The standard of education in Australia is world renowned, and many expats migrate to Australia's sunny shores specifically for the country’s excellent education. The national government places a strong emphasis on diversity and is committed to excellence in research, teaching and student support.
Expat parents moving to Australia with school-age children will have plenty of options, and can choose between public, private and international schools. Each has its 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 varies from state to state but is generally from age 5 or 6 to age 15 or 17. After this, students can choose to leave academic schooling to take up a professional apprenticeship, attend a vocational course or start working full time.
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 student body, including the percentage of English and non-English speakers.
Government schools in Australia
Roughly two-thirds of the local population and a sizeable portion of expats 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. Government schooling is free for anyone on a permanent residency permit, though ‘voluntary contributions’ may still be expected. Additional expenses such as school uniforms and stationery are not funded by the state.
Children attend the public school that corresponds with their residential catchment zone, and expat parents looking to send their child to a stellar state school often move to that school's zone to guarantee placement.
Expats with children, especially those who may return home later, should carefully consider the curriculum offered by their government school of choice. While some offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, most do not. Parents should be sure that credits and certificates earned from an Australian school will be accepted at tertiary institutions in their home country.
Non-government schools in Australia
There are plenty of non-government schools in Australia and these institutions often have better infrastructure, a wider range of facilities, higher-paid teachers and an elevated standard of education. These schools are not state-financed and the tuition fees can be costly.
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 point of view, but 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 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 in other expat destinations, the country does have a selection of IB schools. The major cities also have independent schools that offer foreign curricula, including that of the US, the UK, Germany, France and others.
The fees for international schools can be astronomical, and popular schools often have long waiting lists. Students are often chosen based on academic performance, and an entrance exam may be required.
Parents sometimes opt to enrol their child at a local school until a spot in an international school opens up.
Special-needs education in Australia
Australia has an inclusive approach to special-needs education. The government encourages mainstream schools to keep special-needs students in regular classes, providing additional support to the student. That said, some special-needs students are placed in separate, smaller classes to afford them more individual attention.
Australia also has special schools for students who need more support than a mainstream school can offer.
Homeschooling in Australia
There is a large and active homeschooling community in Australia. Homeschooling is legal and regulated, though regulations and requirements vary across states. To homeschool, parents must register with the government as home educators. Each state’s homeschool registration authority inspects the child’s home study programme and monitors academic progress.
Expats looking for advice, support or resources can get involved with local homeschooling groups or larger country-wide homeschooling organisations.
Tutoring in Australia
Tutoring is a growing industry 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 particular subjects. Tutors may also be useful in helping expat children adjust to a new curriculum, brush up on English-speaking skills or maintain fluency in their mother tongue.
There are several large tutoring companies in Australia with good reputations. Some of the most prominent tutoring companies include LearnMate and The Tutoring Company.
Parents should ensure their tutors are accredited by local organisations such as the Australian Tutoring Association.