Choosing a school is no easy feat. There’s a lot to consider and it’s made no simpler by the many ways in which schools vary. Some schools are academic, some excel in the performing arts or sport, and others seek to prepare students for technical and vocational training. Aside from the basics like gender and religious affiliation, each also has its own smaller differences. We describe some of the main ways that schools differ and what might affect your decision when choosing a school for your child.

Academic program

With the Australian Curriculum almost fully in place, there’s little difference in what your child will learn at school. What does vary is the school’s approach to teaching and the breadth of subject offerings, especially in the senior years, as well as the secondary qualifications on offer to students.

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Class sizes

Schools themselves differ in size, with anything from a couple of hundred students to more than 3000. This means that class sizes can vary greatly too. Some schools pride themselves on low student–teacher ratios or assign an additional instructor in particular years. In others (the majority of schools), classes usually have between 20 and 30 students. Numbers may be lower in the early years or in specialist senior subjects.

Student support and assistance

Schools do all they can to support students, but the level of support does vary from school to school. When researching schools, consider the availability of pastoral care programs and student counsellors. Also think about any specific programs or assistance options your child may need — whether it’s additional academic help, a special education class or a program for high achievers. Your child should also feel that they can approach their teacher or year-level coordinator should any issues arise.

Teaching philosophy and policies

Some schools offer non-traditional teaching philosophies, such as the Steiner or Montessori systems. Generally available at pre-school and primary levels, these systems are becoming more popular across Australia. School policies also vary widely. Some, such as anti-bullying, will be in place in all schools. Other policies may relate to items and foods brought to school, uniform, use of technology and student behaviour (as well as how incidents are dealt with).