Choosing a High School in Australia: State or Private?

In January 2009 Elizabeth started junior school here in Australia. Here’s what that looked like…

First Day at SchoolIn January of this year Elizabeth started high school as a Grade 7 student age 11. This is what she now looks like as she walks home from school…

walking homeHow time flies.

She hasn’t actually walked all the way home from school, that would take way too long, the school she goes to is a good 10-15 minutes drive from our home by car. She actually got the school bus, which drives right past our house…

school busHere it is again dropping some other students off a bit further up the road…

drop offHow did we choose Elizabeth’s high school?

Those of you who have followed Elizabeth’s story will know that she has been attending the local state junior school, but in our minds we imagined that when she moved up to high school we would probably send her to a private school. Mrs Bob was head of research on that one, and she has done a sterling job over the years.

I say ‘over the years’, because this kind of thing takes some planning.


Because generally speaking, if you want to send your child to a private school, you need to book a place in advance. It’s an interesting concept, and quite a costly one as you will see, but part of me wonders how necessary it really is.

I suppose there is a danger that some of these schools may have a limited number of spaces, but they are in the business of making money. If you decide you want to send your child to a private school at the last minute without reserving a place, and you’re happy to pay the fees, would they really turn you away?

That’s a question that almost certainly has different answers for different schools, but it’s one I’m not in a position to answer as I haven’t tested it out.

Private school options we looked at:

I’m going to give you the details of the private schools Mrs Bob and I looked at potentially for Elizabeth. There’s no point in mentioning these schools by name, it’s irrelevant, as it only applies to my immediate location. Australia, as you know, is a big country.

The first school we looked at was a private girls grammar school west of Brisbane which had a good reputation, and back in 2010 my wife was really keen that Elizabeth go there. So we paid a $50 administrative deposit to reserve a place at that time. But by the time they asked us for a proper deposit of $500 at some point in 2013, we had changed our minds about that school so didn’t proceed.

Having dismissed that option, at around the same time in 2013, Mrs Bob started to look at other options. There was a small private Catholic school about 25 minutes drive from us that she was keen on, the school itself looked as cute as a button. Both Mrs Bob and Elizabeth liked it when they attended the open day together.

Again, it had a good reputation and in terms of fees, it was one of the more reasonable ones at around $7000 a year. So we paid them $500 to reserve a place. I understand the deposit for that one has now gone up to $750, it might even be $1000.

At the same time there was another Catholic school that Mrs Bob really liked and again she took Elizabeth there for the open day. Unfortunately, Elizabeth really wasn’t keen, so we thought, you know what? She’s the one that has to go there for six years, so maybe we should consider that.

The school did hold a place open to us for a year at no charge, but when they did ask us for a serious deposit, $500 we think, we declined. That school, had we opted for it, would have cost around $12,000 a year.

By the way, these deposits are a good little earner for the schools. We know of one couple who reserved spaces at three of four schools for both of their children and the bills they were receiving got out of hand. In the end they just had to make a decision to save money.

Nice little moneyspinner though.

Why were we looking at Catholic schools?

Well, we are not Catholics, but you’d do not have to be a Catholic to go to a Catholic school. Generally speaking though, they cost less than non-Catholic private schools whose fees range from between $15,000-$17,000 and sometimes much more.

State schools

State schools are the ones you do not have to pay large fees for. One of the top three state schools in Brisbane, if not in all of Queensland, is Brisbane State High School…

Brisbane State High School upper campus, Nov 2015This school does offer a limited number of places to children who do not live in the catchment area, providing they attend and pass the tests they make available to Grade 5 students. Mrs Bob was keen for Elizabeth to take those tests, me not so.

I felt there was just too much commuting to get into the city from where we live; what child wants to spend three hours a day on the school bus? Yes, with all the stops and pickups, I think we would have been looking at an hour and a half each way.

I’m happy to say, we didn’t take that one further.

Extension Programs

I don’t know if they have these in your country, but I have never heard of ‘Extension Programs’ in the UK or anything like them. They didn’t have them when I went to school, I’m also certain they didn’t have them when I last lived in the UK in 2007.

But they have them here. What are they?

An extension course is a course offered to a student so that they can extend themselves in the subject area in which they think they could do well. Extension courses have limited places that are only offered to students who have shown an ability to extend themselves in the past, by way of previous good reports and NAPLAN test results.

I couldn’t possibly list all the extension programs available around Australia, but subjects include music, science, computers, humanities and maths extensions. There is also a gifted and talented extension for generally bright kids.

Then there are the language extension courses known as ‘immersion’ programs. I suspect because you immerse yourself in a foreign language and virtually every lesson you have from Grade 7 onwards is in that foreign language.

Choose from Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese, German, Vietnamese and probably more.

Some schools might not offer any extension programs at all, others might just offer one, larger schools might offer two or three. Extension programs aren’t everywhere, but they are sprinkled around the country in various schools.

So, which school did we choose for Elizabeth?

Elizabeth was fortunate enough to be accepted for a local language immersion course at a state public school that has a very good reputation. The results achieved by this particular school were actually generally better than the two private Catholic schools already referred to here.

The language immersion course students achieved even higher results than the rest of the school generally did, so their results matched those of even more expensive private schools.

Our choice was simple.


I think a lot of people naturally believe that private (paid) schools will offer the best possible education for their children, that isn’t always the case. It pays to do your research, and you can do that online.

For more information, you can find out about the MySchool website on my page called Which School? Be sure to check out the additional helpful links towards the foot of that page, especially the one about temporary visa holders if that applies to you.

It’s only been a month or so, but Elizabeth is loving her new school. She loves the course she is on and she is thrilled to be going to a local public school.

Here are the advantages for her:

  • Most of her best friends from junior school are going to the same school
  • The bus only takes about 25 minutes
  • She may not be in the same class with some of her friends, but they can still hang out at lunchtime
  • They all get the same bus together

Here are the advantages for us:

  • It’s free!

Of course, is not truly free, we all pay taxes pay for these state schools. Then there’s the stationery and books we need to buy (about $300) and the laptop computer (about $1200) and the school trips and, at some point, international travel for the student exchange.


Do you need to choose a school in Australia?

The following page should help…

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • ronny August 29, 2016, 10:04 pm | Link

    Hi, am considering relocating to Australia with my family.I presently live in Nigeria and my daughter is 13 will be going into senior high school while my son 15 + will be ready to go into the university by next year.
    We are looking at settling in Adelaide.
    Kindly recommend decent public school for my daughter and a university for my son.He wants to study engineering.

    • BobinOz August 30, 2016, 6:04 pm | Link

      I can’t really do that, I do not have any local knowledge of Adelaide or the schools as I live in Brisbane. You can research the performances of schools using the tools you’ll find on my page called Which school?

      Good luck, Bob

  • Nancy May 26, 2016, 6:39 pm | Link

    Thanks Bob, I’ll do that.

  • Nancy May 26, 2016, 11:38 am | Link

    Hi Bob, thanks so much for the info. I’m in Africa now but will be moving to Melbourne later in the year. My daughter would have completed her primary education by then. Can I directly start applying to secondary schools for her grade seven or does she have to do grade six again?

  • Rhona May 16, 2016, 12:58 am | Link

    Really interesting post. I have found the whole school thing slightly confusing as I understand different places do things differently. We will either be in Newcastle or Melbourne. My eldest will be 15 when we arrive in October so I’m thinking he will join yr 11 In January 2017??? Or possible stay back a year and re do year 10?? I also can’t quite tell if he has to get the High school certificate before he can leave or not??
    Any ideas or tips on where to look for definite answers?

  • Nick March 5, 2016, 4:44 pm | Link

    Actually, one thing that surprised me on moving to Australia was that a lot of people in our group of friends really do still socialise and to some extent do business with many of the people they went to school with. I wouldn’t say that is was truly an “old school tie” network, but it might make a difference in the future.

    To an extent that does make a case for the private schools. I suspect we shall go for a state school for our son (as we are in the catchment for the best school in the state, which happens to be state run) but we have considered private schools for him.

    • BobinOz March 6, 2016, 9:24 pm | Link

      Interesting. Are you suggesting that only students of private schools stay in touch and continue to do business with each other and that it doesn’t happen for those who went to state schools?

      The reason I ask is because I’ve been to a couple of meetings at my daughter’s new school, and I’ve met many past students of the same course. They have all said they continue to remain in contact with many of the people they met through the school including the ones they met internationally through exchanges. So I reckon the same thing happens in many state schools as well.

      Sounds like you are well placed, and you have also provided further evidence that sometimes state schools can outperform the private ones. Thanks, Bob

  • Phoebe March 3, 2016, 9:45 am | Link

    How exciting – congrats to Elizabeth!
    I definitely prefer state schools. Throughout my education, I went to 6 different schools (all public). I never felt like my education was lacking, and actually felt more prepared for when I went to uni. A few friends, who had spent some time in private schools, complained that the education they received there was too spoon-fed and so didn’t prepare them for the future.
    I also don’t think it’s necessary to spend such a huge amount of money on school fees! (Some private schools cost more than my mum earnt in a year)
    It’s great to hear Elizabeth is enjoying her new school – what language is she studying?

    • BobinOz March 3, 2016, 9:22 pm | Link

      Yes, I agree, there’s nothing wrong with state schools at all. I only went to two schools, both of them were state schools and I had no complaints with either of them.

      On the other hand though I have heard some parents saying they pulled their children out of state schools because it wasn’t working out and when they put them into a private school things got much better.

      I think like anything there are variables, this one depends on the school and the child. But if I were to ever decide to pay $12,000 a year or more, there would need to be a very good reason to do that otherwise I’ll stick with free. I would need to see value for money.

      Oh, and Elizabeth says “Ich lerne Deutsch”.

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