Schools in Australia

Schools in Australia are world-renowned for their high quality, making an Australian education extremely valuable.

School students at Adelaide High School
Last Updated Wednesday 13th March, 2024

At every level of schooling, the quality of Australian education is world-renowned and highly sought-after. Schools in Australia offer students a diverse, well-rounded curriculum, with a range of personal development skills taught to better prepare students for life outside of the classroom. Education in Australia differs slightly between each state based on how they operate, for example, whether they’re independently owned or not. Here’s what you need to know about schools in Australia.

Schools in Australia - a general guide

Schooling in Australia generally lasts for 13 years. Students start with a foundational, preschool year from four years of age and then move on to primary school around the age of five, beginning with kindergarten or preparatory (prep). Students conclude high school with Year 12, and typically graduate high school at the age of 17-18. There are some variations in the naming of schooling stages across Australia, but each system is largely structured the same way.

The Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (SSCE) is awarded to students on graduation. The specific SSCE that students will receive also differs between each Australian state and territory. But, all are recognised by Australian universities, higher education, and vocational education and training (VET) institutions, as well as most international institutions.

Education Level Year Level Certification
Primary School Kindergarten/ Preparatory to Year 6 Australian curriculum
Middle School Year 7 to 10 Australian curriculum
Senior School Year 11 to 12 HSC (NSW), VCE or VCAL (VIC), QCE (QLD), SACE (SA), WACE (WA), TCE (TAS), ACT SSC (ACT), NTCE (NT) or IB Diploma (Australia-wide)

Australian curriculum

The Australian curriculum is a national standard that focuses on the following seven capabilities:

  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Information and communication technology capability
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Personal and social capability
  • Ethical understanding
  • Intercultural understanding

Each of these capabilities is taught across Australia to ensure students receive the same knowledge and quality of work that can be judged evenly and fairly against national standards. The curriculum is designed to focus on skills that will be significant in not only a working environment, but skills that will help students in everyday life.

Public vs. private/independent schools

There are a few different options when it comes to choosing a school in Australia. Firstly, there are public schools – also known as government or state schools. Public schools are government-funded and there is a fixed school fee for those on temporary visas, such as international students. Most public high schools offer the high school certificate, rather than the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Independent schools are also common across Australia. These include Christian schools (Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and so on), Islamic schools, Jewish schools, secular private schools, grammar schools, Steiner and Montessori schools, and schools for students with special needs. Fees are typically set by each school individually.

Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR)

The Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is a ranking that measures academic achievement comparative to all other school leavers in Australia. It is used by universities to assist in the selection of high school graduates for entry into undergraduate courses (most courses have prerequisites of a certain ATAR score).

The ATAR has a range from 99.95 for the highest ranked students, to 30.00. If a student has not received the ATAR required to undertake the undergraduate course they want, there are a range of pathway programs, bridging courses or even considerations for other selection criteria that can help them get to where they want to be.

School levels and qualifications across Australia

SA: South Australian Certificate Education (SACE)

SACE is a secondary school qualification that is designed to help students develop their skills, knowledge and capabilities. Students will have the opportunity to choose from a range of subjects that they feel will best suit their future career.

SACE is set out in two different stages in order to ensure the appropriate information is taught to match their capabilities and level of prior knowledge. Stage 1 is undertaken in Year 11 and Stage 2 is completed in Year 12.

Each subject is allocated a certain number of credits depending on the duration of study. One semester of study equates to 10 credits and a full year of study is awarded 20 credits. To successfully complete SACE, students need a total of 200 credits.

SACE is designed to encourage students to apply their literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills to real-life scenarios. The purpose of applying these capabilities is to prepare students for their future education and careers.

ACT: Australian Capital Territory Senior Secondary Certificate (ACT SSC)

In the ACT, schooling goes from Kindergarten to Year 12. Upon completion of Year 10, students can proceed to secondary college, which caters for Years 11 and 12.

These colleges operate a ‘school-based curriculum’. This means that teachers are involved in all curriculum development and that schools and colleges decide which courses they offer to students.

Assessment in the ACT is continuous, school-based assessment. As a result, there are no external subject-based examinations and courses are taught and assessed unit by unit.

NSW: Higher School Certificate (HSC)

Schooling in NSW goes from Kindergarten to Year 12. In Years 11 and 12, school students in New South Wales will work towards the Higher School Certificate (HSC).

Throughout the HSC, students complete school-based assessments, which make up 50 percent of their final HSC mark for a course. These sorts of assessment tasks allow students to show what they know, and understand and demonstrate their knowledge in ways that may not be possible in a single written examination. In their HSC year (Year 12), students work towards final exams – these exam results contribute the other 50 percent of their final HSC mark.

NT: Northern Territory Certificate of Education and Training (NTCET)

After preschool in the Northern Territory, students can attend ‘transition’ – this is the year before Year 1 commences at age six. The transition year is to help children ease into primary school learning.

After completing primary and middle school, students move on to senior high school which consists of Years 10 to 12. In the final two years, students study for the Northern Territory Certificate of Education and Training (NTCET), which can include apprenticeship and VET studies.

The NT has an agreement with the South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) Board of South Australia and delivers the SACE curriculum. This means students are taught and assessed under the SACE curriculum in order to gain the NTCET.

QLD: Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE)

Schooling in Queensland begins with a non-compulsory Preparatory year, then moves on to Year 1 and through to Grade 12. Queensland's senior school qualification, the Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE), is awarded to eligible students usually at the end of Year 12.

The Queensland curriculum focuses on English, Mathematics, Humanities and Social Sciences, Science, The Arts, Technologies, Health and Physical Education and Languages. International students are also offered additional English language support.

TAS: Tasmanian Certificate of Education (TCE)

Schools in Tasmania have a non-compulsory Kindergarten year, followed by a Preparatory (Prep) year. Students then move on to primary school and secondary school. After completing Year 10, students in Tasmania go to a seperate college for Years 11 and 12 to work towards their Tasmanian Certificate of Education (TCE).

  • To gain the TCE, a student must meet the requirements for the following standards:
  • ‘Everyday adult’ reading, writing and communication (in English),
  • ‘Everyday adult’ mathematics,
  • ‘Everyday adult’ use of computers and the internet,
  • A prescribed level of participation and achievement in education and training,
  • Requirements for planning future education and training.

VIC: Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE)

Schooling in Victoria begins with ‘Prep’ year, before moving on to Kindergarten. Primary school starts with Year 1 and high school ends with Year 12. The Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) is the certificate that the majority of students in Victoria receive on satisfactory completion of their secondary education. The VCE provides the pathway necessary to further study or training at university or VET institutions, and on to employment.

In the VCE, there are two kinds of assessment:

  1. In-school, class-based coursework or tasks
  2. External examinations (written, oral, performance or electronic)

WA: Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE)

In Western Australia, students can start their education in a non-compulsory Kindergarten year. Compulsory schooling starts the following year in Pre-primary and continues until the end of Year 12. The Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE) is the qualification that all students in Western Australia receive after they successfully complete secondary school.

The WACE requires each student to demonstrate a breadth and depth of study, and to reach a specified achievement standard. Students will usually complete their WACE in their final two years of secondary school, however there is no specified time limit for completion.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

The IB is designed to prepare students for university and is taught in Years 11 and 12. The program is academically challenging and provides university entrance qualification in nearly 90 other countries around the world, including Australia – this makes it easier for international students to transfer between different schools.

The IB is made up of the following six subject groups:

  1. Language and Literature
  2. Language Acquisition
  3. Individuals and Societies
  4. Sciences
  5. Mathematics
  6. The Arts

Students are required to pick one subject from groups 1 to 5, and can either choose a sixth subject from ‘The Arts’ or repeat from another group.

Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF)

The AQF is a national policy that covers qualifications from the Senior Secondary Certificate of Education, which students receive upon completing high school, to the tertiary education sector (higher education and VET).

The AQF has 10 levels, listed below, and combines vocational and university education qualifications into one, cohesive national system. This means students can easily move from one level of study to the next, and from one institution to another.

International students have the opportunity to study at any one of these levels if they meet all the requirements to apply for a student visa. You can learn more about the education system in Australia here.

Level Qualification Description
Level 1 Certificate I Have knowledge and capabilities for initial work
Level 2 Certificate II Basic and procedural knowledge in a specific area
Level 3 Certificate III Contain theoretical and practical knowledge for further study or employment
Level 4 Certificate IV Have great knowledge in a specialised area, eg. apprentices
Level 5 Diploma Undergraduate
Level 6 Advanced diploma,
Associate degree
Level 7 Bachelor degree Undergraduate
Level 8 Bachelor honours degree,
Graduate certificate,
Graduate diploma
Level 9 Masters degree Piostgraduate
Level 10 Doctoral degree Postgraduate
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