Education system in Australia

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The Australian education system is divided into a number of phases:

  • Pre-school
  • Primary
  • Secondary (including Post-compulsory)
  • Tertiary

Education is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 15 (16 in Tasmania) and three sectors of educational provision are available:

  • Secular government-funded
  • Non-secular catholic
  • Non-secular independent

In 1999, there were 9,590 schools in Australia of which 6,970 were government and 2,620 non-government (

The Federal Department of Education, Science and Technology (DEST) represents the Commonwealth and provides national leadership in issues to do with lifelong education. The Federal government provides funding to states and territories to administer the educational provision within the state or territory. States and territories have the primary responsibility for funding state government schools. The federal Australian Government is the primary source of public funding for non-government schools, while also providing supplementary assistance to government schools. “Most non-government schools have some religious affiliation, with approximately two-thirds of non-government school students enrolled in Catholic schools. Overall, state government schools enrol 68% of students while non-government schools enrol 32% of students” (DEST, 2005).

The Commonwealth is solely in control of funding and administration of Australian universities. Six state and two territory jurisdictions oversee the schooling system in their region. As such, each educational jurisdiction has its own schooling system which governs the ages of enrolment and the curriculum frameworks.

Phase Age in years Grade level
Non-compulsory 0 to 2 N/A Crèche, long day care, occasional care.
3 Pre-school. Includes kinder-play, crèche, long day care, occasional care.
4 to 5 Kindergarten Pre-school. Includes kinder-play, crèche, long day care, occasional care. Commonly one year in length and not compulsory.
Primary Schooling 4 to 12 Preparatory In some states, the starting age is closer to 4 years of age.
Grade 1
Grade 2
Grade 3
Grade 4
Grade 5
Grade 6
Secondary Schooling 11 to 18 Year 7 In some states, Year 7 is also included in the Primary Years of Schooling.
Year 8
Year 9
Year 10
Year 11
Year 12
Tertiary 16 + VET VET (Vocational Education and Training) is competency-based and offers programmes under the National Training Framework (NTF). Some Bachelor programmes are offered by mainly VET institutions. Credit can be gained to articulate movement from VET to Higher Education.
Higher Education Universities and other higher education institutions and offers programmes leading to Bachelor degrees and a range of post graduate awards as well as some shorter undergraduate programmes. Some universities offer NTF programmes.

Educational Alternatives

Distance and External Education

All states and territories offer distance education for preschool, primary and secondary levels – online, traditional ‘correspondence’, school of the air or a blend of all – to cater for students who may be exempted from compulsory attendance at school if they live too far away for daily attendance, have a disability or illness, or are travelling interstate or overseas or who seek to undertake a course which is not offered at their home school. All State and Territory education authorities provide a range of distance or external services. A well known Australian distance education school is probably the Alice Springs School of the Air run by the Northern Territory Education Department, which caters for children in remote regions of Central Australia. Major metropolitan hospitals, such as the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, also provide schooling for long term ill children. In addition, some States and Territories also allow Home schooling students schooled at home, usually by a parent under certain conditions. Distance Education providers across Australia meet regularly through networks such as the National Materials Development Network to discuss issues facing distance educators and distance education provision. Many VET and higher education institutions also offer external courses which can be accessed online.

Home Education

Home education occurs when “parents/guardians/caregivers choose to educate their children from a home base and take on full responsibility for planning, implementing, conducting and evaluating their children's learning program.” ( Families must apply for an exemption from attendance at a registered school, if they wish to home school their child.

Sources and useful links

Australian Education System

Australian Government (Federal) Department of Education, Science and Training

Department of Education and Training (ACT)

Department of Education and Training (New South Wales)

Department of Education and Training (Tasmania)

Department of Education and Training (Victoria)

Department of Education and Training (Western Australia)

Department of Employment and Training (Queensland)

Department of Employment, Education and Training (Northern Territory)

Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology (South Australia)

Education Portal

School Education Summary