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Choosing an Australian School

Choosing an Australian School

Choosing the "right school" for expatriates returning to Australia is not a trivial exercise. Parents rightly assign a very high priority to choosing appropriate schools and we often find that the location of schools is one of the primary determinants of where expatriates decide to live and choosing a private education is a very substantial financial undertaking.

Expatriates who are returning to their home base often assume they "know the market", but even this is often largely anecdotal and neglects the fact that central to the process should be finding a school which is "right for your child, or children", and the schools may have changed markedly since parents had direct knowledge of them. Making the wrong risks having a child who is unhappy in the environment and doesn't thrive - bearing in mind the transition for expat children can be more complex than for local children.

We very much support the use of professional education consultants in this area for expatriates - particularly considering the problems expatriates may have in fully appreciating the choice of schools available, those that provide a potential "good fit" for individual children and the restrictions that waiting lists may impose on school entry.

Factors to Consider

The most important initial step in identifying the right school for your child is to do an assessment of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Use any school reports or professional assessments you may have which highlight areas where your child has strengths or weaknesses overlaid by your own views of their personality.

Thereafter, consider the following criteria when assessing potential schools:

  • Fees and Location
  • Co-educational or single sex
  • Culture
  • School size
  • Class sizes
  • Academic performance
  • International Baccalaureate programme
  • Alumni
  • “Reputation”
  • School governance and transparency
  • Level of discipline
  • Particular programmes (eg separate campus, cultural or sports)

Parents will often have settled on a particular school in advance - but you should take the opportunity to test that preference by investigating a number of schools, even if it is only for comparative purposes. From a practical perspective it may also not be possible to arrange entry into a particular school at short notice, so you need to have developed a fallback option(s).

Culture is perhaps one of the most important criteria and also the hardest to gauge. In that regard, as we mention elsewhere, most of the major private or independent schools in Australia have religious affiliations and, to a lesser and greater degree, they may have a very different culture from the International schools that children have previously attended. Returning expatriates and migrants alike can be puzzled by the degree of parochialism evident in Australian private schools; particularly in some of the more established and older "sandstone" schools.

If you have no knowledge of the private schools available in your next location in Australia, then the website of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools (AHISA) - www.ahisa.edu.au - is a good starting point; it provides both useful background information and links to individual school websites.

Australian School Performance Rankings - "League Tables"

School Performance Rankings, or "League Tables" as they are called elsewhere in the world such as in the UK, which attempt to measure and compare the relative performance of individual schools against a number of criteria, including academic performance, are not readily available in Australia.

The various State government bodies do collect data of this nature but it is largely used for internal purposes and is not made public - although individual schools are able to provide information showing their academic performance against Statewide averages. Most teacher unions remain opposed to the publication of such data on the premise that the information provides a "simplistic, narrow and sometimes historical view of school performance" which is too academically inclined. That is probably partly true (and partly not because it reflects sectoral interests) and why we suggest the use of consultants where possible to obtain a more holistic view.

Nevertheless, the Federal Government maintains a website (www.myschool.edu.au) which compares school performance on reading, writing and arithmetic across the country at primary and early secondary school levels. The information is drawn from annual NAPLAN (National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy) testing for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Note that the Government has said that it has been careful in constructing the website to ensure that "league tables" can't be produced - it has nevertheless proved to be very popular and revealing.

In terms of secondary school results, two states, Western Australia and Victoria, do provide some data on the performance of schools in terms of academic results achieved at the final secondary school exam in each state.  Access to that data is provided in the downloads below:

Western Australia - School Performance Data

Victoria - School Performance Data