’s website. Depending on the competitiveness of the school, applications may be submitted the year prior to enrolment, but usually several years before you intend to enrol your child. Some of the more prestigious schools encourage parents to place their child on a waiting list soon after birth.
  • Application and enrolment fees: Many schools charge application and enrolment fees. Application fees are paid when the application is submitted while the enrolment fee is paid when your child is accepted.

8. Applying at Catholic schools

While Catholic schools don’t necessarily restrict enrolments based on zones, schools may take your location into account when considering your child’s enrolment. For example, a student who is Catholic and from the local parish may take preference over one who lives further away.

Catholic schools usually welcome enrolment enquiries and applications at any time throughout the year, although the enrolment period is generally early in the year preceding enrolment.

Procedures and enrolment times do vary from school to school. It is best to contact the school or schools of your choice to find out when is the best time to apply.

9. Useful links

ACT (Australian Capital Territory)

New South Wales

Northern Territory


South Australia


Western Australia



Before you go:

Remember that your child must have a visa to allow them to live and go to school in Australia. The type of visa would however depend on your residency or visa status.

For instance, a parent who’s a provisional partner visa holder should apply for a subclass 445 visa for their child to allow the child to live in Australia while the parent’s permanent visa is being processed.

To discuss this further with our licensed immigration advisor, please book a consultation call.

Return to our blog