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School education in Melbourne and the state of Victoria is the responsibility of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD). School education is 13 years in length including a preparatory year (Prep) which is not compulsory but is almost universally undertaken, six years of primary school (Years 1 to 6), and four years of secondary school (Years 7 to 10), and two years of senior secondary school (Years 11 and 12).
Schools can be classified according to sources of funding and administrative structures. There are three main categories in Victoria:
In 2012, 63 per cent of students in Victoria attended government schools, 23 per cent of students attended Catholic schools, while 14 per cent of all students attended independent schools.
Following federation in 1901, state and territory governments have remained constitutionally responsible for providing secular schooling that was free and open to any child who was eligible to attend. This responsibility continues today with education departments in each state and territory managing the policy and overall administration of government schools. In 2012 there were 1537 government schools in Victoria: 818 in Metropolitan Melbourne and 719 in regional Victoria.
While government schools guarantee students access to a primary or secondary school within a designated zone, Victoria has lifted requirements that restrict enrolments to zones, allowing parents to enrol their children in government schools of their choice if there are sufficient places. The government system also includes a number of selective-entry schools. Entrance to these is by examination often during Year 8 for commencement at the beginning of Year 9.
Many other secondary schools also offer Select Entry Accelerated Learning (SEAL) Programs or equivalent schemes that select a number of students on the basis of entry-test results and the successful students are grouped together for teaching and learning as a select-entry group.
Government schools are permitted to charge voluntary levies for additional classroom materials and excursions. In addition to these fees, schools and their associated parents and citizens’ associations can raise funds through other activities. However, fees and other private contributions make up a small proportion (5 per cent) of the overall funding of government schools.
Catholic schools have operated in Australia since the first half of the 19th century. Most of the schools were staffed by religious orders.
The Catholic school system receives substantial funding from federal and state governments, sometimes reaching as much as 85% of the recurrent funding provided to government schools. Fees are usually compulsory, with school camps, excursions and extracurricular activities as an additional cost.
Some 96 per cent of all Catholic schools are members of Catholic school systems. In 2012 there were 486 Catholic schools in Victoria, 381 primary schools, 84 secondary schools and 13 primary-secondary schools (excluding special schools) (DEECD, 2012). They educated 22.5 per cent of Victoria’s primary school students and 23.4 per cent of Victoria’s secondary school students.
Independent schools are usually established and developed by community groups, commonly, but not always with religious affiliations. Most of these schools are denominational Christian schools, but there are also many Jewish and non-denominational schools. Enrolments in independent schools have grown in recent decades.
In 1970, independent schools enrolled 4 per cent of all students in Australia. By 2012, the enrolment share of the independent sector in Victoria had increased to 14 per cent.
Students’ access to independent schools is generally at the discretion of the school and dependent on the extent to which prospective students meet the values and aspirations of the school, and parents that are willing and able to meet the fees charged by these schools. Some schools offer bursaries and scholarships to high-achieving children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In 2012 there were 220 Independent schools in Victoria, with 148 in Melbourne. They educated 10.5 per cent of Victoria’s primary school students and 19.3 per cent of Victoria’s secondary school students. In contrast to government and Catholic schools, most independent schools are combined primary and secondary schools (67 per cent), and a smaller number are primary schools.
Some independent schools charge high levels of fees. These schools also receive funding from the state and commonwealth governments.
The curriculum for all schools, government and non-government, from Preparatory to Year 12 is determined by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA). In 2008 the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEEDYA) committed to the introduction of a national curriculum for school education from Prep to Year 12.
Development of the Australian Curriculum is the responsibility of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). The National Curriculum is being implemented in stages and will not be fully implemented until 2014.
Currently in Victoria the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (AusVELS), is the Prep to Year 10 curriculum that provides a set of prescribed content and common achievement standards, which schools use to plan student learning programs, assess student progress and report to parents.
The primary school curriculum emphasises literacy and numeracy skills in the early years. Information and communication technology (ICT), English, mathematics, art and physical education are also in the curriculum. In Years 3 and 4 more subjects are studied, including science, humanities, technology and civics and citizenship. In Years 5 and 6 languages other than English (LOTE), history, geography, economics and communication are introduced.
The secondary school curriculum includes arts, English, humanities (economics, geography and history), languages, mathematics and science. Interdisciplinary learning includes communication, design and technology, and information and communications technology. Physical, personal and social learning is also emphasised.