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Starting primary school guide

Get step-by-step information on how to find, enrol and start a child in your care at a primary school in Victoria, and where the government can help.

  1. Decide on your school type

    In Victoria, there are two main types of schools:

    • Public (or ‘government’) schools, administered by the Department of Education and Training.
    • Independent (or ‘non-government’), which includes private schools and religious schools, like Catholic schools for example.

    Understanding the different types of schools can help you understand which school is right for you and your child.

    To learn more about Catholic schools, visit Catholic Education Melbourne. For more information about independent schools, visit Independent Schools Victoria.

    For information about home schooling, visit the Department of Education and Training. 

    Find your local school

    If you choose to send your child to a government school, usually this will be your designated local school. You can find your local government school zone at Find My School.

    The Department of Education and Training offers help on how to choose and enrol at a school in more detail.

    If the school you would like to send your child to is not your local school, they may accept your enrolment if there is room, but this is at the school’s discretion. If you are in the zone for a school, they must accept your enrolment. Learn more about school zones at the Department of Education and Training.

    Visit schools

    The ‘feel’ of the school is very important when making your decision. Talk to teachers and senior staff members, see classrooms and play areas and get an understanding of the school’s values and education style.

    Attend as many open days as you feel you need to. This could include visiting more than one school near you.

    Consider all the factors

    There are many things to keep in mind when you are choosing a school. These can include:

    • proximity to your home and ease of drop off
    • before and after school care options
    • religious or other values of the school
    • specific needs, talents or interests of your child
    • school reputation
    • fees and other expenses
  2. The law in Victoria states that children must attend school from the age of 6. To enrol in government school, a child must turn 5 before 30 April of the year they start school.

    There can be exemptions to the age policy, but these are very rare. For more information on school admission and the law, see the Department of Education and Training’s School Policy and Advisory Guide.

    Fill out application or enrolment forms

    Your school of choice will have its own enrolment forms and procedures. The Department of Education does not oversee this process, and it is often different from school to school. Your school should support you through enrolment.

    If you are a parent or caregiver of a child with disability, you may need to submit an application to the school to make buildings and equipment accessible.

    Prepare and provide necessary documents

    For both public and independent schools, required documentation includes:

    You will also be required to provide information about:

    • your contact details 
    • emergency contact details 
    • health information about your child (such as allergies or illnesses they need to manage)
    • other legal orders relating to your child and their welfare

    For religious schools, you may be asked to provide:

    • Evidence of religion (for example, a baptismal certificate).
    • Evidence of membership in that faith (for example, a letter from a religious official or receipts from donations).

    Organise before and after school care

    Many schools offer before and after school care, but you must organise this in advance of starting school.

    The Child Care Subsidy may be used to help pay for before and after school care for children under 13.

    Some schools do not offer before and after school care, or they may not have spaces available. Other options can include things like Family Day Care. If you need help to find child care, you can use the government’s Child Care Finder.

  3. Pay fees

    Public schools in Victoria do not have fees, but you may be asked to make a donation to the school each year.

    The Department of Education and Training has a list of public school costs, which includes a range of costs you might need to pay at public school.

    Private and religious schools set their own fees. These will be discussed with you during the enrolment process.

    Get uniforms

    The cost of uniforms and supplies varies from school to school, and there are many ways to get these. Popular ways include:

    • Getting them from school. Often, your school will have a uniform shop where uniform items can be bought.
    • Buying them from shops. Many schools simply have school colours and items such as shorts and polo shirts can be purchased at major clothing retailers.
    • Getting them second-hand. Some parents find it useful to join local community groups online and source second-hand items, or contact second-hand clothing shops to see if they have any items.

    Buy school supplies and stationery

    Your school should provide a list of the items your child will need for the first day of school.

    These can also be sourced from school or, using a list provided by school, purchased at major retailers.

    If your child will be using public transport to get to and from school, there are concession Myki cards available. Find information about for school students using public transport on the Public Transport Victoria website. 

    Get help if you need it

    If you are having trouble paying school costs, we might be able to help.

  4. Prepare your child mentally and emotionally

    Starting school is a big change for a child. Helping your child to understand what is happening can reduce stress and fear on their part. Many children will be excited to start school, but making sure they know what will happen on the first day is still important.

    Preparation for your child can include:

    • Transition plans from your kinder or childcare.
    • Attending orientations at school, as well as school events like fetes.
    • Taking your child with you to get their uniform and school supplies.
    • Practising the journey to and from school, including where you will meet your child. If you plan to use public transport, PTV’s Journey Planner can help find the best route for you. Some schools offer a school bus service, and the government has a school bus program for rural and regional schools. 
    • Connecting with ‘buddies’ or other children from your child’s childcare, kinder or play groups who will be starting school at the same time.

    The Better Health Channel’s Healthy start to school guide offers a lot of great tips.

    Take care of yourself

    When your child starts school, it can be a sensitive time for you, too. Talking to friends and family can help but, if you need extra support, there are things we can do.

    Government mental health services include:

  5. The first day 

    The first day of school is an exciting one for parents and children. Making sure you have practiced and prepared will ensure your child feels as comfortable as they can.

    Be prepared for some sadness and separation anxiety – although this does not affect every child. If this is an issue for your child, the Better Health Channel offers information on managing anxiety and fear in children.

    The first week

    The first week is often made up of shorter days or weeks. Talk to your school in advance about what this looks like and prepare accordingly.

    It is very likely that you will not be able to drop your child off at before school care and pick them up from after school care in the first week, so you may need to make other childcare arrangements or take time off work.

  6. Keeping healthy

    The first term of school can have some challenges. Sometimes children who have not been around large groups of people before can get sick a lot. The Better Health Channel has information on common childhood illnesses including:

    The Victorian government's Smile Squad offers free dental for all Victorian public school students.

    If your child needs glasses, Glasses for Kids may be able to help. The initiative provides prep to year 3 children in Victoria's most disadvantaged areas with vision screening and, if required, follow up eye testing and glasses.   

    Staying happy

    Occasionally, children will have issues with things like settling in, making friends and getting used to school life.

    Stay in touch with your school’s teachers and principal if you are concerned about how your child is settling in to school.

    If you are worried your child is being bullied, help is available. Get more information from:

    The Victorian Government takes a firm stance against bullying, as covered in our guidelines. Your first point of contact for complaints should always be the school but if you feel you are not being supported, you are free to make a complaint to the Department of Education and Training.  

    Learning at the right level

    If you feel your child is not learning at the right level, your first step should be to talk to their teacher. You may also wish to discuss things with your family doctor.  

    For gifted and talented children, special programs may be available.

    For children with disability or additional needs, support is also available.

    You can make sure you are up to date about your child’s learning through:

    Being organised

    It’s important to know the dates of the school holidays so you can prepare. Child Care Subsidy may be used to help pay for school holiday programs. 

    Your school should also provide a list of Teacher Only days or other days when they are not open. Make sure to note these in your diary and organise alternative child care if required.

Reviewed 16 January 2020

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