Guide to Sydney Schools for Parents Moving to Australia.
This is a long post that covers all the information you need to know about schools in New South Wales. This post does not list schools in Sydney. I have a link to the NSW school directory on my expat resources and discounts page. Before you skip to the resources page, I highly recommend you read through the information below, then start looking at specific schools.
If you are moving to Sydney with children, you need to start researching schools NOW.
Yes, even before you start looking at what Sydney suburbs you are considering living in. Start researching schools.
You also need to keep in mind the time of year you are moving and when in the school year that will be as far as enrolment, ie what school term. Schools often shut down between terms. This is especially true for end of the year holiday break. This is not a huge deal but it does mean that you will have to wait until the administration office is open to, not just enrol your child for school, but to even get a reply to a simple email.
I have included a few tables of NSW school term dates below. Individual school website should state office hours during breaks.
Why emailing schools directly does not work.
When I first published this article, back in 2013, I recommended emailing the administration offices of schools in areas you were considering living in Sydney.
That turned out to be bad advice.
Many SMG readers did email schools in areas that they were considering living, before they moved to Sydney. Majority of those email went unanswered or, if there was a reply, it was usually very short and curt saying that they needed to have proof of residence within the school catchment zone before contacting the school.
That’s right. Even after you have arrived in Sydney and have started looking for a place to live, most public schools will not give you the time of day until you can present proof that you live in their catchment zone. Proof being your lease or a bill addressed to you at your new address.
This goes for public schools. Private schools will be more responsive since they do not need proof of living within a certain catchment zone.
Is it still worth email?
Sure. A quick email to a few schools really doesn’t take that much time and, if by some miracle, they reply and answer your questions, you’re ahead of the game. Don’t hold your breath though.
Before you email, be sure to read through the school’s website paying special attention to the enrollment information.
(Special note for our UK and Australian visitors. Yes, I am American and use American spelling and grammar for most of this site but, since living in Australia, I often switch back and forth which you may have noticed. There are certain words that I can no longer spell the American way because it just looks odd, like Sydney Harbour without the “u” in harbour. Sorry if that’s confusing or annoying for the grammar geeks out there. That being said, if you do notice typos, please let me know in the comments below and I’ll fix them up straight away. I’m often in a rush to get a post published or updated and do not take the care I should.)
Most of the public schools in Sydney have very similarly structured websites. There is usually an “Our School” tab at the top. Somewhere on the “about our school” page is enrollment info. That is where you will find a map of the school’s catchment zone, usually. I’ll cover where to find school catchment zones for those schools that do not have their zones posted on the website.
Also on the enrollment page, there will be a link to the Application to Enrol in a NSW Government School. It’s the same application for all public schools in NSW for Australian citizens and permanent residence visa holders.
If you have a temporary or visitor visa, then you will use a different application. Yes, I will cover this in just a second but let’s continue with the enrollment information and documents you will need for your enrollment appointments first.
The documents you will need to bring with you to your enrollment appointment.
The enrollment information is usually broken down into three types of new students: those transferring from another NSW public school, those transferring from a school that is not a NSW public school and those that have not attended a NSW public school previously.
For students that have not been previously enrolled in a NSW public school, the documents you will need for enrollment are:
Your child’s birth certificate or identity documents like a passport.
Proof of address in the school’s catchment zone. These documents need to be the originals. Your residential lease and electricity bill are what you will need since you, most likely, not own property at this time. For those that own property in Sydney, a city council rates notice will also work as proof of residence.
Immunisation history statement based on the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR)
family law or other relevant court orders (if applicable).
You will also need to tell the school what visa you have.
Email the admin offices of schools in areas you are interested in living and ask about their school enrolment zones (or catchment zones), do they accept 457 or other temporary visa holders, and anything else you can think of. Write up one master email and send it to several schools. If they reply and say they do not accept 457 visa holders then cross that area off your list and move on to the next. It’s better to know now then to be in Sydney and find out.
Another point I should make is that temporary visa holders, such as 457 visa holders, are no longer able to claim the Living Away From Home Allowance (LAFHA) tax benefit that many use to put towards paying school tuition and fees.
Since the loss of LAFHA, many temporary residence have re-negotiated with their employers to help cover tuition and other school fees. This might be something you want to consider as it’s going to add up quickly if you’re think about living in Sydney for more than a couple of years and have a couple of kids going to school.
Alright. Now for some good news.
The Australian public school system, or government school system as they say here, is very good. In fact, Australia was ranked 9th in the world education rankings according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey. The USA was 17th and the UK was 25th.
The NSW government school system is the largest educational system in Australia.
There are over 200 primary (K – Year 6) and secondary government schools (Year 7 – 12). NSW has started following the Australian National Curriculum in 2013, making incremental changes each year forward.
You can check the NSW curriculum out here if you’d like. It might be a good idea to discuss it with your child’s current school teacher to get an idea on if the grade levels are similar.
What To Know Before You Go
A few quick points of things you need to be aware of before you move to Sydney.
The School Year In The Southern Hemisphere
As you most likely already realize, the seasons are switched in the Southern Hemisphere. This affects the school year down under.
NSW school year starts last week of January and ends mid December, one week before Christmas.
The school year is divided into four terms with two week breaks between Terms 1 and 2, Terms 2 and 3, Terms 3 and 4. Summer Holiday, around Christmas, is usually a 6 week break at the end of the school year.
There are no middle schools in NSW. There is primary school (K – Year 6), then junior secondary school (Year 7 – 10) and then there is senior secondary school (Year 11 and Year 12).
Primary schools and secondary schools are usually on separate campuses. Junior and senior secondary schools are usually on the same campus.
Government operated secondary schools are made up of five or six primary schools within the same area.
National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) Testing happens in May during Years/Grade 3, 5, 7, and 9.
Students cannot prepare for the test but don’t stress as it is a No Pass/Fail test. The purpose of the test is to assess the school, not your child.
You can look at NAPLAN results for picking a school but be aware there are other factors in choosing a school.
Go to MySchool.edu.au to search for school results once you have narrowed down the area and schools you are looking at.
All schools in NSW have obligatory school uniforms
- Doesn’t matter if it is a government school, faith based school (Catholic, Jewish or Anglican) or independent private school.
- There are separate uniforms for sports.
- Uniforms can often be purchased from the school or the school will direct you a shop that carries the school uniform. For younger students, you can often find “pre-loved” uniforms but for older students the price goes up and “pre-loved” is often not available.
- Uniforms include: hat, backpack, shirt, pants (trousers), skirts, dresses, sports jacket if required, and shorts.
- Black standard lace up shoes are the norm for school uniforms. Might want to purchase a couple of pairs before moving to Sydney as shoes are expensive in Sydney.
No Hat No Play Policy
If your child is not used to wearing a hat while out playing you might want to get them use to it now as schools in Australia are very serious about the No Hat No Play policy.
For primary and junior secondary schools, class sizes are between 25 to 30 students. In senior secondary schools, classes are smaller around 15 to 25 students.
If the school you are interested in has larger class sizes than the norm, ask if they have teacher assistants or an adult supervisor to assist the teacher. Some schools with larger class sizes will often have assistants aiding the main teacher in the class.
For Australian citizens and Permanent Residence (PR) visa holders, government schools are obliged to take your child but, unfortunately, this is not always true in highly populated areas. There are always exceptions to the every rule. Contact the school directly and ask as school enrolment numbers change year to year, term to term.
For 457 Visa and other temporary visa holders
Not all government schools accept temporary visa holders especially in highly populated areas due to lack of space.
If you will be living in Sydney when your child makes the move from primary to secondary school, you need to make sure that the secondary school also accepts temporary visa holders if you are still on a temporary visa at that time.
Types Of Schools in NSW
There are three types: NSW Government operated schools (in the States these would be public schools), Private Faith (Catholic, Jewish, Anglican) schools and Independent Private schools.
Government schools have strict enrolment zones (or catchment areas) in highly populated suburbs of Sydney.
If the school is full you can enrol in an “out of zone” school if you have what they consider a good cause but (yep, always a but) you will be last to enrol after the school has finalised its student number. So it’s a bit of a gamble.
457 visa holders need to be aware that not all schools accept students on temporary visas. Contact the school directly and ask.
(I’m working on a separate article for temporary visa holders. If you “Like” our Facebook Page, we’ll post it there to let you know when it’s up.)
The benefits to going to a government school with enrolment zones are: less travel time getting to school (There is no bus system for government schools in Sydney, only public transportation) and your kids will develop friendships with others that live nearby helping them to settle in better.
Catholic schools (the majority of faith schools) are an option that many 457 visa holders choose but they also have strict enrolment zones or as they call them, parish post codes. Catholic schools are private and range in tuition from $5,000 a year to $30,000. Ouch!!
Independent private schools do not have enrolment zones but do have long wait lists. They can also be very expensive and some require students to take a qualifying exam.
NSW Government Schools Curriculum
As I mentioned above, NSW has started following the Australian National Curriculum in 2013.
As it turns out that’s good news for you. Why? Well, the Board of Studies has developed a nice website that covers all the changes and when things will be implemented into the current classroom syllabuses. Here is a link to the Parents’ Guide to the new Australian Curriculum.
Take a look and see how it compares to what your child is learning now at their current level. Remember that the curriculum will have differences. For example, in Seattle I’m guess Australian history was not a priority nor is Aboriginal history covered.
Ok, that’s an obvious example but you know what I mean. Focus on the basics Math (which they say Maths here, making it plural, same as in the UK), English, Science etc.
Religious education and instruction are part of the curriculum.
I thought that it was odd that a government operated school would have Religious Education and Instruction as part of the curriculum being American and growing up with the separation of church and schooling in our public school system.
The NSW curriculum calls it “general religious education and special religious education” but from what I have read online the classes are typically Christian based.
NSW government schools are also have religious instruction (30 mins to 1 hr) from a recognised religious education provider.
You can opt-out your child from the religious instruction if you want by contacting the school directly. Students that do opt-out usually end up having quiet time in the library then join the class afterwards.
Some schools have Ethics class instead of Religious Education. I have the link to that below if you want to check that out. There is an example syllabus for you to look over on the Primary Ethics website.
If you learn anything more about this or have first hand experience please leave a comment and I’ll update the info here. It would be very helpful, not just to me, but to all others researching schools and preparing for their move to Sydney.
Advanced Placement Classes
Primary schools offer opportunity classes (a.k.a. advance placement) for Years 5 and 6. Students can test into these classes during Year 4.
There are also selective high schools for high achievers. Year 6 students are required to take a Selective High School Test and then are interviewed by the school.
Students with a 457 visa and other temporary visas cannot qualify to take these classes. If you are applying for your Permanent Residence visa and are certain you will have it by either Year 3 for primary opportunity classes or by Year 5 for selective high school, then ask about letting your child take the qualifying tests.
For more info about Selective Schools go to: http://www.schools.nsw.edu.au/gotoschool/types/selectiveschools.php.
English As A Second Language
There are no English language entry requirements for primary school children from Kindergarten to Year 5.
For students in Year 6, going into high school, and Year 7 to Year 12, English language proficiency is a requirement.
If English is a second language for your family and your kids are not proficient then they maybe eligible to attend intensive English lessons that run for 10 to 12 weeks.
These classes are intensive and, for that reason, are kept small, a max of 18 students usually. Small classes means limited space. Start contacting institutes now to reserve your child’s space.
- Chatswood Intensive English Centre
- Marrickville Intensive English Centre
- Surry Hills Intensive English Centre
TAFE NSW Institutes also provide English Preparation for high school students.
What is the best time of year to move to Sydney?
I made the infographic below because I was having a hard time answering this question. Click on the image so that you can take a closer look.
Moving from the Northern Hemisphere to Sydney not only switches the seasons around but also the school year. The change in school year complicates things. From what I understand, children will end up spending an additional six months in what ever year they are currently in.
So the really question is: What time of year will make it easier for your child to adjust to their new school in Sydney?
The natural assumption would be to keep your kids in school until the finish back home then pack up and move. Seems easy enough. But there are a few things you need to consider with this plan.
Moving During June Or July
Moving at the end of the school year in the Northern Hemisphere might be confusing for your child because they will have “finished” or graduated from a grade only to end up back in that same grade again in Sydney making them feel like they are being held back.
The example I use above is for a student in Year 4 back home.
Another good example of this is during the transition of Year 6 to Year 7, moving from primary school to secondary school.
Your child will have finished primary school back home only to end up back in primary school again in Australia for six months, then going on to secondary school.
This could be emotionally challenging for your child as most friendships will have been well established during primary school leaving your child feeling left out. Plus secondary schools are a conglomerate of five or six primary schools. Making new friends and settling into a large student population could be very stressful for your child.
Another option would be to put your child in Year 5 for six months then go on to Year 6 at the beginning of the school year in Jan. That way they will have a full year to make friends before the transition to high school. The downside of that is repeating a year and then, if you move back home, the repeated year gets compounded.
That example depends a lot on the child and how well the parent thinks they will adjust. For children that are younger, the adjustment is usually easier.
Moving During End Of November And Early December
If you are able to plan timing of your move, I would suggest moving during the end of November (Thanksgiving Break in the States) or early December.
Yes, moving during this time still means that your child will be repeating six months in the same year (see infographic above) but since it will be in the middle of the school year back home, making the transition easier.
Even though the school year in Sydney is wrapping up, schools are still open and, since you’ve already done your homework (no pun intended), you have narrowed down what schools you are interested in.
Arriving at this time will allow you to schedule visits to those schools. But you need to do this before the schools close for summer holiday. If you arrive too late in December you will have to wait until January when the schools open again.
Some schools also have orientation days around this time giving your child time to see the school, meet other new students and their teachers. Check with the school and ask if they have anything scheduled.
The best part about this plan is it’s summer in Sydney. The long break will give you and the kids time to settle in. It might be best, if at all possible, to have one parent at home at this time to help with finding a place to live, unpacking, visiting schools and settling in with the kids.
The long break will also give you time to pick up school uniforms and get other supplies required by the school.
If you move during June/July, the kids miss their summer break completely making it feel like they’ve been in school FOREVER.
Repeating six months won’t really feel like repeat because of the difference in the school system and what the students will be learning. Most likely they will not be repeating school work.
What if the year you child ends up in is not a good fit for their level?
Bring it up with the school Principal. Many schools in Sydney are use to people moving from abroad. You can ask to have your child re-assessed after a few months to see if a year older or even a year under would be a better fit. But this opens up the possibility that your child might not want to change, especially if they have already made friends.
I’m going to end this here but there is more to come. I’m planning on writing separate entries for 457 visa holders and on each school level starting with daycare in Sydney.
Still have questions? Please ask in the comments section below.