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Changing schools and hemispheres

School term dates

Northern Hemisphere

Term dates

The Northern Hemisphere school year runs from September - July, divided into three terms (UK and related countries) or two semesters (US).

UK System

  • Term 1 – The Autumn/ Christmas or Michaelmas term. Starts September and ends in December.
  • Term 2 – The Spring/ Lent term. Starts in January and ends in March/ April (depending on Easter).
  • Term 3 - The Summer term. Starts in April and ends in July.

The long summer holidays are during July and August.

Half-terms vary. The Autumn term half-term in most private schools, particularly boarding schools, is usually two weeks long, state schools have one week.

Other half-terms during the year usually last between 4 and 7 days. Boarding schools tend to have a slightly longer break.

Half-term is not a universal date across the country or even from school to school. Therefore, beware if you have children at different schools and systems half-term could realistically cover from one to three weeks.

US System

  • Semester 1 - Fall. Starts late August/September and ends in December
  • Semester 2 - Spring. Starts January and ends in May/June

School holidays usually consist of a Thanksgiving break, a one to two week break over Christmas and the New Year, a Spring break, which usually takes place towards the end of March and a 10 - 11 week break from May/June to August/early September. In addition schools are also closed for the ten federal holidays which fall on Mondays.

Southern Hemisphere

Term dates

In the Southern Hemisphere, the school year runs from the end of January - December, give or take a few days either way:
The school year is split into 2 semesters each with 2 terms.

Semester 1

  • Term 1 starts at the end of January or early February and ends in March/ April (again, the date is dependent on Easter)
  • Term 2 starts in April and ends at the beginning of July

Semester 2

  • Term 3 starts in the middle of July and ends at the end of September
  • Term 4 starts in the middle of October and ends early in December

The long summer holidays are during December and January

Half-term is a date decreed by the State rather than by the school and is, therefore, universal across the State.  Often it coincides with a public holiday. In the state (the public) system half term will be a weekend with the public holiday tacked onto it. In the private system, because there are boarders, everyone gets what is termed a boarder's weekend of four days, Friday through to Monday night, or Tuesday morning, for day pupils.

Term dates vary in Australia from State to State. They are published online by each State Education department (addresses listed on Australian Schools Directory) and easy to find.

Topsy turvy names

In the UK

A public school in the UK means the school is a privately run, fee paying, independent school. Usually, it refers to a well-established, traditional school, that possibly offers boarding as an option. Ironically, these schools are called public because, that is exactly what they were, the original free schools, open to all children.

A state school in the UK is any school managed and funded by the local government. These are free to any child who lives within the catchment area, although many state schools now ask parents to make a small financial contribution to support the school each term.

In Australia

A public school in Australia is the name given to any school that is managed and funded by the local government. These are free to any child who lives in the catchment area, although many public schools ask all parents to make a small financial contribution to support the school each term. It is also worth noting here that there is also an option, open to any public school in Australia, that allows them to charge temporary residents full fees each term. This is a provision, thoughtfully put in legistlation by the government, allowing a school to charge temporary residents fees. It is very rare to hear of it being used but if a school was needing cash they could pull this little card out and use it without any legal problems at all. 

A private school in Australia means that the school is a privately run, fee paying, independent school.  Many of these schools are as based on the same traditions as their public school counterparts are in the UK. They look and feel very similar.

Time difference

As we all know Australia is enormous, to cope with this there are a multitude of time zones in Australia, including one change of just a teeny quarter of an hour.  Some States have Australian Summer time, others don’t. 

The Eastern States, ACT, Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania are between 9 and 11 hours ahead of the UK. The time differences that are most confusing are when the UK clocks go backwards or forwards. Generally, the rule of thumb is that the furthest away parts of Australia are 9 hours ahead of the UK during the N Hemisphere Summer and 11 hours ahead during the Winter months.

Internally though, just to keep everyone on their toes, the Australian Eastern States (ACT, NSW Victoria and Tasmania) are 2 hours ahead of Western Australia during WA’s winter which is the Northern Hemisphere summer, and 3 hours ahead during WA's summer, the Northern Hemisphere's winter. There is less time difference due to the Eastern States also having Summer Time.

Queensland is usually classed as an Eastern State, but in this case, is not, is two hours ahead of Western Australia and does not have Australian Summer Time. Queensland therefore ends up being just 1 hour ahead of WA during the summer.

To confuse things a little more, Adelaide and Darwin aka Southern Australia and the Northern Territory, are 1.30 hour ahead of WA in the winter but only ½ and hour ahead during the summer!

You may find the World Clock an extremely useful website

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