The Australian and British Education Systems

NOTE – This article was not meant to be a guideline! It was teenage infuriation at disenchanted expats! If you ARE looking for information on the difference between the education systems, please check out this post which has a comparison table and links to the proper websites!

There are a lot of expats out there who are convinced the British system is superior and that Australian education falls short. They patrol around on places like PomsInOz, PomsDownUnder, and other such creatively named forums, telling horror stories about their experiences with the Australian education system. Some expats even go so far as to return to the UK solely for the education.

But are they really that bad? Realistically, is there such a gap between the standard of education that it warrants moving to a different country? Of course not! If you lived in Africa, or the Middle East, or the PNG highlands, then by all means, return to a different country to give your child a better education, but Australia and the UK are both developed nations, have a lot in common, and really, the qualify of just about anything between the two countries is more or less equal. And, to be honest, I’ve heard just as many horror stories about state schools in the UK as I have of public schools in Australia (and, given that I spend far more time in Australia than I do in the UK, that’s really saying something).

One of the first things I notice in many of these stories is that someone has moved their children from a Public or independent school in the UK to a public school in Australia. I don’t know whether it’s foolhardiness, ignorance, or genuine confusion over the name, but comparing two schools like that is like comparing apples and oranges. They’re completely different. A Public school in the UK is a privately-owned, often very exclusive and very selective school, while a public school in Australia is state-run. If you’re going to compare schools, compare UK Public schools with Australian private schools, and UK state schools with Australian public schools. There’s more of a difference between the two sorts of education than there is between the two countries, as anyone in either country ought to know, and I’m going to talk mostly about the state/public sort of education, because it’s much more unified in both countries.

To start off with, the philosophy behind education is rather different in the two countries. In the UK, the point of school is largely to learn facts to help you in later life. In Australia, the point of school is to teach you to think, to adapt and to learn for yourself. Many Australian curriculums don’t emphasise the teaching of facts as much as the teaching of life skills and independent thinking. This results in a stark contrast in the younger years between students in the UK, who often have very academic and rigorous curriculums and lots of homework, and students in Australia, who have a less rigorous curriculum and spend a lot of time doing independent and group-based research on various topics. The truth is, both students are learning pretty much the same things, it just seems from both an outside and a British perspective that the Australian kid and education system is slack.

From left to right: Australian facility/school, Australian Curriculum Band/framework/ School Year in both countries, child's age in both countries, UK National Curriculum Key Stage, UK school/facility.

From left to right: Australian facility/school, Australian Curriculum Band/framework/ School Year in both countries, child’s age in both countries, UK National Curriculum Key Stage, UK school/facility.

Both systems are fairly similar for the first decade or so of compulsory education, and quite a few direct comparisons can be made between the British National Curriculum, the Australian National Curriculum (which is only about half-implemented), and various Australian state curriculums. A fair indicator of how good an education system or curriculum is is whether it’s being used outside of the country it was intended for – and in both cases, it is. Aside from the usual suspects of various Commonwealth and former Empire nations (most notably India and Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan) using a British curriculum, the Middle East uses both British and Australian (Victorian and NSW) curriculums, and there are several schools in Mainland China which also use a Victorian curriculum. Unlike the British curriculum, which is used in more places worldwide, various Australian systems aren’t actively pushed in the international arena.

At a basic level, both the British and Australian National Curriculums (as well as the NSW curriculum, I believe) are made up of Key Stages (UK) or Bands (Australia), which organises education into manageable chunks and offers standards and assessments which should be reached by the end. The Key Stages/Bands more or less correspond, too, with Band 1 and Key Stage 1 being roughly analogous (Band 1 is R-2, while KS 1 is just 1 & 2), Key Stage 2 comprising Band 2 and Band 3, Key Stage 3 and Band 4 corresponding, as well as Key Stage 4 and Band 5. The ANC (as well as, I believe, the NSW and Victorian curriculums) are very strongly based on the British “Key Stage” system. In terms of what’s actually learnt, you can compare the British National Curriculum with the Australian National Curriculum as well as the Victorian and South Australian there. None of these sites, of course, gives much information beyond about Year 10, and I’ll cover that in a bit, but I’m sure you’ll find the actual material learnt is much the same, although it may be taught and applied differently.

The Australian and British systems of education are much closer in terms of schools, levels, and terminology than either is to, say, the American system, for example. Both Australian and British systems are two-cycle, which means you have one primary school of seven to eight years and one secondary school of five to six years – and unlike the American and French systems, which are three-cycle and include a primary/elementary school, a middle or junior high school, and an upper secondary or high school. Also, both places use school uniforms – and very similar-looking school uniforms, at that.
However, it’s when you get to leaving certificates that the Australian and British systems diverge quite suddenly. In the UK – and in Scotland, which uses a different system (surprise, surprise) – you have two levels of qualifications/certificates at the high school level – the GCSE (former “O-Level”) and the A-Levels. GCSEs are done in Years 10 and 11, and A-Levels in 12 and 13. Both allow students to choose a small selection of subjects to study, with an exam at the end.

Australia, on the other hand, has just one certificate at the end of high school. The name and exact requirements vary from state to state, but (with the exception of NSW), each ends with the words “Certificate of Education” (SACE is South Australian Certificate of Education, WACE is Western Australia Certificate of Education, VCE is Victorian Certificate of Education, and so forth). Such a certificate programme usually lasts for two years (sometimes two-and-a-half years if there are requirements in Year 10, or three years if you choose to spread it out a bit and do fewer subjects at once) and allow students to choose about 5 subjects. Australian certificates of education are much more proficiency-based than GCSEs and A-Levels, which means that only about 30-50% of the final mark for a subject comes from the final exam, and the rest is made up with various assessments and tasks completed throughout the year or semester. It’s thought that this gives the opportunity for students who don’t test well to still do well in the subject.

In terms of education level, the certificates of education (let’s call them ACE, which is probably what the National Curriculum version will be called if they ever get around to developing it) fit somewhere between GCSEs and A-Levels – which makes sense, given that you do GCSEs in Year 11, ACE in Year 12, and A-Levels in Year 13. Personally, I think the British idea of having two qualifications is better than the Australian idea of one, because that means that the less-academic students who drop out/ get a job or apprenticeship after Year 11 then have some sort of education certificate.

In terms of private/Public schools, in both nations, they’re often fairly autonomous in their curriculum and education standard. In both countries, they’re known for having a higher education standard, and certainly both are known for having better facilities. In both cases, private/Public schools often follow a different curriculum to state/public schools – Cambridge programmes, International Baccalaureate programmes, or an independent programme of some sort. It’s difficult to compare them, since there’s so much variety, but it should be noted that many Public schools in the UK have offshoots in Australia – Winchester, for example.

A common alternative curriculum in both countries is the International Baccalaureate (IB). It is in comparison to the IB that we can draw some more conclusions about the education level and style in either nation. In the UK, schools offering the IB usually offer it all the way through school, or might even offer just the PYP and MYP without the Diploma. In Australia, the opposite is true. It’s far more common for schools to offer just the Diploma, without any opportunity to do the PYP or MYP first. Very few students in the UK swap from the National Curriculum to the IB Diploma programme, while it is more than common in Australia.

Why is this? Am I just making generalisations with no evidence? I don’t think I am. As I mentioned at the beginning, the Australian education emphases individual learning and critical thinking far more than it does knowledge of facts. The IB programmes are the same, although it should be said they probably emphasise knowledge of facts far more than various Australian curriculums do. It’s easier for Australian students to transition to the IB Diploma because all of their education to that point has been very similar – and in many cases directly adapted from – the IB programme. It’s harder for British students because the driving force and style of education is much different.

Australian education is much more “alternative” and wholistic in nature than the British. A quick glance at the two nation curriculums reveals that – in Music, for example, the British system in primary school focusses almost entirely on academics, knowledge and skills, while the Australian system at the same level encourages thinking about why music is made, and where, and how it effects and is effected by culture and people – perhaps to the detriment of actual music skills and knowledge! This pattern is reflected in almost every subject.

Alternative education systems, such as Montessori and Waldorf-Steiner are popular in Australia, and not all that different to the teaching methods employed in various public and other private schools. Homeschooling is far more common in Australia than in the UK, and much more widely-accepted, perhaps due in part to the long geography-induced history of distance and correspondence education. The British system favours hard facts and traditional teaching methods, while the Australian system favours critical thinking and wholistic teaching methods. Both systems have their benefits and their pitfalls, and both systems have good schools and bad schools, and while it does result in a very different experience at the primary school level, neither system is significantly better than the other.

(That’s a nice final, dramatic note to end on, but I’m not going to. I’m just going to put in as an addendum that the UK is significantly better with special provisions than Australia. Australia does well for normal but academically struggling kids, but has very little provision at present for either gifted kids or those with special needs such as autism – and God forbid you have both! The UK, on the other hand, has tonnes of provisions for both ends of the spectrum in terms of programmes in schools and even schools specifically for these needs. Australia has certainly improved in this field from twenty or even ten years ago, but it has a long way to go to catch up to the UK).


32 thoughts on “The Australian and British Education Systems

  1. Fantastic article, I just wanted to add that in NSW we have the ‘RoSA’ – Record of School Achievement, for those leaving on/after year 10 (O-levels), formerly known as School Certificate. The advantage being, if you do start your HSC (A-levels), but stop early, your get credit for the work done.

    • Cristina says:


      We are looking to relocate Sydney under 457 Visa.My daughter is Y11 (UK) almost ending her GCSE. She is 16 and now our doubt is if she would be accepted Y10 or Y11. If is is Y11 there, what requirements for entry are? Do the GCSE count or not?
      i am so confused and worried as she’s a very hard working student and we would like to make the right choice.
      Thank you

      • Rachel says:

        Hi Cristina,

        I am by no means any expert, and I’ve not known anyone to move from the UK to Australia at that age (most of the kids I know made the transition in primary school), but here’s what I think will happen:

        In Sydney, Year 11 and Year 12 works towards the HSC (High School Certificate). You can read about that at To gain a HSC, students need to do a certain amount of subjects in Year 11 and Year 12, and some of these subjects have requirements which mean you can’t start halfway through. For this reason, if you are going to relocate, I recommend that the best time to do it would be after your daughter finishes GCSEs, ready to start Year 11 HSC at the beginning of the 2017 school year (late January). If you wait until she’s already started A-levels, she might have to start again at the beginning of Year 11.

        There are usually no requirements for entering Year 11 except a Year 10 or equivalent education level. Since there are so many UK expats in Australia, that is one of the easiest countries to transfer education level equivalents across from (after New Zealand) and there should be no problem with your daughter for that. However, depending on the school, they might want her to do some sort of written exam to check what level she’s at, but a GCSE should be enough.

        All state schools and many private schools will offer a HSC for the last two years of school, but if you’re thinking of sending your daughter to a private school, check with them what they offer. A good place to start might be These schools will be more expensive than the state schools, so you should check with the MySchool website ( to see where the best education is and which schools have better programmes in which areas (it’s sort of equivalent to school league tables). Some private schools and a few state schools also offer the International Baccalaureate, if that’s something you want to consider, but getting into that should be much the same as getting into HSC.

        Finally, I remind you that I’m no expert in the matter, but hopefully I’ve given you some idea of what you can expect and some places to look for better information.


      • Cristina says:

        Dear Rachel,

        Thank you very much for replying me and information given. I gave some calls to BOSTES and they’ve told me that YES, the GCSE is the most widely recognised and in the public schools it’ll be take into consideration. As far as I understand it is not anymore a requirement as ROSA was abolished, so my daughter by age will be placed Y11. Also I was told that it would be better to get in touch with principals of public schools in the area I am thinking to stay. Later I checked catholic schools as well and they told me they ‘ll accept my daughter without GCSE.
        Now it’s up to me to decide and I think I will stay until end of June for my daughter to have these certificates and maybe to start Y11 January 2017. It will be a shame after 2 years of very hard working to not have the final recognition. (she is A-A* student after only 2 years in UK, moving from Spain and being Romanian native). We all made big efforts and hope now to find the peace as our dream started to come true.
        I really don’t know why this is not clearly explained as due to lots of English expats there. All blogs I read were confusing.
        All in all, thank for your time to answer to me.,


      • Rima King says:

        Hi Cristina,
        We are in a similar position as our 16 year old son has just finished his GCSE’s (YR 11) in Dubai. We applied to a school in QLD and were told that he needs to Join year 10 now ( semester 2) and can join year 11 only in Jan 2017! This is because it is a requirement to finish 4 semesters before you can get the High School certificate , plus year 10 is when he gets to select subjects.
        We are in a dilemma, as he’s quite gifted and we’re not sure how he’ll adjust after so many years in the UK system.
        He’s quite keen to join a boarding school in the UK as he’d like to go to a UK uni but we feel it’ll be hard for him/or us being so far away and he might risk losing his permanent residency in Australia. And, UK Unis might not consider him domiciled since we’ve been living outside the UK, so he’ll be facing huge Uni fees.
        We have to take a decision in the next week, but it’s quite hard convincing a 16 year old that the move will be in his best interest (even if he’s pulled back a year)

    • Sara Zebra says:

      Sadly the RoSA is not recognised in the UK, so if you are transferring back to the UK and trying to do ‘A’ levels, using the RosA as a replacement for GCSEs – it is not possible! The UK education system builds and progresses from GCSEs. A child who doesn’t have a minimum of GCSE English and Maths cannot progress to A levels, or college, or into employment as we found out to my son’s detriment 😦
      (the Rosa is not recognised as an equivalent to a GCSE level of education)

  2. Karen says:

    We are looking to spend a year or two in the UK with children that will be in Y5 & Y6. Can you please help me with resources on how to find the best schools throughout UK that are government run. In Australia we are located near award winning government schools with our eldest in a gifted program. We would like to keep the two younger ones in a good school in the UK so they may transfer back into our local Australian high schools in good standing for their secondary years. Also, do you know if Australians have a reciprocal education agreement with the UK or will we be charged international students fees? Kind regards, Karen

    • Rachel says:

      Hi Karen,

      The best place I know of to look for a school is on You can search for schools by location and filter the results by age, type, curriculum, specialist areas, and so on. To find a government-run schools, just tick “state” under the section asking for school type. Look for the school’s Ofsted grade and report – Ofsted is the education standards authority and issue periodic reports on schools, so any school with a rating of “good” or “outstanding” is going to be among the best you could find.

      As for the fees, state-administered schools in the UK provide free education in primary. As far as I know, this applies to any resident, whether a citizen or not (you may want to check on that, though; I’m a dual citizen so there are some things I’ve never need to find out about). I don’t know about secondary school fees but I imagine as long as you’re there as residents or a working visa or something, you won’t have to pay full international fees. Avoid the independent schools, though – they can be very, very expensive.

      I hope this has helped,

  3. Zoe says:

    Wanted to correct a minor mistake. Afghanistan was never a former Empire nation. Britain tried invading but never succeeded, so can never be considered a British Colony. Other than that, very interesting! Had a discussion with an Aussie cousin about this and was confused with their education system. Thanks!

    • Rachel says:

      Thanks! I did know that, so I’m not sure why I wrote it like that. Australia had a lot of Afghan and Baloch immigrants and workers in the 19th century – probably more than Indian ones, and we have a major overland train named after them – so maybe that confused me for a bit. I get the feeling from the school system that Afghanistan had a bit more British influence than they’d like to admit.

  4. Janice Hurd says:

    I am struggling with a decision right now ! And need perspective!
    We have a choice of putting our 11 year old into either the private school system in Australia or UK. From Sept 2016 she would start Year 7 in UK but would go into Grade 6 for a term in Australia and then to Year 7 in Jan 2017.
    She has been in the US system which I have found to be impersonal, teaching is standardized test directed with very little room for creativity and individualised strengths.
    Both schools I am looking at a good private schools and having taught in both the Australian and UK systems many years ago I know what to expect.
    She is average academically, highly musical, very creative.
    Where do we go long term ? I am looking for a system that will take her all the way through to Uni.

    • Rachel says:

      Hi Janice,

      First of all, I’m by no means any expert, so definitely don’t take my word as final because the more people ask advice on this post, the more I think I don’t know what I’m talking about.

      In the post, I didn’t talk much about private schools, and this is because they don’t always follow the pattern or curriculum of the country. I have been in both private and public schools in Australia, I have cousins in private schools in the UK, and I have done some SSO work in private schools in Australia, and I can say… whether in the UK or Australia, a private school is a private school and it’s best to take each school individually and not generalise, because there isn’t much distinction.

      Obviously you’ve done your research so you know what schools you’re thinking of and where their strengths lie. My main concern would be that she is going into Year 6/7 – in most of Australia, this would be a term of primary school, possibly a year (although a private school might divide differently and she would be going into “middle school”). In the UK, she would be going into secondary school. So that is something to consider – a secondary situation is likely to be a bit more impersonal than a primary or middle school situation, which would allow some time for adjustment to the new country and school.

      As for university, going to the UK allows for more chance for specialisation in a preferred subject prior to going to uni, but a private/independent school in the UK might not include 6th Form, which would mean finding another school for the last two years of secondary school before university. In Australia, on the other hand, there will be less chance for specialisation until the last year, and a private school might require more standard subjects than choice ones even in Year 12, but the school will take her all the way tot he end of secondary education.

      The university system is much the same in either country such that semester exchanges between the two are quite common. University fees in Australia are a little bit higher, but not by much.

      As for music, both the UK and Australia have well-developed music accreditation systems – AMEB in Australia and ABRSM or Trinity in the UK. An Australian school might be more flexible in the classroom while a UK school might offer more extracurricular activities – but that’s just a generalisation.

      I hope this helps, but I feel like it hasn’t. Basically, I don’t think there’s really much difference between the countries in terms of private education, and all other things being equal, you should just go with whichever school you prefer.

  5. Fiona Ko says:

    Dear Rachel,
    We have a 9 year old girl who was born in Hong Kong and has been attending school in HK since birth. We are thinking of moving to Sydney when our daughter is ready to start Year 7 in Australia for family reasons. However we are also considering moving to the UK for our daughter to start Year 9 (UK) so that she can proceed to do her GCSE and A’Levels in the UK, and hopefully eventually go to university in the UK. We would like to send her to private schools in both places.

    Would these changes be disruptive to daughter’s schooling? On the positive side, she will have the opportunity to see and experience more of the world. However I am worried that all these changes will unsettle her, particularly academically.

    Your advice will be much appreciated.


    • Rachel says:

      Hi Fiona,

      So, to be clear, you would move to Australia for two years and then move to the UK?

      On the face of it, I would say it might be better just to go to the UK. As I understand it, the Hong Kong system is much closer to the UK system than to the Australian one, so there would be less disruption academically. Hong Kong school years also run at the same times as UK ones (September-June), whereas the Australian school year is February-December, so there’s no easy transition from one to the other without either skipping or repeating something.

      Overall, I would be more concerned about the academic disruption which would come from the different school year times, but two years of education in Australia wouldn’t change much in terms of actual content taught – as I’ve said, it quite similar, and you would be shifting to the UK before things like subjects taken and credits attained became an issue.

      If your daughter is fairly outgoing and adaptable, I don’t think there would be much problem adjusting from school to school. I myself swapped schools a couple of times during secondary education and I feel it broadened my horizons a bit and got my used to adjusting to new ways of doing things, which has been useful for university and employment. Of course, I didn’t move such great distances between schools!

      Australian schools have a lot of international students, particularly in senior secondary (Year 10-12) and you might find that a school in Australia would have some other students who have lived in Hong Kong. I don’t know whether international students from Hong Kong are as common in the UK as they are in Australia, but that is also something to consider.

      I hope this has helped!


  6. Jennie says:

    Hi Rachel,

    I am currently researching for an essay comparing the education systems of Australia and the UK for Uni and I was just wondering what your sources were!? I have searched the internet for so long trying to find information and you would be helping me out so much!

    Thanks, Jennie 🙂

  7. Libby says:

    Dear Rachel,

    My son has been attending a british school in SEAsia since we relocated from Australia when he was 5 years old. He’ll be in Year 8 this academic year starting next month. We are thinking of moving back to Sydney however we are contemplating as to when it is best for him to leave the UK system and be transferred to a Australian school – will it be after year 8, 9 or 10? What would you recommend?

    Your advice will be much appreciated. Thanks! 🙂

    • Rachel says:

      I think any of those would probably work, but probably Year 8 or 9 rather than Year 10 – it’s good to be established in a school and system before attempting the leaving certificate.

  8. Fiona says:

    Thanks very much Rachel…just what I needed in a nutshell! And heartfelt agreement with your last comment regarding there being little provision for special need, gifted &/or autistic children being not catered for in the Australian school system….especially once they reach secondary school.

  9. Ian Dilemma says:

    We are in a similar dilemma.

    Our daughter is old for her year as a result of moving from Australia to the UK and we intend to send her to university in Australia. However, given high school in the UK goes to year 13 compared to year 12 and given it ends in September not the end of the year, on the current track she will start university in Australia in 2020 a few months short of her 20th birthday when all others will be turning 18.

    She will going to year 13 if she stays in the UK system on the school bus as a 19 year old women!!!!

    She is achieving high results and it would be a waste of her time to delay going to uni in Australia by two years.

    Our daughter finishes GCSC (Year 11) in September 2017 at age 17yrs.

    If Australia forces her to do all of year 11 and 12 for uni, she might as well enrol in the 6 month “Uni-ready” course for students who didn’t get the marks to go to Uni (which she would cruze through) and then enrol in Uni mid-year 2018.

    Any options would be appretiated.

    • Rachel says:

      I delayed going to uni for various reasons and will (hopefully) be starting at a university in Melbourne just a few weeks after my 21st birthday. To be honest, I’m glad I’ve had the extra few years as I feel much better about starting in another city (and living on-campus) with a few more years and experiences under my belt. I don’t think it will make much difference overall as ages seem to mean less at uni. (I have already done a diploma, so I have some experience of the university environment). Besides, there are plenty of second- and third-year students who will be the same age as me.

      My sister went to uni straight out of high school – AND skipped a year in high school – and was the youngest by quite a way. She turned 18 in the middle of her first year at uni, while all her classmates were 18 turning 19 going into it. It seems pretty common in my experience (remember, most of the people I know are heading off the uni at the moment) that Australians who are 17 when they would be starting uni but would have to move away are likely to delay it for a year anyway – so being 19 turning 20 won’t be as much of an age difference as you think.

      I don’t know exactly what the uni requirements are regarding GCSEs verses A-Levels. The individual state Tertiary Entrance Criteria (e.g. SATAC for South Australia, V-TAC for Victoria, et c.) usually provide a fairly comprehensive (if difficult to find) list of foreign conversions, which of course will include all parts of the UK and Ireland. But individual states and even individual unis have different requirements, so do check on the individual unis and courses your daughter is interested in.

      I can tell you from my own experience that it will be better to have as complete a final two years of high school as possible. I was in the difficult position of having got a SACE two years ago, which meant that (a) my state had different requirements when I did it, and (b) Victoria, where I wanted to apply for uni, had actually changed their requirements. Thankfully, because Victoria’s high school requirements had recently changed there was a waiver possibility for the bit I didn’t have (a subject I hadn’t done in Year 12). That mightn’t still be around in 2020. Or it might – who knows?

      Doing well in high school – being high-achieving and getting good marks – can be important for getting an offer for the course you want, particularly in high-ATAR courses like medicine, but overall, doing the right subjects is more important that doing well in weird subjects. Believe me – I did really well is some really unusual subjects (okay, music and lots of languages), so even though I had a good ATAR, I still have to enter through a remedial stream.

      So, in summation, I would personally say it goes better for uni applications to have done as much in the final two years of secondary school as possible, particularly core subjects such as maths and English, because there might be a requirement for the course or by the university to have done one of them in the final year; and starting uni later isn’t so bad.

      Here’s food for thought on the latter point: my sister was rejected from on-campus accommodation for being under 18 at the start of the year. So if you’re not commuting from home but living on-campus, it’s definitely a plus to be a little bit older than the average.

  10. Rachel says:

    Well, I certainly didn’t expect this post to be such a busy topic – and my biggest hit – when I wrote it. However, I won’t be responding to comments asking for advice any more. Remember – I wrote this as a teenager having a rant – I’m not an expert!

    My advice is going to basically fall into the following categories:
    – In primary school, it’s all the same and really doesn’t matter
    – In high school, it’s better to change sooner rather than later
    – In university, it doesn’t really matter if you’re a year or two older
    – For all other questions, go to the appropriate website and/or ask the relevant school/university/authority!

    • John says:

      I know you said no more but maybe just one.

      We’re in Australia and will be returning to UK before children’s education finishes. When is the best time to return between grade 10-12, or even after that? How would the qualifications in Australia stand up for going to university in UK?

      • Rachel says:

        I don’t know much about going in that direction, but from what I remember of my cousins going through secondary school, they started working towards GCSEs (either GCSE subjects or subjects preparing for the GCSE) fairly early – I remember one cousin being just shy of 14 and talking about it, although that seems very early!

        Nevertheless, probably earlier is better. A-levels usually take two years, so I’d say it’s probably sensible not to try to go into it halfway through.

        As for university, Australian secondary qualifications are easily recognised and I understand there’s quite a body of Australian and Kiwi international students at UK universities so that’s really no problem.

        The main thing with university will be the fees – different fee brackets apply depending on citizenship and residence, and some universities will require you to have lived in the UK for three years before letting you pay the (much!) lower citizen resident fee. I did one certificate and started another (by correspondence) with a university in the UK and let me tell you, the fees for being outwith the UK were steep! I understand that not all universities have the three-year rule, and that some will waive it based on the individual situation, but it’s probably worth keeping in mind if your children want to do tertiary study over there.

  11. Karen says:

    Hi. We are located in Scotland, Glasgow. We are considering a move to Australia but I am worrying about the education system and not sure what is best. Our daughter will be starting primary school next year and it will be a placement request as our local primary does not get great reviews. How does primary education compare in Australia? We won’t be paying for private education. Finding it all a bit stressful as we have been accepted by a primary which has a ration of 1:8 but facilities aren’t great. it does feed in to a good secondary however but there is no guarantee we will be accepted there either. I am learning about the Scottish system as I am English but I have no idea about the Australian and how it compares academically. Any advice greatly appreciated. Thanks

    • Rachel says:

      Somewhat appallingly, I don’t actually know much about the Scottish education system – and considering I’ve actually done a Highers subject, that’s probably a bit strange.

      Unfortunately, there aren’t many school country comparisons which focus on primary education, so it’s hard so say, but for high school rankings, Australia is consistently better-ranked in maths and science than the UK (although that, presumably, includes both Scotland and England/Wales). Generally Scotland and England are compared by saying that the Scottish system emphasises breadth of knowledge (knowing a little about a lot) while the English system emphasises depth (knowing a lot about a little). Scotland, like Australia, prefers to teach children how to learn, while England prefers simply to teach them. In that respect – as well as how primary/secondary is divided for age – Australia and Scotland are more similar to each other than either to England.

      As for the ratios – Australia typically has a higher teacher:pupil ratio than Scotland, but it’s about the same as England. It will depend very much on where you live though: just like, I imagine, in Scotland, if you live a city, the school is likely to have more pupils, but if you live in a rural or semi-rural area, the school will be much smaller – my local primary school now has about a 1:2 ratio for teachers and support staff to the thirty-some pupils, although that’s an extreme example.

      If you want to compare the curriculums, you can find the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence here:, and the Australian National Curriculum here: That’s now been implemented pretty well nationwide, which it hadn’t been when I first wrote this post. I don’t imagine the information covered will be too different, but it would be interesting to see, especially considering that the ANC drew heavily from the British National Curriculum for structure.

      Here’s one thing I know, since I’m studying primary education and have the vague thought that I’ll probably end up teaching somewhere in the UK: it’s much harder to teach in Scotland. If you qualify in Australia, schools in England will employ you with just that, but schools in Scotland will require you to do another short course before they let you teach (this is true even for teachers who qualified in England). I don’t know if that’s simply because the structure of the curriculum is different, but it’s food for thought.

    • Rachel says:

      Oh, the other thing was about secondary school. Scotland is more like England than Australia in terms of the certificates given, with Standards offered in S4 (that’s Year 11 in the rotUK and Year 10 in Australia, and therefore equivalent to GCSEs) and Highers in S6 (that’s Year 11 in the rotUK and Year 12 in Australia, and therefore equivalent to ACE and A-Levels). That said, Standards are being phased out, so by the time your daughter gets through, she’ll probably only do Highers.

      • Karen Aston says:

        Wow! Thank you for your detailed response, lots to look at and think about. So hard knowing what to do for the best….🙈

  12. […] years ago, I had a teenage rant in response to something on some expat forums, and it became my most successful post. I’m constantly getting comments and questions from people who, for some reason, think […]

  13. Theru says:

    Hi Rachel, your posts are very interesting and very relevant for my case as well. My girls are 8 and 5 and currently schooling in Sri Lanka in a school which follows the Cambridge curriculumn. I am planning to relocate to Perth in 2020 in time to start secondary school for older one. I won’t be able to afford private education in australia ( independent schools due to high prices and catholic school due to being Non catholic) . How would you compare the education standards in public school in Perth compared to east coast . I hear there are only few good public high schools in Perth . Would you know whether there are any IB public schools in Perth ?
    Also is there a requirement to live in Australia for 3 years prior to starting uni to apply for hecs. We are Australian citizens currently living in Sri Lanka .

  14. Malcolm says:

    Just happened across this and noted the repeated references to the uk education system, and the uk curriculum. There is in fact no such thing however, as there are four distinct systems in the Uk. I have for example worked in senior roles in Scotland and England, (and many other countries) and note England has things like A levels, Academies, School governors, key stages and Ofsted, none of which exist in Scotland. Making reference to a system that does not actually exist rather undermines the credibility of this article.

    • Rachel says:

      It’s not an article, and it wasn’t written to be credible. It was me, as a teenager and an expat kid, having a rant at a bunch of English expats. I’m well aware that the curriculum used in Scotland is QUITE different to the curriculum used in the rest of the UK, and when I made a follow-up article to deal with the situation of this rant getting out of hand in the comments, I discussed the Curriculum for Excellence (the Scottish curriculum) as part of that. At the time of writing this post, however, the people my rant was directed towards were all English and all concerned with the English National Curriculum. Since the National Curriculum is used in Wales and Northern Ireland as well, with Scotland as the outlier doing its own thing in state schools, I termed the English National Curriculum was ‘UK’ for shorthand. You can view the newer article here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s