School systems (was dwj-digest (Diana Wynne Jones) V1 #929

Jon Noble jon_p_noble at
Wed Dec 15 18:19:17 EST 2004


--- "Dorian E. Gray" <israfel at> wrote:
> The US education system always seems very weird to
> me, because it's so very 
> different from the Irish one.  Here, primary schools
> (age 4 to 11) have 
> mixed-ability classes, but once you start secondary
> school at age 12, you're 
> "streamed".  I can see the argument for not
> streaming and how kids might 
> feel inferior if they're in a lower stream, but on
> the other hand, surely in 
> a mixed-ability class the bright kids are bored and
> the slow ones are lost 
> (and still feeling inferior!).
> Then there's the whole college entrance thing.  We
> have State exams here; 
> everyone in the country, pretty much, sits the same
> Leaving Certificate 
> exams at the age of 17 or 18 (though you can do
> Higher or Lower level papers 
> depending on your ability; I did Irish, English,
> French, German and 
> Chemistry at Higher level and Maths and Physics at
> Lower).  And college 
> places are allocated on the basis of your Leaving
> Cert results - with 
> certain caveats, like to get into a science course
> you need to have certain 
> minimum results in science subjects, and art courses
> require portfolios, and 
> so forth.  Colleges here really don't care whether
> you play sports or run 
> clubs or wow complete strangers with your charm; if
> you get the grades, 
> you're in.
> How do other countries represented here do it?

The Australian system, of which I am part, is fairly
similar to the Irish one (in fact is probably created
by people of Irish origin). There is some variation
between the states, who each maintain their own
education system, but on the whole things are faily
similar to what happens in New South Wales;

 Students start school usually at age 5. Elementary
schools are divided into two levels; Infants which is
Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd classes, and primary which
is 3rd to 6th classes (I suspect that this division is
mostly an historic artifact, they share the one site,
which is always (in state schools) called a "Public
School", have a single principal (with if the school
is large enough an Assistant principal in charge of
the Infants), and the teachers may swap from one level
to another or teach mixed classes. Generally classes
are of a single year, and most schools would have one
or two classes for each year, where there is more than
one class for a year they may be graded according to
ability, but are just as likely not to be. However
student numbers often mean that some classes will have
students belonging to two different years, here it is
common to have a class with the brighter students from
the younger year with the less able ones from the
higher, but the oposite combinition is also possible
(in which case the teacher probably has some forlorn
hope that the brighter older kids will race through
all their own work and have spare time to help the
less able younger ones). Elementary schools usually
have between 100 and 500 students, although there are
many schools above or below those figures.

Secondary schools, called "High Schools" cater for
years 7 to 12 (ages 12 to 18). Classes are almost
always only of students of a particular year, and
whether grading by ability occurs, is up to the school
and usually the subject in that school. There are some
specialist High Schools, in the Newcastle/Lake
Macquarie region in which I teach there are a total of
12 regular High Schools with between 600 and 1500
students. There is also a selective high school (entry
based on a test done in year 6) a performing Arts
school (entry based on audition in drama, dance or
music), a sports high school, a Languages high school,
a technology high school (these latter two are
specialist in name only), and a combination of three
high schools where 2 cater only for years 7-10 while
the third takes all their year 11 and 12. Obviously
smaller communities don't have these options. 

At the end of year 10 students take their School
Certificate exam, and some students leave school for
work (usually the sort of job where they sack you at
18 rather than pay adult wages), apprenticeships,
technical education (in a seperate TAFE system) or a
life on the dole. Most continue for years 11 and 12
where they do a Higher School Certificate exam, which
is now seen by most employers as the basic requirement
for Any Sort of Job With a Future. It is also required
for University Entry, or for the higher levels of TAFE
(although there students can progress through the

Somewhere between a third and a quarter of all
students go to private schools instead of the
government system. Reasons vary but I suspect that
snob value is actually the most important (and buying
their children into an elite peer group - which with
some 30% of the population going there is now
nonsense), other reasons include percieved higher
academic standards (many parents only send their kids
to private schools if they fail to get into a
selective government one - which have the highest
academic results of all) and discipline problems in
government schools (somewhat justified - we can't
expel students who don't fit in).

University entry is based on one's results in the HSC,
after they pase through an amazingly arcane process to
produce a total mark called a UAI. In some subjects
(music, drama, visual arts) a portfolio or audition is
also required. For entry in Law or Medicine a UAI of
99.5 out of 100 may be needed, while for an arts or
science degree it may be 75. This figure varies with
demand for courses. There is also a second level of
tertiary education called TAFE (Technical and Further
Education). Students can complete TAFE courses and
then with good results progress into university with
advanced standing, in some subjects. Teaching
generally requires either a four year Bachelor's
degree or a three year one plus a postgraduate
qualification. To be a teacher-librarian (such as
myself) also requires an additional qualification in
library science, usually a Master's degree (which I
lack, having been in the job since well before such
things were required - or even obtainable). A Library
Technician's job requires a TAFE course.


Do you Yahoo!? 
Yahoo! Mail - Easier than ever with enhanced search. Learn more.
To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at

More information about the Dwj mailing list