Center on International Education Benchmarking

Australia: System and School Organization

Overview | Teacher and Principal Quality | Instructional Systems
System and School Organization | Education For All | School-to-Work Transition

Australia was among CIEB’s Top Performing Countries for 2009. This profile has been archived and is no longer being updated.
Education Finance

All students who attend public schools in Australia are entitled to free education, though parents or guardians must pay for school supplies, including textbooks. The government provides financial aid to low-income families to cover some of these costs. School funding is derived from both state and federal taxes; approximately 75% of the funding comes from the state, with the remaining 25% from the federal government.

Australia also has a robust private school sector, with 31% of Australian students enrolled in non-government (private) schools, the vast majority of which have a religious affiliation. These schools are required to meet the minimum federal education standards as determined by national assessments, but otherwise may choose their own curriculum. However, the majority follow the frameworks used by the public schools in their state. Private schools also receive some degree of government funding from both the state and federal levels. The amount depends on their ability to raise sufficient funds on their own.

On average, OECD countries spend $9,860 per student per year; Australia spends $9,056. This represents 5.2% of Australia’s GDP, lower than the OECD average of 5.9%.

School Management and Organization

Over the last 30 years, governance of Australia’s schools has become increasingly decentralized; this is due largely to the increased belief that school autonomy leads to better responsiveness to problems and to higher quality overall. Private schools are almost wholly self-run, though, like government schools, they are required to participate in NAPLAN.

The federal government is responsible for broad-based policy development and reform; the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) sets an agenda for the states to follow in a manner best befitting their unique demographics. Schools are also required to participate in national assessments and to teach the national curriculum.

However, Australian schools are largely managed on the state level, with the Minister of Education in each state or territory responsible for determining teacher training requirements, student enrollment policies and school-based assessments. Generally, these policies are quite similar across the nation. Since the 1990s, there has been a growing movement to devolve power to school leaders and school boards. The amount of control that a school board has (as compared to the state Department of Education) varies from state to state, but a 2004 federal Schools Assistance Act called for the states to give school principals and governing bodies greater autonomy over education programs, staffing and budgetary decisions. In most cases, school boards or councils have been put into place to allow for community input at the local government level. These boards have varying levels of power, from the power to advise the principal to planning the school’s budget and completing school budgetary reviews. Principals are typically members of these organizations.

Within schools, principals for the most part have a great deal of responsibility. They are in charge of educational leadership and school management, and are also the accountable body to the educational authorities and school stakeholders.

Several non-government groups, including the Australian Council of State Schools Organisations, the Australian Parents Council, the Independent Teachers Federation, the Australian Education Union and the National Industry Education Forum of Australia represent the interests of parents, teachers and industry leaders with respect to the public school system. Similar groups represent the private sector. These organizations serve as lobby and consultation groups to state and federal education policymakers.

Accountability and Incentive Systems

Australia works hard to create transparency about school, teacher and student performance. Outcomes and other information is managed through the My School website established in 2010, which is run by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). The website provides a great deal of information about each of Australia’s schools, including the numbers of students and staff, the socioeconomic background of the student body, results from national literacy and numeracy tests, student attendance rates, teaching resources and post-school student career and academic paths.

Alongside My School, the National Assessment Plan administers exams and monitors student progress on the national level. These include the national literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) tests, as well as assessments of student samples in science, civics and information and communication technology (ICT). These sample assessments are given every three years and are given in grades 6 and 10, though science assessments only take place in grade 6.

Australian educators and policymakers are beginning to use the information provided on the My School site to help schools improve. Educators and policymakers can use the information to compare schools and make decisions about staffing and resource allocation, and parents can use the site to help choose a school for their children.

Annual Expenditure by Educational Institutions per Student for All Services

(2007, in equivalent USD converted using PPPs for GDP, public institutions only) Source:OECD

Parent and Community Participation

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) welcomes an “honest and comprehensive” public debate about school policy and reform, and makes a great deal of information about school funding, resources and student performance readily available through their website, including the My School site, which provides a comprehensive breakdown of student background and performance, as well as teaching resources, for every school in the country. Similarly, as the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has been building the new national curriculum, they have made draft versions available online and welcomed comments as part of the development process. In addition to encouraging the public to weigh in on educational challenges and successes, under the Building the Education Revolution initiative, community members have full access to new facilities (libraries and multipurpose halls, among others) created by this initiative.

Parents may elect to send their children to any government school of their choice, provided there is space in the school for their child. Parents also have access to their children’s schools through parents’ associations, which exist in each state and territory. Many of these organizations provide a great deal of information to parents about volunteer opportunities at their child’s school and how they can further encourage their child’s education.

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