Higher levels of education are associated with better health and greater life satisfaction (OECD 2016a). In Australia, children must attend school until they complete Year 10. They then can participate in full-time education, employment or training (or a mix) until they are 17. This page presents national statistics to provide an overview of Australia’s performance in education (for these compulsory schooling years).

School attendance

Student attendance rates refer to the number of days school attended as a percentage of the total number of possible school days. See glossary for more information.

In 2018, student attendance rates were:

  • 93% for all students in years 1–6 and 90% for all students in years 7–10, similar to rates in 2014, which were 94% and 91% respectively
  • lower in later year levels (89% in Year 10) than in earlier year levels (93% in Year 7)
  • higher in non-government schools (93%) than government schools (91%) for years 1–10
  • lower for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian children than for non-Indigenous children in years 1–10 (82% and 93% respectively). Attendance rates for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children remained relatively stable between 2014 and 2018
  • higher in Major cities (93%) compared with Inner regional (91%), Outer regional (90%), Remote (87%), and Very remote (72%) areas for years 1–10 (SCRGSP 2019).

Literacy and numeracy

The National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is an annual assessment of students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. NAPLAN assesses the types of skills essential for every child to progress through school and life:

  • reading
  • writing
  • language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation)
  • numeracy (ACARA 2018a).

NAPLAN results provide data to assess achievement against the national minimum standard and mean score. See glossary for more information.

NAPLAN mean scores generally range from 0–1,000 points, with higher scores indicating better performance, and are equated so that a score of 700 in Reading has the same meaning in 2008 and 2018 (ACARA 2018c).

Trends

Since NAPLAN was introduced in 2008, national mean scores have improved for all year levels across all domains, except Writing (Figure 1).

The largest improvements were in the Reading domain at Year 3 (33 points) and Grammar and punctuation at Year 3 (29 points). The greatest reductions in skill were in Writing for Year 7 (24 points) and Year 9 (27 points).

National mean scores on NAPLAN domains in 2018 did not change substantially from 2017. The only significant changes in the proportion of students at or above the national minimum standard were for years 5 and 9 students in the Grammar and punctuation domain, where increases of 2.5 and 2.4 percentage points were observed respectively (ACARA 2019).

This line graph shows national mean scores on the NAPLAN domain by year level between 2008 and 2018. While there was some fluctuation over time, performance on the Reading, Spelling, Grammar and punctuation, and Numeracy domains increased between 2008 and 2018 across all year levels. Performance on the Writing domain also fluctuated over time, with a general decrease between 2008 and 2018 across all year levels.

Table 1 shows significant changes in NAPLAN domain scores between 2008 and 2018.

Table 1: NAPLAN mean scale scores in 2018, with significance of change between 2008 and 2018(a), by year level

 

Year 3

Year 5

Year 7

Year 9

Domain

2018

Change

2018

Change

2018

Change

2018

Change

Reading

433.8

arrow pointing up

509.3

arrow pointing up

542.2

584.1

Writing(b)

407.1

464.7

arrow pointing down

505.3

arrow pointing down

542.4

arrow pointing down

Spelling

417.6

arrow pointing up

502.4

arrow pointing up

545.4

583.4

Grammar and punctuation

431.8

arrow pointing up

503.8

544.4

arrow pointing up

580.5

Numeracy

407.7

494.0

arrow pointing up

548.4

595.7

arrow pointing up

arrow pointing up Statistically significant increase from base year.

arrow pointing down Statistically significant decrease from base year.

↑ Increase from base year (not statistically significant).

↓ Decrease from base year (not statistically significant).

(a) Significance testing calculated by ACARA.

(b) Due to changes in the Writing assessment in 2011, the Writing score comparison is based on 2011 results as this is the earliest year against which 2018 results can be compared.

Source: ACARA 2019.

1 in 5 students completed the NAPLAN test online

In 2018, NAPLAN tests were delivered using the standard pen-and-paper test or NAPLAN Online. Approximately 1 in 5 students completed the NAPLAN tests online (ACARA 2018b).

Although results are considered comparable between the two versions of the test, concerns were raised about differences in testing methods. Year 9 students scored higher on the Writing domain if they completed the online test rather than the pen-and-paper test (ACARA 2018b). Year 9 students may have more confidence writing electronically than on paper. Students are also able to review and edit their work online in a way that is not possible with a paper test.

Population groups

In 2018:

  • across all assessed year levels, female students attained a higher mean score than males in Reading, Writing, Spelling, and Grammar and punctuation. On the Numeracy domain, females scored an average of 10 points lower than males
  • children whose parents had attained a Bachelor degree or higher returned the highest mean scores. They were more likely to perform at or above the national minimum standard than children whose parents had not attained a Bachelor degree or higher
  • students from Very remote areas scored lowest across all NAPLAN domains when compared with students in other remoteness areas
  • when averaged across all domains, Victoria had the highest mean achievement for years 3 and 5 and the Australian Capital Territory the highest for years 7 and 9.

International comparisons

Some international studies monitor the performance of primary and secondary school students around the world. These can be used to compare Australian students with their peers in other countries.

Programme for International Student Assessment

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial survey of 15-year-old students around the world. It focuses on the core school subjects of science, reading and mathematics. The performance of Australian students was highest at the first year of measurement (2000) and has since declined across reading, science and mathematics (Figure 2). While Australian students have performed above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average on all three measures, the difference between Australia and the OECD average has been decreasing (OECD 2016b).

This line graph shows the mean performance on the PISA scales, comparing Australia with all OECD countries. Mean performance on the reading literacy scale fluctuated, with an overall decline in Australia (2000: 528, 2015: 503), and in all OECD countries (2000: 500, 2015: 493). Mean performance on the Mathematical literacy scale declined between in Australia (2000: 533, 2015: 494) and in all OECD countries (2000: 500, 2015: 490). Mean performance on the Scientific literacy scale fluctuated, with an overall decline in Australia (200: 528, 2015: 510) and in all OECD countries (2000: 500, 2015: 493).

Progress in International Reading Literacy Study

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) assesses reading literacy in Year 4 students across 50 countries. According to the PIRLS 2016 report (Thomson et al. 2017a):

  • Australia’s average reading score (544) was significantly higher than 24 participating countries and significantly lower than 13 countries.
  • Australia scored similarly to the United States (549) and Canada (543), significantly higher than New Zealand (523), and significantly lower than Ireland (567), Northern Ireland (565) and England (559). The Russian Federation was the top scoring country (581) and South Africa the lowest (320) (Figure 3).
  • Australian’s mean reading score improved by nearly 20 points since 2011 (527 points in 2011).

This horizontal bar chart shows the mean scores on the PIRLS reading literacy assessment across 50 countries. Australia was ranked 21 with a score of 544. The scores ranged from 320 in South Africa to 581 in the Russian Federation.

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) has internationally compared the performance of Year 4 and Year 8 students in mathematics and science since 1995. In the 2015 TIMSS report, of the 57 countries that participated, Australia was outperformed by 21 countries in Year 4 mathematics, 12 countries in Year 8 mathematics, 17 countries in Year 4 science, and 14 countries in Year 8 science (Thomson et al. 2017b).

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on overall education, see:

References

ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) 2018a. NAPLAN achievement in reading, writing, language conventions and numeracy: national report for 2018. Sydney: ACARA.

ACARA 2018b. Release of NAPLAN 2018 summary information. Media release by ACARA. 28 August. Sydney. Viewed 10 January 2019.

ACARA 2018c. Score equivalence tables. Sydney: ACARA. Viewed 6 July 2019.

ACARA 2019. NAPLAN results. Sydney: ACARA. Viewed 16 April 2019.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) 2001. Knowledge and skills for life—first results from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2000. Paris: PISA, OECD Publishing.

OECD 2004. Learning for tomorrow’s world—first results from PISA 2003. Paris: PISA, OECD Publishing.

OECD 2007. PISA 2006: Science competencies for tomorrow’s world (Volume I: Analysis). Paris: PISA, OECD Publishing.

OECD 2010. PISA 2009 Results: What students know and can do—student performance in mathematics, reading and science (Volume I). Paris: PISA, OECD Publishing.

OECD 2014. PISA 2012 Results: What students know and can do—student performance in mathematics, reading and science (Volume I). Paris: PISA, OECD Publishing.

OECD 2016a. How are health and life satisfaction related to education? Education Indicators in Focus no. 47. Paris: OECD Publishing.

OECD 2016b. PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and equity in education. Paris: PISA, OECD Publishing.

SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2019. Report on Government Services 2019. Canberra: Productivity Commission.

Thomson S, Hillman K, Schmid M, Rodrigues S & Fullarton J 2017a. Reporting Australia’s results PIRLS 2016. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research.

Thomson S, Wernert N, O’Grady E & Rodrigues S 2017b. TIMSS 2015: Reporting Australia’s results. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research.