The Australian Education System in Brief
For a country of just over 25 million it is remarkable to an outsider, and somewhat less so to the average Australian, that each State and Territory in Australia maintains its own education system - eight systems in total.
Until very recently there has been little or no public discussion about how a national secondary standard, for example, might be both more effective and efficient than the current approach. Each of the state and territory curriculums do however share a great deal in common although the exams, assessment processes and the name of the ultimate school leaving certificate may vary. There is also some variation in their approach to pre-school education and when the transition is made from primary to secondary school.
Primary schooling in most states and territories begins with a preparatory or kindergarten year, followed by six or seven primary grades, then a further five or six years to complete a full secondary course of study. In total, states and territories offer 13 years of schooling. The table below shows the consistent pattern across all States and Territories, although there is a confusing variety of names given to Preschool and the first year of schooling, and a variety of entry ages.
Basic Structure of Australian Schooling : States and Territories
2 years before Year 1
|ACT||Preschool||Kindergarten||Yrs 1 - 6||Yrs 7 -12|
|QLD||Preschool||Preparatory||Yrs 1 - 7||Yrs 8 - 12|
|NSW||Preschool||Kindergarten||Yrs 1 - 6||Yrs 7 - 12|
|NT||Preschool||Transition||Yrs 1 - 7||Yrs 8- 12|
|SA||Preschool||Reception||Yrs 1 - 7||Yrs 8 - 12|
|TAS||Kindergarten||Preparatory||Yrs 1 - 6||Yrs 7 - 12|
|VIC||Preschool||Preparatory||Yrs 1 - 6||Yrs 7 - 12|
|WA||Kindergarten||Pre-Primary||Yrs 1 - 7||Yrs 8 - 12|
There is a substantial amount of detail involved in a discussion of eight school systems. What we provide is some general commentary on the different stages of schooling and links to educational sites which provide in depth information in relation to the subject matter.
The main focus in early primary education is on the development of basic language and literacy skills, simple arithmetic, moral and social education, health training and some broad creative activities.
The latter primary years focus on building upon the base skills learned in early years, with English, mathematics, social studies, science, music, art and craft, physical education and health being studied. Optional subjects such as religious instruction, foreign languages and music may be studied depending on the school.
In most of the secondary systems, students pursue a general programme of education in the first years at a secondary school, with the number of subjects narrowing to a core group, plus a number of electives chosen by students, in the latter years. In some systems, however, the students may choose elective subjects from the beginning of secondary school.
The various systems, particularly those applying in the latter part of secondary school can appear very complicated to expatriates just returning from overseas - and this is further compounded by the problems inherent in transitioning children into the Australian system. If you are moving from the Northern Hemisphere you normally have to consider whether you move your child back a year, or forward a year. Some schools will offer advice in this regard, but it will usually be your decision based on the child's academic success, adaptability and social maturity. This is subject to any rules the school may have in force regarding age cut offs.
If your child is making the transition late in secondary school you might also wish to consider the International Baccalaureate - more and more Australian schools are offering this as an option. It is a well regarded, internationally recognised qualification for University entry which might also be a better fit if your child is likely to pursue University studies overseas. To see a list of Australian schools offering the IB we have a page devoted to listing Australian schools offering the International Baccalaureate.
If you have questions about the operation of the various state or territory systems they should be directed to the various Education boards responsible - see our section: Australian Education Resources.