How Are Children Educated In Australia?

(Last Updated On: February 21, 2023)
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    When it comes to the process of educating children, the nation of Australia takes quite a few noticeably different approaches to the matter than other countries do.

    They have something that is referred to as a "schools" system, and within this schools system there are three distinct levels: primary schools, secondary schools, and tertiary schools.

    The ages of children who attend primary school range from six to twelve, while those who attend secondary school do so between the ages of thirteen and eighteen.

    The one and only exemption to this rule is the possibility, in exceptional situations, for students to be admitted at the age of seventeen or twenty-one rather than the standard age of eighteen.

    After graduating from secondary school, students move on to the next level of education, which can range from two to four years in length depending on the degree being pursued.

    Where can I find out more about the various educational pathways available to Australian children? What are the inner workings of our educational system? What is the function of it?

    When you're living in another country and trying to figure out how to get your kid (or kids) into school, these are some questions that might come up. This article will provide you with an overview of the fundamental ideas that underpin our educational system, what it looks like in this country, and help you determine whether or not it would be a good fit for your family.

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    Australia's Children

    The stages of healthy development, learning, and laying the groundwork for future wellbeing all take place during childhood, which is an important time.

    The majority of children in Australia do not have any significant health or safety concerns.

    fHaving said that, childhood is also a time of vulnerability, and the outcomes for children can be quite different depending on where they live and the circumstances of their families.

    This report compiles a variety of data on the health and happiness of children as well as their experiences at home, school, and in the community.

    Child Learning And Development

    The education and growth of children in their formative years are essential to their overall well-being and, in the longer term, have an effect on their employment opportunities as well as their participation in and connection to the larger community.

    The home environment serves as the primary catalyst for linguistic and cognitive growth in the majority of young children during the formative years (Yu & Daraganova 2015).

    Beginning a routine of reading aloud to children during this period of time promotes healthy brain development and helps strengthen the bond between parents and their children.

    As a consequence, this contributes to the development of linguistic, literate, and social-emotional skills (Council on Early Childhood 2014).

    Preschool programs can help children prepare for starting school by developing learning-related skills, such as the ability to:

    • express thoughts
    • adapt appropriate behaviours
    • control impulsivity
    • show curiosity
    • retain concentration
    • develop social competence (Melhuish 2012).

    Beginning formal education marks an important turning point in the life of a child and necessitates a substantial period of adjustment to a new setting.

    According to the findings of some studies, children who were at a developmental disadvantage when they started school were more likely to do poorly on literacy and numeracy tests later on in their educational careers (AEDC 2014).

    Children need to go to school in order to acquire the cognitive and social skills necessary for successful learning and educational attainment. These include the ability to form and maintain friendships, work well in groups, communicate effectively, and have a positive sense of self-worth.

    It has been discovered that attendance patterns are established early on in a child's educational career and that differences in attendance tend to be carried into secondary school and become more pronounced there (Hancock et al., 2013).

    Young Australians are taught literacy and numeracy as part of the foundational curriculum of their formal education (MCEETYA 2008).

    Children's educational success, their lives outside of school, their engagement with society, and their future employment opportunities are all fundamentally dependent on these fundamental building blocks.

    The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Education Council is the primary forum for developing national priorities and strategies for the early childhood and education sector, as well as for schooling and higher education. All of Australia's education ministers are members of the COAG Education Council (Education Council 2014).

    Early Childhood, Education And Care

    Early childhood, education and care (ECEC) services in Australia comprise child care and preschool services.

    Child care services provide education and care services to children aged 0–12 and include:

    • long daycare
    • family daycare
    • outside school hours’ care
    • occasional care
    • other care, including services supporting children with additional needs or in particular situations, or 3-year-old preschool which does not meet the preschool service definition (as provided immediately below), mobile services, playschools and nannies.

    Preschool services deliver a preschool program (also known as kindergarten in some jurisdictions). Preschool programs are:

    • structured and play-based learning programs
    • delivered by a qualified teacher
    • aimed at children in the year or 2 before they start full-time schooling.

    Responsibility for the ECEC is shared by the Australian Government, state and territory governments and, in some cases, local government (SCRGSP 2019a).

    Australian Government Responsibilities

    The Australian Government is responsible for paying the Child Care Subsidy (formerly the Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate) to eligible families and providing funding to:

    • state and territory governments for early childhood education
    • support the regulation, assessment and quality improvement for ECEC under the National Quality Framework (NQF).

    The Australian Government also provides operational and capital funding to some ECEC providers (SCRGSP 2019a).

    State And Territory Responsibilities

    There is a wide variety of roles and responsibilities that are assigned to state and territory governments across different jurisdictions; however, the majority of these roles and responsibilities involve funding and/or providing preschool services and, in some cases, funding child care services.

    In addition to this, they offer financial support for activities that fall under the NQF.

    Regulation of approved child care services, as well as licencing and/or registering child care services that have not yet been approved by the NQF, falls under the purview of state and territorial governments.

    They also implement strategies to improve the quality of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) programmes and provide ECEC providers with curriculum, information, support, advice, and opportunities for training and development (SCRGSP 2019a).

    ECEC is also planned, funded, and provided by local governments (SCRGSP 2019a).

    Schooling In Australia

    In Australia, attending school is obligatory for all children; however, the minimum age for students to start classes varies between states and territories (SCRGSP 2019b). Primary and secondary schools are the two primary categories of educational establishments found in Australia.

    These categories are distinguished from one another based on the level of instruction they offer.

    Beginning with the first year of formal education, which is referred to as Foundation in the Australian Curriculum, students begin their educational careers in primary schools. The sixth grade is the final year of elementary school (Year 7 in South Australia).


    Secondary schools provide education from the end of primary school to Year 12 (SCRGSP 2019b).

    From Term 1, 2022, the South Australian public education system will change, and Year 7 public school students will be taught in high school (SA Department of Education 2019).

    Schools can be broadly categorised into 3 sectors:

    • government schools, owned and managed by state and territory governments
    • Catholic schools
    • independent schools.

    The latter 2 are owned and managed by non-government establishments.

    Primary education is a shared responsibility among the governments of Australia's states and territories as well as the federal government.

    Funding is provided by the Australian government to educational institutions, both government and non-government (Department of Education 2019a).

    These tiers of government collaborate to advance and put into practise the priorities of national education policy, which include a national curriculum, national statistics and reporting, national testing, and teaching standards (PM&C 2014).

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    Responsibility For Delivering And Regulating Schooling

    Within their respective territories, the governments of each state and territory are responsible for delivering and regulating the educational system.

    In addition to this, the majority of the funding for the educational institutions within their jurisdiction comes from them.

    In addition to this, they are directly responsible for the administration of government schools, as well as the registration of schools and the regulation of school activities.

    The state and territory registration authorities are responsible for determining the conditions under which non-government schools are allowed to operate (SCRGSP 2019b).

    Responsibility For Delivering The Australian Curriculum

    The delivery of the Australian Curriculum is the responsibility of state, territory, and non-government education authorities.

    This includes making decisions regarding implementation timeframes, classroom practises, and resources that complement the teaching of the curriculum (Department of Education 2018).

    National Education Strategies And Initiatives For Children

    In the context of the National Partnership on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education, one of the most important goals of COAG is to make certain that all children, in the year before they start attending school on a full-time basis, have access to a preschool programme of sufficient calibre. In some states, this is referred to as kindergarten (Department of Education 2019b).

    The NQF works to ensure that all children have access to preschool programmes of a high standard.

    According to this framework, preschool programmes are required to have an early childhood educator on staff at all times, with specific requirements varying depending on the size of the programme (Department of Education 2019b).

    In addition, the Early Years Workforce Strategy provides an agreed vision as well as a long-term framework for the workforce in the early childhood education and child care industries (Department of Education, 2017).


    In 2008, Australian education ministers agreed, within the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, for Australian schools to promote equity and excellence and for all young Australians to become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens (MCEETYA 2008).

    These common goals underpin the strategic reforms outlined in the COAG National School Reform Agreement, which are for Australian schooling to give all students a high quality and equitable education.

    The agreement includes these outcomes:

    • academic achievement improves for all students, including priority equity cohorts
    • all students are engaged in their schooling
    • students gain the skills they need to transition to further study and/or work and life success (COAG 2018).

    The Measurement Framework for Schooling in Australia is the basis for reporting by Australian education ministers on performance in accordance with the Melbourne Declaration (ACARA 2015).

    It specifies the annual assessment and reporting cycle for the National Program, which includes the National Assessment Program–Literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) tests.

    Australia’s national curriculum gives schools, teachers, parents, students, and the community a clear understanding of what students should learn, regardless of where they live or what school system they are in (Department of Education 2018).

    What’s Missing?

    The sections in this domain contain a number of established national indicators; however, consistent national reporting is not available in some areas due to a lack of a suitable data source and/or indicator.

    This is because this domain contains a number of established national sections.

    These areas may benefit from the ongoing efforts being taken at the national level to improve the quality, consistency, and collection of education data (COAG 2018). See the article titled "Data gaps" for more information on data gaps on the national level.

    Other considerations prevented the inclusion of a number of topics, which may be considered for inclusion in subsequent revisions.

    Children’s Subjective View Of School


    At the national level, there are currently insufficient data to support population-level monitoring on how children view their experiences while attending school.

    PIRLS and the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children are examples of data sources that capture certain aspects, including school belonging and bullying (LSAC). See also the following section on specific topics pertaining to education.

    Pathways, Transitions And Outcomes

    Initiatives in national data integration work involving learning and development data will create a more complete picture of pathways through the Australian education system.

    The National Education Evidence Base was established as a sub-project of the Data Integration Partnership for Australia, with work starting in 2017–18 (Department of Education and Training 2018). The National Education Evidence Base will draw together data on all aspects of education:

    • early childhood education and care
    • schools
    • vocational education and training
    • higher education (Department of Education and Training 2017).

    This work has the potential to improve our understanding of children's learning trajectories, including the impact of child care and/or preschool on these trajectories, as well as the ways in which learning trajectories may differ for some disadvantaged groups.

    Integration of education data with data from other sources, such as health, will give further insight into the relationship between health and educational outcomes, such as the educational outcomes of children who received long-term intensive care at birth.

    Other data sources, such as education, will also give further insight into the relationship between health and educational outcomes.

    Priority Populations

    Currently, data are not available on school attendance for a number of priority groups, including attendance of children:

    • from low socioeconomic groups
    • with disability
    • in out-of-home care.

    There may be opportunities to enhance information through linkages, for example, NAPLAN and National Disability Insurance Scheme data, and regular linkage of literacy and numeracy data relating to children in out-of-home care.

    National data on children who are homeschooled are also limited.

    Specific Areas Related To Early Learning

    The frequency with which adults read aloud to children was the primary topic of discussion in the Early Learning section.

    It was supplemented with information regarding the number of books that were kept in their homes.

    Nevertheless, this does not take into account information on the actual quantity and quality of early learning experiences that were had.

    There are no national data available on other types of learning, such as learning experiences gained at an early childhood education centre or exposure to other learning-based activities and materials.

    Specific Areas Related To Schooling

    The Bullying section in the Justice and Safety domain gives some overarching information on bullying at a national level, but this does not paint a clear picture of bullying at school or other types of unfair treatment at school.

    National data on school expulsions and suspensions are also limited.

    Student Engagement

    Student engagement, which encompasses both behavioural and emotional as well as cognitive engagement, is another area of growing interest in which comprehensive national reporting is unavailable (SCRGSP 2019b).

    Attendance at school is one indicator of students' level of behavioural engagement (for more information on this topic, see Attendance at primary school), and students' attitudes towards school are one indicator of their level of emotional engagement.

    The attitudes of students are not reported here; however, a sense of belonging at school is included as part of the regular PIRLS reporting (see Reporting Australia's results PIRLS 2016), and it may be taken into consideration for future updates.

    How Do We Know About The School-age Detached Students In Australia And How Many Are There?

    The majority of senior educators are well aware of the magnitude of this ongoing problem; however, dedicated data sets that identify the number of students who have detached from schools throughout the country do not appear to be explicitly maintained.

    In many instances, there have been half-hearted efforts to address this issue and gain a better understanding of its scope, but these efforts have been abandoned.

    There have, at various times, been isolated efforts made by some school districts, school systems, and individual schools to set up programmes to track down and re-attach students who fall into this category.

    We have found little evidence of long-term strategies for success, despite the fact that isolated educators in various locations have been advocating internally for significant recurrent funding to address this issue more transparently.

    A cynic might assume that certain governments and ministers do not believe they can win elections in the near future by exposing long-term and ongoing flaws in education systems. This is an opinion that could be held by a cynic.

    It is difficult to estimate the number of detached students of compulsory school age in this country because there is no specific national coordination and tracking of the actual or even potential number of detached students in this age bracket in this country.

    However, we need to make an effort.

    We have formulated an estimate of the magnitude of this issue in Australia by making use of census data, data from UNESCO, and anecdotal evidence, and the numbers that we have come up with are extremely concerning.

    Although the compulsory schooling ages in the various states and territories of Australia can vary slightly from one another, all children are required to be enrolled in school (depending on their jurisdiction) between the ages of five and six.

    The majority of children, however, begin attending pre-school classes between the ages of four and a half and five and a half.

    Although the compulsory leaving age varies across Australia, in general, a student is required to be 17 years old. However, it is possible (depending on location) for students to leave school after completing year 10 and participate in alternative education programmes, training, and/or employment.

    The same Census found that there were 206 486 children in the country.

    On the other hand, the Census form did not request any information regarding the respondents' current educational status or the kind of school they were currently enrolled in.

    According to the most recent census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016), there were 3,460,766 children in Australia who were between the ages of 5 and 16 years old in the year 2016. On the other hand, there were 206 486 children according to the same census.

    On the Census form, there was no indication of whether or not they were students, nor was there any mention of the specific educational establishment that they were attending.

    That is, the individual who filled out the census form for the household listed the presence of children in the household; however, they did not provide the required information on whether or not the children were students or what type of educational institution they were attending.

    According to the results of the national Census, there were 16,755 children aged five who were not enrolled in any form of formal education.

    There were also 3,894 adolescents aged 15 and 10,897 children aged 16 who did not attend any form of formal education.

    Therefore, we are aware that 31,554 children of those ages who fall into those three categories were not reported as being involved in any form of educational pursuit, which leaves 174,932 school-aged children unaccounted for.

    It is possible that the parents of some of the children who are five years old have made the decision to hold off on enrolling their children in preschool or kindergarten.

    We are unable to confirm whether or not a certain number of students between the ages of 15 and 16 have dropped out of school to pursue employment or education in a vocational field.


    Children who are home-schooled and are of any age where they are required to attend school must disclose their attendance status on the Census form as either full-time or part-time students.

    This requirement applies to children of all ages.

    Based on the responses to the Census questions concerning the educational standing of children, it is highly unlikely that a sizeable number of children who are educated at home are among the 174 932 children aged 6 to 14 who are still missing for reasons that have not been explained.

    However, it is possible that some household respondents chose not to complete the educational institution-type question for a variety of reasons.

    As a result, the figure is almost certainly going to be lower than the almost 175,000 young people who were not reported.

    The 2019 Garma Program in North-East Arnhem Land serves as an illustrative case in point; the Garma Institute published a report stating that "8 out of 10 Aboriginal students in the local region do not continue school past Year 8," which indicates that "8 out of 10 young adults are not job-ready or life-ready."

    Using data from their comparative international monitoring programme, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) came to the conclusion that there were 39 314 children, adolescents, and young adults of primary and secondary school age who were not attending school in Australia in the year 2017.

    This information is derived by reducing the total population by the number of children who are enrolled in educational programmes.

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    The data are produced by UNESCO, which gathers the information through harmonised education surveys that are sent to the Member States on an annual basis. This allows the information to be verified by the countries of origin.

    However, UNESCO notes that these numbers might not accurately reflect the total number of children who are not enrolled in school due to inconsistencies between different sources of data.

    In addition to educated approximations and estimates, many staff members and leaders of educational institutions are provided with significant anecdotal evidence of detached school-aged young people who are housed in what are known as 'alternative settings.'

    This term refers to a wide variety of specialised schools and education providers that are funded either by the government or by private organisations and that cater to disengaged students and young people who are looking to reattach in educational environments that are more suitable and supportive for them.

    Numerous anecdotes and case studies present evidence of a large cohort of formerly detached young people of school age who have spent varying amounts of time outside of formal education institutions. These young people are of school-going age.

    The 2019 Garma Program in North-East Arnhem Land serves as an illustrative case in point; the Garma Institute published a report stating that "8 out of 10 Aboriginal students in the local region do not continue school past Year 8," which indicates that "8 out of 10 young adults are not job-ready or life-ready."

    We simply cannot allow emerging but marginalised adolescents to be denied access to the essential educational foundation that is required for future success in a world that is increasingly globalised.

    This would be financially irresponsible of us.

    As a part of the research for this report, bureaucrats in two state education departments, who preferred not to have their names used, conducted a detailed analysis across relevant student data sets.

    As a result of this analysis, they identified approximately 8,000 potentially detached students across one state and 10,000 students across the other state.

    Even taking into account the possibility that the numbers based on the evidence presented may not be entirely accurate, it is reasonable to suggest that the total number of detached students across the country is an uncomfortably and inappropriately large number.

    As a result, based on these informed professional estimates and the comparative populations of each of the states, we estimate that there may be upwards of 50,000 unaccounted detached students across the country.

    This number is derived from the comparison of the populations of each of the states.


    School education is 13 years and divided into: Primary school - Runs for seven or eight years, starting at Kindergarten/Preparatory through to Year 6 or 7. Secondary school - Runs for three or four years, from Years 7 to 10 or 8 to 10. Senior secondary school - Runs for two years, Years 11 and 12.

    School education is compulsory for all children across Australia, although the child age entry requirements vary by jurisdiction (SCRGSP 2019b). ... Primary school education extends to Year 6 (Year 7 in South Australia). Secondary schools provide education from the end of primary school to Year 12 (SCRGSP 2019b).

    A deeper dive into the data reveals that 71.7 per cent of 15-year-olds in Australia are achieving baseline competency in reading, mathematics and science (2015) and 80 per cent of children are participating in organised learning one year before the start of compulsory schooling (2013/14).

    School education is 13 years divided into Primary school - Runs for seven or eight years, starting at Kindergarten/Preparatory through to Year 6 or 7. Secondary school - Runs for three or four years, from Years 7 to 10 or 8 to 10. Senior secondary school - Runs for two years, Years 11 and 12.

    The Australian education system is considered one of the best education systems in the world for both domestic and international students. It enjoys high standards, a comprehensive curriculum, and highly qualified teachers.


    • Dr. Olga Abeysekera

      Olga has a PhD in Management from Monash University. Her research focused on how personal differences and social networking impact creativity in the tech industry. She has extensive teaching experience at universities and private tutoring centers, praised for her engaging methods and clear insights. Olga also writes for top academic journals and creates innovative programs that enhance skills and consulting methods. She believes in the power of education to inspire ongoing growth in both studies and careers.

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