how to choose a schoolHow do I choose a school? It’s a question every parent asks at some time and even beginning the search can be confusing. Here is some useful information to get you started.

How do I choose a school – when does my child have to go to school?

Education in Australia is primarily the responsibility of the states and territories. Compulsory education in Australia starts around the age of five or six years and ends between fifteen to eighteen years of age, depending on the particular state or territory. A school year in Australia starts in January and finishes in December. Children can attend day school, boarding school, a combination, be home schooled or participate in distance or online learning.


How do I choose a school – what ‘type’ of school can I choose from?

There are three different ‘systems’ of schools in Australia. Government (commonly called Public) schools.  Independent (commonly called Private) schools and Catholic (which are also Private even if they don’t necessarily like being called that!).

All three systems have schools that are:

  • Primary only
  • Secondary only
  • One stop shop, for example, Kindergarten or Early Learning all the way through to Year 12.
  • Multi-campus or ‘sub-schools’, for example, they may split their year levels into an Early Years that includes some or all of the primary levels, a Middle Years which may include some of the last year levels of primary school and the first year levels of secondary, and a Senior Years.
  • Single sex
  • Co-educational
  • Single sex classes within a co-ed environment
  • Selective – usually requiring some form of test, exam, or interview process.
  • Focused – this may be academic, performing arts, outdoor, technical and so on.
  • Large
  • Small
  • Expensive
  • Not so expensive

How do I choose a school – which school is free?

None. All schools charge a fee even Government schools. Fees at Government schools are generally much lower than those at non-government schools. They also waive fees depending on your financial and family circumstances. No child will be denied an education in Australia for financial reasons at a government school.

Some non-government schools will offer scholarships, bursaries or forms of fee discounts. Some will have a tiered fee approach that takes financial circumstances into account. Some will offer extended payment schemes.

How do I choose a school – when do I need to enrol my child for school?

There is difference between ‘applying’ and ‘enrolling’. Generally, you need to ‘apply’ at a non-government school and then wait to receive an ‘offer of enrolment’ from them. For government schools, you usually apply and enrol all at the same time.

Government – usually 1 year before your child is due to start. If the school is in a zoned area you may be able to ‘put your name down’ but most will take enrolments in the 12 month period prior to commencement. There is not normally a fee charged to enrol or apply. Check if any zoning or residential requirements apply, some may demand proof of residency or at least 12 months occupancy at the address.

Independent and Catholic– usually a few years before you wish your child to start. Some parents put their child’s name down at birth, others leave it to the last minute. There is usually a fee charged for completing an application to enter the waiting list. If you receive an offer of enrolment you will pay an ‘enrolment fee’ to accept the offer. Most will make their offers 1 to 2 years prior to the commencement year.

How do I choose a school – is my child guaranteed a place?

The short answer is you can’t. That is, you can’t guarantee that you will definitely get a place for your child at the school you want and nor are you guaranteed a place at your closest government school.

Each State and Territory has different terms and eligibility requirements regarding government school enrolment. Some schools will rigorously enforce a ‘zone’ along with other criteria, others will be ‘unzoned’ and take out of area enrolments willingly. It all comes down to a capacity/demand equation any given moment in time. Your child will have a place at a government school but it may be one that requires additional travel or is not your ‘first’ choice.

Every non-government school has the ability to restrict enrolment, that is, they control the who and the how of enrolment. They do not have any obligation to take your child.

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