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Schooling and education in Australia

Happy little girl in class at schoolIt might seem like a long time before you have to enrol your little one in school, but it pays to be prepared.

How old do they have to be before they can start  ‘big school? What is their first year of formal schooling called? What are the cut-off dates?

Leaving it to the last minute can cause unnecessary stress, so find the information you need to know early, and make sure everything is ready when it needs to be.

Here is our quick guide to education in Australia.

Education in Australia

The education system in each Australian state is run by that state or territory government.

The main differences are:

  • The names of each level can vary (for example Prep in Queensland is the same as Kindy in NSW)
  • Primary school is from Grades 1-6 except in South Australia until 2022, when they will come in line with the rest of the country.
  • School is compulsory for children from the age of 6 in all states and territories, except Western Australia and Tasmania where it is younger (see below for more info on compulsory schooling).

Formal schooling in Australia includes:

  • a preparatory year before Year 1 (when a child is turning 5 years or 6 years)
  • primary schooling: Years 1-6 (1-7 in South Australia until 2022)
  • secondary schooling: Years 7-12 (8-12 in South Australia until 2022).

Australian children can do a year of preschool or pre-prep before formal schooling starts. This is not compulsory.

Australian Education System: State by State

State / Territory Pre-Prep Prep Year Primary School High School
ACT Preschool Kindy Grade 1-6 Grade 7-12
NSW Preschool Kindy Grade 1-6 Grade 7-12
NT Preschool Transition Grade 1-6 Grade 7-12
QLD Kindy Prep Grade 1-6 Grade 7-12
SA Preschool/Kindy Reception Grade 1-6 (from 2022) Grade 7-12 (from 2022)
TAS Kindy Prep Grade 1-6 Grade 7-12
VIC Kinder Prep Grade 1-6 Grade 7-12
WA Kindy Pre-primary Grade 1-6 Grade 7-12

How old does my child have to be before they can start school?

The age your child needs to be before they’re able to start school varies from state to state.

The Prep Year (also called kindy, reception, pre-primary or transistion) is the start of formal schooling. However many parents choose to send their children to preschool or Pre-Prep (called kinder in Victoria and kindy in QLD, Tasmania and ACT) the year earlier, in preparation for formal schooling.

State / Territory Pre-Prep Prep Year
ACT If a child turns 4 on or before April 30 they can start Preschool at the beginning of that year. If a child turns 5 on or before April 30 they can start Kindy at the beginning of that school year.
NSW If a child turns 4 on our before July 31 they can start Preschool at the beginning of that year. If a child turns 5 on or before July 31 they can start Kindy at the beginning of that school year.
NT If a child turns 4 between Jan 1 and June 30 they can start Preschool at the start of that year. Children who turn 4 in the second half of the year can start from their 4th birthday. If a child turns 5 on or before June 30 they can start Transition at the beginning of that school year.
QLD If a child is 4 by June 30 they can start Kindy at the beginning of that year. If a child is 5 by June 30 they can start Prep at the beginning of that school year.
SA If a child turns 4 before May 1 they can start Preschool at the beginning of that year. If a child turns 5 before May 1 they can start Reception at the beginning of that school year.
TAS If a child turns 4 on or by January 1 they can start Kindergarten at the beginning of that school year. If a child turns 5 on or by January 1 they MUST start Prep at the beginning of that school year.
VIC Kindergarten is usually for children who are in the year before school (turning 4 by April 30)however the Victorian Government is rolling out a funded Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program across the state from 2022. If a child turns 5 by April 30 they can start Prep at the beginning of that school year.
WA If a child turns 4 by June 30 they can start Kindy at the beginning of that year. If a child turns 5 by June 30 they MUST start Pre-primary at the beginning of that school year.

When is school compulsory?

Each state or territory governs their own education system which means there are slight variations in age requirements for compulsory schooling.

Australian Capital Territory

In the ACT it is compulsory for children to be enrolled in school from age six and to continue in full-time education until they complete Year 10. Young people are then required to participate in full-time education, training or employment until they complete Year 12 or turn 17.

NSW / Victoria / Northern Territory

All children must be in compulsory schooling by their 6th birthday and until they complete Year 10. After that, and until the age of 17, student must be either in school, employment, education or training.


A child is considered to be of compulsory school age from 6 years and 6 months until they turn 16, or they complete Year 10 (whichever comes first).

South Australia

Children and teenagers must be in school from 6 years to 16 years old. Teenagers must go to school or an approved learning program until they turn 17 unless they achieve their SACE or other qualification, or are in full-time employment.


Every child who has turned five on or by 1 January must start Prep in that year, or be provided with approved home education. Young people need to stay in education or training until they finish Year 12, or receive a Certificate III, or reach the new minimum leaving age of 18.

Western Australia

The first year of compulsory school is Pre-primary (students who turn 5 by June 30) and all students of compulsory school age must be enrolled and attending. Children must attend school until they are 16. Sixteen and 17-year-olds must be enrolled in school or a training organisation, be employed or be in a combination of all three.

What else do I need to know?

The most important thing is to get in early—especially if you want to enrol your child in private school or you live in an area of high demand.

Even if you don’t know where you’ll be living when your child is due to start school, you should investigate your options and put down their names where necessary. Some waiting lists at private schools are so long you’d be well advised to have your child’s name down at birth!

Education in state schools is free. Non-state schools and pre-preps are generally fee paying.

Useful links:









Find more great info, hints, and tips about schooling in our Back to School Hub.

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14 Comments so far -
  • James Franco says:

    This information is very much helpful. We are planning to shift Australia and I was worried the schooling pattern. This has helped me a lot. Thanks for sharing.

  • Crystin says:

    Sorry, my son is in year six! For the past two years his little school of 50- 65 students from prep to six have been segregated in our playground. My son comes from a broken family and has no siblings. Why is he not aloud to play and essentially make friends with the younger children in his school of 60 or so students . it seems to be a new way for principals the last three years. I do not believe it contributes to healthy social growth in children in year foundation all the way to year six. My son is finding it so hard to be friends with only his grade 6 in a small school. Somebody help!!!!!;;;;;;!!!

    • Hi Crystin. Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear that your son is having a hard time fitting in at school. It is only early days and perhaps it will get better this year. But it can’t hurt to have a chat with the principal to let them know of your concerns. Have a chat to his teacher as well to gain a better understanding of the issue and why your son might be having trouble. Perhaps he could join some extra-curricular sports or activities to meet more children with similar interests?

      Hope it gets better for him. All the best!

  • Ezmom says:


    My daughter and I are moving to NSW (West Ryde) first quarter of 2018.
    I would like to know how to register my child? She is 4yrs now and turning 5yrs in May 2018.
    Can I enroll her to a private school first in 2018? Then enroll her in Public School for Year 2019? Appreciate your help…I am not sure if it’s possible.

    • Hi Ezmom – thanks for reading and thanks for your question. If your daughter is 5 in May 2018 she’ll be able to enrol in Kindy – which is the prep year in NSW. Prep is the first year of formal schooling so usually children continue in that same school for Year 1.

      But if you’d like to move her I’m sure it is possible.

      Schools will be taking enrolments for next year already. You will have to choose a school in the area and contact them (or visit their website) for information on how to enrol.

      If you have more questions you might want to ask them on our forum. We have a section specifically for Schooling in Australia and our members might know more about local school etc. Here’s the link: https://www.bubhub.com.au/community/forums/forumdisplay.php?85-Preschools-and-Schools You do have to register but it is free and easy to do so.

      All the best!

  • Evelyn says:

    Hello, We are moving to Australia in April and my son will have turned 6 in april. My problem is that he does not speak English. And still can not write and read. Here in Brazil he would be starting the last year of what would be the Kynder and then enter the first degree. How would it be in sydney?

    Thank you

    • Hi Evelyn! How exciting. What a great adventure you and your family is about to embark on!

      At this age, your son would be in Year 1 or Grade 1. This is the second year of school – the first year is called kindergarten in NSW. At this age they would be expected to know their alphabet, how to sound out words and would be beginning to write and read independently.

      In Sydney your choice of school will depend on where you live. My advice would be to contact schools in the area, once you know where you’ll be living, and see what type of extra support they can offer your child given that he is new to Australia and does not speak English. They may recommend that he start in Kindergarten rather than Year 1. I am not sure.

      If you’d like to chat more about schools in Sydney or in fact anything else about your move in general I would recommend joining our forum and chatting to our forum members. It is free to join. Here is a link directly to the schooling section of the forum: https://www.bubhub.com.au/community/forums/forumdisplay.php?710-Schooling-amp-Education

      Hope your move goes smoothly. All the best xx

  • Clare says:

    Hi! We are moving to Australia in September…yay! Can’t wait!
    My son will have turned 9 in July and would have started back in September as a Year 5 student.
    Can anyone confirm which Year he would be in for WA? Every time I think I’ve worked it out I second guess myself
    Many thanks,

    • Hi Clare!

      How awesome for you and your family! You are in for some exciting times ahead.

      I am not too familiar with the school system in WA however, but it looks like it is the same as in my home state QLD. Going by that information your son will be starting in Year 3. The school year ends in December and he will start Year 4 in 2018. As the cut off is the end of June he will be one of the oldest in the class.

      I would also recommend chatting to the school though – in case his previous education has him at a higher lever. I am not sure how flexible schools are with this but as he just missed the cut of by less than a month, it might be worth asking the question.

      Please double check all of this and maybe post a question in our forum. We have a section specifically about schools and education in Australia. https://www.bubhub.com.au/community/forums/forumdisplay.php?710-Schooling-amp-Education

      All the best for the move. Take care xx

  • Fleur says:

    Hi my daughter will turn 4 august 2017. Shes ready now for school. Is there any schools in western australia- bunbury that do this.
    Kind regards

  • Mum of 2 says:

    My daughter is smart for her age and I’m not happy that I won’t be able to get her into school till next year! She is 8 days off the cut off period (vic) I think once your child gets to a point that it should be more of a guide line for Parants and less of a strict rule! She has already done a year of kinder…. I think there should be at least considerations for children to start early

    • Hi Mum of 2. Thanks for your comment. How frustrating indeed to miss out by 8 days. Is it really that strict? I know of parents in QLD who are able to hold back a child if they feel like they aren’t ready although I haven’t heard of it the other way around. I did this myself though – I went in the year I turned 5 rather than the year I turned 6 which was the way it was way back then. I coped fine and I was well and truly ready. Hope you find a solution! All the best xx

    • SydMum says:

      The rules can be very strict in some states which is frustrating. As a Mum who had a son who was (and still is) doing academically well there is more to starting school than academics. Some kids can be 18 months older (in NSW) if you are the youngest which is fine as long as they are emotionally ready for dealing with lunchtimes, remembering their news day and also teasing and “play” that go on on the playground with 100s of older kids. You can still foster your child’s academics and she won’t lose her intelligence in 12 months but you can’t fast track resilience and emotional needs.

      The youngest child in my son’s class was very bright – already able to read but they pulled her out after 3 weeks due to not being emotionally ready and “organisationally” ready.

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