A Brief Guide to Choosing a School in Australia


One of the most asked questions by migrants moving to Australia is “How do I choose a school for my children?”. Not an easy task when you’re 10,000 miles away so let’s look at some of the things you need to consider.

Private or Public school

This comes down to personal preference and what you can afford. Both my children went through public schools in Western Australia and onto University so for me public schools have been good. Public schools are often very diverse and most draw their main body of students from the local community.

If you go private just beware that some are faith based and follow a religious curriculum with some very old fashioned values, often all girls all boys schools. They do pride themselves on sport and many operate excellent sport programs. They are generally well funded which is something you would expect considering they also receive funding from the government at the expense of public schools. A top private school can command a $30,000 fee per year so make sure you understand the impact the school fees will have on your living expenses.

Not all can afford to send their children to a top private school but don’t despair some public schools regularly beat top private schools in the school ranking tables despite the poor funding. You will need to keep in mind though that even public schools are not totally free and top public schools can command fees as much a $2,000 per year for a student in year 12. They may say voluntary contributions but if your child is to participate fully you will be expected to pay so you will need to budget for this.

Cost is one factor that will determine where we send our children to school the other factor is where we live. Most parents have to live near where they work and so this will often dictate what schools are available to you. Just remember though the quality of education is not just about results. According to the ACER (Australian Council for Educational research) chief executive Geoff Masters “The quality of education provided by a school is best judged not by its final results but by the difference it makes, taking into account students’ starting points. A school making a large difference ‘value adding’ to students’ levels of achievement and life chances may deliver ‘better education’, despite its lower Year 12 results.” So something to consider rather than just results.

Australia, like the UK, uses a league table system to compare schools. When you use it keep in mind the words of ACER Chief Executive above regarding how schools add value to student education. You can find more information on league tables and compare schools in the area you wish to move to on the myschool.edu.au website. It covers the entire education systems across Australia.

The Myschool website contains quite a large range of information on schools, covering the profile of population of each school of which there is approximately 9,500. The site also lists outcomes of NAPLAN testing performance data, student attendance and school financial figures including capital expenditure and sources of funding. It’s a good source of information and you are able to compare literacy and numeracy standards of local schools to state averages. Whilst this may give an indication of current standards it is important to consider achievements in Years 11 and 12. For example: years 7 and 9 NAPLAN tests may show the majority of students in the lower brackets of the test results. The school however has an excellent achievement rate for both ATAR (university students, more on that later) and vocational studies (non ATAR). This would suggest that the school may have an excellent system to bring those struggling students up to speed by the time they leave. A very important point to consider.

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