State Schools in Australia

Submitted: July 2013

State schools, known as public schools in Australia, are those that are either partly or fully funded by the State. In Australia, school is compulsory for all children from five to fifteen, though this age range varies slightly in some states. Each state or territory government oversees the operations of public schools within their state, which includes providing funding (free education, though fees may be charged for some extracurricular activities) and regulating their operation. However, if your child only holds a temporary visa, you may be required to pay school fees in full. You should check with individual schools to verify this.

There are two main types of state school in Australia:

  1. Comprehensive Schools – these are open to all students who live within their government-defined catchment areas. They operate on a first-come, first-served basis, and many have selective classes in which high-performing students are offered accelerated work programmes.

  2. Selective Schools – these are often considered the more prestigious institutions and are known for their highly competitive environment. They are open to a much wider catchment area, but have stricter entrance requirements. Notably, students who are holders of temporary resident visas are not allowed to be enrolled in selective schools. For more information on this policy see the following link:

State schools are required to follow the recently-introduced national curriculum. Known as the Australian Curriculum, it has been developed for 15 senior secondary subjects, including English, mathematics, science, history and other humanities. In Australia, English serves as the main medium of instruction with only a few schools offering the opportunity of a second language. This has been a cause for concern to some international parents.

In the final year of formal secondary education (year 12), students sit several examinations. These exams vary between the states and territories to state and are administered by different examination boards. There is more Information on the exams students sit in each state on the Aussie Educator site.

Note that the exams a student sits at the end of secondary school is not the only factor that determines university entry, as final year academic scores are also relevant. These are known as an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) which is equivalent across all states and territories.

Education in Australia takes an inclusive approach towards students with special needs; they are allowed to attend a general school wherever possible. Schools are required by law to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate students with special needs.

Bullying in schools is a well-known international problem. In Australia, various initiatives have come in place not only to reduce this issue in schools, but in the general society. These initiatives include ‘Bullying. No Way!’ and the National Safe Schools Project.

The following link may prove useful in identifying the schooling options available for your child.

Admission procedures for each school vary greatly, especially when comparing comprehensive and selective schools. Normally, enrolment into a specific school takes place at the school itself. Proof of residence, an appropriate visa and other major documents are usually required. Some schools may require a pass from an English language test. Note that the English language skill level required by the institution a student wants to attend may be different from that required to obtain a student’s visa. Hence it is wise to check the school website for any English skill requirement and compare it with that on the of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) website for any disparities.




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