Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Secondary school education, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 29 May 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Secondary school education. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/secondary-education
Secondary school education. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 June 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/secondary-education
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Secondary school education [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 May. 29]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/secondary-education
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Secondary school education, viewed 29 May 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/secondary-education
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Has school attendance changed over time?
How have Year 9 students performed on reading and numeracy tests?
Have reading and numeracy outcomes changed over time?
Are reading and numeracy outcomes the same for everyone?
How does Australia compare internationally?
Sense of belonging at school
Secondary school education is a crucial part of young people’s lives. Their experiences and achievements at school have lasting effects on their health and wellbeing as well as their future productivity and contribution to society.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) sees a student’s reading and numeracy as fundamental to their educational achievement. These abilities, in turn, not only help students to engage with society but also affect their future employment prospects (OECD 2016).
School attendance contributes importantly to a student’s academic achievement and affects further education and future employment opportunities (SCRGSP 2020). It is also a measure of a student’s behavioural engagement with school.
A student’s attendance pattern is set down in the first years of school. Non‑attendance leads to poorer academic achievement, with the effects of absences accumulating over time (Hancock et al. 2013). Non-attendance is also associated with negative social outcomes, such as social isolation and emotional and behavioural difficulties (AITSL 2019).
A student’s sense of belonging relates to how connected, respected and supported students feel at school. A greater sense of belonging is associated with higher academic motivation, achievement and self-esteem (OECD 2019a). Sense of belonging is also a measure of a student’s emotional engagement with school (SCRGSP 2020).
Sense of belonging is, however, only one aspect of student wellbeing. The Australian Student Wellbeing Framework is a national framework for student wellbeing that addresses many aspects of wellbeing and outlines an overarching vision, principles and practices to improve and maintain safety, wellbeing and positive relationships within the school community (Education Services Australia 2020).
For data on young people who attained Year 12 (or equivalent) or Certificate III (or above) see Non-school qualifications.
Data reported in this section focus on national measures relating to secondary school students.
On 1 January 2019, the National School Reform Agreement (NSRA) replaced the National Education Agreement (NEA) and the National Education Reform Agreement (NERA).The NSRA is a joint agreement between the Australian, state and territory governments to lift student outcomes across Australian schools (COAG 2019). It sets out 8 reforms to be implemented nationally over the next 5 years, along with national targets and measures. For more information, see The National School Reform Agreement.
Measures on school attendance and literacy and numeracy from the NSRA are presented in this section. To provide a longer time series on these topics, data for measures under the former NEA and NERA agreements are also included.
School attendance data
School attendance data are sourced from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) National Student Attendance Data Collection. ACARA, on behalf of the Education Council, developed the National Standards for Student Attendance Data Reporting (national standards) to standardise reporting across Australia for comparability purposes.
Student attendance rates were also a measure under the NEA and the NERA. As national time-series data are available for years 2014 to 2019, attendance rate data are also included in this section. Student attendance rates refer to the number of days of school attended as a percentage of the total number of possible school days.
Student attendance levels refer to the proportion of students whose attendance rate in Semester 1 is equal to or greater than 90% (referred to in this section as ‘at least 90%’) (see Glossary in Australia’s welfare 2019). Student attendance levels are a measure under the NSRA. National data on student attendance levels have been collected only from 2018.
National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)
NAPLAN tests have been conducted annually for all students across Australia in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 since 2008. They yield nationally comparable data. NAPLAN data includes those on reading, writing, spelling, language conventions (grammar and punctuation) and numeracy. This section focuses on Year 9 reading and numeracy only.
Reading and numeracy data in this section are expressed in terms of:
NAPLAN mean scores generally range from 0–1,000 points, with higher scores indicating better performance; the scores are equated so that a score of 700 in reading has the same meaning in 2008 as in 2019 (ACARA 2019a).
NAPLAN and COVID-19
NAPLAN tests were cancelled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but are expected to restart in 2021 (ACARA 2020).
Programme for International Student Assessment
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial survey of 15-year-old students around the world (see Technical notes). It focuses on the core school subjects of science, reading and mathematics. Additional questionnaires are provided to students to gather contextual information, such as socioeconomic background, and attitudes towards school (for example, a sense of belonging). This section focuses on the core school subjects of reading and mathematics.
Attendance level is a measure of the proportion of students that attended school on at least 90% of the total possible school days. In 2019, the attendance level of Year 9 students was 65%.
The attendance levels were:
Between 2018 and 2019:
As student attendance rate has been recorded for longer than attendance level and it was a measure under the former NEA and NERA agreements.
Between 2014 and 2019:
Source: ACARA 2019b.
In 2019, based on data from the ACARA National Student Attendance Data Collection, Year 9 student attendance levels were higher in Major cities (68%) than in Inner regional (60%), Outer regional (58%), Remote (46%) and Very remote (22%) areas (ACARA 2019b).
Attendance data for students from a low socio-educational advantage background or for students with disability are not currently available in this Collection.
In 2019, based on NAPLAN data, among students in Year 9, the:
Between 2008 and 2019, among Year 9 students, the:
Source: ACARA 2019c.
In 2019, based on NAPLAN data, the mean reading score for Year 9 students varied between population groups. The mean reading score was:
Note: Group 1: Senior management and qualified professionals; Group 2: Other business managers and associated professionals; Group 3: Tradespeople, clerks, skilled office people, sales and service staff; Group 4: Machine operators, hospitality staff, assistants, labourers; Not in paid work: Not in paid work in the previous 12 months.
Source: ACARA 2019c.
The mean numeracy score for Year 9 students also varied between population groups. The numeracy score was:
Based on data from PISA 2018, the mean performance of Australian students (aged 15, see Technical notes) was higher than the OECD average in reading (503 compared with 487) but similar to the OECD average in mathematics (OECD 2019b) (figures 5 and 6).
Of the 37 OECD countries that took part in PISA 2018, Australia outperformed 21 of them in reading and 11 in mathematics (OECD 2019b).
Of a select group of OECD countries, Australia performed similarly to:
Since the first measurement of PISA (2000), the performance of Australian students has been declining across reading and mathematics (see Australia’s welfare 2019).
Source: OECD 2019b.
Sense of belonging has been associated with social and academic outcomes, including higher academic motivation, self-esteem and achievement (OECD 2019a).
The PISA survey calculates a Sense of Belonging index, based on the responses to 6 statements used to measure sense of belonging and compare OECD countries. These 6 responses show that most students in Australia feel socially connected at school (tables 1 and 2).
Statements related to sense of belonging
I make friends easily at school
I feel like I belong at school
Other students seem to like me
Note: The OECD average refers to the average across 36 OECD countries in PISA 2018 (not including Israel).
Source: OECD 2019a.
I feel like an outsider (or left out of things) at school
I feel awkward and out of place in my school
I feel lonely at school
The index of sense of belonging has an average of 0 and standard deviation of 1 across OECD countries and is calculated using the responses to the 6 statements in tables 1 and 2. The sense of belonging index score for Australia is –0.19, lower than the OECD average (0) (SCRGSP 2020).
Australian students from metropolitan areas reported a greater sense of belonging (–0.16) than students from provincial (–0.28) and remote (–0.26) areas (SCRGSP 2020) (For more information, see Technical notes).
Australian students from the highest socioeconomic quartile reported a greater sense of belonging (–0.06) than students in the other 3 quartiles (–0.16, –0.22 and –0.32 in the third, second and lowest quartile, respectively) (SCRGSP 2020) (For more information, see Technical notes).
For information on topics related to wellbeing in this report, see:
For information on Indigenous young people and literacy and numeracy, see:
For information on literacy and numeracy levels among children aged 0–14, see:
For more information on:
ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) 2019a. NAPLAN Achievement in Reading, Writing, Language Conventions and Numeracy: National Report for 2019. Sydney: ACARA. Viewed 20 April 2021.
ACARA 2019b. Student attendance. Sydney: ACARA. Viewed 20 April 2021.
ACARA 2019c. NAPLAN 2019 summary results. Sydney: ACARA. Viewed 18 May 2020.
ACARA 2020. NAPLAN FAQs: NAPLAN—COVID-19. Sydney: ACARA. Viewed 26 November 2020.
AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) 2019. Spotlight—attendance matters. Melbourne: AITSL. Viewed 19 August 2020.
COAG (Council of Australian Governments) 2019. The National School Reform Agreement. Canberra: Department of Education and Training. Viewed 19 August 2020.
Education Services Australia 2020. Australian Student Wellbeing Framework. Student Wellbeing Hub. Melbourne: Education Services Australia. Viewed 1 September 2020.
Hancock KJ, Shepherd CCJ, Lawrence D & Zubrick SR 2013. Student Attendance and Educational Outcomes: every day counts. Report for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Perth: Telethon Kids Institute. Viewed 20 April 2021.
OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) 2016. Building skills for all in Australia: policy insights from the survey of adult skills. OECD Skills Studies. Paris: OECD Publishing. Viewed 14 August 2020.
OECD 2019a. PISA 2018 Results (Volume III): what school life means for students’ lives. Paris: OECD Publishing. Viewed 14 August 2020.
OECD 2019b. PISA 2018 Results (Volume I): what students know and can do. Paris: OECD Publishing. Viewed 14 August 2020.
Productivity Commission 2020. Performance reporting dashboard. Education: National School Reform Agreement details. Canberra: Productivity Commission. Viewed 13 August 2020.
SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2020. Report on Government Services 2020. Canberra: Productivity Commission. Viewed 15 December 2020.
Thomson S, De Bortoli L, Underwood C & Schmid M 2019. PISA 2018: Reporting Australia’s Results. Volume I Student Performance. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research. Viewed 20 April 2021.
For general technical notes relating to this report, see also Methods.
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