Schools and Education
The Australian education system is ranked amongst the best in the world by the United Nations. This article contains information on how the Australian education system works, including and outline of primary, secondary and tertiary education – including universities and technical colleges – and links to help you find a school near you.
Education in Australia
State and territory governments are responsible for education in Australia. Certainly, it is the states that look after primary and secondary education. The Federal Government helps fund tertiary (university or technical college) education. Curriculum is set by the States.
Depending on which state you live in, it is compulsory to be in school between the ages of five and 15 or 17. However, you’ll find most children and youths are in school for much longer than that. It is normal to start kindergarten or pre-school from the age of three or four. Most people go on to some kind of study or on-the-job training after completing their secondary education. The education system is open to all.
The school year in Australia is contained within a calendar year. So it’s normal for students to start the school year in January or February and finish it in October, November or December (depending on your age and the institution where you are studying). This means a long summer (Christmas) break. The rest of the school year is, in most states, broken up into two semesters, divided into two terms each.
Typically, students attend pre-school or kindergarten from the age of four or five, then from the age of six they move to primary school (the first year is called Year One) and progress through until either Year Six or Year Seven (depending on the state) when they are aged 11 or 12. It is possible for gifted children to start earlier.
Secondary school – called high school – starts in either Year Seven or Year Eight (depending on the state) and goes through to Year 12. In most states, it is compulsory to remain in education until Year 10 (aged 15). Some states, including Western Australia, insist any student leaving formal education aged 15 must complete other training for two years – either in a technical college (called TAFE) or in on-the-job training, such as an apprenticeship.
There are links to how the education system works in each state on the Department of Immigration’s website.
Public versus Private Schools in Australia (Primary and Secondary)
In Australia about 65 per cent of students are educated by the public (State-run) education system. About 34 per cent are educated in Catholic or independent schools. The remaining few are home-schooled.
The same basic minimum curriculum must be taught in all schools within any state or territory, whether they are public or private. However, private schools can include religious education. A national curriculum is being developed by the Federal Government by the Australian Curriculum, Reporting and Assessment Authority.
Public schools are free for Australian citizens and permanent residents although there are usually a school fees and the cost of books and uniforms associated with sending your kids to State-run schools. Parents are expected to provide school supplies in the State-run schools as prescribed in a ‘book list’ distributed before the school year begins. Catholic and independent schools tend to charge admittance fees.
About 20 per cent of students go to Catholic schools – not necessarily because they are religious or want their kids to be religious but often just because the parents feel the quality of the education might be better. This is a personal decision based on your own criteria. These schools are most likely run the State’s Catholic Education Department, or possibly by the local diocese or parish.
Amongst the independent schools in Australia you will also find Montessori, Anglican, Jewish and Islamic schools. In each state there are also what might be considered “elite” private schools. That is, independent schools which charge very high fees. You can find these and other private schools online at the Private Schools Directory.
To locate a well-performing school or to see how a school compares to other schools of similar sizes from similar socio-economic areas, check out the Australian Government school rankings website, My School.
Universities and Colleges in Australia (Tertiary Education)
Tertiary education in Australia can be undertaken at either a university or a technical college (TAFE).
There are 39 universities in Australia – 37 of which are public institutions and two are private. You can find out more about them all on the Universities Australia website. Not all universities teach the same things but it is entirely possible to study everything from fine art and dance to medicine and law to engineering to nuclear physics.
There are several ways to get into university in Australia but it is worth noting that entry is based on merit. Most students get into university by completing Year 12 at high school and doing well in their exams – including exams in any pre-requisite subjects. It is also possible to enter university as a mature-aged student provided you meet the prerequisites. There are also options for overseas students. Foreign students must enter Australia on specific visas and pay a separate set of fees to local students. Here’s where to determine if you are an overseas student. If you or your family members qualify as overseas students, check out the Study in Australia website for some useful information.
Getting a university degree in Australia is partially subsidised by the Australian Government, for citizens and permanent residents. However, you will also be expected to pay a contribution toward each unit you take. This is called the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, commonly referred to as HECS.
It is possible to do bachelor degrees, honours, masters and PhD-level studies in Australia.
TAFE, (or Technical And Further Education colleges), are run by the State and deliver vocational education options for students. While State-run and funded, they teach national qualifications. Many of these qualifications, aimed at getting students ready for the work force, are certificate and diploma level. That is, below bachelor degree level. However, some TAFE campuses offer bachelor degrees and post-graduate diploma courses.
It is not necessary to have completed high school to study at TAFE. TAFE fees must also be paid in full as there are no subsidies. TAFE fees are cheaper than university fees. Taking TAFE courses may also qualify you for the Skilled Immigration Programme.
Wikipedia has a useful list to locate a TAFE college convenient to your new home, organised by State.
Recognising Overseas Qualifications
If you already have an education or existing skills set and want to find out whether the qualification is recognised in Australia – or how to get it recognised – check out the Australian Government’s Skills Recognition website.
Visit our Life in Australia section for more articles related to Daily Life in Australia.