6 Steps to Find a High School in Melbourne

6 Steps to Find a High School in Melbourne
Pile of exercise books.

It’s not easy to find a high school in Melbourne when you have no prior knowledge of the city and you are sitting at a laptop 17,000 km away in the UK. It was more by luck than judgment, that I happened upon the right school.

We are currently on the final approach to the exams season here in Melbourne.  As my youngest completes her final year at high school I find myself reflecting on how lucky we have been to find such a great school and, by association, a fabulous bunch of friends.

It may have been slightly haphazard, but this is the process I went through to find a school in Melbourne.  Both my kids were of high school age and we knew that we were looking for a public school (known as a state school in the UK), rather than an independent school (known as a private school in the UK), faith school, or grammar school.  

6 Steps to Find a High School in Melbourne
Students sitting at desks.

1.  Get your map out

We were in the fortunate position of having a job to come to, so our starting point was to figure out where my husband’s work would be mostly based, and to look for the optimum commute time.  We settled on a radius of about 15km out from the CBD (central business district/city centre), which is where his job would be based.  He figured he would like to have the option to either drive into the city or to take public transport.

You can view a Victorian Train Network map here.

2. Work out where you might like to live

A radius of 15km from the fixed point of the CBD gives you a pretty wide search area, so our next priority was to find somewhere on or near a train line.  Initially, we thought it might be nice to live somewhere near the beach, but we soon worked out that decent rental properties in beach areas would be beyond our budget.  We also worked out that my husband would have to commute regularly to one of his employers’ sites in the Eastern suburbs, so that narrowed down the search field again.

6 Steps to Find a High School in Melbourne
A map of Victoria, with Melbourne pinned by a yellow tackpin.

Upon that realisation, I literally took my trusty pencil and followed several train lines on a map out of the city due East, noted all the stations, and went onto realestate.com to search specific suburbs from my list.  Once we’d settled on half a dozen areas that looked affordable, with good quality rental houses to accommodate a family of 5 (trust me, they were few and far between), I visited Find my School to come up with a list of potential high schools in our given area(s).

3.  Understand the Curriculum

It was at this stage that I realised I needed to understand a bit more about the curriculum, not least, what would my kids be aiming for in terms of qualifications?  Is there an equivalent to UK A-Levels, for example?  The answer to that is, in Victoria, the A-level equivalent is the VCE – the Victorian Certificate of Education.  There is no equivalent to GCSEs here.  All roads in general lead to the VCE, although a more vocational qualification called the VCAL is also available.  Some schools also offer the International Baccalaureat.

To understand more about the curriculum, go to the Live in Melbourne website.

6 Steps to Find a High School in Melbourne
School curriculum subjects listed on separate pieces of paper.

4.  Where does my child fit in?

The other important factor which confused me for a while was trying to figure out what year groups my kids would be transferring into.  Not only that, the realisation that the school year runs within a calendar year – ie January to December, rather than September to July as in the UK, added a little more to my confusion initially. 

It took me a while to work this out, so here’s a handy little list of a child’s journey through school from start to finish.  Bear in mind that school is compulsory in Victoria from age 6-15 years and it is not uncommon for a child to be held back a year at any stage, depending on progress. Years 11-12 are equivalent to UK 6th Form.

6 Steps to Find a High School in Melbourne
School ages by year group in Victoria.
School Ages in Victoria

5.  Find a School.

Now for the tricky bit.  Finding out about a specific school from the other side of the world is no mean feat!  You can look at various ranking websites such as My Choice Schools, which will show you how the school sits in comparison with other schools, based on various criteria.  You can also scour various websites which will rank schools according to their VCE performance, such as bettereducation.com.

Once you’ve identified your short list of possible schools, get all over their websites. Email them to ask about the admissions process.  Find out what their zoning (catchment) area is and whether they are oversubscribed, as many high-performing schools will be. If they are oversubscribed, you will need to show proof of residence in their catchment before most will even consider talking to you.

Another good way to find out about your potential new school is to join a neighborhood group on Facebook for the area in which the school is located.  You can discover a lot from other parents.  It can also be a useful forum for buying used textbooks and uniform.

You will have your own ideas as to what school will best suit your child.  A lot of it, in the same way as choosing a school in the UK, is based on gut reaction.  You can read all the facts and figures but at the end of the day it comes down to how you feel about the place.  We got very lucky.

6 Steps to Find a High School in Melbourne
Students working at computers.

6.  Be Prepared

Be prepared to pay for uniforms, textbooks, contributions to the school fund, and all stationery, in addition to school field trips and additional costs for art equipment, mathematical calculators, etc.  We had not budgeted nearly enough for the initial expense.

Of course, we knew that there would be some considerable expense with buying a new uniform, but we hadn’t accounted for the fact that we had to buy all the textbooks, etc, some of which are very expensive. 

Note that many schools will have their preferred supplier for books and stationery but if you shop around, you can obtain what you need, often at more competitive prices from places like Amazon and from second-hand outlets.

There are often used book sales within a lot of schools and a couple of independent booksellers located in Melbourne sell second-hand textbooks.  Much of the stationery can be bought via places like Kmart or BigW.  All in all, I think our initial outlay for the first year at the new school was in excess of $1000 for two kids.

Note:  Points 2 and 5 of this blog post are interchangeable.  Some people may prefer to find the school first, then decide where to live, in accordance with the school zone.  The choice is yours.

For more information visit the Victoria State Government Website.

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The Melbourne Mum

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2 Responses

  1. Andy Davies says:

    well researched , practical & helpful

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