Choosing the Best School in Australia: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents in 2024

Choosing the Best School in Australia: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents in 2024

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • School Choice Impact: Choosing a school in Australia greatly influences a child's overall development and future opportunities.
  • Considerations: Key factors include special needs support, family values, safety, academic quality, location, fees, and size.
  • Flexibility: Various schooling options allow for changes based on a child's needs and family values.
  • School Types:
  • Public Schools: Funded by government, diverse types including selective and special needs.
    • Catholic Schools: Emphasise Catholic principles, open to all faiths.
    • Independent/Private Schools: These schools provide a unique and tailored learning environment. They are supported by both government funding and family fees, allowing for a diverse and high-quality educational experience.
    • Home Schooling: Parents manage education, subject to regulations.
    • Online Distance Education: A rapidly evolving and increasingly popular option, providing flexible and adaptive online learning tailored to a wide range of needs. This approach offers unique benefits, accommodating various circumstances including remote locations, special needs, and intensive extracurricular schedules.
  • Advice: Encourages seeking advice and being open to changing schools for the best fit.

Deciding on the right school for your child is a concern for parents in Australia. With the diverse array of options within Australia's education system, from public and private schools to homeschooling, making this choice can often seem overwhelming.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated this landscape, particularly with the increased prevalence of home-based learning. However, understanding these options becomes simpler with clear and concise guidance. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the five main schooling options available to Australian families:

Each option presents its unique benefits and considerations, from academic excellence and special needs support to faith-based educational environments. Our goal is to make your decision-making process easier by shedding light on the significance of each schooling type and the key factors to consider for your child’s education.

Australian school choices

Education has a massive impact on a child’s development. It impinges on everything from their academic and cognitive progress to their spiritual growth and character development. It can affect their desire to learn and how well equipped they are for work or higher education.

Choices made now can influence a child for life. Parents are tasked by God with responsibility for training up their children in the way they should go (Prov 22:6). A huge part of your child’s training happens at school.

Every child is different and there is no single right choice. Aside from the God who knit your child together from conception (Psalm 139:13-14), you know them better than anyone.

Finding a school that’s a good fit and reflects your values is more important than a school’s reputation or facilities.

What should you consider when choosing a school:

  • Special needs support for learning difficulties or disabilities.
  • Alignment with your values and educational philosophy.
  • Emphasis on safety and wellbeing.
  • Effective behaviour management policies.
  • Quality teaching and leadership.
  • Academic performance history.
  • Proximity to your home or workplace (location).
  • Tuition fees and additional costs.
  • Size of the school and student-teacher ratio.
  • Availability and diversity of subject choices.

The Benefits of Diverse School Choices for Parents in Australia

An advantage of having numerous schooling options is the flexibility this affords. Choosing a school doesn’t lock your child into that option. In fact, many students change schools for various reasons, such as availability of subjects or co curricular activities. Some move following a bad experience such as bullying. Whatever the reason, you can always move schools if your current choice isn’t working.

Furthermore, choice means greater ability to find a school that best suits your child’s needs and your family’s values. The competition for enrolments can also drive schools to perform better, leading to higher student achievement.

Let’s move on to what those choices are for Australian school students.

What are the different Schooling options for Australian students

1. Public schools

Also known as government or state schools, public schools are operated by state and territory government agencies. According to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, two-thirds of Australian students were enrolled in public schools in 2019.

If you choose public school, your child must usually attend one within your designated local school district. However, exceptions may apply, and some students get approval to attend another school. This is usually based on circumstances such as student disability, specialisation or academic merit.

Public schools provide free education to Australian students. However, many require parents to pay a contribution towards costs not covered by government funding, such as uniforms, textbooks, sports and camps.

Public schools are further divided into:

  • Selective schools – these schools enrol students based on specific selection criteria, most commonly on academic ability.
  • Open or comprehensive schools – these schools accept all students, irrespective of aptitude or grades.
  • Special schools – these cater to students with special educational needs, such as students with physical disability, learning difficulties or behavioural issues.
  • Specialist schools – these offer programs for students seeking to excel in specific areas, such as sport, science, technology, rural operations, languages and the arts. It may also include schools with gifted and talented programs and trade training centres.
  • Independent public schools – although still part of the state education system, these schools have been allowed greater autonomy in decision-making than other government schools.

2. Catholic schools

Catholic schools, as highlighted in a 2022 report by the National Catholic Commission, are a pivotal part of Australia’s educational landscape, educating nearly one in five students. These schools, numbering over 1759, are renowned for their blend of academic rigor and faith-based education. Managed by the Roman Catholic Church in Australia, each school reflects the unique values and ethos of its governing body, be it a Catholic parish, diocese, archdiocese, or religious institute like the Order of the Sacred Heart.

Diversity and inclusivity are at the core of Catholic education. Welcoming students from all walks of life, including those with disabilities and from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Catholic schools are committed to providing a holistic learning environment. About 38% of these schools serve regional and remote areas, ensuring access to quality education beyond major urban centres. The majority of Catholic schools are co-educational, fostering a vibrant and diverse learning community.

You don’t have to be Catholic to enrol your child in a Catholic school, though priority may be given to baptised Catholic children. These schools don’t adhere to catchment areas like public schools, instead often preferring students from within their archdiocesan parish areas. Each school has its own enrolment process, usually involving an application and an interview, accommodating enrolments throughout the school year.

For Australian families, Catholic schools represent more than an educational choice; they are a community that nurtures a child’s academic, spiritual, and personal growth, resonating with family values and preparing students for a fulfilling life. Their focus on overall wellbeing, balanced education, and alignment with family beliefs makes them a compelling option for those exploring educational pathways in Australia.

3. Independent (or private) schools

As the name suggests, these schools run independently of the government, and are a flourishing choice for families seeking a tailored educational experience. These schools are often governed by elected councils or boards and are celebrated for their diverse educational philosophies, governance models, and varied fee structures, accommodating a wide spectrum of family needs.

In recent years, independent schools have emerged as leaders in educational growth. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in 2022, these schools experienced the highest enrolment growth rate among all sectors, at 3.3%. This surge is part of a decade-long trend where independent school enrolments have increased by over 25% (130,306 students), highlighting a consistent preference among families for the unique offerings of these institutions.

This preference is even more pronounced when compared to other sectors. While government school enrolments saw a slight decrease of 0.6%, and Catholic school enrolments grew by 1.0%, independent schools stood out with their significant upward trajectory. This growth underscores their appeal as a vibrant and evolving education sector.

The diversity within independent schools is also noteworthy. There has been a notable increase in enrolments of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, up 2.7% from the previous year, reflecting the inclusive nature of these schools. Moreover, the shift in enrolments with a slight decrease in primary (-0.9%) and a notable increase in secondary education (1.8%) aligns with the evolving educational landscape and family preferences.

One of the most compelling aspects of independent schools is their favourable student-to-teacher ratio. With an average of 11.7 students per teacher, they offer a more intimate and personalised learning environment compared to the larger ratios in government (13.4) and Catholic (13.6) schools. This statistic is vital for families prioritising individual attention and smaller class sizes.

Furthermore, the sector has seen a strengthening of educational resources, indicated by a 1.2% increase in full-time equivalent teaching staff from 2021. This investment in teaching talent is essential for providing high-quality education.

Independent schools in Australia are not just education providers; they are communities committed to fostering academic excellence, personal growth, and diverse learning experiences. Their growing popularity is a testament to their ability to meet the changing needs and aspirations of Australian families.

Private schools can be broadly divided into two categories:

Faith-based schools

These schools are distinguished by their affiliation with a church or religious institution. For example, there are Christian schools operated by the Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Uniting, Brethren and Seventh Day Adventist churches. Some Christian private schools are inter-denominational.

You don’t usually have to be a professing Christian to enrol your child in a Christian school. However, you need to be willing for your child to be taught a Christian worldview and attend worship services and/or other Christian practices.

There are also schools associated with the Jewish and Islamic faiths.

Faith-based schools will often give priority to children of families professing that faith. They usually take enrolments year-round. They may also offer fee relief to families in financial hardship seeking faith-based education for their child.

Non-faith-based schools

These independent schools are not linked to a religious organisation. They may be organised around other factors, including:

  • educational philosophy – examples include Steiner and Montessori schools
  • national philosophy – such as international schools
  • academic emphasis – such as grammar schools.

Every private school will have its own enrolment requirements and processes. Often, this will involve completing an enrolment form, supplying relevant documentation, and attending a school interview.

From there, your child may be offered a place at the school. Many private schools give preference to siblings of students already enrolled at the school and may offer sibling discounts. Some will offer scholarships based on academic, sporting, or other prowess.

A comment on school fees: how-to-confidently-afford-private-education]

While the choice of school is paramount for your child's future, many parents get deterred by the perceived high costs of private education. However, it's essential to note that a quality private school experience doesn't always equate to unattainable expenses. In our detailed guide on how to afford a private school, we dive deep into various strategies, including budgeting, seeking scholarships, and exploring financial investment options. It sheds light on how even families with modest incomes can consider private education for their children without breaking the bank. Before making any decisions, we recommend exploring this guide to get a comprehensive understanding of making private education more financially accessible.

4. Home schooling

Home schooling in Australia presents a distinctive educational pathway, diverging from traditional school settings and even remote learning models. During 2020, notable increases in home education registrations were observed, with Victoria experiencing a 20.0% rise and NSW a 19.07% increase. As society gradually transitions back to pre-pandemic routines, it remains to be seen whether the popularity of homeschooling will revert to previous levels or continue its upward trend.

The role of a parent in a home schooling environment is multifaceted and involves:

  • Curriculum Development: Choosing or creating the student's curriculum tailored to their needs.
  • Teaching: Directly educating the child or employing a registered teacher to do so.
  • Assessment: Evaluating the child's learning progress.
  • Reporting: Keeping track of and reporting the child's educational progress to the requisite authorities.

Families engaged in home schooling often choose between using ready-made learning programs or crafting an educational approach based on their unique ethos. However, this flexibility comes with a significant responsibility. Parents must navigate the dual roles of educator and caregiver, ensuring they meet various regulatory requirements. These include:

  • Legal Compliance: Home schooling is legal across Australia, but families must seek permission from their state or territory authority.
  • Quality Assurance: Providing a high-quality education that meets or exceeds standard benchmarks.
  • Documentation: Keeping detailed records of educational strategies and opportunities.
  • Reporting: Submitting annual reports on the child’s educational progress.
  • Inspection Readiness: Preparing for potential visits from government inspectors to ensure compliance with home schooling regulations.

Over the past five years, there has been a consistent increase in home education rates across Australia, reflecting a growing interest in this personalised and adaptive approach to education. While homeschooling offers tailored and flexible learning, it also brings considerable responsibility, with parents shouldering the full weight of their child’s educational journey.

5. Online school (distance education)

Distance Education has come to the fore due to COVID-19, but has been available for many years.

It suits some families for various reasons, such as their location or their child’s schedule. For example, online school is popular with families who have children pursuing vocational training or rigorous schedules around sport or the performing arts. Others choose it because their child has special needs or has experienced difficulties in mainstream classrooms.

Students doing distance education complete their education from home, with instruction from qualified teachers. Online students are in classes with their peers and can interact and form friendships in the online school community. Most schools organise events for online students, such as workshops, sports days and learning enrichment programs.

In some states, students must meet specific requirements to enrol as an online student. Once enrolled, the school operates much like any other – providing qualified teacher support, registered curriculum, learning resources and university pathways.

Students will usually follow the same learning materials as their peers, except lessons are delivered using digital technologies. Lessons may be delivered two different ways, known as synchronous and asynchronous instruction (or learning).

  • Synchronous learning – students meet with their peers and teachers by logging in to a real-time virtual classroom for ‘live’ instruction.

  • Asynchronous learning – students can log in and complete lessons at a time that’s

    convenient. Online platforms deliver learning materials and allow students and teachers to collaborate.

Schools may offer either form of learning or a combination of both.

Many online schools are faith-based or follow a particular educational philosophy. Fees will vary depending on the school, but are significantly lower than those of private on campus schools.

As with ‘regular’ schools, there are government and private options for online school.

To give you a closer look at what online schooling entails, especially for secondary students, we invite you to watch our 'Day in the Life of a Secondary Student' video. This insightful video offers a real-world glimpse into the daily routine, learning environment, and unique experiences of an online school student. It's an excellent resource for parents and students considering this modern approach to education.

Government schools of distance education

All Australian states and territories have government schools of distance education. Frequently, these cater to students in regional and remote areas. However, they may also enrol students for other reasons, such as difficulty attending an on campus school due to personal or family circumstances.

Families considering this option will need to apply for enrolment and provide the necessary

supporting documentation. You may need to meet entry criteria to qualify. A parent or approved supervisor must be available to meet child care and protection requirements and support the child to complete the learning programs the distance education school provides.

An enrolment fee will usually be payable, although exemptions may be available for families facing financial hardship or exceptional circumstances relating to the student.

Independent/private online schools

At present, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia have non-government online schools. Students may also be eligible to enrol outside of their state or territory.

With independent online school, a child is enrolled like they would be at an independent on campus school, except they learn from home. The student is supervised by a parent or other responsible adult while they complete their learning materials. They receive instruction from qualified teachers, who are responsible for planning, delivering and assessing each students’ learning.

Frequently, an asynchronous learning model is used, allowing students to complete work at anytime from anywhere via the latest digital technologies.

Many independent online schools are associated with an on campus school, which gives them access to that school’s learning resources.

Concluding remarks about choosing a school for your child

We hope this guide has helped you explore the various educational paths for your child, remember that home schooling, independent schooling, and distance education are valuable options. We encourage you to pray, seek advice from wise and godly people, and remember that you can always make a course correction if necessary.

Sophia Auld

Sophia Auld

Sophia Auld is the Editor of ACC’s blog. Sophia has a Bachelor of Applied Science from the University of Sydney, a Graduate Diploma of Divinity from Malyon Theological College and is currently completing an MA in Writing and Literature through Deakin University. Sophia has been writing since 2015 across a range of industries. Two of her children completed distance education through Australian Christian College. Sophia is known for her depth of research and accurate, evidence-based approach to writing. On the weekends you might find her scuba diving with sharks, bushwalking or hanging out with family. Sophia can be reached at [email protected].