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Parents Page FAQs


What are the different types of schools?

There are three main types of schools in NSW. For information on each, click on the links below:

Is there a list of schools for each area?

For Government schools use the DET’s School Locator.

For Catholic schools use the Catholic Education Commission’s (CEC’s) Schools Directory.

For Independent schools use the AIS’s School Finder.

For Christian Schools Australia use its Find a school.

For Seventh Day Adventist schools.

For a complete A–Z of all non-government schools use the Board of Studies’ List of Registered Non-Government Schools in New South Wales.

How are schools organised?

Primary schools teach children from Kindergarten to Year 6.

Secondary schools teach children from Years 7 to 12.

Schooling in NSW is organised into 6 Stages of Learning:

  • Stage 1 = Kindergarten to Year 2 (Kindergarten is referred to as Early Stage 1)
  • Stage 2 = Years 3 and 4
  • Stage 3 = Years 5 and 6
  • Stage 4 = Years 7 and 8
  • Stage 5 = Years 9 and 10
  • Stage 6 = Years 11 and 12.
How old are children in the different stages of schooling?

In NSW children generally:

  • begin Kindergarten at five years of age
  • enter secondary school, Year 7, at about 12
  • qualify for the School Certificate at about 16
  • complete the Higher School Certificate (HSC) at approximately 18 years of age.
Where are the school holidays listed?

For Government schools see the DET school holiday dates.

Other systems and schools may vary these dates. It is best to check with individual schools.

Is there a list of the best schools?
No. The Board of Studies does not rank schools nor does it recommend any particular school or system. However, information on each school’s performance can be gained from its Annual School Report. These reports must be publicly available and are often published on a school’s website.
Can a child be educated at home?

Yes, if he or she is enrolled in Distance Education or registered for home schooling.

The Home Education in NSW Information Package is available from the Board’s website and contains a comprehensive description of the steps to be followed when applying for registration for Home Education.

Read about Distance Education Centres on the DET’s website.

Is it possible to study the School Certificate and HSC online?

No. Students need to be enrolled at a school or TAFE to be eligible for the School Certificate and HSC. However, distance education may be provided through the Department of Education and Training (DET).


What is the best thing to do if there is a problem with a teacher or school?
The first thing to do is to speak to the teacher and/or the school. School principals are the people who are best placed to address any issue which may arise at their schools.
Who handles complaints about schools?

Complaints about any government school should be directed first to the individual principal and then to the DET.

Registered non-government schools must have in place policies and procedures in relation to complaints and grievances.

For more information see:

Registered and Accredited Individual Non-government Schools (NSW) Manual and Registration Systems and Member Non-government Schools (NSW) Manual and Forms.

What qualifications do teachers have?
Since October 2004, teachers in NSW require an Australian university degree or equivalent and an initial teacher education qualification or an education degree. The NSW Institute of Teachers provides information on teachers’ qualifications and accreditation.

Learning and Teaching

What do children learn at school?

All children enrolled at school in NSW follow the curriculum developed or endorsed by the NSW Board of Studies.

For Primary education read the Parents’ Guide to the NSW Primary Syllabuses.

For Junior Secondary education read the Years 7–10 Syllabus Course Descriptions and Information for Parents and the Community about the Mandatory Courses in Years 7–10.

For Senior Secondary education read the HSC Course Descriptions.

Follow these links for Primary, Years 7–10 and HSC syllabuses.

Do children learn grammar and multiplication at school?


Grammar, spelling, sentence structure and punctuation are taught to all school children through the mandatory K–6 English Syllabus and Years 7–10 English Syllabus.

Multiplication (to at least 10x10), division, addition, subtraction, fractions and decimals are all taught through the mandatory K–6 Mathematics curriculum.

What do students have to do to gain the School Certificate?

Visit the School Certificate section for an overview of this credential and how students gain it.

For more detailed information read the Guide to the School Certificate.

What do students have to do to gain the HSC?

Follow this link to read about the HSC course and requirements.

How your HSC works is a step-by-step guide to the HSC, from enrolment through to the HSC results.

Further information is contained in Studying for the NSW Higher School Certificate – An Information Booklet for Year 10 Students.

How should students choose subjects?

Students should choose subjects based on their interests, abilities and career aspirations. That is, they should choose subjects they like, subjects they’re good at and subjects that fit in with what they want to do when they leave school.

Students should talk to their teachers and their school’s Careers Adviser to make realistic, informed subject choices.

Can schools stop students from doing the subjects they choose?
The Board of Studies makes its syllabuses available to all schools in NSW. However, each school determines its own timetable based on the resources available to it and this includes the number of courses available to students. Any problems associated with subject choice for individual students need to be resolved with the school.
Who decides which subjects a school offers?
Each school principal decides on his or her school’s curriculum plan. This includes the number of courses, the types of courses and their availability to students.
What is meant by HSC ’Pathways’?
HSC ’Pathways’ describe the options available to students to gain the HSC more flexibly. One option is to accumulate the HSC over a five-year period. Read about HSC Pathways here.
How do students apply for HSC Pathways?
There isn’t an application form for HSC Pathways. Each pathway needs to be negotiated with the school or TAFE concerned. Students need to make sure that there is a route they can follow to complete the requirements.
What happens if a student is absent from school for a long time?

This is a school issue except when the student’s eligibility for the School Certificate or HSC is in danger. All students must complete their courses satisfactorily to be eligible for the School Certificate and for the HSC.

If a student is at risk of not completing a course, the school principal will give the student (and their parent or guardian, if the student is under the age of 18), a written warning of the possible consequences of non-completion and how any problem could be corrected.

Exams, Reports and Awards

How can parents know how their child is going at school?

The best way is to speak directly to a child’s teacher. Parents also receive their children’s school reports, generally twice a year.

The Board of Studies also provides its Assessment Resource Centre (ARC) website and publications such the Parents’ Guide to the NSW Primary Syllabuses to help parents.

How can student achievement be understood?

For Primary and Junior Secondary students, the Common Grade Scale on the ARC website explains the grades that are awarded by teachers.

For School Certificate students, teachers use subject-specific Course Performance Descriptors when assigning grades.

For HSC students, Course and Performance Band Descriptors have been developed to illustrate the standards established in each course.

What is covered in the School Certificate tests?
The Scope and Test Specifications gives information for each School Certificate test.
Are past test papers available for the School Certificate tests?

Yes. Past papers are available for each test:

Test yourself with online multiple choice questions in each of the School Certificate tests.

Is online testing available for the School Certificate?
Online testing is used for the Computing Skills test only.
Are past papers available for the HSC examinations?

Yes, see Past Higher School Certificate Examination Papers and Notes from the Marking Centre.

Each student enrolled in the HSC is given customised access to past papers, current syllabuses and timetables through Year 12 NSW Students Online.

What credentials do students get with the HSC?
Successful HSC students can receive a number of different credentials. For more information go to the HSC examinations and results section on Students Online and scroll down to What HSC documents do I get?
Can lost Board credentials be replaced?
Yes. The Office of the Board of Studies provides Replacement Statements for lost or mislaid certificates issued by the Board of Studies, past Boards or the New South Wales Department of Education. There is a fee for this service.
How is the HSC different from the ATAR?

The HSC is for all students. HSC results show what students have achieved in their studies and what they know, understand and can do.

The Australian Tertiary Assessment Rank (ATAR) is a rank used to gain entry to university. It is not a percentage.

Read more about the difference between the HSC and the ATAR. Look for the document, “All about the ATAR” on this page.

Can students gain ’bonus’ marks in the HSC?
No. The Board of Studies NSW does not give bonus marks.
Are there any bonus points for university entry?
The Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) has information about various Educational Access Schemes (EAS), Equity Scholarships and Schools Recommendation Schemes (SRS) that are available.
How does the Board of Studies acknowledge outstanding achievement in the HSC?

Each year the Board of Studies publishes the names of all the students on the four distinguished achievers lists:

  • All Rounders - The All-round Achievers List contains the names (in alphabetical order) and schools of students who have been placed on the Distinguished Achievers List for courses totalling 10 or more units.
  • First in Course - The First Place in Course List contains the names and teaching schools of those students who achieve the top mark in any course, provided they also are placed in the top band (Band 6 or Band E4, as appropriate) for that course. Band 6 is awarded for marks between 90 and 100 in 2 unit courses; Band E4 is awarded as the top Band in 1 unit subjects.
  • Top Achievers - The Top Achievers in Course List shows the students in the top places in each course, provided they have also achieved Band 6 or Band E4, as appropriate.
  • Distinguished Achievers - The Distinguished Achievers List contains the names and schools of any students who achieved Band 6 for a course, or in the case of extension courses, Band E4.

The complete Board of Studies NSW Statistics Archive contains further information on student entries performance over time.

What happens after the HSC?
Students Online has a section on Beyond the HSC as part of its FAQs. Follow the link to find out more.

Special Needs

What is meant by ’Life Skills’?

Life Skills is for those students who cannot access the regular outcomes and content with adjustments and/or disability provisions and is predominantly for those students with an intellectual disability.

Read more about Life Skills.

How are children with special education needs supported at school?
The Board’s website has information on Special Education Needs with a series of FAQs relating to the different stages of schooling.
What are Disability Provisions? (formerly special examination provisions)

Disability Provisions give practical support to students to enable them to access the School Certificate Tests and HSC Examinations.

Read more about Disability Provisions.

What happens if a student is sick or has an accident during the HSC?

Students who are sick or have an accident during the examination period can appeal.

Read more about the Illness/Misadventure Appeal process.

Interstate and Overseas Transfers and Exchange Programs

How do students from interstate and overseas enter the NSW school system?
Once students have arrived in NSW they need to enrol in a school and then negotiate with the individual school Principal about which Year group they will enter and which courses they will follow. Appropriate evidence from the previous school, such as reports and portfolios of work, will assist the Principal in making a determination.
How are overseas qualifications equated with qualifications from NSW?
The Office of the Board of Studies provides Statements of Equivalence (to NSW school level awards) for secondary education qualifications from other Australian States and Territories or from overseas countries. Read more about Equivalent Qualifications.
Where can I find information about education in other states?

The Australasian Curriculum, Assessment and Certification Authorities’ (ACACA) website provides information on senior secondary education in each state and territory and in New Zealand. It includes:

Where is the best place to find up-to-date information about the National Curriculum?
Work has commenced on the development of National Curriculum, initially in the areas of English, Mathematics, Science and History. It is planned to commence implementation in these areas in 2011. The latest information on these and other National Curriculum developments can be found on the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) website.
How does an overseas exchange program affect a student’s School Certificate program?
Each case needs to be assessed individually. For short exchanges, principals may decide to grant leave. For exchanges in Year 10 longer than a term, approval must be gained from the Board of Studies. For a long exchange program, such as for one year, a student’s enrolment should be withdrawn from the Board of Studies’ records.
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