Primary and Secondary

At primary and secondary levels, government schools educate about half of students. The major part of their costs is met by the relevant state or territory government. Private schools, both religious or secular (the latter often with specialisations), may charge higher fees. Regardless of whether a school is government or private, it is regulated by the same curriculum standards framework. Most schools, government and private, enforce a uniform or dress code, although there are varying expectations.

Government (or state) schools are run by the respective state government. They offer free education; however, many schools ask parents to pay a contribution fee and a materials and services charge. They can be divided into two categories: open and selective school. Open schools accept all students from their government-defined catchment areas, and teach using the curriculum. Many open government schools have selective classes in which better-performing students are offered extended and accelerated work. Selective government schools are considered more prestigious than open government schools. They have high entrance requirements and cater to a much larger area. Entrance to selective schools is often highly competitive. Some of the renowned selective government schools are Fort Street High School, Sydney Boys High School, Sydney Girls High School, Mac.Robertson Girls' High School (first in Victoria), Melbourne High School, James Ruse Agricultural High School (first in NSW), North Sydney Boys High School, Glenunga International High School, North Sydney Girls High School, Australian Science and Mathematics School, and Perth Modern School.

Restricted access to Government schools upper tier
Note that access to Selective schools, grammar schools and upper stream of public schools is not available for people on temporary resident visa - fx to go for a three-year work contract.

Private schools can be divided into two groups. Religion-based systems of education are operated by the Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic denominations as well as a number of other church or parachurch-based low-fee schools. By far the most numerous are Catholic schools, which are run by diocese-based educational institutions within the Catholic Church called the Catholic Education/Schools Offices, although some more prestigious Catholic schools are independent. The rest are known as independent schools, which are largely Protestant grammar schools. There are also a few Jewish and Islamic schools, and a growing number of independent Montessori and Waldorf schools.

The International Baccalaureate programmes are taught at over 150 schools, both private and state.
The major independent schools in each city (such as the APS Schools and the AGSV Schools in Melbourne) charge high fees (up to $30,000 per year) and are therefore able to afford facilities that government schools and church-run Catholic schools cannot. Funding for independent schools often comes under criticism from the Australian Education Union and the Australian Labor Party because, in addition to their fees, these schools also receive funding from both state and federal governments.

It is sometimes assumed, by parents or other observers, that attending a private school will guarantee achievement in later life, because of a perceived superiority, real or imagined.

Private school fees can vary from under $100 per month to $2000 and upwards, depending on the student's year level and the school's size. Private school uniforms tend to be more expensive than those for public schools, and more strictly enforced.