Pre-school in Australia is relatively unregulated, and is not compulsory. The first exposure many Australian children have to learn with others outside of traditional parenting is day care or a parent-run playgroup. This sort of activity is not generally considered schooling, as pre-school education is separate from primary school in all states and territories, except Western Australia and Queensland where pre-school education is taught as part of the primary school system.

Pre-schools are usually run by the state and territory governments, except in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales where they are more often run by local councils, community groups or private organisations.Pre-school is offered to three- to five-year-olds; attendance numbers vary widely between the states, but 85.7% of children attended pre-school the year before school.The year before a child is due to attend primary school is the main year for pre-school education. This year is far more commonly attended, and may take the form of a few hours of activity during weekdays.

Responsibility for pre-schools in New South Wales and Victoria, lies with the Department of Community Services and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), respectively. In all other states and territories of Australia, responsibility for pre-schools lie with the relevant education department.

Full day care at a government, non-profit centre is in the order of $72 per day.


School education in Australia is compulsory between certain ages as specified by state or territory legislation. Depending on the state or territory, and date of birth of the child, school is compulsory from the age of five to six to the age of fifteen to seventeen. In recent years, over three quarters of students stay at school until they are seventeen. Government schools educate approximately 65% of Australian students, with approximately 34% in Catholic and independent schools. A small portion of students are legally home-schooled, particularly in rural areas.

Government schools (also known as public schools) are free to attend for Australian citizens and permanent residents, while Catholic and independent schools usually charge attendance fees.However in addition to attendance fees; stationery, textbooks, uniforms, school camps and other schooling costs are not covered under government funding. The additional cost for schooling has been estimated to be on average $316 per year per child.

Regardless of whether a school is part of the Government, Catholic or independent systems, they are required to adhere to the same curriculum frameworks of their state or territory. The curriculum framework however provides for some flexibility in the syllabus, so that subjects such as religious education can be taught. Most school students wear uniforms, although there are varying expectations and some Australian schools do not require uniforms. A common movement among secondary schools to support student voice has taken form as organisations such as VicSRC in Victoria bring together student leaders to promote school improvement.

Common ages

Students may be slightly younger or older than stated below, due to variation between states and territories. The name for the first year of primary school varies considerably between states and territories, e.g. what is known as kindergarten in ACT and NSW may mean the year preceding the first year of primary school or preschool in other states and territories. Some states vary in whether Year 7 is part of the primary or secondary years, as well as the existence of a middle school system.

Beginning in 2008, the Northern Territory introduced middle schools for Years 7–9 and high school for Years 10–12.


  • Kindergarten (QLD) 3–4 year olds 
  • Pre-school / kindergarten / prep 
  • Kindergarten / preparatory / pre-primary National Curriculum this year-level will be renamed: Foundation Year 
  • Grade/Year 1: 5–6 year olds 
  • Grade/Year 2: 7–8 year olds 
  • Grade/Year 3: 8–9 year olds 
  • Grade/Year 4: 9–10 year olds 
  • Grade/Year 5: 10–11 year olds 
  • Grade/Year 6: 11–12 year olds 
  • Grade/Year 7: 12–13 year olds (QLD, SA, WA)


  • Year 7: 12–13 year olds (ACT, NSW, TAS, VIC) (middle school NT) 
  • Year 8: 13–14 year olds 
  • Year 9: 14–15 year olds 
  • Year 10: 15–16 year olds (high school NT) 
  • Year 11: 16–17 year olds ("college" ACT, TAS) 
  • Year 12: 17–19 year olds

Vocational Education and Training and Higher Education sectors

There has been growing overlap between the Vocational Education and Training (VET), organised under the National Training System, and Higher Education sectors in Australia. Courses are primarily taken by those aged over 18, however in some vocational and general academic courses a minority of students enter at the minimum school-leaving age of 16, although from May 2009 Federal Government policy calls for young people to be in education, gainful employment, or training until age 17 (Year 12 qualification) with tightening of income support payments to age 20 if not undertaking further training.This tends to happen particularly at Technical and Further Education colleges (TAFE), and is less likely to happen at a university or a private institution.

The two sectors form a continuum, with VET at the lower end and Higher Education at the higher. VET courses are typically short, practical in nature and delivered by a TAFE college or Registered Training Organisation at a certificate to diploma level. Higher Education courses take three years or longer to complete, are academic in nature and are delivered by universities at degree level. There is significant overlap, however; a TAFE college may offer degrees and universities may offer certificates and diplomas. A number of private institutions and community education centres cover the full range of qualifications.

There has been a strong push towards mutual recognition of qualifications, with VET or Higher Education courses recognised towards other courses (and for those under 21 towards an SSCE). A process of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) has been implemented to allow competencies gained through work and other experience to be assessed and recognised. For instance, a Diploma of Agriculture might be recognised as the equivalent of the first year of the Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree; a unit of Letter Writing in aCertificate IV of Writing might be recognised as a unit towards a Bachelor of Business degree; experience in aged care might be recognised towards a Certificate in Community Services.

Certificates I-IV

Certificates I-IV are the basic post-secondary qualifications and prepare candidates for both employment and further education and training. There is no firm duration for these qualifications.

Certificates I-II provide basic vocational skills and knowledge, while Certificates III-IV replace the previous system of trade certificates and provide training in more advanced skills and knowledge. A Certificate IV is generally accepted by universities to be the equivalent of six to twelve months of a Bachelor's degree, and credit towards studies may be granted accordingly.

These courses are usually delivered by TAFE colleges, community education centres and registered private training providers.

Diploma, Advanced Diploma, Associate degree

Courses at Diploma, Advanced Diploma and Associate degree level take between two to three years to complete, and are generally considered to be equivalent to one to two years of study at degree level. Diplomaand Advanced Diploma are titles given more practical courses, while Associate degree is given to more academic courses.

These courses are usually delivered by universities, TAFE colleges, community education centres and private RTO's (Registered Training Organisations).

Bachelor degree and honours

The Bachelor degree is the standard university qualification and is recognised worldwide. Most courses take three to four years to complete.

Honours may be awarded atop a Bachelor degree after an additional year of study for three-year degrees or, in the case of four-year degrees, for performance at credit or distinction average level. An Honours degree is denoted by "Hons" in parentheses following the degree abbreviation, for example BA (Hons). Honours degrees requiring an additional year of study generally involve a research project and require the completion of a thesis during the optional fourth year of study.

These courses are almost exclusively delivered by universities.

Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma

These qualifications are much like Certificates and Diplomas but must be completed by someone with a Bachelor degree or higher. Certificates typically take 6 months to complete, while Diplomas take 12 months.

Vocational certificates and diplomas tend to be more practically-oriented courses than their academic counterparts.

These courses are usually delivered by universities and private providers.

Master's degree

A Master's degree usually requires two years of full time study to complete. A completed Bachelor degree, sometimes with honours, is a prerequisite for admission. The pattern of study generally takes one of the following three forms: 
  • Coursework - comprising coursework and project work, much like a Bachelor degree. In some fields also consists of a research component and requires the completion of a thesis. In such fields, completion of only the coursework component without submitting a thesis usually results in a graduate diploma being awarded instead. 
  • Research - comprising substantial research and completion of a major, externally assessed thesis. 
  • Extended - for preparation for professional practice in fields such as law, medicine and physiotherapy. 
Master's degree (extended) are permitted to deviate from the 'Master of ...' naming convention. Those in legal practice may use the name Juris Doctor, but do not allow a graduate use of the honorific title 'doctor', whereas those in medical practice, physiotherapy, dentistry, optometry and veterinary practice are allowed to be named 'Doctor of ...' and in most cases permit a graduate use of the title 'doctor'.

Master's level courses are delivered by universities and a limited number of registered providers.

Doctoral degree

The highest qualification, a Doctoral degree is awarded by a university. This generally requires the completion of a major thesis, which has to be assessed externally by experts in the field of study. Additionally, there are professional doctorates, which require less research and are partially assessed by coursework or projects. Entry into an Australian Doctorate program requires an Honours degree or "Honours equivalent". A Master's degree is usually considered equivalent. Holders of Doctoral degrees are permitted to use the title 'doctor'.