Children Education In Australia

Australian schools follow the Australian Curriculum and Standards (ACS), which is set by the National Education Council. The ACS outlines what children learn at different ages, as well as how they are taught. Children in Australia start formal schooling at age 5 or 6 when they enter kindergarten. 

Kindergarten is optional, but most parents choose to send their children there because it provides preparation for school and helps with social skills development. 

Most students attend primary school from grades 1-6, followed by the high school from grades 7-12 if they choose to stay in education past secondary level. Some private schools offer a range of educational levels up to university degrees. 

What are the differences in education between Australia and America? This is a question that many parents ask when they’re moving with their family to another country. Of course, there are many different types of schools, but there’s no denying that Australian children have it good. All students in Australia receive at least 12 years of compulsory schooling, with 11 years in primary school and one year in high school.  

The curriculum for all levels focuses on literacy and numeracy skills as well as science, history, geography and economics – without any political bias – so you know your child is getting a balanced education from an early age. In addition, the high school includes optional subjects such as music composition or graphics design which can be taken by students who meet certain requirements set by individual schools. 

Schools in Australia

School education in Australia includes preschool, preparatory (or kindergarten), primary school, secondary school (or high school) and senior secondary school (or college).

Schooling lasts for 13 years, from preparatory to senior secondary. School is compulsory until at least the age of 16. Types of schools include government schools, non-government schools (including faith-based schools such as Catholic or Islamic schools) and schools based on educational philosophies such as Montessori and Steiner. 

All schools must be registered with the state or territory education department and are subject to government requirements in terms of infrastructure and teacher registration.

Australian schools do more than just educate students. They prepare them for life − developing communication skills, self-discipline and respect for themselves, their peers and their world. 

Schools offer a broad curriculum in the key learning areas – English, mathematics, studies of society and the environment, science, arts, Languages Other Than English (LOTE), technology, health and physical education. They also believe strongly in the benefits of a rounded education – including teamwork, self-expression and personal development that happens outside the classroom.

In Australia, students will enjoy a diverse learning environment that is as personally enriching as it is educational and develop the skills and qualities needed in a changing world.

A Higher Standard Of Learning

Australian schools are among the finest in the world. See for yourself what makes an Australian education so valuable:

  • Small class sizes (a maximum of 30 students in a class).
  • University-trained and qualified teachers and specialist teachers in subject areas.
  • Facilities of a high standard – including a high level of technology, with all schools having computers and internet access.
  • ‘Gifted and talented’ programs to extend students who are high achievers.
  • ‘High Achievement’ programs, which see the top students studying university-level subjects for advance credit.
  • Individual learning programs for students who require additional learning support.
  • Quality assurance frameworks where schools must meet required standards.

Producing Thought Leaders

The Australian school curriculum prepares you for your future. Our schools aim to develop students into independent and successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens – with the view to giving them all the skills, knowledge and capabilities to thrive in a globalised world. From Kindergarten to Year 12, Australian schools focus on providing equity for every student and striving for excellence in all areas of education.

Teaching Styles And Assessment Methods

A variety of teaching methods are used, including teacher-directed learning, student research, group projects and presentations, visual presentations, e-learning and interactive classrooms. In addition, a variety of assessment methods are used to assess student outcomes.

These may include individual research projects, group assignments, oral and visual presentations, the use of technology including PowerPoint, podcast or vodcast presentations, as well as the more traditional class tests and assignments. In addition, national and state testing programs ensure standards are met and maintained.

School Qualifications

After completing senior secondary school (Years 11 and 12), students sit for exams and receive an official qualification certificate. The name of this certificate varies within Australia’s state-based education systems, but regardless of what the certificate is called, it is recognised by all Australian universities, higher education and vocational education and training institutions, as well as many institutions internationally.

All Australian schools offer a strong welfare structure to ensure the ongoing support of every student. These include:

Support for school students

  • International student coordinators present in every school
  • A student welfare team
  • Year advisers
  • School counsellors
  • Careers advisers to assist students with planning and applying for post-secondary study
  • English as a second language support staff and programs
  • Students learn with local Australian students
  • Accommodation in homestays: all host families must have a police check to meet requirements of child protection legislation, and homes must meet required standards; students have a 24-hour emergency contact number. Some schools offer boarding.

Education In Australia


Education in Australia encompasses the sectors of early childhood education (preschool) and primary education (primary schools), followed by secondary education (high schools), tertiary education (universities and Registered Training Organisations (RTOs). Regulation and funding of education is primarily the responsibility of the States and territories, however, the Australian Government also plays a funding role. Education in Australia is compulsory between the ages of four, five, or six and fifteen, sixteen or seventeen, depending on the state or territory and the date of birth.

For primary and secondary education, government schools educate approximately 60 per cent of Australian students, with approximately 40 per cent in non-government schools. At the tertiary level, the majority of Australia’s universities are public, and student fees are subsidised through a student loan program where payment becomes due when debtors reach a certain income level.

Underpinned by the Australian Qualifications Framework, implemented in 1995, Australia has adopted a national system of qualifications, encompassing higher education, vocational education and training (VET), and school-based education.  In addition, for primary and secondary schools, a national Australian Curriculum has been progressively developed and implemented since 2010.

Australia is a leading global provider of education to international students, and in 2012 was ranked as the third-largest provider of international education after the United States and the United Kingdom. Australia has the highest ratio of international students per head of population in the world by a large margin, with 812,000 international students enrolled in the nation’s universities and vocational institutions in 2019.

The Education Index, published with the UN’s Human Development Index in 2018, based on data from 2017, listed Australia as 0.929, the second-highest in the world.

In 1966 the Australian Government signed the Convention against Discrimination in Education, which aimed to combat discrimination and racial segregation in the field of education.

Regulation And Funding

The regulation, operation, and funding of education is the responsibility of the States and territories because the Australian Government does not have a specific constitutional power to pass laws with concerning education. 

However, the Federal Government helps fund non-government schools, helps to fund public universities and subsidises tertiary education through a national student loan scheme, and regulate vocational education providers.

Post-compulsory education is regulated within the Australian Qualifications Framework, a unified system of national qualifications in schools, vocational education and training, and the tertiary education sector.

The Australian Government’s involvement in education has been the responsibility of several departments over the years, Government’s with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment being formed in 2020.

The academic year in Australia varies between States and institutions, however generally runs from late January/early February until early/mid-December for primary and secondary schools, with slight variations in the inter-term holidays and TAFE colleges, and from late February until mid-November for universities with seasonal holidays and breaks for each educational institute.


Preschool and pre-prep programmes in Australia are relatively unregulated and are not compulsory. As a result, the first exposure many Australian children have to learn with others outside of traditional parenting is daycare or a parent-run playgroup. 

This sort of activity is not generally considered schooling, as preschool education is separate from primary school in all states and territories, except Western Australia where pre-school education is taught as part of the primary school system, and Victoria where the state framework, the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) covers children from birth to 8 years old, is used by some schools over the national framework. 

In Queensland, preschool programmes are often called Kindergarten or Pre-Prep and are usually privately run but attract state government funding if run for at least 600 hours a year and delivered by a registered teacher.

Preschools are usually run by the state and territory governments, except in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, where they are more often run by local councils, community groups or private organisations.

Preschool is offered to three- to five-year-olds; attendance numbers vary widely between the states, but 85.7% of children attended preschool the year before school. The year before a child is due to attend primary school is the main year for preschool education. This year is far more commonly attended and may take the form of a few hours of activity during weekdays.

Primary And Secondary Education

10,584 registered schools were operating in Australia in 2019, of which 7,092 were government schools. As of 2019, government schools educated 65.4% of all students. In 2017, there were just under 282,000 teachers in Australian primary and secondary schools. 

Of the non-government schools, nearly two-thirds were Catholic schools. The major part of government-run schools’ costs is met by the relevant state or territory government. The Australian Government provides the majority of public funding for non-government schools, which is supplemented by states and territories.

Non-government schools, both religious or secular, typically charge compulsory tuition and other fees. Government schools provide education without compulsory tuition fees, although many government schools ask for payment of ‘voluntary’ fees to defray particular expenses.

Regardless of whether a school is a government or non-government, it is regulated by the same curriculum standards framework. The framework is administered by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. In addition, most schools require students to wear prescribed school uniforms. A school year in Australia starts in January and finishes in December.

Compulsory Attendance Requirements

School education in Australia is compulsory between certain ages as specified by state or territory legislation. For example, depending on the state or territory and date of birth of the child, school is compulsory from five to six to fifteen to seventeen.

In the ACT, NSW, the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia, children are legally required to attend school from the age of six years old until the minimum leaving age. In Tasmania, the compulsory school starting age is 5 years old.

However, most children commence the preliminary year of formal schooling, in Pre-Year 1, between four and a half and five and a half years of age, variously called kindergarten (sometimes called Year K), reception, preparation (also abbreviated as “prep”)and transition.

As of 2010, the national apparent retention rate (ARR), a measure of student engagement that provides an indicator of the success of education systems in keeping students in school beyond the minimum leaving age, was 78 per cent for all full-time students in Year 12.

Types Of Schools

The types of schools in Australia fall broadly into two categories; government schools, which are operated by state or territory departments or agencies; and non-government schools, which are not operated by government departments or agencies.

Non-government schools can be further classified based on the self-identification of the school’s affiliation. For example, non-government schools are grouped for reporting as Catholic schools (including Catholic-affiliated independent schools) or independent (other non-government schools).

Government schools receive funding from the relevant state or territory government. Non-government schools receive funding from the Australian Government and relevant state or territory government, and in most cases, parents are required to make a co-payment for their child’s education.

As of 2019, approximately two-thirds of all school students attended government schools across primary and secondary education, with the remaining one-third of students educated in non-government schools.

A small portion of students are legally home-schooled, particularly in rural areas.


Data on students, staff, schools, rates and ratios for government and non-government schools for all Australian states and territories.

Key statistics

  • there were 4,006,974 students enrolled in 9,542 schools.
  • Teachers made up 68.1% of in-school full-time equivalent staff.
  • the Year 7 to 12 full-time apparent retention rate was 83.6%.
  • The average student to teaching staff ratio for all schools was 13.5 students to one teacher.

COVID-19 In This Publication


The census date for the National Schools Statistics Collection is held on the first Friday of August each year. For 2020, the census enrolment reference date was 7 August.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, various restrictions were in place, which may impact the data.

While the majority of schools across Australia continued as normal, initiatives to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community were put in place, including the implementation of remote online learning where required.

Overall, due to the way the collection counts enrolment, it is estimated that the impacts of COVID-19 on the data were minor.

For the collection, a student is a person who is formally (officially) enrolled or registered at a school and who is also active in a primary, secondary or special education program at that school. Students were considered to be active in an education program, even if that program had been temporarily disrupted by COVID-19. 

Education programs included those that may have been temporarily delivered online or remotely due to COVID-19 disruptions. Students were included even if on census day the school was not delivering education programs due to COVID-19. 

Schools that were temporarily closed due to COVID-19 related reasons were considered to be operating for the collection purposes. This included schools ceasing operations due to COVID-19 restrictions, with teachers and staff not working, no students attending, and no remote learning delivered. 

Schools were included in the census if, before the restrictions came into effect, they had students who were enrolled and involved in an active course of study, who meet all other eligibility criteria, and who would have otherwise been included in the census.


In 2020

there were 4,006,974 students enrolled in schools across Australia, an increase of 58,163 (1.5%) since 2019

government schools held the greatest share of enrolments (65.6%), followed by Catholic schools (19.4%) and independent schools (15.0%)

Total student enrolments have continued to increase in the five years to 2020, with a 5.5% increase. Independent schools had the largest increase with 9.5%, followed by government schools with 5.9%.

Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Western Australia reported the highest annual growth rates of student enrolments in 2020 (2.8%, 2.5%, 1.6% and 1.5%, respectively), while the Northern Territory reported the lowest growth rate (0.3%).

These patterns are consistent with changes to the total population aged 5 to 19 years living in these states and territories, with the Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria experiencing the highest growth rates for this age group (1.7%, 1.4%, 1.3% and 1.1% respectively), and the Northern Territory with the lowest growth rate (0.1%) (National, state and territory population). 

In 2020, the proportion of students enrolled in non-government schools was

  • highest in the Australian Capital Territory (38.5%) and Victoria (36.0%)
  • lowest in the Northern Territory (25.5%)
  • lower for students enrolled in schools in very remote areas (12.7%) than for remote areas (21.1%), outer regional areas (26.2%), inner regional areas (33.9%) and major cities (35.9%)

Retention Rates

  • the Year 7 to 12 full-time apparent retention rate for Australia remained relatively steady at 83.6%, compared to 84.0% in 2019
  • the retention rate for females (88.0%) was higher than for males (79.3%)
  • independent schools had the highest retention rate (93.6%), followed by government schools (81.4%) then Catholic schools (81.2%)
  • South Australia had the highest retention rate at 92.7%, and the Northern Territory had the lowest retention rate at 57.8%

Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Students

  • there were 240,180 Aboriginal, and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled in Australian schools, 4.1% more than in 2019
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students accounted for 6.0% of all students
  • the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were enrolled in government schools (83.4%)
  • the Northern Territory had the highest proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at 39.0%
  • the Year 7 to 12 full-time apparent retention rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students was 59.6%, a slight increase from 58.7% in 2019


  • there were 9,542 schools in Australia, a net increase of 39 schools since 2019 (16 government, 17 independent and 6 Catholic schools)
  • Queensland reported the largest increase in total school counts (15 schools), followed by Western Australia (11 schools) and Victoria (7 schools)
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