I have spent the last few years moving between states in the U.S and moving from the U.S. back to Sydney, Australia. My children, now 17, 15, and 10, have attended a variety of public and private schools in the last 10 years in Washington DC, Miami and now in Sydney. I am also an elementary (primary) teacher with experience in the UK, Australia and the USA. So, here are my 10 thoughts about schools in Oz. I hope they are useful to those of you who are considering a move to Australia and are about to embark on choosing a school for your child:
1. Consider both private and public schools. Lots of public schools are good and are very community orientated. You can make a great contribution to them. Check out the education websites for each State's systems.
2. If you are able to visit beforehand, set up appointments with Principals. Take a tour around the school and talk to the children. Discuss placement options for your child taking into consideration their age and the difference in school year dates. Ask if there is anything you could help your child with before they start at the school. Also, ask if there are any parents you could contact and speak to about the school. Look at websites of the schools with your child.
3. School year runs from January to December. So, if you move during the northern hemisphere's summer vacation, and your child, for example, has completed grade 4, then it is usually advisable to put her into a year 4 class here and "repeat" it again for 3 months until the end of the school year. This is preferable to jumping to year 5 just for 3 months and then going into year 6. Be guided by the school, many of them are used to children moving from overseas and will give you good advice.
4. In my personal experience, Australian schools are less focussed on Grades. School reports will outline how a child is handling work, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how your child can be helped to progress.
5. Sport it BIG here. Your kids will be playing cricket, netball, soccer, rugby and softball at school. School Bands are also very popular so get your child involved in playing an instrument.
6. Generally, kids will get one mid-morning recess and an hour for lunch. Lunch is eaten outside. There are no sit down canteens in most schools and lunch consists of a brown bag lunch from home or children may order sandwiches and some hot food from the school canteen (tuck shop).
7. Most schools will have a uniform. Try to obtain the uniform list when you visit the school and find out where to purchase it. Almost all elementary schools require a hat and have a "no hat no play" policy when the kids are outside.
8. Once again, based on personal experience I have not found too much difference in curriculum content. Math here seems to have a wider context....not just number work and Australia has led the field in many literacy developments -- so, teaching is good.
9. There are 4 Terms in a school year each consisting of approximate 10 weeks. Each term is separated by at least two weeks of vacation:
- Term 1 - end of January to April. Summer.
- Term 2 - April to early July. Autumn.
- Term 3 - July to October. Winter.
- Term 4 - October to December. Spring.
Approximately 6 weeks vacation over December and January.
Summer uniform in Terms 4 and 1 and Winter uniform in 2 and 3.
10. Finally, try not to worry about your child. They will fit in fine and have a wonderful school experience in Australia. When choosing a school, be guided by your gut feeling, just as you would at home. Take all the changes in stride. Have fun listening to your child developing a new vocabulary!
After your child has been at school for about a month ask to see her teacher and check how she is going.
Take a look at these websites:
Finally get used to EVERYTHING being in the summer vacation holidays, new and family vacations... the 6 weeks go pretty fast!