Australian School Structure

Similar to many countries, Australia’s public school structure is comprised of primary (Foundation – Grade 6) and secondary levels (Years 7-12), and attendance is required from the ages of 5-16 (15 or 17 in a few states) depending on the state or territory. Public schools are supported by state governments and are free with 65% of the population attending these schools; the remaining schools are Catholic (20%) or independent (14%) (2010). Students receive a state Certificate of Education when they complete their coursework and are assigned grades (i.e., High Distinction, Distinction, Credit, Pass, Fail) for each subject. These grades are translated into an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) and used if a student chooses to attend university.

National Curriculum

In 2008, Australia committed to establishing a national curriculum for students in Foundation – Year 10 (see The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians). All primary and secondary schools will be required to follow the national curriculum. This curriculum is currently under construction: English, mathematics, science, and history (2008-2010); geography, the arts, and languages (2010-2012); and economics and business, civics and citizenship, health and physical education, design and the technologies (2011-2013). Notably, one of the three cross-curriculum priorities is “sustainability.” Teachers from approximately 150 schools are currently using parts of the drafted curriculum in their classrooms. The official curriculum is not yet published.

Sustainability education is futures-oriented, focusing on protecting environments and creating a more ecologically and socially just world through informed action. Actions that support more sustainable patterns of living require consideration of environmental, social, cultural and economic systems and their interdependence. 

The Australian Curriculum is a hot topic in news outlets across the country. It continues to garner both praise and criticism as a “back to basics” movement with references to the No Child Left Behind Act in the U.S.

Schools of the Air

Schools of the Air used to transmit lessons to students via radio

Australia is home to some of the most geographically isolated and remote communities in the world. In the 1950s, a pioneering form of distance education emerged to help educate children in such locations. Called Schools of the Air, they offered school children access to education by communicating with teachers on a daily basis via the radio.

Today, Schools of the Air (now sometimes simply called Schools of Distance Education) still exist throughout Australia. The technology has changed, with a reliance today on computers and the Internet, but the focus of these schools remains the same: provide quality education to students without access to brick and mortar schools. Another option for students living in remote locations are community schools.