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A considerable number of children in the care of the state are not meeting the national benchmarks for literacy and numeracy, according to the results of a pilot study released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The first Australian study of its kind, Educational outcomes of children on guardianship or custody orders: a pilot study, stage 2, examines the academic performance of children on guardianship/custody orders from 2003 to 2006.

Over 4,500 children on guardianship or custody orders—that is, children on legal orders who are under the guardianship of the state—participated in the testing. These children were attending government schools in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.

The numeracy and literacy results are measured against national benchmarks—which represent the minimum standards for Grades 3, 5 and 7, below which children are expected to have difficulty progressing at school at a satisfactory level.

‘The results vary considerably across the states,’ said Ms Nicole Hunter, of the AIHW’s Child and Youth Welfare Unit.

For example, the proportion of children on orders who did not achieve the national minimum standard at their year level for reading ranged from 4% of Grade 3 children in Tasmania (2003) to 56% of Grade 5 children in Queensland (2005).

For numeracy the proportions ranged from 7% of Grade 3 Victorian children (2004) to 68% of Grade 7 children in Tasmania (2006).

‘Overall children on these protection orders are less likely to meet national minimum standards than other children, including those children in disadvantaged cohorts such as children with a non-English background and those living in remote areas,’ Ms Hunter said.

The study showed that the benchmark achievement of children on orders was most similar to that of Indigenous children in the general student population. Within the study population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were about half as likely to achieve the literacy and numeracy benchmarks as other children on orders.

‘This suggests that Indigenous children are at an increased risk of academic disadvantage within an already disadvantaged group,’ Ms Hunter said.

The findings of this pilot study highlight the need for a greater understanding of the factors that influence the educational outcomes of children on orders, to inform more effective support services for this vulnerable group of children. 

Canberra, 27 January 2011

Further information: Ms Nicole Hunter, AIHW, ph. 07 5444 0128, mob. 0418 271 395

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer 02 6244 1032

Full report: Educational outcomes of children on guardianship or custody orders: a pilot study, stage 2