Starting primary school

This is a guide for parents and carers who want to enrol their child in a public primary school in NSW. It provides information on selecting a school, enrolling your child and what financial support is available.

1

Things to know before your child starts school

You can find out about school term and vacation dates at the NSW Department of Education.

See Section 2: Find and select a school

For more detailed information on:

  • catchment zones; what they are and where is yours
  • things to consider when choosing a school
  • the online School Finder tool
  • how to attend a school outside your local catchment zone

See Section 3: Enrol your child

For more detailed information on:

  • immunisation requirements
  • documents needed to enrol
  • before and after school care (BASC) options
  • students with disability or additional needs
  • international students and visa holders
2

Find and select a school

NSW public primary schools have a catchment zone or local enrolment area. If you live inside a school’s enrolment area, your child is guaranteed a place at that school.

Your child can go to a school outside your catchment zone only if that school has places available.  See more information in section below.

NSW Public School Finder online tool

The NSW Department of Education's online School Finder helps you locate schools in your local catchment zone.

You can enter your home address or search by a school’s name. There are other filtering options available as well as guidelines on how to use the School Finder.

Rural and remote students

The School Finder lists schools within 105km of your home.

However, if you live further than 105km from your nearest public school, you can find more information for geographically isolated students at the Rural and Distance Education website.

1

What to do to help you choose a school

To help determine if a school is the best fit for you and your child, you could:

Depending on the number of schools in your local enrolment area, you may want to consider these factors before deciding on a primary school for your child:

  • the school’s reputation in the local community 
  • its location and how close it is to where you live and public transport
  • any specific educational programs or curriculum focus, like catering for children with a disability or additional learning needs
  • the availability of special religion or ethics classes
  • services for students from non-English speaking backgrounds
  • the general condition of the buildings, classrooms and playgrounds
  • before and after school care (BASC) as well as any vacation care options
2

Going to a school outside your catchment zone

Schools can accept enrolments from parents who live outside that school’s local enrolment area if places are available.

But there is no guarantee that your application will be successful.

Applications from parents outside a local enrolment area are usually assessed on a range of criteria, including:

  • if siblings are already enrolled at the school
  • if you have a child with disability or additional needs that are better met at this school
  • medical reasons such as improved access to specialist local health services
  • special interests and abilities such as language or music classes
3

Children with disability or additional learning needs

Most public primary schools in NSW provide a range of enrolment and support options for children with disability or additional learning needs.

There is also a number of schools designated for specific purposes (SSPs) that offer specialised levels of support.

To find out more about what disability services, support classes and SSP placements might be available in your child’s local school:

  • make an appointment with the school’s principal to discuss your child’s needs at least 12 to 18 months prior to your child starting school
  • if your child is less than 4 years old, contact the NSW Educational Services Team on 131 536 to discuss the options and services available

The Raising Children website, which is supported by the Department of Social Services, has information on choosing, enrolling and support options for children with a disability and their schooling.

3

Enrol your child

Once you've decided on a school, you’ll need to enrol your child. All new enrolments usually require an interview with the principal or a senior staff member.

Schools generally begin accepting new enrolments in the second half of the year before your child intends to start, but they can help you with any questions throughout the year.

You should only have your child enrolled in one school at any given time

During enrolment you can submit the required documents including the application to enrol form (PDF 770KB), which must be completed in English.

If you need help with English

    1

    Documents needed

    Along with the completed application to enrol form, there are usually several supporting documents that will need to be provided, depending on your circumstances, including:

    2

    Before and after school care (BASC) options

    You need to have confirmation of your place at a school before applying for any before or after school care (BASC) options. 

    The School Finder can filter your search to identify schools and list the BASC services they offer.

    You can also check the school’s website for more detailed information about:

    • what type of care is provided
    • where the care centre is located as it may not be on the school grounds
    • its operating hours
    3

    Immunisation requirements

    Parents are required to provide an immunisation certificate when enrolling their child at a primary school. 

    The NSW Immunisation Schedule (PDF) outlines what vaccinations parents and carers need to be up to date with for their children.

    The Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) records all your child’s vaccinations.

    Some children may be exempt from vaccinations due to medical reasons or natural immunity. This will still be captured on their immunisation history statement as ‘up to date’. 

    If you choose not to vaccinate your child, you can still enrol them without an immunisation certificate.

    However, if there is an outbreak of a vaccine preventable disease, your child may be asked to stay at home until it is safe to return to school.

    4

    Religion and ethics classes

    All government schools offer a range of classes in religious education or ethics. The actual classes available will vary between schools but will generally cover:

    • instruction in a specific religion that is delivered by approved representatives of that religion
    • religious education that looks more generally at the world’s major religions and how those beliefs affect lives
    • ethics classes

    Parents can also choose not to send their children to any religious or ethics classes. In that case, students attend other supervised activities such as reading, study or homework.

    A separate form indicating your preference will be provided by the school. You will need to complete and submit this as part of the enrolment process. Contact your school for more details. 

    5

    International students and visa holders

    Some public primary schools in NSW offer programs for international students

    Generally only 2 years of study is available at primary school level. Other eligibility rules apply. Depending on the age of the student there may also be English language requirements.

    Find out more about programs for overseas students and temporary residents enrolling in a NSW government school at DE International.

    Temporary 457 and 482 visa holders

    If you are a parent with a temporary resident visa and want to send your child to a public primary school in NSW, fees apply depending on the age of your child.

    However, you may be eligible for an exemption or a refund depending on your situation.

    You can learn more about visa and enrolment requirements at the Temporary Residents Program

    6

    Students with disability or additional needs

    For a child with disability or additional learning and support needs, parents or carers should meet with their local school principal at least 12 to 18 months prior to starting school to discuss and assess:

    • any reports from medical experts, therapists or other health care agencies
    • details of any assistive equipment and devices used or required for day to day activities
    • the school's resources and procedures to address specific student health issues like asthma, anaphylaxis, epilepsy or ADHD

    Students with a confirmed disability can be enrolled in different types of classes, subject to any placement panel assessments, including:

    • regular classes
    • support classes in regular schools
    • special schools
    7

    Enrolling in a school outside your catchment zone

    Schools can accept enrolments from parents who live outside that school’s local enrolment area if places are available.

    But there is no guarantee that your application will be successful.

    Applications from parents outside a local enrolment area are usually assessed on a range of criteria, including:

    • if siblings are already enrolled at the school
    • if you have a child with disability or additional needs that are better met at this school
    • medical reasons such as improved access to specialist local health services
    • special interests and abilities such as language or music classes

    If a non-local enrolment is refused

    If you enrolled at a primary school outside your local enrolment area and were not offered a place, you can appeal the decision.

    Check with the school to find out what their process is, but it will generally require you to write a letter to the principal outlining the reasons why you’re appealing the decision.

    If you are not satisfied by the outcome of that letter, the matter can then be referred to a local principals network or similar independent body to make a final decision.

    4

    Transition to primary school

    School readiness is more than being able to read, write and do basic maths. Rather, it’s as much about developing children’s:

    • social and emotional skills to get along with others
    • physical capabilities, like improving hand/eye coordination, performing more complex craft activities
    • communication and cognitive abilities to follow instructions and express their needs
    1

    Developmental milestones

    In general, development happens in the same order in most children, but skills might evolve at different ages or times. Differences among children are usually nothing to worry about.

    In the early years, your child’s main way of learning and developing is through play. It's a great relationship builder. Play helps children learn about who they are and where they fit in the world.

    If you feel that something isn’t quite right with your child’s development, trust your instinct. See your family health nurse, GP or paediatrician.

    Raising Children is an Australian parenting website supported by the Department of Social Services. It provides a list of key points explaining:

    • what's happening with children at 4-5 years
    • things to help parent a preschooler
    • when to be concerned about your child's development

    There are 5 keys areas of learning where parents and educators can play a part in helping preschoolers achieve developmental milestones as they transition to primary school:

    • physical
    • social
    • emotional
    • cognitive
    • language
    2

    Preschool and kindergarten transition programs

    Preschools can play a big part in developing school readiness. At preschool your child can learn through play, make friends, and develop responsibility, independence and confidence. 

    Additionally, most primary schools offer a transition program. This might be several sessions a week over several weeks or a full term in the lead up to them starting school. Check while enrolling what and when any transition programs are held. 

    Transition type programs can often help future students:

    • feel more confident about the step up to primary school
    • make new friends and expand their social interaction skills
    • become more familiar and comfortable with new surroundings and routines
    3

    Prepare and practise

    Practical preparations ahead of the first day of school can help ease any nerves or anxiety your child might feel, including:

    • organising and trying on uniforms and shoes
    • packing lunch boxes 
    • testing out their backpacks
    • practise walking or travelling to and from school
    • getting to know other students beforehand

    Raising Children, the Australian parenting website supported by the Department of Social Services, provides a list of key points and actions to consider when preparing your child for primary school that covers:

    • getting familiar with your child’s new school
    • talking and managing feelings about starting school
    5

    The first term: what to do and expect

    Starting school can be easier if your child is familiar with the school grounds and the new routines that come with daily attendance.

    It may also mean you, your partner or carer rearrange your work schedules, at least in the short term:

    • to set up drop off and pick up times and locations
    • to offer support for any possible separation anxiety
    1

    Dealing with new routines

    Things can change considerably for families when a child officially become a student. New places, new people and new rules for them can mean new routines for everyone.

    Suggestions to help first-time students adapt to their new school environment include:

    • starting with a healthy breakfast, as well as packing a healthy lunch box with familiar foods in an easy-to-eat format
    • reading books together that encourage positive feelings about school
    • talking with siblings, relations or others who are enjoying school
    • sharing your own experiences starting school so your child knows being nervous is okay
    • being consistent in how you travel to and from school 
    • keeping to similar times and locations when dropping off and picking up from school
    2

    Helping students at home

    Developing a routine and having a set place and time to do homework can help children of any age reinforce work done in class and consolidate learning methods.

    Even if there is no homework set, consider reading with your child to help with language development and to expand their vocabulary. Some reading strategies could include:

    • listening to your child read regularly, even if only for a short time
    • talking about books and discussing the meaning of stories and words
    • joining your local library for a wider book selection, learning activities and events

    Find more information about parenting and child learning at:

    3

    Safety in and around schools

    Parents and carers have an opportunity to act as role models to show children what it means to be a responsible pedestrian, passenger, cyclist or driver.

    Children new to school need to become familiar with:

    • what a school zone means
    • drop-off and pick-up locations
    • rules applying to pedestrian and school crossings

    The Safety Town website from Transport NSW has a range of learning activities that parents and carers can use to support better road safety awareness for their children.

    4

    Becoming part of the school community

    The more involved you can be as a parent or carer in your school can have a positive impact on your child’s learning and behaviour as they get used to this new stage of their life.

    Possible benefits of teacher/parent collaboration to support a child's learning can include:

    • a eagerness to attend regularly if they were feeling a little reluctant to begin with
    • enhanced social and relationship skills
    • a greater sense of personal wellbeing and security

    Ways to get involved

    Becoming part of your school’s community can help you connect with other parents and staff. You can participate by:

    • joining social media channels like your school’s Facebook group to find out what’s going on and connect with other parents
    • volunteering for the school canteen, excursions, events or committees
    • contributing to any school council, parent club or local parents and citizens (P&C) group
    5

    If you have a child with disability or additional learning needs

    Many people, not only parents, can contribute to supporting students with disability and additional learning needs.

    This collaborative, personalised approach using a range of teaching and learning professionals can help ensure every student receives a dignified education.

    If you have concerns about your child’s development or progress at school, it’s important to discuss these as soon as practical with the relevant people, including:

    • the school principal, teacher or counsellor
    • your family doctor or child’s paediatrician

    There are also interpreter services and Aboriginal education assistants available to parents and carers.

    6

    Get help with costs

    While public education is free, most schools request voluntary contributions to help cover costs of:

    • extracurricular activities
    • additional education resources 
    • attending or participating in sports events
    • going on excursions

    The cost of things like uniforms, textbooks, equipment and stationery are generally covered by parents and will need to be planned for in your budget.

    Schools will usually provide a checklist of what they provide, and what parents or carers are expected to supply. If in doubt, get in touch with the school to find out.

    If you are unable to pay because of financial hardship, you may be eligible for exemptions or financial help from the school. 

    Contact the school principal to find out more or discuss your situation.

      1

      Government payments

      There are a number of federal and state government payments you may be eligible for that can help cover the cost of sending your child to school, including:

      Child care subsidy

      For help with the costs of care before and after school hours, including vacation care, Services Australia offers 2 benefits as part of its Child Care Subsidy program.

      Eligibility requirements and the amount you receive depends on your circumstances, but will usually take into account:

      • your family's income
      • the hourly rate cap based on the type of approved child care you use and your child’s age
      • the hours of activity you and your partner do
      2

      National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

      Children with disability or additional learning needs have the same rights to education as all other children.

      The NDIS can fund reasonable and necessary costs that enables a child with a disability to go to school, including:

      • support with daily living activities at school like eating and getting around
      • specialised training of teachers
      • non-educational therapies delivered during school time
      3

      Creative and Active Kids programs

      The Creative Kids program is a one-off voucher payment to eligible parents and carers of up to $100 per calendar year. 

      The voucher can be used with a registered provider to pay for a range of activities, covering:

      • creative arts
      • drama and dance
      • digital design and coding
      • music lessons

      The Active Kids program provides two $100 vouchers for parents, guardians and carers of children enrolled in school to use towards sport and recreation costs each year.

      The first voucher is available from 1 January, and the second voucher is available from 1 July. Both expire on 31 December.

      Vouchers can be used to cover costs related to:

      • registration
      • membership and participation
      • swimming lessons

      They cannot be used for clothing or equipment purchases, nor for travel to and from the venue where the activity or competition takes place.

      4

      Travel and transport

      There is a range of free or reduced cost transport services available to help children get to and from school. 

      Special eligibility conditions may apply depending on your child’s age and the distance you live from the school. 

      Check with your school for more information on the most suitable public transport option for your circumstances.

      Transport NSW provides several options for eligible students as part of the School Student Transport Scheme (SSTS), including the:

      • School Opal card for free travel on approved metro, train, bus, ferry and light rail services during school term
      • School term bus passes for students who may not qualify for free school travel
      • School drive subsidy to help cover the cost of using a private vehicle in areas where no public transport is available

      Other school transport programs

      Families who have a child with disability or additional learning needs may be eligible for help through the Assisted School Travel Program (ASTP).

      Children living in remote areas can get the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme from Services Australia.

      7

      Support for parent and student wellbeing

      Starting school can be both exciting and stressful for parents and children. 

      At this time, anxieties, phobias, allergies, behavioural conditions and even mental health issues can be more noticeable.

      There is a range of support services available that can help foster a healthy and productive learning environment.

      Student wellbeing

      Most primary schools have a range of programs designed to help support students’ social and emotional learning as well as ensure their physical wellbeing, including:

      The Raising Children website, which is supported by the Department of Social Services, has a number of health and daily care resources for school age children.

      There are also specific support services available from the NSW Department of Education for:

      • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
      • refugee students
      • multicultural education needs
      • English language learners

      Help for parents

      A child starting school can cause a major change to your family’s lifestyle, routines and relationships.

      The NSW Department of Education's quick guide for parents is an alphabetical list of common topics covering a wide range of subjects, from attendance to wellbeing.

      Additionally, the practical help for parents and carers website has extensive support material, including:

      • how to support your child's learning and development 
      • what to expect from your child's school life
      • parent and carers toolkit packed with self-care tips and handy lists

      If you have a child with disability or additional learning needs

      Many people, not only parents, can contribute to supporting students with disability and additional learning needs.

      This collaborative, personalised approach using a range of teaching and learning professionals can help ensure every student receives a dignified education.

      If you have concerns about your child’s development or progress at school, it’s important to discuss these as soon as practical with the relevant people, including:

      • the school principal, teacher or counsellor
      • your family doctor or child’s paediatrician

      There are also interpreter services and Aboriginal education assistants available to parents and carers.

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