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Our guide to ACT Public Schools

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In the first of our three part series on Canberra’s public, Catholic and independent school systems Alex Tolmie explores the ACT public school system and gives some helpful tips on enrolling your child.

Canberra is privileged to have a high quality schooling system made up of public, Catholic and independent schools. Schools of different philosophies and affiliations contribute to the richness and diversity of our community.

Though it seems like the year has only just begun, with enrolments for most schools in the ACT opening from this week, it is now time to think about which school to enrol your child in for the 2016 school year. Enrolments for ACT public schools (preschool to college) open on today and enrolments for ACT Catholic schools open from next Monday 4 May. Enrolments for ACT independent schools open on a school by school basis. So if you’re hoping to enrol your child in the school of your choice, it is important to do your research and get in as quickly as possible.

ACT public schools are innovative and diverse, and have long set the national standard for providing high quality education. The system of schools offers a broad range of education options and learning pathways choices.


A number of ACT public secondary schools and colleges are holding open nights over the coming weeks, which is a great opportunity to visit the schools and meet the current students and teachers while getting a feel for the school’s culture and policies.

The ACT Education and Training Directorate’s website provides the following information about its schools.

All ACT public preschools are amalgamated with a primary school. The new curriculum framework has a strong focus on quality teaching and learning in the early years and these amalgamations will improve the continuity of learning and provide strong pathways for children. Yarralumla Primary School also hosts a Montessori preschool program for students aged three to five years.

Five public early childhood schools (Lyons, Isabella Plains, Southern Cross, Franklin and Narrabundah) operate as early learning and development centres providing integrated services for children (birth to eight years) and their families. These schools focus on quality early childhood education and early intervention, providing a solid foundation for learning for the future.

Primary schools (preschool to Year 6) provide strong educational programs for students during the early and later childhood years. Within a stable home-room environment, one teacher generally takes responsibility for all key learning areas and the educational outcomes of the whole class.

Three ACT public primary schools offer bilingual immersion programs, where students study the curriculum in both English and a second language. These are Yarralumla Primary School (Italian), Telopea Park School (French) and Mawson Primary School (Mandarin). Telopea Park School also offers a French stream for Years 7 to 10 and continuing Italian.

P‑10 schools (preschool to Year 10) provide students with a continuous progression through school from preschool to year 10 with enhanced pastoral care. The P-10 model results in consistency in values and expectations from the start of preschool through to the completion of the high school years. Student benefits include greater access to specialist teaching spaces such as technology areas, science facilities and creative arts areas and enhanced opportunities for schools to develop formal middle years programs.

High schools (Year 7 to Year 10) provide continuity across four years of secondary schooling. Specialist teachers support student learning and the development of their individual abilities and interests. Pastoral care is aimed at recognising the developmental needs of adolescent students.

Melba Copland Secondary School caters for students from year 7 through to year 12.

Colleges (Year 11 to Year 12) support student learning within a more adult environment and build responsibility, independence and skills in decision making. The discrete and highly regarded year 11-12 college model has been a predominant feature of ACT education for the past 30 years.

Four special schools (Cranleigh, Malkara, Black Mountain and The Woden School) provide more intensive educational learning environments for students with a significant level of disability and high support needs.

Birrigai Outdoor School at Tidbinbilla provides outdoor educational programs for students from preschool to year 12. Programs are run at a variety of sites including Birrigai at Paddy’s River and Birrigai at Jerrabomberra Wetlands. Programs are offered at The Australian National Botanic Gardens, Environment ACT sites, and elsewhere within the ACT.”

Students have right of placement at schools in their Priority Enrolment Areas (PEA). You can look up your PEA on Allhomes here (at the bottom of the map select ACT Public School Zones, then 2015 Primary Schools, to see your local school’s details). Parents/carers are welcome to apply for placement for their child in a school outside of their PEA however this is dependent upon space being available.

The Canberra Preschool Society has compiled the following handy enrolment tips:

  • If you are enrolling twins please check that BOTH children have been enrolled and that your application hasn’t been considered as a duplicate.
  • This year there is an option to select your preferred preschool site (for instance, Torrens Primary School has three preschool sites at Chifley, Torrens and Pearce). The Education and Training Directorate will try to accommodate your first preference; however places are determined by PEAs and availability.
  • You are not guaranteed a place in your PEA preschool but you are guaranteed a kindergarten place in your PEA primary school.
  • Only the most recent application for your child will be considered. Enrolling your child multiple times will not improve your chances of securing a place in an ACT public school.
  • Except for the Yarralumla Montessori program (which starts from three years), children enrolling in preschool must turn four and children enrolling in kindergarten must turn five before 30 April 2016 to be eligible for general enrolment.  If you wish to pursue earlier entry, please speak to your local school about the process or phone the Education and Training Directorate on 6205 9296.

Stay tuned for our next instalment about Canberra’s high quality schooling system — Our guide to ACT Catholic schools.

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