School selection: practical steps

School selection: practical steps

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Step 1: consider your child's and family's school preferences

  • What's important in a school to you and your child - for example, academic results, music facilities or sports programs?
  • Does your child have special language, education or other abilities or needs?
  • What's your child's preferred or best learning style? For example, does she learn best in groups or by herself? Does she prefer to learn by watching or doing?
  • Is location a factor in your school choice? Does the school need to be within walking distance? Or does your child have special transportation needs?
  • What costs are involved? For example, are there costs for uniforms, musical instruments, sports equipment, books, IT and so on?
  • Is religion an important factor?
  • What are your child's views and feelings about the schools you prefer?

Step 2: gather information about schools

You can check out school options in much the same way as you would if you were buying a car or house. For example, you can:

  • talk to family and friends
  • call the school and make a time to meet with the principal
  • look at school websites
  • collect written materials like brochures from schools
  • go to information sessions or open days
  • look in the local paper for any feature articles on local schools.

You can learn a lot about a school by reading their school policies, mission statement, annual reports and strategic plans. These can be found on the school website or you can contact the school for copies.

You can also contact your state or territory education department (by phone or via its website) to get a list of schools in your area, or use the Australian Government's My School website to find government, Catholic and independent schools across Australia.

Step 3: visit schools

  • Contact the schools you're interested in and make an appointment to visit. If possible, tour the school during regular school hours and visit a few classes.
  • Schedule an appointment with the school principal.
  • Attend open days and any other school functions to gather information about the attitudes of staff, students and parents. Listen closely to what they say about the school.
  • If you've visited a school and feel positive about it, you could take your child for a tour of the school and see how he feels about it.

Step 4: apply to or enrol in the school(s) you choose

Most government schools accept applications and enrolments from the second term of the year before your child will start school - around May each year. Independent (non-government) schools often have long waiting lists, so you need to apply and enrol much earlier. You can contact schools directly to find out about their requirements.

If you're not applying to your closest government school, consider applying to more than one school, in case your child doesn't get into your first choice.

You'll need to fill out an application or enrolment form with:

  • your child's name, age and birth date (you'll also need to supply a copy of your child's birth certificate)
  • your family's contact details
  • health and welfare information that will help the school meet your child's individual needs. If your child has additional needs you'll need to provide a copy of diagnostic reports
  • an immunisation history statement based on the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR)
  • copies of any family court orders.

If your child isn't a permanent Australian resident, you'll also need to provide a passport or travel documents and relevant visa.

Most government schools are required to take enrolments from every child in their 'school zones'. If you're not sure which school zone you live in, you should be able to find out on your state or territory education department website.

If you want to enrol your child at a school out of your area, you need to apply to that school. Children living in that school's zone will be enrolled first, so out of area applications might not be guaranteed enrolment.

Some schools will ask you to pay some or all of a levy or contribution fee when you enrol your child. These fees vary depending on the location of the school.

For more information on points to consider in the decision-making process, you can read our article on choosing your child's school.

Frequently asked questions about choosing a school

How can I find out about the academic record of a particular school?
You can get an idea about a school's academic performance by looking at the My School website. The My School website allows you to search for information about both government and non-government schools. You can find out how many students the school has, its attendance rates, its senior school outcomes and its national assessment results (for example, NAPLAN), compared with similar schools.

Some states and territories might also have websites that list information about the academic records of schools in that state. You can find these through the appropriate education department in your state.

For a better understanding of a school's academic record, you can ask to meet with the school's teachers who can tell you more about their students' overall performances.

Do secondary schools take only students living in their local area?
Government secondary schools are separated into districts or zones, but students don't always have to live in those districts to attend the schools. Whether a school can take your child will probably depend on how many places the school has and whether your child meets other school-based requirements.

You should contact any school outside your district to find out what you need to do if you're interested in your child going there.

How far in advance do we need to be thinking about choosing a secondary school?
If your child is going to your local government secondary school, you usually need to enrol your child around April or May in the final year of primary school (Year 6 or Grade 7, depending on which state you live in). Non-government and independent schools might take enrolment applications much earlier, some from birth.

Many secondary schools hold family information nights and specialised school tours for students in their last year of primary school. You could start listing your priorities and gathering information during this year, so you're ready with questions when you and your child visit schools.

My child wants to go to the same secondary school as friends, but it isn't the school I think will be best. What should I do?Tough decisions like this are a common experience for parents when choosing a school. It's good for children in late primary school to be part of the decision-making process. But they're not mature enough to make an informed choice based on all of the important information.

A good first step is to acknowledge how difficult this decision is for you and for your child. Listen to your child and let her know you're taking her views into account. It can help to reassure your child that going to different schools doesn't mean she'll lose touch with her friends.

You can also ask around your school community to see whether anyone else is choosing the same school. If your child knows someone else who's going there, even if it's not a close friend, this can help.

My child wants to go to a school that doesn't have a good reputation. What should I do?
It's a good idea to dig a bit further to find out more about the school's reputation. Sometimes a school's reputation is based on a single incident or event that doesn't reflect the school as a whole. Other times schools have a reputation from the distant past that's no longer accurate.

You could consider the following questions:

  • Is what you're hearing about the school based on fact or opinion?
  • Who are you hearing information from?
  • Is the reputation based on old or recent developments at the school?
  • Most importantly, how will the school's reputation affect your child if he attends the school?

You need to be happy that the school matches your family's values and your child's learning preferences, and that it's the one that will give your child the most opportunities to achieve in her areas of interest.

Choosing a school for your child is only the beginning. By being involved in your child's education and building a strong relationship with your child's school, you can help your child get the most out of education.