Choosing a primary school is a massive decision. Your child will be involved in the school for the next seven years (and so will you!). This is the place where they make their best friends, learn about the world and develop attitudes and opinions that will shape them for life. So how do you choose a primary school? We have broken it down for you…
How old should my child be when they start school?
Each state has a different rule about school ages. Here they are below.
NSW: You can start school if you turn five before the 31st July.
Vic: You can start school if you turn five by the 30th April.
Qld: You can start school if you turn five before the 30th June.
WA: You can start school if you turn 5 before the 30th June.
Tas: You can start school if you are 5 by the 31st January.
NT: You can start school if you turn five before the 30th June.
ACT: your child must have turned five by the 30th April.
SA: Your child must turn five by 1st May to start school.
If you aren’t sure if you should send your child turning five, or turning 6 (if you live in a state that gives you the choice) talk to your child’s preschool teachers. They will have a strong idea of if your child is school ready. See our post on school readiness.
Which School do I Choose?
Research the schools in your area. If you aren’t sure which public primary school you are zoned for you can find out here:
Some things to look when you are looking to choose a primary school are: Does the local primary have a good reputation? Are you thinking of going private or Catholic? What are your options? When thinking about schools ask yourself what you value in a school.
Do you need it to be small and nurturing?
Are you looking with a big school with lots of opportunities and resources?
Do you want a religious school?
One that is strong in academics, sport or performing arts?
Is it important for you that your child goes to school in the local community or are you happy to attend a school that draws from a broader area?
Do you need a school that has support for a child with learning difficulties or disabilities?
Sit down and make a list of what you think will suit your child.
Next, walk past the school at drop off, pick up and lunch time. Do the kids look happy? Are the teachers engaged with the children? How are they interacting? What sort of environment are they creating? (for example a school near me spends recess and lunch continuously shouting at the kids through a megaphone. No thanks!)
If you belong to a local Facebook mother’s group ask about the school and get feedback from parents and also see how the local community view the school and it’s reputation. Even if their kids don’t go there.
Another good resource is www.myschool.edu.au– it combines information and NAPLAN results for over 10 000 schools in Australia. But remember- a choose a primary school for much more than its academic achievements alone.
School Open Days/Tours
All schools run open days, tours and information evenings. These are a great way to find out more about the schools you are interested in and have the opportunity to ask questions. It also gives you a feel for the school. You can have your heart set on a school in theory, only to visit and realise it’s not the school for you.
During the tour here are some things to ask and look out for:
Does the principal know what is going on with the kids? Are they across what’s happening in the classroom academically?
Are the staff friendly to the parents and students while you are on the tour? Are they engaging with the children? Do the kids seem productive and happy?
Is there a whole school approach to things? (For example the maths and spelling program) or is everyone just off doing their own thing? If they are doing their own thing how is it being monitored?
Do they run a pastoral care program? If not what is the school’s approach to student welfare? Do they have the option to study ethics if it’s a public school?
What is the parent community like? Does the school encourage/require parental involvement?
How are the children dismissed in the afternoon? Does the teacher go out with the younger children or do they find their own way?
Does the school offer extension classes or classes for children who need extra help?
What is their bullying policy?
Once you have decide on the school or schools you like then you need to enrol!
How to enrol
The enrolment process is very different depending on if you are applying for a private school, catholic school or public. Lets start with private…
Many private schools can have very long waiting lists for places. Some schools are so popular you have to put your child down at birth to get a spot. Most you will have to apply at least two years before your child starts school. It usually involves completing an enrolment form and paying an enrolment fee (usually between $50- $250 but some can be a lot more). These fees are most often non refundable and don’t count towards tuition once you are in the school.
Once you are offered a spot many private schools require a bond when you accept your place. From what I’ve seen it’s around $1000-$2000 and is fully refundable once you leave and your account is up to date.
Additionally many of the larger private schools ask parents for a bonded loan. This means the parents ‘lend’ the school a set amount (often $5000+) to be given back once the child leaves school. This helps the school with cash flow and basically their hope is that you will gift it to the school rather than ask for it back.
The enrolment forms, fees and charges will all be found on the school’s website.
You enrol directly with the Catholic school of your choice. They will often charge the same sort of fees as a private school to enrol, although the local Catholic parish school may not charge or just charge a minimal sum.
Catholic schools have the right to reject your enrolment if you aren’t Catholic. The enrolment rules for them is that they admit all the Catholic students first and then they fill the remaining places with other applicants. You may have heard that they are required to take 10% non Catholics but this is just a myth. So if you have your heart set on sending your child to a Catholic school and it’s a popular option in your area you are best to get them baptised.
They will have enrolment forms and fees on their website too.
The public system is probably the most complicated! It differs in every state so I’m going to break it down for you. The important thing is that it’s never to late to enrol in your local public school. You can turn up on the day school starts and they need to make a space for you so don’t panic.
Firstly you need to download the enrolment form. It is the same form for all NSW public schools. You can find it on this website, if you look in the column on the right hand side.
Once you fill it in you hand it in to your local school. If you want to apply to a school that you are not zoned for you need to submit the form and talk to the school you want to attend about why you want to move to an out of area school. It is at the discretion of each school on how they manage their out of area enrolments. Be aware though that not only does the Principal of the out of area school need to accept you, but the Principal of your school needs to agree to release you.
In Victoria you need to contact the school for the enrolment forms. You are free to enrol in any school that you like but you need to be aware that if a school has a large catchment area they may not be able to take on any out of area enrolments.
In Queensland you need to contact the school for the enrolment forms. You are free to enrol in any school that you like but you need to be aware that if a school has a large catchment area they may not be able to take on any out of area enrolments.
In South Australia you need to contact the school for the enrolment forms. You are free to enrol in any school that you like but you need to be aware that if a school has a large catchment area they may not be able to take on any out of area enrolments.
In the Northern Territory you can find the enrolment form on this website. Schools aren’t zoned unless they are reaching capacity so you are free to choose a school that suits your child.
In Western Australia you need to contact the school for the enrolment forms. You are free to enrol in any school that you like but you need to be aware that if a school has a large catchment area they may not be able to take on any out of area enrolments.
In the ACT you can find the enrolment form on this website. In the ACT schools have a PIA (Priority Enrolment Area) This means you can apply out of area but priority will be given to children in area.
In Tasmania you need to contact the school for the enrolment forms. You are free to enrol in any school that you like but you need to be aware that if a school has a large catchment area they may not be able to take on any out of area enrolments.
While I’ve probably missed a few things I’m hoping this helps you find the perfect school for you and your family.
Do you have anything else to add? Please share it below…