Skip to main content

Schools in New South WalesTraditional is a term used here for many private and independent schools that operate the New South Wales (or other states) curriculum but are considered to be similar to the British system. Many of those schools are over 100 years old and the education style was laid down when Australia was a colony and still looked up to mother England as the authority on all things. Sir Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister during WWII, always talked about UK as "home" and his quote "I did but see her passing by, and yet I'll love her till I die." (in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II) is a classic example of the reverence to Royalty and UK. Things have moved on here, but there are still some hang-overs from the Glorious Past….

The similarities are a strict (often archaic) uniform code, house systems, "colours" given for sporting/academic achievement, strong old boy/old girl networks, and religious connections – say, a chapel on campus. The overall modern system has become much more complicated, with very rigourous offerings especially from the state, but the result has been that the overall quality of Sydney schools is excellent. The downside is that the best schools are unusually difficult for expats on short postings to get into.

Education in Australia is administrated by the individual states. New South Wales education is administered by The Board of Studies which sets the Curriculum from kindergarten to year 12. 

To start school...

children must turn 5 years of age by 31 July in the year they enrol. Late birthdays(May/June/July)are likely to invoke discussion about suitability to start rather than wait. It is becoming more routine for these children to start in the following year. Children must be enrolled, by law, when they turn 6 years of age. School year starts in late January and finishes early/mid December. There are four terms and three breaks of between 2 and 3 weeks. State (government) schools charge a fee ($150-350 p.a.) and although this is voluntary, most parents pay.

There are three types of high schools in New South Wales: government, Catholic and independent schools. Australia has a high enrolment of children in private schools, currently around 35 %, due in part to the partial funding of private schools by the federal government.

Government Schools:

The school system in New South Wales consists of Primary School, Kindergarten through year 6, and High School - year 7 through year 12. The primary schools have a reasonably good reputation and parents are generally quite satisfied with the schooling.

As in most western countries, there has been some debate as to the satisfaction with public/government high schools. Some of the high schools have an unfortunate reputation where a number of parents feel that the lack of discipline effects overall education. The significant exceptions are the state selective high schools. These schools have an enviable academic record. To gain a coveted place, candidates sit the very rigorous Selective High Schools Test in year 6 for entry to year 7. This is theoretically the top academic 4 to 5% of the state of New South Wales.

Although the selective schools may appear as a desirable option for some expat parents, the strict requirement of permanent Australian residency and challenging exams, which must be applied for a year in advance, do not make this a feasible choice. For those making their permanent home in Sydney, whose children are highly motivated and strive for academic success, further information is available at www.schools.nsw.edu.au/schoolfind/types/selectiveschools.php

Catholic Systemic Schools:

The Catholic sector takes approximately 20% of students in New South Wales and is made up of two categories: the independent schools run separately by some individual religious orders (see independent schools below) and systemic schools administered by the Archdiocese. Systemic school fees are comparatively low. The majority of pupils are usually catholic but most schools are not exclusive. There is a strong religious ethos and emphasis on pastoral care.

Independent Schools:

This group includes schools that are governed independently, are part of other religious groups, or are alternative schools such as Rudolf Steiner. The most renowned of these schools are the above mentioned “traditional” schools with a religious background, Anglican, Catholic, and Uniting Church.

Most of these schools, which consider themselves the backbone of Sydney, are over 80 years old and have a strong similarity with English public schools. These schools are popular with white-collar professionals, have excellent facilities, good reputations and - unfortunately-  waiting lists to match. With a few of the ultra elite schools, it is prudent to enroll the child at the time of conception…not an exaggeration.

Most of these schools are single sex, although a few of the boy’s schools take girls in years 10-12. A number of these schools are “selective” which indicates pupils are chosen on an individual merit as opposed to first-come-first-served. These schools are not always looking for the most academic (although this is the principal factor) but also for students who are bright, have varied interests, and will blend and complement the school community.

Several schools that are exceptions to the traditional style schools are gaining excellent reputations for both pastoral care and academic success. Places are hard to find in most independent schools, especially for boys. Keep options open. There are no schools in Sydney offering the British curriculum and only one American school - offering the International Baccalaureate (as of September 2005). This school is also the only school in Sydney to operate on a northern hemisphere calendar.

Curriculum:

The traditional New South Wales High School curriculum has similarities to the UK system, with obviously more emphasis on Australian history, literature and related areas. In years 3 and 5, children undertake basic skills tests. The results are available to schools and parents but are not widely published. The School Certificate awarded in year 10 is a combination of coursework years 7-10 and exams taken in November. This is an indicator for future study in years 11-12 but has little relevance in the community.

The New South Wales High School Certificate “HSC”, taken in Year 12, is not as specialized as English A levels, as pupils usually take between 4 and 6 subjects, but is more focused than the US system. The Board of Studies publishes a brief list of HSC high achievers by subject and pupils achieving the highest band of marks, but there are no school league tables. The local newspapers translate this given information into a brief list of the “top” performing schools, which is really just a minor indicator of what constitutes a good school.

Exit to overseas schools and universities:

Bearing in mind that the seasons are reversed, the disparity in school calendars is probably the biggest obstacle for children returning to schools in the northern hemisphere. The differences in curriculum do not appear to be major hurdles. Anecdotal accounts suggest although foreign languages may present a problem in the short term, other differences are usually overcome by short periods of extra coaching.

Despite variations in curriculum, students can still gain admission to UK universities, as there are existing conversion systems reflecting the challenge generated by the HSC’s breadth. As a result of this, students have an extremely broad subject choice until year 11, and thus they would be well prepared for both HSC, and the A levels. One possible discrepancy would be history, as the focus of the two systems will differ. Prospective American university students sit SATs arranged through the U.S. consulate in Sydney.

High School Certificate (HSC)

Students study a range of subjects in year 11. Subjects are measured in units and while most subjects are worth 2 units, some extended or more demanding subjects are worth 3 or 4 units. 12/14 units are studied in year 11, which can reduce to 10 units in year 12. English is compulsory and science should not make up more than 6 units.

The course is evaluated 50% on coursework and 50% on exams taken in late October and early November. The students are sent their results, which show achievement within given descriptors. To apply for a university place, the HSC score has to be converted into a University Admission Index number (UAI), calculated by the University Admission Centre. The UAI is a percentile rank (between 30 and 100 with increments of 0.05) using the HSC score plus other specifics to calculate the student’s position relative to other students. 

As an indicator, a UAI of 99.60 is necessary to study Law and medicine, whereas a UAI of 80 would be required for teaching and nursing. The confusion between HSC and UAI is not unusual, some schools report their achievements in UAI terms. Others use the HSC. Students can achieve high marks in the HSC, but are scaled back by subject choice; less rigorous subjects carry less weight and therefore will reduce the UAI. University places are allocated by UAI scores. For 99% of courses no interview is required.

General:

When considering education, families moving to Sydney should be aware that, depending on their visa, they could be liable to pay considerable school fees even if their children are in state schools. The government requires that the visa holder pay Australian tax to take advantage of state schools.

Private schools command a great deal of respect in the Sydney community. Demand for places is strong, and the number of schools has grown little in the last 40 years. Admittedly, some schools have increased enrollments, but many of the schools with long waiting lists have a reputation of being somewhat aloof. The most frequently heard advice for families moving to Sydney is to find the school before looking for accommodation, and if you have a son he takes priority, as places for boys are considerably harder to find than for girls.

Boarding is an option that may open a few more doors, and could be worth considering. Many of the schools are large: enrollments of over 1000 are not unusual. As a rule when visiting a prospective school, families will meet an enrollment officer and have little prospect of meeting the headmaster/mistress except in the smaller schools. It may pay to be persistent with your application and if time allows, make regular phone calls and gentle reminders to keep your file active.

Sport is an important feature of most Australian schools. Half a day is usually set-aside for P.E. and sport. The children often come to, or from, school in their P.E. uniforms on the allocated day. There is a great range of sports both within and outside the curriculum. In the majority of prestigious private boys schools, Saturday morning is set aside for compulsory competitive sport, starting in grade 3 and continuing to grade 12.

Depending on the sport, it can last from an hour for young boys playing basketball, to whole afternoons for the more senior cricketers. This could be an opportunity to get to know Sydney, as most competition is usually with other schools around Sydney, and trips of 15 kilometres and more are not unusual. Great focus placed on competitive sport. Whilst not compulsory, the girls also play sport on weekends and after school. Never assume rain will stop play. Sport is a serious business here. Students who excel at sport take a high profile at school and there are many awards to honour them.

Very few schools have dining halls. Children either take a pack lunch from home (including a frozen drink which acts as a chiller) or buy a take-away lunch from the canteen. Lunch is then eaten in a designated space nearly always outside, usually in a shady area. Alternative arrangements are made during inclement weather. Exposure to sun damage is taken seriously by all schools. The “no hat, no play” directive operates everywhere. Younger children often have a second “play” hat as part of their uniform that is left at school.

Outdoor Education is also a significant factor in many independent schools. The level of challenge differs from school to school. From 2 nights in cabins, to an arduous week of bivouacking in the Australian bush, these are usually compulsory camps. Canoeing, rock climbing, abseiling, mountain biking, bush skills and various other challenges are regular features of these camps attended by both girls and boys.

A Final Note:

Most, but not all, schools have a uniform. Many of the independent schools have a very strict uniform code which is enforced. The initial cost of outfitting children can be quite a surprise for parents, especially if there is more than one child. It might be wise, when visiting the school, to ask about specific requirements and costs involved. There are usually a summer and winter uniform, but at some schools, the wearing of a blazer is still a requirement even when the temperature soars. Most schools do not have air-conditioning (except for some specialist buildings such as libraries, auditoriums in some independent schools etc); most rely on cross-ventilation that isn’t always as effective as the pupils, and some of the staff, would like.

by

by

Related articles


  • Special Needs introduction

    Signs of special needs in school age children; how to get help; which type of school to choose; Education, Health and Care Plans ... Read more ... Need help? Perhaps you suspect your child has some learning difficulty and you would like advice on what you should do. Or perhaps it is becoming clear that your child's current school is not working for him or her, and you need help to find a mainstream school which has better SEN provision, or to find a special school which will best cater for your child's area of need.  Our SEN team helps…

  • The Good Schools Guide online subscription

    Find the best school for your child. Subscribe for one month for £15 (£0.49 per day) Subscribe for three months for £36 (£0.41 per day) Subscribe for six months for £60 (£0.33 per day) Subscribe for one year for £105 (£0.29 per day) Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark Try before you buy - University of Chicago Register for instant access to: ☑ Search for more than 30000 schools in our parent friendly interactive directory. ☑ Create and save lists of schools via My Schools. ☑ Use our comparison grid to get an exam results overview of schools you…

  • Where to find a state grammar school

    Identifying and locating grammar schools. Grammar schools are located in 36 English local authorities. Almost half of these are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for grammar school entry based on ability. The others are areas such as Barnet or Kingston, with only a few grammar schools.

  • Boarding schools explained - the right choice?

    The headmaster/mistress runs the school but boarding houses are usually the domain of either houseparents or, in smaller schools, the head of boarding. Whilst the housemaster/mistress oversee the house, the day-to-day running is usually under the supervision of a matron.

  • Choosing a school for a child with performing arts talents

    As proud parents, we all know our children are unique. They're smarter than anyone else's, funnier, certainly more attractive, better behaved and above all bursting with the kind of talent that would leave Daniel Radcliffe, Jamie Bell and Charlotte Church standing. And for some extraordinary - though totally understandable - reason, everyone but us seems blind to our offspring's God-given artistic gifts.


Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews, data and catchment:

Comprehensive catchment maps for English state schools inc. year of entry.
 School exam results by subject and performance GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 Which schools pupils come from and go onto.
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of more than 1,100+ schools.
 Overall school performance by GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 School data comparison by A/B weighted, relative success and popularity.
 Compare schools by qualities and results.
 Independent tutor company reviews.

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark
 

The Good Schools Guide subscription

 GSG Blog >    In the news >

Newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

Transgender policy now needed in every school


3rd editions of Good Schools Guide - London North and South now available, all entries fully revised with 2016 results. Buy now...