Education in Australia is not run as a national system, but is the responsibility of each of the eight individual states. This means that there are variations between the systems. Generally, education is compulsory between the ages of six and seventeen (the school leaving age has been raised this year in most states). There is some pre-school education, but this is unregulated and the uptake is variable. Schools are required to adhere to the same curriculum frameworks, whether they are state-run or private.

To give an example of state-by-state variations, primary school consists of years 1 to 6 (ages 6 to 12) in Australian Capital Territory (ACT ), New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria, and years 1 to 7 in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. In Northern Territory (NT), years 7 to 9 are known as ‘middle school’. Years 8 to 12, ages 13 to 18, (10 to 12 in NT) are the high school years. The New South Wales system is considered by many to be the most rigorous in Australia. Students taking the School Certificate at the end of year 10 do external tests in English and literacy, maths, science, Australian history, geography, civics and citizenship. Students are graded on a scale of 1 to 6, where 6 is the highest mark. The Higher School Certificate (HSC) is taken at the end of year 13. (See the HSC website for subject specific information, including detailed syllabi, for the HSC.)

Students may enter employment, university or vocational training, known as TAFE (Technical and Vocational Education). The HSC is essential for university, and in addition students are given a score ranking them against their peers according to the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank, ATAR, formerly called UAI (University Admissions Index).

Queensland has a very different school leaving certificate, and is described by the government website as ‘a broad-based senior schooling qualification that recognises senior school subjects and nationally recognised vocational training, as well as some workplace, university and community learning’. Students who wish to enter tertiary education must take approved subjects, from which their ‘overall position’ in relation to their peers (OP) is calculated. Further information on the school leaving qualifications is available from the Queensland Studies Authority, and specifically on the OP.

It is beyond the scope of this short space to look at each state in detail, but the above comparison is intended as an illustration of the variation between states. Feedback from Australians familiar with the systems of other states would be welcome.

Cultural Differences for Teachers to Know About

Our schools generally don’t have a problem with the parents taking their kids out for a trip or just because they might need a day at home, within reason of course. We don’t generally have an honour list, and good academic standards are important but not as much as we noticed with most American families in the USA. We don’t grade as easily in Australia, a C is an average grade and A’s are hard to get. Australian teachers generally are clear with how well the kid is doing at school or not. Generally Australian parents will take a glowing report as, just that, a glowing report and not maybe read between the lines well.

Challenges/Recommendations for MKs Returning to Australia

School starts at different time. Students should be home for their home country’s school year, starting the year on the same day as everyone else and finishing the same day.

Different teaching methods. Look into what the different teaching methods will be and discuss this with the MKs so they know what to expect. Ours was talking to the kids about the different ways that Math (which we call Maths) was taught.

Cultural challenges. Preparing children for the cultural challenges may be helpful, especially if entering the public school system. There are changes in language, social behaviors, cultural norms, etiquette, etc. “Fitting in” is as important as grades. It would be beneficial for them to have at least one person they know at the school they will be attending.

Hard to return for university alone. Have the parents go with them, especially if there aren’t any siblings there beforehand. Stay as long as their MK needs.

Difficulty getting desired university courses. Start investigating what course the MK would like to do and remember that if you don’t get into the first preference course on the first year, there are chances to transfer over on the second year. Ask older returned MKs in their home state what they would recommend too.

HS credits don’t transfer. Please note that the Australian SACE Board may not necessarily recognize some subjects undertaken on the field under the American curriculum. It is important to plan and ensure credit will be transferrable and recognized by the Australian Education System. Most of the universities will take the scores from overseas school, but it might take a lot more talking and knocking on doors for this to happen and each state is slightly different, so that needs to checked out.

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