At What Age Do Children Start School in Australia?

Today, Elizabeth went back to school after the two-week winter holiday break. Elizabeth is 11 years old, she is in Grade 6 which is her final year of primary school and next year, in January, she will go to high school for her secondary education.

High school will give her another six years of education, taking her from Grade 7 to Grade 12.

Going right back to the beginning, Elizabeth started school in January 2009. Here is a quick flashback to see what that looked like…

First Day at SchoolJanuary is the beginning of the school year here and Elizabeth was 4 3/4 years of age at that time. The reason she started in 2009 was because she would had turned five before 30th of June in that year, her birthday is in March.

Had her birthday been after 30 June 2009, then she wouldn’t have started school until January 2010. Her first year in school here in Queensland was called the ‘Prep Year’ and it is followed by a further six years of primary school education taking her from Grade 1 to Grade 6.

So, as you can see, she will have had seven years of primary school education followed by six years in high school.

Pretty simple, huh?

So, now the question.

At what age do children start school in Australia?

It’s a question you’d have thought I would have covered on this website already, I clearly understand the rules, I’ve just explained them quite simply for Elizabeth. Of course though, it isn’t a simple question at all, because when a child starts school and where they go to is decided by states and territories, it’s not nationally universal.

The states and territories can also change the rules as some have done recently, so keeping up to date with it is also a huge challenge. I used to get a headache just thinking about how it works here in Queensland, imagine the migraine I could achieve if I were thinking about it for all eight states and territories?

I hope you can see why I have avoided this question, until now.

Different terminology

School Bus

It gets further complicated by the different names used in the different states. What was generally called ‘Playschool’ or ‘Nursery School’ in the UK, is called either ‘Preschool’ or ‘Kindy’ here in Australia, depending on the state.

This ‘Preschool’ year is not part of the curriculum, attendance is voluntary. The preschool might be run by state and territory governments or privately run and fees will often apply. We sent Elizabeth to preschool for just a couple of days a week, but it’s very flexible, you can choose longer or shorter.

And then the first year in primary school, the one before Grade 1, can be variously called ‘Kindy’, ‘Transition’, ‘Reception’, ‘Prep’ or ‘Pre-primary’.

Confusing isn’t it?


Before I give a rundown of what happens across the various states and territories, I should tell you that just last year the Australian Primary Principals’ Association called for the age a child starts school in Australia to be standardised across the whole country.

It would make sense; people do move from one state to another, it would certainly be helpful to them for their children to continue their education in the same grade wherever they moved to.

It would have also helped me write this article, but as we speak, there is little sign of any kind of unification.

State-by-state analysis

If you think this article has been tough to follow so far, well, we’ve only just got the really tricky bit, the state-by-state analysis.

Let’s talk about that first year at primary school, the ‘Prep Year’, the year of schooling that comes before Grade 1. Remember the school year here starts towards the end of January.

Starting ages:

  • In Tasmania your child must be 5 years old by 1 January in the year in which they start school.
  • In Victoria and the ACT, your child must be 5 years old by 30 April in the year in which they start school.
  • In South Australia your child must be 5 years old by 1 May in the year in which they start school.
  • In Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia, your child must be 5 years old by 30 June in the year in which they start school.
  • In New South Wales your child must be 5 years old by 31 July in the year in which they start school.

Your child can go to preschool or kindy as long as they are 4 years old by the same dates mentioned above apart from in Queensland where they need to be 4 years old before 31 July in the year they wish to start kindy.

There, that wasn’t too bad was it?

I do have to admit though that my task was made much easier after discovering a page on an Australian parenting website which answered many of my questions. They have a great deal of information about schooling in Australia.

As I’ve already mentioned, these rules can change at any moment, either by the state, the territory, or maybe even by federal government.

So it’s essential you doublecheck the information you have read here to make sure it is still up-to-date. The best place to do that is with the education department for the various states/territories. Which brings me back to that Australian parenting website; they have a ‘Useful Links’ section on their page which includes links to all Australian state and territory education departments.

I highly recommend you visit their website for more information:

Of course, it doesn’t end there. When secondary education is over there is tertiary education. That’s Universities, TAFE colleges and Vocation Education and Training/VET providers.

When I’ve recovered from this article, maybe I’ll take a look at that.

School Zone

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Mandy August 13, 2016, 11:50 pm | Link

    Hi Bob

    Thank you for this website! It has provided us with so much useful info and reassurance. We are in the process of obtaining our visa and are at the “nervous waiting” stage, so hopefully we will be getting some good news soon. I was very worried about moving my children as I have heard that the ages for starting school differ from state to state and that in general start at a younger age than we do in South Africa where kids turn 6 years in kindy no matter which month they are born in. This page has helped immensely. As my kids are both born in the latter part of the year we wont have any problems moving them.

    Thanks again


    • BobinOz August 14, 2016, 6:57 pm | Link

      Very glad to hear my website has been helpful to you Mandy, including this page about when children start school. Hopefully your nervous waiting stage won’t last too long and you get the good news you are hoping for.

      Good luck, I hope it all works out well for you and your family. Many thanks, Bob

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