National Report on Schooling in Australia 2013


Schools and schooling

3.1 School structures



Differences between Australian states and territories in school structures, and in age requirements for student enrolment have been substantially reduced in recent years. School structures and age requirements are summarised in table 3.1.

In New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, primary education consists of a preparatory year followed by Years 1–6. Secondary education consists of Years 7–12. In Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, primary education consists of a preparatory year followed by Years 1–7, and secondary education consists of Years 8–12 1. The preparatory year has different names in the various jurisdictions 2.

The age at which schooling becomes compulsory is six years in all states and territories, except Western Australia and Tasmania, where it is five years. In practice, most children start the preparatory year of primary school at between four and a half and five and a half years.

All states and territories require young people to participate in schooling until they complete Year 10 and to participate full time in education, training or employment, or a combination of these activities, until the age of 17 3.

Table 3.1 summarises school structures and requirements for school enrolment by jurisdiction.

Table 3.1 Primary and secondary school structures – minimum age of commencement for Year 1 and minimum school leaving age by state and territory, 2013

Table 3.1 Primary and secondary school structures – minimum age of commencement for Year 1 and minimum school leaving age by state and territory, 2013


(a) From 2010, all NSW students have been required to complete Year 10. After Year 10, students must be in school, in approved education or training, in full-time employment or in a combination of training and employment until they turn 17 years old.

(b) From 2010, all Victorian students have been required to complete Year 10 and remain in some form of education, training or employment until the age of 17.

(c) From 2006, Queensland students have been required to participate in ‘learning or earning’ for two years after completing compulsory schooling, or until they turn 17 or until they attain a Senior Secondary Certificate or a Certificate III (or higher) vocational qualification.

(d) From 2007, South Australian students who have turned 16 have been required to remain at school or undertake an approved learning program until they turn 17 or gain a Senior Secondary Certificate or equivalent or a Certificate II (or higher) vocational qualification.

(e) From 2008, Western Australian students have been required to remain at school or undertake an approved combination of training and employment until the end of the year in which they turn 17.

(f) From 2008, Tasmanian students have been required to continue participating in education, training or full-time employment until they turn 17.

(g) From January 2010, it has been compulsory for all Northern Territory students to complete Year 10 and then participate in education, training or employment until they turn 17.

(h) From 2010, ACT students have been required to complete Year 10 and then participate full time in education, training or employment until they complete Year 12 or equivalent, or reach age 17.

Sources: ABS, Schools Australia, 2013; state and territory education authorities.

Within the overall structure of primary and secondary education, there is further scope for variation in the structure of individual schools. Both government and non-government schools may be primary only, secondary only or combined primary and secondary. Secondary schools may accommodate the full age range of secondary students or be divided into junior and senior campuses. In some jurisdictions, separate Year 11 and 12 institutions may be known as colleges or senior secondary schools.

Government and some non-government school authorities operate special schools for students with disabilities and other special needs, while in some jurisdictions, a high proportion of students with special needs are integrated into mainstream schools. (See Part 10: Glossary for definition of special schools.)

Students who are geographically isolated, or who are otherwise unable to attend a local school, may study through distance education schools or centres established by state and territory education departments. Distance education is conducted through a variety of means including print and web-based materials and online and satellite technologies. Boarding facilities are available at some schools, mainly in the non-government sectors 4.

Each state and territory also has an early childhood education sector that is separate from primary and secondary schooling 5, although early childhood centres are often attached to or accommodated in primary schools. In general, data on early childhood education are excluded from this report.

Data on secondary education provided by adult learning institutions such as institutes of technical and further education (TAFE) are also excluded from this report, except for VET in Schools programs undertaken by secondary school students.






1 In Western Australia and Queensland, decisions on whether to transition Year 7 to secondary status are pending. These enrolments are counted as primary enrolments in this report.

2 These are listed in table 3.1. The Australian Curriculum uses the term ‘Foundation’ for this year of schooling.

3 Up until 2010, the minimum school leaving age in most jurisdictions was 15 or 16. In 2010, the National Youth Participation Requirement, agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), came into effect across all states and territories, effectively lengthening the period of compulsory education.

Students of compulsory school age may also be home schooled if they have met the criteria set down by the relevant state or territory education authority. However, as these students are not enrolled in a school, they are outside the scope of the National Schools Statistics Collection (NSSC) and are therefore excluded from data in this report.

5 In some jurisdictions, part-time programs that precede the preparatory year and are conducted in primary schools (for example, Kindergarten in Western Australia) are considered to be a part of schooling. However, these programs are outside the scope of the National Schools Statistics Collection (NSSC) and data on them are therefore not included in the data in this report.

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