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Primary school around the world: Australia

Primary school in Australia
What’s it like to go to school Down Under? We talked to one British family living in Sydney.

Sarah Hadnam lives in Manly, Sydney, and is mum to Ryder, eight, and Indy, five.

Ryder goes to a primary school with 800 pupils in Manly, a suburb of Sydney. He’s currently in Year 3. Indy will soon be starting ‘Kindy’ – the equivalent of Reception – at the same school.

In Australia, children start primary school in the year they turn six, so most of them are five when they join. They stay there until they move to secondary school at 12. A big difference between the education system here and in the UK is the starting age: lots of parents over here hold their children back until they’re six, as they feel they’re too young for school before that.

Three months before they started school, Ryder and Indy had two orientation sessions. A class parent co-ordinates events for new starters, and we’re encouraged to organise playdates with our children’s classmates. When they start, they do short days (9.45am till 2.30pm) for two weeks to help them settle in.

'There are lots of ex-pats in the school'

The school day here runs from 9.20am until 3.20pm. We have four terms split up by two-week holidays, except for in the summer (UK winter), when the kids get six weeks off. Luckily for us, there are lots of ex-pats in the school so the headteacher is fine with us taking time off to visit family back home.

Ryder’s school is a state school. Kindy classes have 20 children, and the other classes have between 25 and 28. There are no formal exams for primary school kids in Australia, but they get quite a lot of homework: 30 minutes’ reading every night, and another 30 minutes of maths or words once a week.

The boys at our school wear a uniform of a blue polo shirt with the school logo and grey shorts. Girls wear a dark blue pinafore with a light blue long-sleeved shirt in winter, and a yellow checked dress in summer.

'The kids play outside all year round'

Most of the subjects Ryder studies are similar to in the UK, but they do dance and also play different sports in PE: there’s an inter-sports competition where they do rugby league, soccer, eagle tag (tag rugby), Newcombe ball (similar to volleyball), cricket and netball. For me, the focus on competitive sports is one of the worst parts of the education system, but Ryder loves it. His other favourite subjects are maths and school band. There’s also a scripture class (RE) but you can opt out of that.

Extra-curricular activities are very popular. Ryder does swimming, soccer and nippers (surf lifesaving).

Children have the choice of taking a packed lunch to school or having a school dinner. We place their lunch orders online. The menu includes meat pies, butter chicken, baked goods and sushi. It’s great that the kids get to play outside at lunchtime, all year round.

There are lots of ways to get involved with school life. There’s a P&C (parents and citizens) committee, and you can volunteer as a class parent to help co-ordinate activities for the class. The highlights of the school year are the school production, athletics carnival and Manly West School carnival: it raises an amazing $60,000 (around £30,000) for the school every year.

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