Education in Australia
The core years children are expected to attend school are 6 to 16, although some states vary by a year each way, with some children starting at 5 and being able to leave at 17. The years are broken up into a two-stage Primary School-High School structure, with kids attending Primaries from the ages of 5 to 11 and High School from 12-18.
After years of educational curricula being determined by individual states or territories, a new, compulsory Federal curriculum is on the horizon. Under this new system the teaching matter for English, Maths, Science and History will be dictated by the national government, but states will maintain their ability to determine the content of other subjects.
A key component of this new curriculum will be the history and culture of Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders.
While this new system is yet to have an official release date, numerous states and territories have already adopted it as it is generally considered to be going 'live' in the 2013-14 period.
The school year runs from January to December, split into four terms, with a (roughly) six week holiday over Christmas/summer, and three other two week holidays at Easter, in July and in October.
While education is free, there is a voluntary fee that can run anywhere from $70 to $800 per year. Parents are expected to contribute towards school trips and the like.
Catholic and Private education
While the majority of Australian kids go to some form of state school, some parents elect to send their children to Catholic schools or, at the more expensive end of the equation, private schools. Catholic schools are characterised by moderately-priced compulsory fees (about $3000 a year), and receive a significant portion of state funding.
Private schools, on the other hand, can cost up to $20,000 a year (as the name suggests they on the whole receive no government funding), and are equally as prestigious as their British, American and East Asian counterparts, and often present better value for money. However, both private and Catholic schools must still follow the core aspects of the curriculum; but they usually offer extra subjects and provide a suite of extracurricular activities.
Tertiary education in Australia has two flavours: University and VET, or Vocational Education and Training. There are over 40 public universities in Australia, many of which are ranked as some of the best in the world. International student to domestic student ratios are very high, with people coming from all over the world to pursue their degree. Fees stand at circa $10,000 per year, making them dramatically cheaper than in the US and in East Asia and roughly on par with current UK fees.
VET colleges and institutes deliver vocational courses in everything from nursing and construction to computer programming and tourism, and some VET qualifications can count towards a bachelor degree. Fees for VET courses range from roughly $500 to $1500 per year.
Like elsewhere in the world, private tuition is a key component of many Australians' education. The Australian Bureau of Statistics marked a 60% increase in household expenditure on private tuition between 1997 and 2004, and the figure only seems to be rising. However there remains strong regional variation, with New South Wales spending almost three times as much as Victoria on tuition.
As of 2007, the federal government has announced a scheme whereby children who failed to meet national standards of numeracy and literacy would be given vouchers to pay for private tuition, a scheme similar to the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind policy in the US.
With these increases in private tuition expenditure, by both the government and households, it seems certain that it will continue to grow as a key teaching method in Australia's future.