Why is measuring the transition to primary school important?
Starting school is key milestone in any child and family’s life. Many elements influence a child’s ability to make this transition successfully, including community, family and individual factors such as parental socioeconomic position, parental education and mental health, child health, home and community environment and participation in a quality preschool program (Elliot 2006). Evidence suggests that children who have a positive start to school are likely to engage well and to experience academic and social success (Farrer et al 2007). The starting age for the first year of school varies between 5 and 6 across states and territories.
The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) is a national measure of children’s development, as they enter their first year of full-time school. The AEDC highlights what is working well and what needs to be improved or developed to support children and their families, and helps communities know how their children are progressing. (Australian Government Department of Education and Training 2016).
Do rates vary across population groups?
In 2015, over 1 in 5 (22%) Australian children were developmentally vulnerable on 1 or more domains of the AEDC. Girls were less likely to be developmentally vulnerable on this measure (around 16%) than boys (around 29%).
Indigenous children were twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable on 1 or more domains as non-Indigenous children (around 42% compared with around 21%, respectively).
Overall, children with a language background other than English (LBOTE) were more likely to be developmentally vulnerable on 1 or more domains than children who only spoke English (around 28% compared with around 20%). However, children from both LBOTE and English-only backgrounds can be either proficient or not proficient in English. Results published by the Australian Government in 2016 have found that children who were proficient in English and have LBOTE status were less likely to be developmentally vulnerable on 1 or more domains of the Australian Early Development Census (around 19%) than children who had a LBOTE status and were not proficient in English (around 94%) (Australian Government Department of Education and Training 2016).
Children living in Very remote areas were more than twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable on 1 or more domains compared with children living in Major cities (47% compared with 21%). Children living in the lowest socioeconomic areas were also more likely to be developmentally vulnerable on 1 or more domains than children living in the highest socioeconomic areas (around 33% compared with around 16%).
Has there been a change over time?
The proportion of children who were developmentally vulnerable on 1 or more domains at the national level has been constant between 2012 and 2015 (at 22%), but is lower than in 2009 (around 24%). For both boys and girls, the rate decreased between 2009 and 2012 (boys decreased from 30% to 29% and girls decreased from 17% to 16%), but has remained relatively stable between 2012 and 2015. The rate of Indigenous children found to be developmentally vulnerable on 1 or more domains has decreased over the three censuses, from 47% in 2009 to 43% in 2012 and 42% in 2015.
The proportion of children living in Very remote areas who were developmentally vulnerable on 1 or more domains has increased from around 45% in 2009 to 47% in 2015. The proportion of children who were developmentally vulnerable on 1 or more domains living in the lowest socioeconomic areas remained stable, at around 33% for all the years reported. Slightly more variability was observed in the highest socioeconomic areas (17% in 2009; 14% in 2012; 16% in 2015).
The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC), known as the Australian Early Development Index (AEDI) until 1 July 2014, was introduced in 2009 as a population measure of children’s health and development in different communities across Australia.
The AEDC measure is based on the scores from a teacher-completed Instrument about children in their first year of full-time school. The average age of children at the time the Australian version of the Early Development Instruments were completed is 5 years and 7 months (Australian Government Department of Education and Training 2016). Domains covered include physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills (school-based), communication skills and general knowledge. For each of the five AEDC domains, children receive a score between zero and ten, where zero is most developmentally vulnerable. The AEDC results are then reported as percentage of children who are considered to be ‘developmentally on track’, ‘developmentally at risk’ and ‘developmentally vulnerable’ on each domain.
In the first data collection cycle a series of cut-off scores was established for each of the five domains:
- children falling below the 10th percentile were categorised as 'developmentally vulnerable'
- children falling between the 10th and 25th percentile were categorised as 'developmentally at risk'
- all other children were categorised as 'developmentally on track'.
The cut-off scores set in 2009 provide a reference point against which later AEDC results can be compared. These have remained the same across the three collection cycles.
Children are considered ‘LBOTE’ if they speak a language other than English at home, or if they speak English at home but are still considered to have English as a second language (ESL) status. Indigenous children who have LBOTE status are part of the LBOTE group. For example, it is possible for children to be both Indigenous and have LBOTE status.
- Australian Government Department of Education and Training 2016. Australian Early Development Census: A Snapshot of Early Childhood Development in Australia 2016. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Education and Training.
- Elliott A 2006. Early childhood education: pathways to quality and equity for all children. Australian Education Review no. 50. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research.
- Farrar E, Goldfeld S & Moore T 2007. School readiness. Melbourne: Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth.