- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Australia Guide (PDF)
The standard of education in Australia is world-renowned, and many expats even migrate to Australia's sunny shores specifically to become students. The national government places a strong emphasis on diversity and quality and is committed to excellence in research, teaching and student support.
Expat parents moving with children of any age will find plenty of options for school in Australia and can choose between public or private institutions, including international schools. Each has their respective pros and cons, and factors influencing decisions tend to revolve around curriculum and cost.
School system in Australia
In Australia, the school system can broadly be divided into government (public) and non-government (private) schools.
The mandatory age for full-time school attendance can vary from state to state but is generally from age 5 or 6 to age 15 or 17. At this stage, students can then leave academic schooling on certain conditions, such as working full-time, taking up a professional apprenticeship or attending a vocational course.
The performance of both public and private schools is monitored by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). This information can be viewed on the official My School website along with other detailed data such as the school's income and expenditures, its attendance records and details about the school's population, including the percentage of English- and non-English speakers.
Government schools in Australia
Roughly two-thirds of the local population and an impressive portion of foreigners send their children to government schools in Australia.
Government schools are open and accessible to expats, but those living in Australia on a temporary residency visa will most likely need to pay the fixed tuition fee associated with their state or territory. Those living in the country on a permanent residency visa can send their children to a government school for free, though 'voluntary contributions' may still be expected as well as additional costs such as school uniforms and stationery must also be paid.
Children attend the public school that corresponds with their residential catchment zone, and it follows that expat parents looking to send their child to a stellar state school often move to that school's zone in order to guarantee placement.
Parents with expat children approaching college age will want to carefully consider the curriculum offered by their government school of choice. While some offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, most do not, and it is important that expat parents make sure that credits and certificates earned from an Australian school will be acceptable to tertiary institutions in their home country.
Non-government schools in Australia
There are plenty of non-government schools in Australia and, as is the case in most countries, it is assumed these institutions boast better infrastructure, a wider range of facilities, higher-paid teachers and an elevated standard of education.
In Australia, the term "private school" is used to refer solely to private Catholic schools. While placing a high value on academics, these schools do teach from a religious standpoint. The extent to which religious practice and teachings are incorporated into the curriculum varies from school to school. Expat parents should speak to fellow foreign families to find an institution that aligns with their priorities.
Non-Catholic schools run by non-government entities are known as independent schools. This includes schools that subscribe to other religions (such as Christianity, Judaism or Islam) or educational ideologies (such as Montessori or Waldorf).
International schools in Australia
Though there aren't as many international schools in Australia as there are in other expat destinations, there is still a selection of IB schools and, in some cities, there are independent schools offering the curricula of other countries, including that of the USA, the UK, Germany, France and more.
These schools come at a cost though, and expat parents should be warned that fees for international schools can be astronomical. Furthermore, the most popular schools often have long waiting lists, and the most academically selective may require students to pass an exam prior to enrollment.
Parents who have their heart set on a particular international school may choose to enrol their child at a local school until a spot opens up.
Special needs education in Australia
Australia takes an inclusive approach to special needs students, aiming to keep them in the mainstream education system.
The government encourages mainstream schools to keep special needs students in regular classes while providing additional support to the student. However, some special needs students are placed in separate classes that are smaller so that they can receive more individualised attention.
Though most special needs students remain in mainstream schools, there are also dedicated special schools equipped with the resources to ensure an optimal education. These are generally used by special needs students who need more support than a mainstream school can offer.
Homeschooling in Australia
Homeschooling is legal and regulated in Australia, though regulations and requirements vary across states. Parents who wish to homeschool must register with the government as home educators and are required to show proof of the child's progress. They are also subject to annual checks.
There is a large and active homeschooling community in Australia. Expats looking for advice, support or resources can get involved with local homeschooling groups or larger country-wide homeschooling organisations.
Tutoring in Australia
Tutors are growing in popularity in Australia, with about a third of families opting to employ a tutor at some stage. Tutors are frequently used to prepare for major exams or to assist with a particular subject. For expat parents, tutors may also be useful in helping children to adjust to a new curriculum, brush up on English-speaking skills or maintain fluency in their mother tongue.
There are a number of large tutoring companies in Australia with good reputations. Some of the most prominent tutoring companies include LearnMate and The Tutoring Company.
Parents on the hunt for a good tutor should keep an eye out for tutors who are accredited by local organisations such as the Australian Tutoring Association.