Education in Australia

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Our resident expert on all things Australian, Al Spinner, is back with another entry in his blog series about living and working as a Doctor in Australia. This time round he's taking an in-depth look at education options down under...

Although the schools here in Scotland have been back for well over 2 weeks, I am predicting a collective sigh of relief from Northern Ireland, Wales and England this week and next as children there return to the classroom.

One of the most common queries we get from Doctors beginning to explore their career options in Australia is about Education, so I thought I would briefly sketch out how nursery (kindergarten), primary, and secondary education works in that part of the world.

My two boys were born in Sydney, both went to and loved nursery and then on to a New South Wales government primary school. I also did some recruitment for some private schools and my father owns a nursery centre there so I am well placed to provide some general information on this topic. 

Australia has a first-class educational system and regularly ranks near the top of global educational indexes. The last census in 2011 showed that more than one-third of over 20s were at university or other tertiary institution, reflecting the quality of secondary education.

Government provided education is free for Australian permanent residents and citizens. However, bear in mind that if you move to Australia you will be sponsored by your employer on a 457 visa. If you choose to send your children to a government school, a condition of the visa means you have to pay a tuition fee to the State Government. These fees range from AU$3,000 to AU$5,000 per child, or as a family fee depending on which state or territory you are moving to.

Like the healthcare system, responsibility for education services lies with State and Territory governments (whilst also adhering to a national curriculum). Unlike health, the States and Territories provide most of the funding (the federal government provides most of the money healthcare-wise). Like the UK, variance in school performance often depends on location. Generally speaking, primary and secondary institutions countrywide are of an extremely high quality. Enrolment for primary school begins at age 5/6.

The school year in Australia begins in January and ends in December - worth thinking about when planning for and negotiating employment start dates.

Private schools are popular and commonplace in most towns. Many regional areas have a fine tradition of private schooling due to the simple distance between some farms or ranges and other communities. Private schools tend to be religious – Catholic or Anglican – based. In most cases, particularly in regional areas, a child does not have to practise that religion to attend. Islamic schools tend to be centred in the major metropolitan cities. International or secular schools likewise are rarely found outside of the big cities although I do know of Steiner schools in regional Australia. Fees for private schooling can range between AU$10,000 to AU$40,000. Realistically, the majority will charge between AU$12,000 and AU$25,000 p.a. per child.

Nursery/Kindergarten is not compulsory. It is an expensive service and costs are increasing in this space as more regulations are legislated (increased teaching numbers, etc.). Prices vary from AU$80 to AU$180 a day dependent on age and location (major cities centres are very expensive). However, the federal government provides a very generous rebate which is non-income tested. This covers up to 50% of out-of-pocket costs, up to AU$7,500 per child p.a. Many hospitals and health services have their own subsidised crèches for their employees or on-site childcare centres run by a service provider. Centres can take infants as young as 6 months old. 

If you would like to speak in more detail about nursery care, primary, secondary, or tertiary education in Australia please do get in touch.

Check out our guides to living and working in Australia and New Zealand. 

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