Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Transition to primary school, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 06 December 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Transition to primary school. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/transition-to-primary-school
Transition to primary school. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 16 September 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/transition-to-primary-school
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Transition to primary school [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 Dec. 6]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/transition-to-primary-school
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Transition to primary school, viewed 6 December 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/transition-to-primary-school
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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 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).
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:
The AEDC scores are grouped into three categories:
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).
The line graph shows a slight decline in the number of children classified as vulnerable on AEDC domains. Children classified as vulnerable on one or more domain(s) was highest in 2009 (23.6%) and lowest in 2018 (21.7%). Children classified as vulnerable on two or more domains was highest in 2009 (11.8%), decreased in 2012 (10.8%) and remained steady in 2015 (11.1%) and 2018 (11.0%).
Some changes took place in the proportion of children considered to be developmentally vulnerable across the five AEDC domains. Between 2009 and 2018, the proportion of children developmentally vulnerable on:
The line graph shows variation in the proportion of children classified as developmentally vulnerable on the five AEDC domains. Physical health and wellbeing increased slightly (2009: 9.3%, 2012: 9.3%, 2015: 9.7%, 2018: 9.6%). Social competence varied but increased overall (2009: 9.5%, 2012: 9.3%, 2015: 9.9%, 2018: 9.8%). Emotional maturity varied on each reporting year (2009: 8.9%, 2012: 7.6%, 2015: 8.4%, 2018: 8.4%). Language and cognitive skills (school‑based) varied but decreased overall (2009: 8.9%, 2012: 6.8%, 2015: 6.5%, and 2018: 6.6%). Communication skills and general knowledge gradually decreased (2009: 9.2%, 2012: 9.0%, 2015: 8.5%, 2018: 8.2%).
The developmental vulnerability of children also differed across demographic factors.
In 2018, boys were around twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable on one or more and two or more domains than girls.
Boys were also more likely to be developmentally vulnerable across each domain than girls. This difference has been consistent in the AEDC since 2009 (Figure 3).
In the 2020 National Agreement on Closing the Gap, a new target is to increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children assessed as developmentally on track in all 5 domains of the AEDC to 55% by 2031. In 2018, 35% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were developmentally on track across all 5 domains (Tehan 2019).
The proportion of developmentally vulnerable Indigenous children declined between 2009 and 2018 (Figure 3). Indigenous children were twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable as non-Indigenous children in 2018.
Children living in low socioeconomic areas were more likely to be developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains than children living in other socioeconomic areas.
In 2018, 32% of children in the lowest areas were developmentally vulnerable, compared with 15% of children in the highest areas. This was consistent between 2009 and 2018 (Figure 3).
Children living in Very remote areas were more likely to be developmentally vulnerable than children in other remoteness areas.
In 2018, 46% of children in Very remote areas were developmentally vulnerable, compared with 21% of children living in Major cities (Figure 3).
The line graph shows the proportion of boys classified as developmentally vulnerable on one or more AEDC domains declined slightly over time (from 30.2% in 2009 to 27.9% in 2018). Fewer girls were classified as developmentally vulnerable (16.8% in 2009 and 15.3% in 2018).
For more information on transitioning to primary school, see:
AEDC 2016. Australian Early Development Census national report 2015. Melbourne: AEDC.
AEDC 2019. Australian Early Development Census national report 2018. Melbourne: AEDC.
AEDC 2021. AEDC eNewsletter March 2021. Melbourne: AEDC.
CDCHU (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University) 2011. Building the brain’s ‘Air Traffic Control’ system: How early experiences shape the development of executive functioning: Working paper no. 11. Viewed 8 June 2021.
Pascoe S & Brennan D 2017. Lifting our game: Report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools through early childhood interventions—December 2017. Melbourne: State of Victoria. Viewed 8 June 2021.
Tehan, the Hon. D 2019. Minister’s message on the release of the 2018 AEDC results. Media release by Minister for Education. 22 March. Canberra. Viewed 8 June 2021.
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