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 for financial support is available.

1

Things to know before your child starts school

In NSW, primary school begins in kindergarten and goes from year 1 to year 6.

To enrol, children must turn 5 before 31 July in the year they start school and must begin school by their sixth birthday.  

The school year begins late January to early February. It has 4 terms and generally finishes around the middle of December.

The 6 key areas of learning

While kindergarten is focused on developing children’s basic literacy and numeracy skills, there are 6 key areas of learning studied throughout primary school:

  • creative arts
  • English
  • human society and its environment
  • mathematics
  • personal development, health and physical education
  • science and technology

The Education Standards Authority provides a range of resources to help parents know more about:

Attending a non-government school

If you’re thinking of a private school for your child, find out more at:

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

International students

Parents of overseas students wanting to enrol their child in a public school can find out what’s required at DE International, a division within the NSW Department of Education.

Depending on the age of the student there may also be English language requirements.

If your enrolment is successful, you'll receive a confirmation from DE International, which you then use to apply for a student visa.

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 local enrolment area only if that school has places available. 

You should only enrol in one school at any given time.

How to find 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

School Finder online tool

The NSW Education Department’s online School Finder helps you locate schools in your local enrolment area.

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.

Going to a school outside your area

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

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 you can:

    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

    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.

    3

    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. 

    4

    Distance education and international students

    NSW students who are geographically isolated or whose circumstances prevent them from attending regular classes may be able to apply for distance education

    International students 

    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. 

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

    5

    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
    6

    Before and after school care 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
    7

    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

    The first day: what to do before and after

    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

    Prepare and practise

    Many primary schools provide a range of activities to help prepare new students, including:

    • orientation or open days, generally held in the final months of the year to familiarise children intending to start at the school the following year
    • transition to kindergarten programs

    Practical preparations ahead of the first day of school can also 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 is an Australian parenting website supported by the Department of Social Services.

    It provides a list of key points and actions to consider when preparing your child for school.

    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

    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:

    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.

    5

    Becoming part of a 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
    6

    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

    However, 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.
     

    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

    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

    Creative Kids voucher

    This is a one-off 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

    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

    Get support

    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 Education NSW 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.

    Education NSW'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:

    • homework tips for overcoming any study barriers
    • learning resources for some subjects
    • recommended books for your child to read
    • ways to deal with the transition from preschool to primary
    • student health and safety programs

    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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