A Brief Guide to Choosing a School in Australia

One of the most asked questions by migrants moving into Australia is “How do I choose a school for my children?”. Not an easy task in the distance of 10,000 miles so let’s take a look at some of the factors you’ll need to take into consideration.

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This is based on your individual preference and what you are able to afford. My children both attended the public school system in Western Australia and onto University and for me, public schools have been good. Public schools tend to be extremely diverse, and they tend to attract their majority of students from their local community.

If you choose to go to a private school, be aware that a few are faith that are based and follow a religion-based education with some very traditional values, usually all girls and boys schools. They are very proud of sport and many operate excellent sport programs. They generally have a good amount of funding and this is what you’d expect considering they also receive funds from the government the cost for public education. The top private schools can charge a fee of $30,000 each year, so be sure you understand the impact the fees of the school will have on your living costs.

Many families can’t afford to send their children to the high-quality private school. However, don’t fret that some public schools often beat top private schools in the school ranking tables despite the inadequate budget. It is important to bear in mind though that even public schools may not be completely free and top public schools can charge of up to $2,000 per year for a student in year 12. There may be a suggestion of voluntary contributions but if your child is to participate fully you’ll have to pay , so you’ll be required to plan this.

Cost is one of the factors that determines where we send our children to school the other factor is the location we live in. Parents are required to be close to their work which will usually dictate what schools are available to you. But remember that the educational quality is not just about the outcome. According to ACER (Australian Council on Educational Research) director 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 as well as the UK is also using a league table system to compare schools. When using it, bear in mind the words of ACER Chief Executive, above about how schools contribute to student education. More information is available on league tables and also compare schools within the region you wish to move onto on myschool.edu.au website. It covers the entire educational system in Australia.

The Myschool website contains quite the entire range of data about schools. It covers the demographics of each school of which there are around 9,500. The site also lists outcomes of NAPLAN testing data as well as student attendance and school financial data, including capital expenditures and financing sources. It’s a good source of information . You are able to compare levels of numeracy and literacy in local schools with the state averages. While this might give an idea of current standards it’s important to take into account achievements in Years 11 and 12. For instance, the years 7 and 9 NAPLAN tests might indicate that the majority of students are who are in lower brackets the test results. However, the school does have an outstanding rate of achievement of both ATAR (university students (more on this to come later) in addition to vocational study (non ATAR). This suggests that the school could have an great system in place to get students struggling up to speed by the time they leave. It is a crucial aspect to be considered.

For those who are interested NAPLAN stands with an assessment called the National Assessment Program – literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) and is an annual test of students who are in years 3 5, 7, and 9. NAPLAN has been an everyday part to the academic calendar since the year 2008. The tests are offered across the nation each year during the second week in May. Tests consist of four areas or domains covering:

* Reading

* Writing

* Conventions of language (spelling grammar and punctuation)

* Numeracy

It is time to attempt to define this ATAR business , which isn’t an easy endeavor, I’d add. In simple terms, an ATAR score is an percentage score that ranges from “less than 30” up to a maximum of 99.95 (in a minimum increment of 0.05). So far, it’s clear as mud I guess. In layman terms it is the number that represents a student’s ranking relative to peers when they have completed your secondary educational requirements. The score is used by universities and other tertiary programs to determine the ranking and selection of prospective students. In short the higher your ATAR score, the higher the number of universities you can choose from. The majority of universities will require minimum ATAR scores for admission to all of their courses.

The School system in its simplest form

Australia is made up of a collection of states and territories, each with the authority of its own state government, which is accountable for its own education. As a result, there are some differences between states with regards to how schools are run. There is a common framework however that all schools are required to follow to try and ensure some standardisation across the nation. Most states operate similar programs which run primary schools from kindergarten to year seven or six. The high schools usually run from the age of 7 to 10, and the senior high school is in operation from year 11 through year 12. Most schools provide the complete period from year 7 to year 12, but there are a handful of specialist schools that operate just years 7-10 or 11 and 12 in all states. In some states , schools that only run for years 11 and 12 have the ability to concentrate on certain sectors, thereby becoming Regional Training Organisations (RTO’s) permitting students to take part in pre-apprenticeships.

All states offer their own certification, for example for example, in Western Australia students achieve the Western Australian Certificate of Education at the end of the year 12. (WACE). In the Eastern states the Australian Capital Territory students are granted with the ACT Certificate. For New South Wales they offer the Higher School Certificate, in Queensland it’s the Queensland Certificate of Education. In Victoria (yes you’ve already guessed that) is known as the Victorian Certificate of Education or the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning. When you move west to South Australia they have the South Australian Certificate of Education and within the Northern Territory its known as the Northern Territory Certificate Education.

If you’re worried that your might need to relocate to another state like I did, you can rest sure there is no need to worry. Australian schools are governed by what is known as the Australian Qualifications framework (AQF) which has 10 levels and ties universities, vocational and school education certificates into one national system. This allows for some standardisation across the states and lets students quickly move from one stage of education from one level to another, and from one school to another. In the beginning, there may be some differences but these will be more functional than the content of the subject. For the years 11-12, this could be more crucial particularly for students who are university bound since specialist areas can differ from school to school and state to state. This is also affected by availability of specialist teachers within your subject area of choice.

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