Australian Education Standards Compared to the UK and USA.

I think it started when I got an email from Vivienne, a lady who has moved from Australia to the UK. She felt quite strongly that educational standards in the UK were better than here in Australia.

I promised to look into it.teacher

Then, in a post I wrote about the cost of education in Australia, Waleed asked….

“Here in the UK during year 10 and 11 (secondary school) we take GCSE examination. 62.4% get A*-C Grades (college only accepts you if you have A* TO C) with 20% GETTING A*/A.
I would like to know what’s the equivalent in Australia and percentage.

I promised to look into it again. Today I do.

Firstly, let me get my cynical statement about statistics out of the way. When I was a lad, we used to take “O” levels and “A” levels. I left school, one week shy of my 16th birthday, with four “O” levels tucked under my arm.

Where I lived, this was regarded as near genius at the time. These days,  kids can often come away with 10 to 12  “A” grade GCSEs when in our day we never knew there were that many subjects!

So, have educational standards improved over the years? Or is it the case that governments and education authorities have learned how to better present themselves to the public?

Cynicism aside, here’s what I found.

Firstly, I cannot answer Waleed’s question directly. Why? Because in Australia, each separate state runs its own school system and therefore each has a different exam at the end, like this:

The BobinOz Rough Guide to Education

In Australian Capital Territory, each student gets a year 12 certificate which lists the subjects they have taken and the results are achieved.

In New South Wales, a student’s achievements are based on a combination of the results of Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams along with their accumulated subject results.

In Northern Territory they have the Northern Territory Certificate of Education, exams which tests student’s abilities in various subjects.

In Queensland students who graduate in year 12 received a Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE), based mainly on tasks submitted throughout the relevant years.

In South Australia they do a similar thing as QLD, but theirs is called a South Australian Certificate of Education.

In Tasmania it is, yes you’ve guessed it, the Tasmanian Certificate of Education, again based on students accumulative results.

In Victoria, they call it the Victoria Certificate of Education (VCE), but this one is an actual exam at the end of year 12.

Finally, in Western Australia, students are encouraged to take the Western Australia Certificate of Education, which are individual subject exams similar to those in Victoria and NT.

On top of all that, Queensland call their highest achievers VHA’s, Very High Achievers whilst NSW call theirs DA’s, Distinguished Achievers. I didn’t bother to see what the others do. But hopefully, everyone can now see how impossible it would be to answer Waleed’s question.

We’re talking grids, matrixes and headaches! But there is an easier way.


This stands for “Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study” and it’s a bunch of really clever people that have worked it all out for us. Every four years they look at the educational standards achieved in countries all around the world.

They look at both maths and science for year 4 and year 8 students. Here’s a snapshot of their results for 2007.

Year Four Maths.

  • Hong Kong: 607 points: Top.
  • England:541 points: 7th.
  • USA: 529 points: 11th.
  • Australia: 516 points: 14th
  • Scotland: 494 points: 22nd.

Year Eight Maths.

  • Chinese Taipei: 598 points: Top.
  • England:513 points: 7th.
  • USA: 508 points: 9th.
  • Australia: 496 points: 14th
  • Scotland: 487 points: 17th

Year Four Science.

  • Singapore: 587 points: Top.
  • England:542 points: 7th.
  • USA: 539 points: 8th.
  • Australia: 527 points: 13th
  • Scotland: 500 points: 23rd.

Year Eight Science.

  • Singapore: 567 points: Top.
  • England:542 points: 5th.
  • USA: 520 points: 11th.
  • Australia: 515 points: 13th
  • Scotland: 496 points: 15th.

The result is clear-cut, almost. Educational standards in England are certainly better than here in Australia with the USA somewhere in between. But education in Scotland is not as good as it is here in Australia, casting doubt over whether an argument about education in Australia versus the UK has a clear winner.

So England wins!

But hold on one cotton picking minute.


This stands for “Programme for International Student Assessment” – another bunch of really clever people and this lot look at the educational achievements of 15-year-olds around the world. Every three years they give their results for science, reading and mathematics. Here’s their results for 2006:


  • Finland: 563 points: Top
  • Australia: 527 points: 8th.
  • UK: 515: 14th
  • USA: 489: 29th.


  • Chinese Taipei: 549 points: Top.
  • Australia: 520 points: 13th.
  • UK: 495: 24th
  • USA: 474: 35th


  • Korea: 556 points: Top
  • Australia: 513 points: 7th.
  • UK: 495: 17th
  • USA: Do not appear to have been assessed in 2006. But in 2000 they came 15th with 504 points.

So, now you have all the facts, but if you need more, visit the US Department of Education and look at TIMSS and PISA . If you can work out which country has the best educational system between the UK, the USA and Australia, you’re a smarter man than me. All I could get from all this was that Chinese Taipei are pretty good at maths.

So I’m calling it a draw.

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{ 170 comments… add one }
  • john kneeland June 5, 2022, 3:19 am |

    How does the U.S. ranking respectably in eduation standards correlate with a congenital liar getting elected president and then convincing a good percentage of the population that his loss in the next election was from massive fraud, which has never existed before, and whose lawsuits were dismissed by dozens of courts including SCOTUS? You might think many Americans have no access to a decent education.

    • BobinOz June 7, 2022, 10:09 pm |

      Well, what can I say, other than this article was written long before the events you describe. Perhaps if I were to rewrite the article to bring it up to date, my research might find that the US has slipped down in the educational charts somewhat. But then maybe they haven’t, we do live in very strange times.

  • Ursula Gorringe November 15, 2018, 4:31 pm |

    Hi BobinOz,
    Currently living in Zimbabwe and looking to relocate to Perth at the beginning of next year. My son has just written his AS levels and is due to write his A levels next year. Rather than try and fit into the WACE program, are there schools in Oz offering IGCSE where he can pick up the subjects he is doing and write next year? I have looked and can find some very expensive schools which offer specific subjects only but can’t find any college or schools that offer the A level subjects he is doing.

    Any help would be most sincerely appreciated!



    • BobinOz November 16, 2018, 9:01 pm |

      Sorry Ursula, but I have no idea. You might find help if you look at the information available through my page called Which school?

      It has a link to a portal about schools in Australia, it has a lot of information about various schools here, it may well also include the kind of programs they are using. It may help you find what you want.

      Good luck, Bob

  • Mukesh Kumar February 7, 2018, 4:44 pm |

    Hi there,
    First of all, I am thankful to you, like others, for writing an interesting article. I have a question if you could help me with.
    My son is doing his O-levels (equivalent of IGCSE or GCSE). And, by the time he finishes his O-levels, he would turn 16. Based on his education and age, would he be admitted to Class 11 or Class 10 when he goes to South Australia.
    Many thanks in advance,
    Mukesh Kumar

    • BobinOz February 7, 2018, 8:57 pm |

      Thank you, I’m glad you found it interesting.

      The answer to your question depends on which state you will be moving to and the exact date of birth of your son. To find out what grade he will go into, visit…

      Just follow the full instructions for South Australia and remember to read the it fully so that you understand the inclusion of the preschool year.

      Many thanks, Bob

  • Samantha June 1, 2017, 8:38 pm |

    I’m Samantha and I live in WA and am thinking of moving to England as soon as I finish year 12 to study to become a teacher, but I’m confused with the education levels and what I need to become a teacher in England. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Mark June 2, 2017, 6:37 am |

      Hi Samantha If I may chip in on behalf of my wife, a teacher from the UK and another Samantha. She left the UK as teaching there has become for many… horrible….If you google something like ‘teachers leaving the UK in droves’ you will read why, With massive cuts to school funding in recent weeks it doesn’t seem likely to get any better…However there is a positive side for you..
      First off as your around 18, University for a degree is the best next step. You can find a university in UK but there are fees, no idea what they are but a google will find them. There are several universities that are maybe termed ‘specialist teaching’ ones, so whilst your degree can be in many things they will find teaching placements for you as part of your course Again a google or forum in the UK using should help. There are other ways to qualify but if you want to be a teacher here the degree is the best. Finally you can possibly take the money the UK are offering for new teachers, some 25k Sterling I last read. (they are short of teachers) I think you will be fine for a year or two three or four as a newly qualified teacher its then the rubbish hits, when you can spend more time on the paperwork for a lesson than the actual lesson something is wrong. If OFSTED land (school inspectorate), then the proverbial hits the fan…I have seen schools working till midnight the day before the inspection and still not doing well. You have to do a certain amount of time I think two or three years to rightly qualify for the 25K. Hope this all helps sorry sent you a lot pf research to do and some negatives…The experience and the money 25K will make it worthwhile for a few years after that its maybe time to move on… …See if you can find a recently ‘left’ teacher to talk too, there must be heaps in WA.

  • Saad Malik February 16, 2017, 10:18 pm |

    Hi Bob,
    My name is Saad Malik and I am 28 years old. I am a graduate of Bachelors of Computer Sciences from “University of Wah” ( registered and accredited by HEC (Higher Education Commission) Pakistan with a CGPA of 2.95/4.00 = 70.44 % marks and overall band score in IELTS of 7.5 with no band less than 6.
    I want to take admission in Charles Strut University (CSU) for MIT (Masters of Information Technology with specialization in Networking) in Australia either in Sydney or Brisbane.
    I have three questions:
    1- Am I eligible to take admission in CSU as a mature student because I have a work experience of 1.5 years after Bachelors and 2 years experience as a volunteer in EDO (Eye Donar Organization).
    2- What are the trimester semester system in Australia that requires a student to take classes (mandatory or not) during summer breaks if I start my degree program in July 2017 ?
    3- Is there any chance of visa refusal on the grounds of gaps during studies ?
    Kindly answer these questions whenever you get the chance.
    Thank you.

    • BobinOz February 17, 2017, 8:55 pm |

      I don’t know, but I know somebody who does. Check out my page about Student Visas.

  • Cathy February 15, 2017, 9:13 pm |

    Hi bob
    My daughter wants to move to Oz and study a degree at Sydney university as a mature student (25).(She has an Australian passport) we have always lived in the uk so she was educated here.
    My questions are: will she be able to get financial help to study in Australia?
    How do we find out if her uk qualifications are transferable/equate to the Australian entry requirements?

    • BobinOz February 15, 2017, 11:40 pm |

      Hi Cathy

      Sounds like your daughter is an Australian citizen, so maybe she will get some kind of financial help, but I really don’t know for sure.

      I think she needs to speak directly to the people at Sydney University about this and also about her qualifications and whether they are transferable. I’m sure she will find them very helpful and I’m sure they would be able to give her much better answers than I can.

      Thanks, Bob

  • neil December 14, 2016, 9:27 am |

    An interesting subject and one with many varied responses. What i get out of it is that in general its hard to find a difference in standards and that both countries suffer a bit from a postcode lottery. I wonder how the private schools fare as opposed to the state schools in terms of outcome. Its worth noting that private schools here do obtain some state funding as well so in general are cheaper than the UK.

    Now im wondering how university education fairs in this debate?

    • BobinOz December 14, 2016, 8:59 pm |

      Yes, I agree, postcode lottery certainly has an effect in both the UK and Australia. Parents are often trying to move to the right area in time for senior school in both countries.

      If you check out my page called Which school? – you can see a video show you how you can compare school performances, including state and private schools. I also have quite a long list of additional links at the bottom of that page and the bottom two, at the moment anyway, are about private and state schools compared.

      I haven’t looked at universities yet, I’m sure I will at some point.

  • Sameh Eid September 28, 2016, 8:00 pm |

    Hi Bob,
    I am currently living with my wife and 3 children(16/14/10) in Dubai – UAE, and we are currently in the process of “Waiting”, I’ve read your guide!.

    My children are all studying IGCSE here in UAE in which the system is 7, or 8, subjects of O level in GR-10, followed by 3 AS subjects in GR-11 and finally the same 3 subjects again in Gr-12, but in A level this time…
    So my question is:
    First, when we move to Australia, will they be able to continue in the same line of studying ” IGCSE O-level / A-level “, or will they have change their education system to follow the existing one in Australia?

    Secondly, if it is possible for them to continue with their IGCSE studies, does that require joining a private school or is there an IGCSE system in State schools?

    Finally, when we move to Australia on a PR, and if we decide to admit them to private schools, for one reason or another, will we receive a subsidy from the state, that is an equal amount to the cost of studying in the State’s school?

    Thank you very much in anticipation

    • BobinOz October 2, 2016, 6:50 pm |

      I’m sorry, but I simply don’t know the answer to this question. I don’t even know what IGCSE really is, but I do know that thousands of children move here and blend in with the education system quite well.

      As for a subsidy, ‘I think’ that the government subsidise the private schools direct so that they offer lower fees. There is also a possibility that you may get some kind of tax incentive for choosing a private school, although I don’t know that for sure.

      Everything I do know about schooling can be found on my page Which school?

      Hope that helps, Bob

    • AnAussie November 30, 2016, 8:31 pm |

      Hi Sameh, I’m an Australian so can help answer your question. Public schools do not offer the IGCSE, however there are a few private schools that offer it – but it is very rare. Looks like there is only one school in each city that offers it! And these are fairly expensive schools and at a glance seem to be single-sex schools. Find them using this link

      Another option would be to register for homeschooling and then privately organise for your children to do IGCSE by distance education. In this case you would be overseeing your own children’s education. You could do this personally or privately hire a tutor to do it.

      The Australian government gives funding directly to both public and private schools, not to parents. It is free to go to public school. They may ask for a voluntary contribution which is optional (about $50-$100 dollars in NSW, other states might be different). Private schools charge a fee to parents. Depending on the school and year level this would be between about $5,000 – $35,000 per student per year.

      • PDC February 14, 2018, 1:31 pm |

        Hi Am Aussie

        I plan to move to Oz soon. I am trying to decide which will be the best time to move. Next year my son goes to Grade 7 and many people told me that then best time for him to get into the schooling system. However, would it make a big difference for him if I moved in when he is in Grade 8?

        • BobinOz February 14, 2018, 9:14 pm |

          My answer, if you’re interested, is that in Australia it is in Grade 7 that children go up to senior school, so that’s why it’s the ideal time to come. It means your son would start a new school at the same time that everybody else is starting a new school.

          If you delay to Grade 8, then everyone else will be settled in and he will be the new boy. That’s the difference.

  • phoebe August 9, 2016, 8:53 pm |

    Hi may I know the comparison of Australian education system and UK’s ? Like what makes British education system so good ? How can they beat our students ?

    • BobinOz August 10, 2016, 5:59 pm |

      I don’t really understand your question Phoebe, this is a comparison between Australian education and the UK’s, and in this particular comparison Australia beats the British education according to PISA but not TIMSS.

      If you read some of the many comments before yours, you will see that opinion is greatly divided on which country has the best education.

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