The early childhood years are a time when children begin to learn to communicate and get along with others, as well as adapt their behaviour, emotions and attention (CDCHU 2011). These developmental skills play an important role when a child transitions to primary school, and establish the foundations for academic and life success (Pascoe & Brennan 2017).
This page presents information on the development and school readiness of children in Australia by the time they reach primary school, using data from the 2018 Australian Early Development Census (AEDC).
The impact of COVID-19 on the transition to primary school
The most recent iteration of the AEDC was undertaken during Term 2, 2021. When results are available, the 2021 AEDC data will deliver insights into how the health and development of young children has been impacted by living through the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic (AEDC 2021).
What is the Australian Early Development Census?
The AEDC was introduced nationally in 2009 to measure the developmental vulnerability of children every three years. Data is provided by teachers using the Australian version of the Early Development Instrument. The census assesses children in their initial year of formal schooling. Parents/carers can opt out of the census if they do not want their child to participate (AEDC 2016).
The AEDC measures school readiness across five domains:
- Physical health and wellbeing—physical independence, motor skills, energy levels, ability to physically cope with the school day.
- Social competence—self-control and self-confidence, ability to work and play well with others, respect for others, responsibility, ability to follow instructions.
- Emotional maturity—absence of anxious and fearful behaviour, ability to concentrate, ability to provide assistance to other children.
- Language and cognitive skills (school-based)—interest and ability relating to literacy, numeracy, memory.
- Communication skills and general knowledge—communication with children and adults, articulation, ability to tell a story (AEDC 2016).
The AEDC scores are grouped into three categories:
- developmentally on track (above the 25th percentile)
- developmentally at risk (between the 10th and 25th percentile)
- developmentally vulnerable (below the 10th percentile).
Based on the most recent data in 2018, 309,000 children participated in the AEDC, 96% of the estimated number of eligible children at the time. The proportion of eligible children participating has remained fairly constant since 2009 (97% in 2015, 97% in 2012 and 98% in 2009).
The average age of children in the 2018 AEDC was 5.6 years, consistent with previous years. Mean age differed by state and territory, reflecting the different ages at which children start their first year of full-time school. The highest mean age was 5.9 years in Tasmania, while the lowest was 5.3 years in Western Australia (AEDC 2019).
Based on the most recent data in 2018, the proportion of children classified as developmentally vulnerable on one or more domain(s) was 22%, while the proportion classified as developmentally vulnerable on two or more domains was 11%. Developmental vulnerability has remained relatively stable since 2009 (Figure 1).