Thanks Angela, I'll add your info to my file. We're probably not going to arrive until next year now and I've found it really tough to sort out what's what school-wise. Just need to sit down and analyse the info available but not had the urgency yet. And of course I know that everything I think on paper will change when we arrive!
For what it's worth, in case its of any use to you, I've been collection quotes from here and bits of info. Bit of a brain dump but here goes anyway:
School starts Feb 3 1012 in Canberra
Quoll recommended schools - Alfred Deakin Melrose High Belconnen High Canberra High Lyneham High; Aranda PS Kaleen PS - Dont go for Kaleen HS though. You might think of Burgmann for HS if you are living in the Gungahlin area
Quoll on Belconnen/Gungahlin schools in 2009 - Well just having had a look on Allhomes for houses in that price range, I would be checking out Cook, Aranda, Fraser, Weetangera, Kaleen (but not for the local HS in years to come), Latham and possibly Hawker (although the only one there is a townhouse). However most of the ones in that price range were 3 beds and you probably wanted more than that. My favourite would definitely be Aranda - close to the city and to Belconnen with a nice bush surround and a good school both for PS and HS - however you may find it just out of your price range.
Aranda PS Kaleen PS - Dont go for Kaleen HS though
Palmerston always had the "better" rep with those from Ngunnawal tending to have more problems in the school. Kids from Palmerston tended to go to private HS and kids from Ngunnawal tended to go to Gold Ck. All gross generalizations of course and things have changed from the first demographics as the cheaper accommodation is now further out at Harrison and Amaroo.
Another person says Amaroo has own school and Nicholls is quite new but Forde is quite far to walk/bike to school
Avoid Charnwood and Dunlop next door is borderline iffy imho. Gungahlin is OK but it is a bit "new" and some of it, especially Amaroo, Franklin, Harrison, looks like a moonscape as the trees havent grown yet. The schools up there are OK though. Holt and Higgins feed into the new school in Holt which is a k - 10 school and it has had a few teething problems and a lot of people they thought would send their kids there have chosen not to.
canberra grammar very good private school
My primary school preferences include Majura (Watson, Downer, Hackett), Ainslie (not North Ainslie), Aranda, Torrens, Farrer, Fadden (if you desperately want to go to Tuggeranong)
Majura PS which serves Hackett, Watson and Downer is a lovely little school with a very nice community feel
Personally I would stick with inner north or inner south but you probably cant afford it on your budget (always easier to travel out of the centres to get to work than it is to travel into the centres so Civic to Tugg in the rush hour is a doddle whereas Tugg to Civic is a nightmare. If you can opt for places like Ainslie, Hackett, Downer, Dickson (Phil Downunder picked Dickson as the place to buy interestingly enough), Campbell, Griffith (and the Griffith side of Narrabundah eg Caley Cres), Yarralumla (though that is getting a bit expensive), Aranda then you will be doing well. The newer suburbs have bigger houses but are all a bit martian to me - no soul yet. Just avoid Charnwood, Chisholm, Richardson and the Fyshwick end of Narrabundah and you should be fine. Griffith has a bit of an issue with schools - the k - 2 are zoned for Narrabundah early childhood but then go to Red Hill for 3 - 6 which might not appeal (head for Red Hill!)
Chapman is one of the "up market" suburbs and the primary school generally has a good reputation. Not sure you'd get much for $500 though in that area. Waramanga might be a good other option and Curtin isnt too bad but being close to Woden the rents are going to be higher. Torrens and Farrer are also usually well regarded especially if you want better than average primary schools.
Avoid Charnwood and probably the new Kingsford Smith super school and check out the NAPLAN results for the others but probably head for Aranda, Hawker, Weetangera, Fraser or Kaleen PS (Kaleen has two PS, one has different programs to the other). In general the schools are a good reflection of the suburb they serve so if you dont want to live in a suburb you wont want your child going to school in it (and vice versa). The Catholic system runs pretty much parallel but they arent as strict about catchment areas, more about your faith (or lack thereof)
If you can afford it and they have places then head to Radford junior school or Canberra Girls Grammar (in Deakin but kids travel from all over). At 5 she could go to Boys Grammar until year 3 (all the Grammar infants schools are co-ed) and they have campuses in Campbell and Red Hill.
People tend not to get strung up about primary schools here but at HS they do tend to make different choices and close to 50% of the population go to private HS.
McKellar Curtin and Mawson ARE great but pricey
I have heard that Garran and Torrens are great primary schools, these are in the Woden area.
Telopea, Kaleen, Aranda - 96
Curtin - 95
Fadden - 94
http://www.mawsonps.act.edu.au/our_curriculum/languages - mawson does mandarin
Mawson PS advertises itself as being a bilingual Mandarin/English school but here are all the schools with their second languages http://www.det.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/123396/Languages_2010.pdf
There is also a Chinese Australian preschool also in Mawson http://www.careforkids.com.au/pre-school/chinese-australian-early-childhood-centre/2607 for the 3 year old
Link above indicates at least Mawson (92 rating at http://bettereducation.com.au), Torrens (92), Latham (70) do Mandarin
Garran Primary gets top score at bettereducation.com.au
Garran 2605 get top scores and is in Woden in an area where prices are fine but houses look old
Mawson 2607 and Torrens 2607are in Woden and there seems more houses near Mawson
check ratings at http://www.myschool.edu.au
school term ends 30/9 and starts back 17/10 to 21/12 then starts back 1st Feb
primary school PEAS - http://www.det.act.gov.au/school_education/enrolling_in_an_act_public_school/priority_enrolment_areas
Hackett, Watson, Downer, Ainslie, O'Connor, Lyneham, Campbell, Reid then the local schools are generally going to be quite good