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Starting School

A Guide for Families

Starting School A guide for families 2017-2018

This guide for parents and carers has useful and important information for preparing your son or daughter as they embark on, and throughout, their formal schooling. This booklet also contains a list of helpful websites and contact numbers should you require further information. Starting School: A guide for families print version Pdf icon (2Mb)

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A message from the Minister

I am pleased to present the new edition of Starting School, a book designed to assist families with children starting preschool and kindergarten in Canberra public schools.

We aim to nurture and support our young children through the early years of childhood and schooling, so that every Canberra child feels safe and respected.

Our children need a supportive learning environment to help broaden their skills and their abilities, and to further develop their talents so they can realise their potential.

High quality education in the early years has lasting benefits for a child’s social, emotional and intellectual development.

I remember when my own children started school and how exciting, if a little anxious, that time can be for families.

I am confident you will find the advice and practical tips in Starting School useful as you and your children prepare for preschool and those first weeks in kindergarten.

We have also provided a number of contact details should you like more information.

I wish your child all the best as a Canberra public school student.

Yvette Berry MLA
Minister for Education and Early Childhood Development

Starting School

Starting school is an exciting time for children and families. Your support and encouragement is critical to a successful start in a new learning environment.

Label all Belongings

Label all your child's belongings including your child’s lunch box, drink bottle, hat, clothing and library bag. Encouraging your child to dress themselves will help develop independence and to recognise their own belongings.


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ParentLink aims to increase the confidence and skills of parents by supporting and linking them to information, ideas and community services. ParentLink guides are full of practical information and tips to manage parenting challenges, including sibling rivalry, sleeping, blended families and grandparenting.

Whatever your child’s age, you will find lots of good ideas. Visit the Parentlink website external link.

Enrolling in School

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In the ACT it is compulsory for children to be enrolled in school from age six. Our schools can provide parents and carers with helpful advice about starting school at any time. If you move to the ACT during the school year your local public school can help you with enrolling your son or daughter.

All young people are required to participate in full-time education until they complete a year 10 program of study and then participate full-time in education, training or employment until completing year 12 or equivalent, or reaching age 17, whichever occurs first.

Information about enrolment Enrolling/Transferring - ACT Public Schools is also available from the Education Directorate website.

Please contact the school in your area to discuss enrolling your child or for more information:

Education in the ACT

High quality education is vital for every child and young person to give them the best start in life. The ACT Government has committed significant funding to public schools to develop and extend programs to ensure your child will have the best possible foundations for learning.

In recent years, this has included a renewal of school curriculum across all ACT schools so that what is taught is relevant and important for children to know, understand and gain skills to equip them for lifelong learning. In addition, specific funding has allowed schools to grow and develop the use of the latest digital learning technologies. This includes extending the opportunities for families to follow their child’s learning development online.

Your child will participate in a range of programs to develop their intellectual, emotional, social and physical skills. A typical school day will involve a variety of activities such as reading and writing tasks, learning about numbers, shapes and patterns, lessons in science and how things work, physical education activities, art and music activities, visiting the library and using information technologies. Developing your child’s literacy and numeracy skills will be a key focus across all learning areas as these skills are the essential platform for their future success. Your child’s teacher will provide a range of lesson experiences to challenge and stimulate their learning while supporting them to meet their individual needs in becoming confident learners. The learning at school builds on the learning you do together at home.

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The First Day of School

So your child’s first day is as enjoyable as possible, ensure your family is prepared and allow time for your child to eat a balanced breakfast. Arrive at school well before the first class or activity so they have time to become settled. To help them to become secure, be positive and reassuring. Demonstrate your trust in the teacher and your enthusiasm about school and learning.

Once your child is settled into school, a short and reassuring goodbye encourages independence. You should tell your son or daughter when you leave. Be guided by your child’s teacher who will use a number of strategies so that the first day is as stress-free as possible for students and parents.

At the end of the school day, be on time to collect your child, and make sure your child knows the pick up arrangements such as going to after school care or who is collecting them.

If your child is nervous about their first day, On My First Day includes a collection of messages from year 1 students to kindergarten students, available at external link.

Road Safety and Walking

Schools can be busy traffic environments as parents take children to school and pick them up at the end of the school day. Drivers need to ensure they abide by the traffic rules and car parking arrangements. Be aware of school buses and park on the same side of the road as the bus. Parking on the opposite side can be dangerous as children will be tempted to rush out from behind a bus to cross the road. Ensure that properly adjusted seatbelts are worn and be especially careful when reversing your vehicle.

As children become old enough to walk to school, parents need to consider the route to school and likely road crossings. Road safety needs to be taught to children and reinforced by parents setting a good example. Educate your child about not accepting gifts or lifts from someone they do not know.

Some schools organise a 'walking bus' where children walking to and from school can join a group of other school children and a responsible adult. The 'bus' picks up children along a designated route. Your school will have more information if you are interested.

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School Transport and Traffic Management

Schools are busy environments with various transport modes accessing them at concentrated peak periods, in particularly during the morning and afternoon.

The best way to reduce congestion and increase safety in these environments is to encourage more children to walk or ride to school or use public transport.

Traffic management and road safety around the ACT’s schools is a matter for everyone in the community. Speeding, illegal parking and other dangerous behaviours reduce safety for children – so it is important to drive cautiously and be patient when accessing schools.

Transport Canberra and City Services’ (TCCS) Schools Program works closely with the Education Directorate and schools to deliver initiatives that support walking and riding to school and assist with traffic management around schools. More information is available on Transport Canberra’s external linkwebsite.

There are some useful resources available for schools and school communities in the ‘Active Travel Toolkit’ on Transport Canberra’s External link website, including a selection of brochures and fact sheets:

For more information about staying safe on the trip to and from school, visit the Staying safe on public transport external link page on Transport Canberra’s website.

A Healthy Breakfast and Lunch

It is vital that your child begins their day with a nutritious breakfast. Participation in school activities will burn up their energy and a hungry child will lose concentration and become tired. Useful information for parents on how to provide a healthy breakfast is available from The Raising Children Network website. Specific dietary advice is also available from the Dietitians Association of Australia external link.
For more lunchbox ideas visit the Fresh Tastes external link website or download the My Healthy Waste-free Lunchbox Flyer.’ external link

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School Canteens

Healthy eating is encouraged in ACT public schools. School canteens promote and provide healthy food and beverages and limit the sale of foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt, such as cakes, chips or lollies. Schools welcome parents volunteering their time to assist with school canteens.

Food Allergies

It is vital you let your school know if your child is allergic to certain food groups such as nuts. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction to certain foods and many schools have adopted an 'allergy friendly' approach. These schools will not have nut products available from the canteen. As children sometimes like to share their lunches, their schools may also request parents to provide lunches free of nuts or nut products such as 'Nutella' and peanut butter.

Tips for School Lunches

  • Organise food and drink according to the timetabled breaks and explain to your child that snack items are for the morning break and lunch items for the longer break.
  • Let your child help prepare healthy lunches and snacks.
  • Pack food that is ready and easy to eat and not too messy. Pre-cut items such as oranges, celery and carrot are ideal.
  • Use a lunch box that keeps food cool and ensure all items are clearly labelled.
  • Ensure your child is able to open containers such as cans or plastic tubs.
  • Try different types of breads, rolls or muffins for variety.
  • Limit sweets, chips and treats.
  • Water could be flavoured with a slice of lemon or orange.

Additional Assistance Programs

Some children require additional support to thrive at school. The ACT Government provides support to help every child reach their educational potential. This includes specific services and programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students for whom English is an additional language or dialect and students with a disability.

Information about language support is available from your school and on the Directorate website at

Canberra public schools provide a range of supports for students with disability. If your child has additional needs, please make an appointment to talk with your principal as early as possible so the school can work with you to best meet the needs of your child. For further information contact the Disability Education section on 6205 6925 or email Students with disability may also benefit from additional support from specialists in other areas. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was introduced as a way of supporting people with disability and can include funding for individual supports. For more information on the NDIS call 1800 800 100 or visit external link.

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Attending School

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Children are required to attend school each day. It is important for your child to attend school each day for their intellectual development. In particular, it assists their reading, writing and numeracy skills development, as well as their social, emotional and physical development. If your child is unable to attend you are required to provide a written explanation of your child’s absence.

Playing with peers is important for a child’s social and emotional development as they learn to get along with others and respond appropriately to various situations. In the early years of schooling children need opportunities to practise these skills, test new ideas and negotiate with other children. As parents know, there will be disagreements between children and friendships will be made and some will break up. The teacher will assist your child to deal with conflict and will appreciate being told of any circumstances you are aware of that may be affecting your child.

Your child will be excused from school if they are sick or have a temporary medical condition that prevents them from attending. Your child may also be excused from attending school if they have an infectious or contagious illness or an infestation of head lice.

Voluntary Contributions

Public education is free. The school board of a government school may ask parents of a child enrolled at the school to make a financial contribution to the school. Each contribution is to be voluntary and a child at the school is not to be refused benefits or services because the child’s parents or carers do not make a contribution.

Schools may charge for additional activities such as excursions, swimming lessons, camps, school photos and extracurricular tuition. Student equity funds are maintained in all public schools to facilitate access to additional activities for all families.

Dress Standards and Uniform

Dress standards and school uniforms are determined by schools in conjunction with the School Board. The school’s dress standard and uniform policy and guidelines are available from the school’s handbook or website.


Help your child with going to the toilet by themselves and ensure they are able to make their needs known to the teacher. Accidents can happen so a change of underwear can help your school manage the accident with the least amount of fuss.

Sun Protection and Preparing for Hot Days

Much of the sun damage to skin occurs in childhood and adolescence. In Canberra, sun protection is required for part or most of each day between August and May. Canberra public schools encourage children to play in shady areas and require children to wear a SunSmart hat (e.g. broad-brimmed, bucket with deep crown or legionnaire hats) when outdoors.

Parents are encouraged to ensure children apply sunscreen before leaving for school. Schools will ensure sunscreen is available for re-application throughout the day.

Canberra public schools take steps on hot days to ensure children are not exposed to extreme heat and have access to water. Parents may also like to pack extra water bottles.

Head Lice

Head lice are a common occurrence in childhood. Head lice are only found on the human head and are not found in furnishings or classroom carpets. Head lice are usually transmitted by close head-to-head contact.

An outbreak of head lice can be annoying, but is not harmful to your child’s health. Schools take measures to limit the spread of head lice including requesting that affected children not attend school during the treatment period. A useful head lice fact sheet on how to treat head lice is available from the ACT Health website at external link

Student Behaviour and School Discipline Procedures

Schools use a range of approaches to promote positive student behaviour in collaboration with families.

In the early years students are supported to build their self-confidence, learn to work together and to follow classroom routines.

At the beginning of the school year teachers and students establish classroom expectations and students are supported to monitor and manage their behaviour.

Each school has a behaviour management strategy available on the school website or from the school front office.

Parents and Carers Working Positively with Schools

To ensure schools are safe, secure and respectful learning environments for all students, it is vital that parents work positively with school teachers and staff, as well as other parents. When visiting schools, please help us to ensure the learning environment is free of any inappropriate behaviour to others and follow the requests of teachers and the principal.

Policies and Guidelines

The ACT Education Directorate provides policy advice to public schools. This is available from the Directorate website or from your school. Each school also has a range of policy guidelines providing advice on how the school is conducted. These are often found on the school's website or are available from the front office.

School Boards

Each school has a School Board as part of its governance structure. The role of the School Board is to establish and monitor school strategic direction and policies. Typically School Boards have three parent representatives nominated by the school’s Parents and Citizens Association.

Parents are encouraged to consider becoming a part of the association and schools welcome parents volunteering their time and skills to support the school. Schools regularly communicate with parents about school programs and activities through the school newsletter and other channels including email, school website, Facebook page and apps.

The ACT Education Directorate website at provides further information on Canberra public schools, education services and programs and contact details.

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Communication about Your Child’s Progress

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Effective teaching and learning is a collaborative partnership between parents and teachers. Teachers will provide feedback about your child’s progress and how you can assist them with their learning.

Your child’s teacher will assess how your child is progressing individually and also in relation to other children. Your school will provide written reports at least twice a year indicating strengths and areas for further development.

Parent-teacher meetings provide a formal opportunity to discuss your child’s achievement and progress. Parents may also choose to make an appointment with the class teacher during the school term.

Parents and Schools Working Together

There are simple things parents and families can do at home, and with their child’s school, to help their child to do their best. Showing children that education is important, building their confidence, and connecting with their school helps to shape children’s learning and wellbeing. One of the most powerful things you can do for your child is show them you believe in them and their ability to do their best at school.

For practical tips to support your child’s learning, visit the Parental Engagement section of the Education Directorate website at

BASE (formerly PIPS)

As of 2020, the Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS) is being transitioned to BASE. The BASE assessment is produced by The Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) and administered through the University of Western Australia.

BASE is easy to use and provides baseline data at the beginning of the year, supplies data on the expected and actual progress of a student at the end of the year, and provides the teacher with concrete evidence on the spread of abilities within a class.

Stay Informed

Many schools have their own Facebook page and apps to keep parents informed about school events. In addition, the ACT Public Schools Facebook page ‘ACT Public Schools’ and @ACTEducation Twitter accounts provide updates on school achievements and activities.

Schools may also send important notices home with students. Please ensure your child’s bag is checked to avoid missing these.

Term Dates and Events

Schools are closed for all public holidays, including Canberra Day on the second Monday in March each year. New students start school on the Monday of Term 1, with all continuing students returning on Tuesday. Term dates for Canberra public schools for 2020 and 2021 are as follows:


Term 1 - Monday 3 February to Thursday 9 April

Term 1 - Monday 1 February to Thursday 1 April

Term 2 - Tuesday 28 April to Friday 3 July

Term 2 - Monday 19 April to Friday 25 June

Term 3 - Monday 20 July to Friday 25 September

Term 3 - Monday 12 July to Friday 17 September

Term 4 - Monday 12 October to Friday 18 December

Term 4 - Tuesday 5 October to Friday 17 December

Contact Details and Web Sites

Helpful Phone Numbers

Organisation Phone Number
ACT Council of Parents & Citizens Associations Inc. 6241 5759 or email
ACT Education Directorate 6207 5111 (6207 0494 TTY)
Access Canberra 13 22 81 (6207 0494 TTY)
(international callers: +61 02 6207 5111)
Emergency - Police, Fire, Ambulance 000
Calvary Hospital 6201 6111
Carers ACT: Northside | Southside 6296 9900 | 6232 4270
Canberra Hospital 6244 2222
Child Abuse Prevention Service 1800 688 009
Citizens Advice Bureau ACT 6248 7988
Crime Stoppers 1800 333 000 (8am-9pm)
Domestic Violence Crisis Service 6280 0900 (6247 1657 TTY)
Health First 6207 7777 (6207 7770 TTY)
Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
Lifeline 13 11 14
Mental Health Crisis Team 1800 629 354
ParentLink 13 34 27 (6205 8800) (Mon-Fri 8:30am - 5pm)
Poisons Information Centre 13 11 26
Police Assistance 13 14 44

Helpful Web Sites

Organisation Website Address
ACT Council of Parents & Citizens Associations Inc. external link
ACT Education Directorate
ACT Government external link
Fresh Tastes, ACT external link
Citizens Advice Bureau ACT external link
Access Canberra external link
Parentlink external link
Safe Schools external link
Sun Smart external link
Child, Youth and Family Gateway Child Youth and Family Gateway external link

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