I’ve written a few posts about schools in Australia and settling into the Australian school system. Now my twins are approaching high school in Australia, I thought it was worth writing another as I’ve learned a lot over the last few months as we’ve explored our high school options.
Choices of high schools in Australia
Deciding on a high school in Australia can feel like an overwhelming task as you might find you have a few great high schools to choose from.
There are state schools, private schools and selective schools (you can read more about schools in this post). I think it’s a good idea to go along to lots of school open days and high school tours as this gives you the best overview of what types of educational options are available. Don’t rely only on online research for this – it’s essential that you go to the school, meet the principal and find out about the learning opportunities and facilities available.
Even though our kids had been at our school since our twins were in kindy and they desperately wanted to stay where they were with their friends, we decided we should go out and explore the local high schools anyway. The fact our school went from childcare right through was a huge draw for us when we first arrived and we didn’t really have any intention of changing school, but I felt it was important to make sure we were considering all of our options so we could be sure we were choosing the right fit for them and not just staying with our current school because of convenience and comfort. After all, we know more than most people that staying where you are just because it’s easy and comfortable isn’t how you get the best out of your life!
Trying to decide when to move to Australia so you can fit in with the school terms? You might find this article about school holiday dates in Queensland useful.
Australia school tours
Matt and I did some of the school tours on our own during school hours and the boys joined us for one of them that took place on a weekend. I think it’s really important that your child goes along on your school tours if you’re seriously looking at a school. Some schools run regular tours which means the parent can check it out initially, and then go back for a second tour with the child. Other schools only run a handful of school open day events so your options are a bit more limited. Either way, I think taking your child’s opinions on board is really important as this is going to be their high school for the next few years so they need a chance to see it before you sign them up to it.
We found that March to May was a popular time for Australian school tours and open days. The good thing about this was that we did all of our high school tours in the space of a few weeks so we were able to quickly make a decision (choosing a school can feel all-consuming, especially when you’re juggling lots of different tours and open day events in your diary). It’s also helpful for your child to know what is going to happen to them as it can all feel quite unsettling while you’re going through the high school viewing process.
Of course, depending on the school, you might find that you can quickly make a decision but you may have to put in an application and then wait to be called for an interview or selection test and then wait again to find out if you have been given a place so it’s not always a quick process.
How to narrow down your school choices in Australia
When you’re looking at choices of high schools in Australia you’ll want to do your online research and come up with a shortlist of options to visit in person.
Here are some of the things to consider that will help you draw up your shortlist:
Location: Location is very important. It needs to be close enough to commute every day and potentially have a way for your child to get to and from school without you (so walking distance or a bus/train) if you can’t always be there to collect them in person. If it’s a state school with a strict catchment area, do you meet the catchment requirements?
School ranking: The school ranking is worth checking so you have a way to compare all of your options but don’t ONLY go by ranking. Just allow this information to inform your research rather than lead it as the rankings don’t tell the whole picture of a school.
Price: Private schools range a lot in cost and in high school it can start getting very expensive. Some state schools can have different costs attached too (on top of the usual levys). Find out exactly what fees are involved and what extras you’ll be expected to pay (camps, courses, music etc.). If your child has younger siblings, also factor in how the costs will change when you have more kids at the school later if you plan on them going there too.
Availability: Are there school places available for the school year you’re looking to move into? Some private schools can have wait lists, so it’s a good idea to check these out as early as you can – you can even secure places years ahead of their starting year to guarantee your place. Talk to the admissions staff for advice.
Facilities and focus: I’ll cover this more below, but the facilities and learning opportunities (plus sporting interests) can be really important when it comes to choosing the right fit for your child.
Narrow down a handful of high school choices and then use the open days and tours to fully explore the options and to work out which high school is best for your child.
Main considerations when choosing a secondary school in Australia
This is a list of questions and considerations I created when we were going on our school tours and trying to get our heads around the Australian education system in high school. You can do all of the online research you like, but actually going along in person and asking these questions will make your decision much easier when choosing a high school. Australia high schools are really different to UK high schools in so many ways, so this has been a big learning experience for us too!
Are laptops or iPads provided in high school? And if so, for how many years? Or do parents have to buy them?
If you have to buy them, that is an extra cost to budget for, and you’ll also need to maintain them and get them fixed if they break or get lost. Some private schools may provide these for part or all of high school within the school fees.
Home room/age group hang out areas
Does the school have different areas for different sectors of the high school to hang out? Do students have a home room where they spend a lot of time? Do younger years spend more time in their homeroom or do they move around for all of their different classes? Do they have a zoned area to hang out in with lockers?
Experiencing different subjects
Do the kids get to experience a wide range of subjects in the early part of high school? What specialist classes are included in the rotations (things like STEM, film making, aviation…) How does it work as they get older and start to narrow down their focus?
Does the school have a special interest in certain sports? We viewed some schools that focused on encouraging swimming, basketball, netball and touch footy. Others told us outright they weren’t a sporting school and although they did sports, they weren’t striving to be competitive. Getting the right fit here matters so much for a child.
What learning opportunities are available for the latter part of high school?
As kids get into the later years of their high school education there can be different learning opportunities available. Some schools have amazing industry connections for on-the-job work experience. Others have on-site training facilities for things like catering or engineering. Can your child study for a Cert IV in certain industries if that is the right path for them? Think about what path your child might want to take.
What facilities does the school have?
This can come down to the school’s main focus – is it a performing arts school with amazing drama and dance facilities like a theatre, gallery and studio space? Is it a STEM school with a focus on aerospace like the Aviation High School in Brisbane? Does it have an engineering workshop? A room of 3D printers? Outdoor adventure facilities like a bike track and lake? An undercover sports area? A swimming pool? An on site cartering kitchen and cafe? You’ll know which of these is likely to interest your child. Have a look around the school and ask lots of questions. If your child has a particular passion then it’s worth seeing which schools can support them with it the best.
Can your child get to and from the school without you needing to drive them? Knowing there is a school bus makes a big difference as your child grows up and has more freedom.
How does the school feel?
What feeling do you get from the teachers and principal? Do the kids walking around the grounds look happy? Do they smile and wave at the teachers giving the tour? You can get a great feel for how the school community works by watching these interactions.
Tuck shop facilities
Does the school have a tuck shop? Does it provide a range of healthy hot food options? Or do the kids all need to bring packed lunches?
What opportunities are there for travel and adventure?
Many schools run camps and school trips. Find out what is on the agenda for the kids over the next few years. (And whether the costs of these are included in the fees if it’s a private school or are these extra?)
What projects outside of the curriculum do the kids work on?
Do the kids get to work on any big projects like the Duke of Edinburgh Awards or schemes where they get to set up a business? These extra projects are usually a great learning experience for kids and add so much value to the work being done in the classroom.
Ethics and values
The principal will usually give you a talk about the school’s ethics and values. Do these align with yours? If the school is a different religion to yours (or if it’s religious and you aren’t) is this going to work for you and your family?
Some schools do local volunteering or private church schools might have mission trips abroad. Are there any ways your child can get involved in giving back to the world and helping people?
What is the school’s attitude and policy on bullying? Do they run any special events aimed at helping the school community feel supported and to help them feel like they belong?
Decide on a high school in Australia
We were really surprised by the high school tours we did. We expected the most expensive (and highest ranking of our selection) to be by far the best of the bunch, but it actually turned out to be our least favourite. It didn’t have the right vibe for our kids, it didn’t feel worth the extra money and the facilities weren’t anywhere near as impressive as we expected. And the school we almost didn’t go to look at (which was the cheapest private school on our list and a much smaller school than the others) turned out to be one that we fell in love with. This goes to show that you can do all of the research into the Australian education system and read about all of the schools online as much as you like, but nothing can replace actually visiting them yourself.
We also did the school tour at our current school, and I’m so glad we did. It proved to us why our current school is still the best option for our kids. Yes, they would have also thrived at one of the other schools we viewed (and actually Matt and I LOVED this other school so much) but there are so many benefits at our current school. Not only do we know and love the people there (which goes a long way) but our school had the best facilities for our kids. Seeing the other schools gave us ideas about some extracurricular activities we could introduce to give our kids access to some of the things they offered which ours didn’t so now we can get the best of both worlds.
Viewing all of the schools gave us the confidence that we’ve made the right choice for their next stage of schooling in Australia. I’m just not sure I’m ready to have two kids in high school!
Are your kids coming up to high school age? Have you thought about viewing schools yet? If so, I hope this post about choosing a high school in Australia has been helpful for you.