Compare schools: Choosing the right school in Victoria

The independent sector educates around 40 per cent of Victorian students, offering parents from varied backgrounds a huge choice of schools based on values, community and culture.

To help you make the right choices for your child’s education, we have spoken to some of the state’s top educators and compiled information about a range of leading academic institutions in easy-to-digest articles.

Here, to kickstart your selection process, we run through the various factors to consider when choosing a school, along with several frequently asked questions.

Open days & school visits

Most schools hold at least one open day per year where you will be able to chat with the principal or headmaster, teachers, students, as well as other parents and prospective parents. Many schools also offer opportunities for parents to visit during regular school hours. Although much of the information you need in order to make a decision can be found online or in brochures, there are some things, such as playground facilities for example, that you may like to see in person.

School management & facilities

Do you get a sense that the school focuses on the future? Consider the vision that the school has for its future and whether it seems well managed. What is the principal or headmaster like? Are they respected by the school community? Do they have good people management skills?

Are the school’s rules clearly stated, positive and well enforced? Are students encouraged to become involved in leading the school? Are parents encouraged to get involved in helping to develop school policies? What role does the school play in the local community? What unique facilities and resources does the school possess? Are before or after-school programs available? In what ways is technology used within the classroom? Is the school currently investing in new facilities that will be in use during your child’s education? Does the school offer external campuses or a sister school? What is the school’s computer policy?

Curriculum & co-curricular activities

As Australia’s population becomes increasingly diverse, technologies more sophisticated, and the demands of the workplace more complex, independent schools are supplementing the national curriculum framework in a number of different ways.

Your first step is to consider the finer points of a school’s curriculum and the skills that its graduates are known for, and whether or not these are in line with your own child’s unique strengths and interests.

You may also like to consider whether co- curricular activities will fit easily into your family’s routine. Do you want your child to have access to community initiatives or overseas travel? Will the school encourage parents to get involved in school excursions? What languages does the school offer?

Values & teaching

Are the school’s religious and philosophical outlooks and practices the same as your own? How are morals and ethics taught within the school? How do teachers handle bullying? What is the school’s disciplinary policy? Is there a counsellor or nurse on site? Is there genuine warmth and respect between the students and teachers? Do you think that the school’s teaching methods are aligned to your child’s talents, strengths and interests? What is the school’s homework expectation? How does the school monitor and report back on individual students’ performance? How accessible are the school’s teachers if you have any concerns about your child’s progress? Is there an active Parent Teacher Association?

Academic performance & student life

Look at the admission and selection criteria of the school, incuding which subjects it records its best results in. Check how the school ranks against other schools in the area. Does the school tend to channel children into academic or vocational streams? What are the school’s policies regarding gifted or special needs children? What are the advantages of the school’s size? What are the class sizes? Is there a maximum number of students that are allowed in each class? Is the school co-ed or single sex and how does this affect your decision? If co-ed, what is the gender balance of classes? How multicultural is the school? Are there peer-support programs to help new students fit in? How are positive, healthy relationships and friendships among students encouraged? What is the external reputation of the students? Is the school intellectually competitive? Will your child be sufficiently challenged? What proportion of the school’s students go on to study at university?

Cost & transport

Does the school offer financial assistance in the form of scholarships or bursaries and could your child qualify? Besides tuition fees, are there other course-related costs or extra curricular costs that you may need to consider? Does the school facilitate a car-pooling program? Is the school’s location accessible by frequent public transport? Are there safe cycling roads on your route to the school?

One size doesn’t fit all

Remember that the ‘best’ school is the one that provides your child with a sound education and an environment in which to become a creative, reflective and critical thinker, make friends, feel safe and thrive. The best school for your child may therefore be different to that of someone else’s child.

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