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A Guide to Education & International Schools in Australia

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  • Serhat Ahmed

    Without experience of having lived abroad, I thought it would be hard to get to know other expats. But not with InterNations.

Australia has some of the best schools and higher education options. It is one of the countries with the most international students in the world. So if you are an expat parent looking to enroll your children in the Australian education system, it would be best to get to know some things beforehand.

For starters, you will have to choose between public (sometimes known as “government schools”), private, or even international schools for your kids. The cost for this schooling will depend on which type you choose.

If your child has completed compulsory education (primary and secondary), and you are interested in having them pursue higher education, be prepared to pay a hefty price tag. As an international student, they will be required to pay a lot more in tuition fees to attend an Australian university. In 2018, this average was 30,840 AUD (20,926 USD) for an undergraduate degree and 31,596 AUD (21,444 USD) for a postgraduate.

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The Education System in Australia

What is Australia’s education system like? The education system is divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary education (higher education). Only primary and secondary being compulsory. Education is similar across the country, with only minor variations between states and territories.

Following the years of mandatory study, a student can choose to pursue higher education if they wish. Higher education in Australia is comprised of technical colleges and universities. They offer technical, undergraduate, and postgraduate degrees.

Education Facts in Australia

  • The school year in Australia starts in either late January or early February. It ends in mid-December.
  • The majority of schools have three or four semesters. Each term lasts 9–11 weeks, with two weeks of vacation between each semester.
  • School hours are usually from 9:00 to 15:30.
  • Lunch is eaten at school.
  • English is the official language of instruction.

What are the School Systems Like?

Grading System in Australia

Grade Scale Scale 2 Grade Description HD 7.00 83.00–100.00 High Distinction D 6.00–6.99 73.00–82.99 Distinction C 5.00–5.99 63.00–72.99 Credit P 4.00–4.99 50.00–62.99 Pass N 0.00–3.99 0.00–49.99 Fail

School Age Systems in Australia

Your child’s age and corresponding school year will vary slightly depending on where you live in Australia. In general, this is what you will find throughout the country:

Grade Level Age Kindergarten 3-5 Prep/pre-primary 5-6

Primary School

Grade/Year Level Age Grade 1 6-7 Grade 2 7-8 Grade 3 8-9 Grade 4 9-10 Grade 5 10-11 Grade 6 11-12

Secondary School

Grade/Year Level Age Grade 7 12-13 Grade 8 13-14 Grade 9 14-15 Grade 10 15-16 Grade 11 16-17 Grade 12 17-18

Main Differences Between Public and Private Schools

  • Private schools in Australia are also called independent schools. They are privately owned and operated, while the government manages public schools.
  • Private schools are more expensive than public schools, and can cost more than 10,000 AUD (6,840 USD) per year. Public school tuition fees are usually no more than a few hundred dollars annually.
  • School uniforms are sometimes required for public school students, but they are usually less expensive than private school uniforms. For example, a single blazer at a private school can cost 200 AUD (140 USD).
  • Facilities tend to be better in private schools. This includes things like libraries, laboratory facilities, sporting and gym facilities, classroom quality, and music and art rooms.
  • Private schools tend to have a lower student-teacher ratio.
  • Public schools cannot turn away students in their district while private schools can be more selective.
  • Admission requirements for private schools are more rigorous and demanding versus public schools.

Required Documents for Public and Private Schools

Required documents for a public school can be as simple as

  • proof of address;
  • proof of your child’s age;
  • current level of education.

On the other hand, private schools will additionally require

  • an interview;
  • admissions exam and test scores.

Public schools are required to follow state guidelines when it comes to curriculum. Private schools have more flexibility regarding their courses (but they still need to meet specific criteria). For example, if you are interested in religious studies for your child, it might be best to send them to a private school. Religious education is not part of the public school curriculum.

Daycare and Kindergarten

Early childcare facilities and preschools (known as kindergartens in some states) are all options for your young children in Australia. The educational approach taken in preschool and early childhood education and care is learning through play. This is to help children develop their communication, social, physical, problem-solving, and creative skills. There are also schools which are offered based on individual philosophies on children’s learning, such as Steiner, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia.


Some of the most common options for childcare in Australia are

  • home-based care—when a friend, babysitter, relative, or nanny cares for your child in your home;
  • center-based care—includes preschools/kindergartens (see below), long daycare, and occasional care;
  • family daycare—when an approved carer looks after your child in the carer’s home;
  • outside school hours care—center-based daycare for parents who need childcare before or after school and school holidays.

Childcare is mainly intended for children under five years old.


In some states, preschools are called kindergartens. They are the same though. Unlike in some countries, kindergarten is not divided—there is no junior and senior kindergarten.  So is preschool/kindergarten mandatory in Australia? No.

What Age Do You Start Kindergarten/Preschool?

If you choose to send your child to preschool, the age for them to start varies by state. Typically though, preschool is for children who turn four in the year before beginning school (although some states offer preschool for children as young as three).

Daycare/Child Care and Kindergarten Fees

Childcare and school costs vary depending on the state. Below are some approximate costs.

Live-in nanny (hourly) 17-25 AUD 12-17 USD Live-out nanny (hourly) 17-35 AUD 12-15 USD Daycare (daily fee) 70-190 AUD 50-130 USD Preschool/kindergarten (per day) 45-80 AUD 30-55 USD Babysitter (hourly) 15-35 AUD 10-25 USD

Talk to other international parents with young children in Australia

Talk to other international parents with young children in Australia

Primary and Secondary Schools

Some Australia’s best primary and secondary schools are as follows:

 Top Primary Schools

  • Sydney Grammar School
  • Aloysius’ College
  • Bajool State School
  • Presbyterian Ladies’ College
  • Haileybury College

Top Secondary Schools

  • James Ruse Agricultural High School
  • North Sydney Boys High School
  • Baulkham Hills High School
  • Sydney Girls High School
  • Sydney Boys High School

Primary School in Australia

Primary school begins with kindergarten, and kids in Australia typically attend primary school until the ages of 11 or 12 (Year 6 or 7). Primary school focuses on developing essential literacy, numeracy, and social skills, along with providing students fundamental knowledge about the world around them.

Year 3 is when children begin to learn core subjects, such as English, mathematics, science, social studies, health, and physical education. Later, a foreign language is also introduced.

A typical schedule for a kid in primary school may be as follows:

  • 9:00–11:00—classes
  • 11:00–11:30—recess
  • 11:30–13:30—classes
  • 13:30–14:30—lunch
  • 14:30–15:30—classes

Primary School Enrollment Requirements in Australia

The process for enrolling your children in primary school varies from state to state. Therefore, it is best to check with your specific education department. Usually, though, enrollment in primary school may require

  • an interview;
  • student’s birth certificate and passport;
  • proof of address;
  • visa information;
  • immunization and medical records.

Secondary School in Australia

Subjects become much more specialized in secondary school. They include English, mathematics, science, geography, civics, economics, humanities, business, citizenship, technology, language, and arts. Some high schools are divided into secondary school and upper secondary school (last two years). Upon completion of their high school education (Year 12), pupils are awarded a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education. After which, students can choose to leave school to begin working, or pursue tertiary/vocational education. Enrollment requirements for expat students wishing to attend secondary school are the same as primary school enrollment requirements outlined above.

A typical schedule for a student in secondary school may be as follows:

  • 8:30–10:15—classes
  • 10:15–10:45—recess
  • 10:45–12:20—classes
  • 12:20–13:20—lunch
  • 13:20–15:00—classes

Applying to Higher Education

If a student wishes to pursue higher education, undergraduate admission in Australia is based on a pupil’s Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). It is calculated by a State or Territory Admission Center (TAC) and based on either a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education or International Baccalaureate. The ATAR is used in all states and territories except Queensland (where an Overall Position is calculated).

Other undergraduate admission pathways include

  • a Vocational Education and Training qualification;
  • interview, portfolio of work; prerequisite courses; and/or an expression of interest or demonstrated aptitude for the study program;
  • for students over 25: related work experience, entrance examination, or a demonstrated ability for study.


The ACER Scholarship Tests are used in Australia to identify academically talented students worthy of a scholarship. It tests students for the ability to interpret and think critically.

There are also plenty of other scholarships specifically for international and expat students in Australia for all levels of education, including secondary and higher education.

For parents wishing to send their children to public school, scholarships are also offered by the Public Education Foundation for all levels: primary, secondary, and tertiary.

Finally, it is worth researching and looking into your specific state’s Department of Education as some offer grants and scholarships for high school students too.

School Cost

Costs of a faith-based education in Australia over a 13-year period are as follows:

Brisbane 251,870 AUD 170,750 USD Sydney 251,140 AUD 170,260 USD Adelaide 246,700 AUD 167,250 USD Perth 235,020 AUD 159,330 USD Melbourne 163,580 AUD 110,900 USD

For public schooling, the average cost over 13 years is 68,727 AUD (46,593 USD). For an independent private school education (includes boarding school, same-sex schools, etc.) the median cost is 298,689 AUD (202,493 USD) in Australia’s capitals.

For 2019, the estimated costs for schooling (including tuition, uniforms, field trips, etc.) are as follows:

Public School

Primary—3,945 AUD (2,674 USD)

Secondary—5,045 AUD (3,419 USD)

Catholic School

Primary—5,581 AUD (3,783 USD)

Secondary—10,378 AUD (7,034 USD)

Private/Independent School

Primary—12,825 AUD (8,692 USD)

Secondary—24,105 AUD (16,340 USD)

International Schools

Whether you are looking for the best international nursery, primary, secondary, or even university school for your children, Australia offers plenty of options.

What are International Schools like in Australia?

International schools may have some local students, but they are traditionally geared to a foreign student body. They are a popular option for expat parents who hope for their children to get a high level of education in English and attend better universities in the country later on. Australia is more popular than the UK or US in terms of a student’s chances to work overseas and earn a higher wage. This is another reason why parents look to enroll their expat children in international institutions in this country.

International schools are also popular among families who move a lot. They too are useful for those wishing to expose their kids to various cultures and other expat pupils and families. Some international schools also offer boarding if this is something you are interested in; however, expect to pay even higher tuition fees for this.

Depending on your child’s needs, you can find schools that offer the American or British curriculum. French, German, even Japanese education systems are also an option. You will find many international schools that offer the International Baccalaureate. You can get a full list of schools in Australia for international students here. Below is a list of some of the international schools you will find in the country:

Top International Schools in Sydney

  • International Grammar School
  • International French School of Sydney
  • The German International School
  • Sydney Chinese School
  • Sydney Japanese International School

Top International Schools in Melbourne

  • Wesley College
  • Sophia Mundi Steiner School
  • Carey Baptist Grammar School
  • Sacred Heart College
  • Haileybury

Top International Schools in Brisbane

  • Cairns State High School
  • Indooroopilly State High School
  • Mountain Creek State High School
  • Queensland Academy
  • Somerset College

Top International Schools in Perth

  • The Japanese School
  • International School of Western Australia
  • Treetops Montessori School
  • Scotch College
  • Helena College

Top International Schools in Adelaide

  • Adelaide International School
  • Glenunga International High School
  • Mercedes College
  • Loreto College
  • Our Saviour Lutheran School

Top International Schools in Gold Coast

  • Gold Coast International College
  • Shafston International College

Top International Schools in Newcastle

  • Newcastle Grammar School
  • Medowie Christian School

Top International Schools in Canberra

  • Telopea Park School (French school)
  • Melba Copland Secondary School
  • Narrabundah College
  • Red Hill Primary School
  • North Ainslie Primary School

Another excellent resource for finding accredited schools is the Council of International Schools. It is a non-profit organization with a community of more than 1,300 institutions (736 schools and 618 colleges and universities) in 116 countries, including Australia.

International School Tuition Fees

School costs for international schools vary between institutions. Therefore, it is best to contact the school of interest for accurate, up-to-date tuition fees.

All in all, though, expect to pay high prices for your child to attend an international school in Australia. Costs are comparable to the median private school tuition fees described above. You get what you pay for, however, as international schools tend to have high standards of education, first-rate facilities, and lower student-to-teacher ratios.

Here are the annual tuition fees for some of the schools mentioned above:

  • Telopea Park School—approximately 250–350 AUD (169–237 USD)
  • International French School of Sydney—10,145–17,882 AUD (6,861–12,095 USD)
  • Glenunga International High School—630–690 AUD (426–467 USD) for residents and 10,000 AUD (6,764 USD) for expat students

International School Requirements and Admission

Enrollment requirements for international schools in Australia will vary. Admission is often limited, extremely selective, and competitive. Therefore you should apply early. An enrollment exam may also be required. Keep in mind that preference may be given to expat students of specific backgrounds and nationalities for some international schools. In the event you cannot get your child enrolled right away, you can enroll your kid in a nearby school and then transfer your child once a spot opens up.

Higher Education

Top Universities in Australia

  • Australian National University (ANU)
  • University of Melbourne
  • University of Sydney
  • University of New South Wales (UNSW)
  • University of Queensland (UQ)

Best Universities for International Students in Australia

These are some of the top Australian universities for international students wishing to stay in the country to work upon graduation.

  • University of Sydney
  • University of Melbourne
  • UNSW
  • UQ
  • Monash University

Best Universities (According to Faculties)

Below are recommendations for some of the top universities in Australia based on their faculties.

  • Accounting and finance—UNSW
  • Architecture—University of Sydney
  • Art and design—RMIT University
  • Biological sciences—University of Melbourne
  • Business and management studies—University of Melbourne
  • Computer science and information systems—University of Melbourne
  • English language and literature—University of Melbourne
  • Hospitality and leisure management—Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School (BMIHMS)
  • Mathematics—ANU
  • Modern languages—University of Melbourne
  • Politics and international studies—ANU
  • Psychology—University of Melbourne
  • Sociology—ANU
  • Statistics and operational research—University of Melbourne

University Tuition Fees in Australia

How much does it cost to study in Australia for international students? Quite a lot. Be prepared to pay a fortune as Australia is one of the most expensive places to study—especially for international students. International students are a huge source of revenue for higher education institutions in the country.

The following are average tuition fee costs; however, it does not include veterinary and medical degrees, which can cost considerably more.


The average annual tuition fee for an international student at the undergraduate level was 30,840 AUD (20,926 USD) in 2018.


For a postgraduate international student, the average tuition fee in 2018 was 31,596 AUD (21,444 USD).

Vocational Education and Training

The cost for Certificates I to IV, diplomas, and advanced degrees can range anywhere between 5,000 and 30,000 AUD (3,393 and 20,359 USD) for international students.

Additional Costs

The Australian Student visa (Subclass 500) is a temporary visa issued to pupils to study up to five years in the country. It can be applied for from within or outside Australia. The cost is 620 AUD (420 USD). To be issued this visa, you must have accepted and enrolled in the school of your choice. Other requirements to be granted this visa include proof of funds to support yourself during your studies and adequate student health insurance coverage.

An additional cost students studying in Australia will need to be mindful of is the Student Services and Amenities fees for non-academic related services. In 2018, this fee was a maximum of 298 AUD (202 USD); however, this is not charged by every institution, so it is best to check with your school.

Education Agents

If you are wishing to study abroad in Australia and need help with the application process, you might be able to reach out to an education agent in your home country. Under the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act, all Australian institutions are required to list appointed agents on their site.

Ask other international parents already living in Australia

Join one of our many local parent groups and get advice on which schools to choose.

Language Schools

Language schools you can find around the country are the following:


  • Lloyds International College
  • Embassy English
  • OHC Sydney
  • Kaplan International
  • Sydney College of English


  • Discover English
  • OHC Melbourne
  • Kaplan International
  • Melbourne City College Australia
  • Ashton College


  • Language Studies International
  • OHC Brisbane
  • Kaplan International
  • International House Brisbane
  • ILSC


  • Language Links Education and Training College
  • Kaplan International
  • Lexis English
  • Australian Technical College Western Australia


  • Kaplan International
  • English Language Center at the University of Adelaide
  • School of Languages
  • Vocational Language Learning Centre
  • English College of Adelaide

Gold Coast

  • OHC Gold Coast
  • Australian International College of Language
  • The Language Academy
  • Envirotech Education
  • Embassy English


  • Hunter Valley Language School


  • Navitas English Canberra

Language school fees are around 300 AUD (203 USD) weekly for English language studies, but of course, this also depends on the length of the course and the school you settle on.

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