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Age group 0 to 5 years

Formal learning opportunities

Participation in early educational programs is considered to have a number of benefits for children, including improved cognitive and socio-emotional development and good preparation for the transition to formal schooling. 

Overview and areas of concern

Under the National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education, the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments committed to ensuring that by 2013, all children would have access to high quality early childhood education programs in the year prior to full-time schooling delivered by qualified early childhood teachers, for 15 hours per week, 40 weeks of the year.1

Benefits of early educational programs include enhanced literacy and numeracy, sociability, concentration, independence, overall cognitive development and preparation for the successful transition to formal schooling.2

Children in WA have access to Kindergarten which is a non-compulsory pre-school education program offered in the year prior to their first year of full-time schooling (Pre-primary). Children can attend Kindergarten from the beginning of the year in which they turn four years and six months. Kindergarten is offered through schools, in stand-alone Kindergartens and can be integrated with day care.

Pre-primary is the first year of compulsory, full-time schooling in WA and is considered the first year of primary school. For primary school enrolment and attendance data (including Pre-primary), refer to the School attendance indicator for the 6 to 11 years age group.

Pre-school programs are referred to by a variety of terms across states and territories.3 For more information, refer to the Explanatory Notes of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Preschool Education data collection.

Data overview

Most eligible WA children (97.6%) are enrolled in Kindergarten in the year before beginning full-time school (Pre-primary).

Areas of concern

Aboriginal children enrolled in government school Kindergartens are less likely to attend regularly than non-Aboriginal children.

Endnotes

  1. Refer to the National Partnerships Agreements website for details on this and subsequent agreements.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2009, A picture of Australia’s children 2009, Cat. No. PHE112, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, p.48
  3. “A preschool program can be delivered in a variety of settings such as stand-alone preschools, preschools co-located as part of a school (both government and non-government), and within a Long Day Care (LDC) centre. A child may attend both a preschool and a separate or adjoined child care facility, such as family day care, outside school hours care, vacation care, in-home care and occasional care services. Participation in preschool is not compulsory and is influenced by parental preference and other factors, such as school starting age in the particular jurisdiction. Preschool programs are referred to by a variety of other terms across state and territories. Age entry requirements also differ across states and territories.” Australian Bureau of Statistics, Preschool Education 2017, Explanatory Notes
Measure: Kindergarten enrolment and attendance

While Kindergarten is the first year of formal education in WA, it does not follow a formal syllabus with assessments and reporting. Under the banner of early childhood education and care, Kindergarten programs are informed by the Kindergarten Curriculum Guidelines and Early Years Learning Framework and aim to meet the quality benchmarks set out in the National Quality Standards (NQS).

Kindergarten is a non-compulsory pre-school education program offered in WA in the year prior to children’s first year of full-time schooling (Pre-primary). Children can attend Kindergarten from the beginning of the year in which they turn four years and six months. Kindergarten is offered through schools, in stand-alone Kindergartens and can be integrated with day care.

This measure is informed by data provided by the WA Department of Education and presents the number of enrolments and attendance (in government schools) of WA children in Kindergarten programs from 2014 to 2017.1

Number of enrolments in Kindergarten programs: number, by sector, WA, 2014 to 2017

Government

Non-government

Total

2014

24,342

8,816

33,158

2015

24,377

8,798

33,175

2016

24,259

8,725

32,984

2017

24,939

8,550

33,489

Source: Data provided by WA Department of Education, 2018, custom report (unpublished).

In 2017, there were 33,489 enrolments in Kindergarten programs across WA. Three-quarters of enrolled children attended Kindergarten programs in government schools. Between 2014 and 2017, there has been a slight shift in the number of Kindergarten enrolments from the non-government to the government sector.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics collects enrolment data for ‘pre-school’ programs across Australia that includes numbers of WA children attending Kindergarten in a non-school setting. The total shown for WA is not the same as the total shown by the WA Department of Education data due to differing data inclusion limits.

Enrolment of 4 year-old children in Kindergarten, number and per cent of children, WA, 2017

WA*

% of total

Kindergarten in school-setting

Government

20,025

59.3

Non-government

Independent schools

3,012

8.9

Catholic schools

4,308

12.8

Total Non-government

7,317

21.7

Multiple Kindergartens

5

0.0

Total in Kindergarten in schools

27,340

80.9

Kindergarten in long day care centre

Government

15

0.0

Non-government

678

2.0

Multiple long day care

7

0.0

Total in Kindergarten in long day care

708

2.1

Children in long day care and school

5,733

17.0

Total children enrolled

33,783

100.0

Total population of 4 year-old children

34,612

% of 4 year-old population enrolled

97.6%

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Preschool Education, Australia, 2017, cat. no. 4240.0 Table 2, Children enrolled, sector, age and Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2017, cat. no. 3101.0 Table 55, Estimated resident population by single year of age, Western Australia (viewed 27 September 2018).

* This data is a direct copy from the ABS Preschool Education 2017 table. The totals in this table do not sum, per the ABS this is due to the cells in the table being randomly adjusted to avoid the release of confidential data.  

In WA, nearly all (97.6%) four year-olds were enrolled in a ‘pre-school’ education program, or Kindergarten, in 2017. The majority (80.9%) of children attended Kindergarten in a school-setting (either government or non-government provided) while an additional 17 per cent attended a Kindergarten program in a school setting as well as within a long day care centre. Only 2.1 per cent of children attended Kindergarten solely in a non-school setting (long day care centre).

Each state and territory has a different approach to education in the year before full-time school and therefore comparisons across jurisdictions are not recommended.

In 2017, 6.6 per cent of all WA Kindergarten students were Aboriginal. These proportions are similar to the proportions recorded for 2014. In absolute terms, the number of Aboriginal students enrolled in Kindergarten programs increased slightly from 2,171 in 2014 to 2,207 in 2017. This is commensurate with the population increase over the same time period.

Number of Aboriginal students enrolled in Kindergarten programs, in number and per cent, WA, 2014 to 2017

Number
of Aboriginal students

% of all students

2014

2,171

6.55

2015

2,216

6.68

2016

2,092

6.34

2017

2,207

6.59

Source: Data provided by WA Department of Education, 2018, custom report (unpublished)

Based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Estimated resident Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Non-Indigenous populations in WA at 30 June 2016, the proportion of Aboriginal children enrolled in Kindergarten was approximately 94 per cent.2

In 2017, 71.8 per cent of all Kindergarten students in government schools attended regularly. This proportion has increased slightly since 2014. The term ‘regular attendance’ denotes students who attend 90 per cent or more of available time.

Kindergarten students in government schools who are in ‘regular attendance’ category, in per cent, by Aboriginal status, WA, 2014 to 2017

All students

Aboriginal students

2014

69.7

35.7

2015

71.8

38.1

2016

71.2

39.6

2017

71.8

40.5

Source: Data provided by WA Department of Education, 2018, custom report (unpublished).

Kindergarten students in government schools who are in ‘regular attendance’ category, by Aboriginal status, WA, 2014 to 2017

Source: Data provided by WA Department of Education, 2018, custom report (unpublished).

It is of concern that Aboriginal children are less likely to attend regularly than their non-Aboriginal peers. In 2017, 40.5 per cent of Aboriginal children enrolled in Kindergarten in government schools were recorded as regularly attending. This figure has been steadily improving since 2011, however the attendance gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students remains significant.

There is no data available on regular attendance at Kindergarten in non-government schools.

Research has shown that regular attendance at school is essential to academic achievement. Furthermore, low or irregular attendance patterns are established early and are often influenced by factors that are present prior to school entry.It is therefore important to address low attendance rates (and any related barriers) in Kindergarten.

National Quality Standards (NQS) that apply to early childhood education and care services also apply to Kindergarten delivered in a school setting.4 The approach to implementing the NQS in WA schools has been jointly developed by the Departments of Education, in consultation with the Catholic and independent school sectors. Individual schools annually report on how their school is meeting the quality standards.5 This data is not publicly reported.

Endnotes

  1. Notes: Enrolments are as at Semester 2 student census each year. Government includes community Kindergarten students.  Non-government includes independent pre-school students.
  2. Based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Table 5 Estimated resident Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Non-Indigenous populations, Western Australia, single year of age (to 65 and over)–30 June 2016(a), there were approximately, 2,230 4 year-old Aboriginal children in WA at 30 June 2016.
  3. Hancock KJ et al 2013, Student attendance and educational outcomes: Every day counts, Report for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
  4. For more information on the NQS refer to the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority website.
  5. WA Department of Education 2018, Guide to the National Quality Standards for WA public schools - February 2018.
Children in care

Children in care often experience poorer educational attainment and life outcomes.1 Access to quality early learning can assist the developmental needs of children in care by promoting their cognitive, social and emotional development, aiding early intervention for developmental vulnerabilities and preparing children to make a successful transition to school.2,3

The Outcomes Framework for Children in Out-of-Home Care (OOHC) in WA monitors and reports on the outcomes achieved for children in care. In 2015, 97.1 per cent of four year-old children in care participate in early childhood education and care services. Aboriginal children in care are slightly more likely to be engaged in formal early learning (97.9%) compared to non-Aboriginal children in care (95.9%).4

There is no data on the attendance levels at Kindergarten of WA children in care. Considering the importance of regular school attendance for children’s future outcomes, it is critical that regular attendance at Kindergarten is measured and reported against.

Endnotes

  1. Tilbury C 2010, Educational status of children and young people in care, Children Australia, Vol. 35, No. 4.
  2. Vandenbroeck M et al 2018, Benefits of Early Childhood Education and Care and the conditions for obtaining them, European Expert Network on Economics of Education Analytical Report No. 32, European Commission.
  3. Productivity Commission 2014, Childcare and Early Childhood Learning: Overview, Inquiry Report No. 73.
  4. Department of Child Protection and Family Support 2016, Outcomes framework for children in out-of-home care in Western Australia, 2015-2016 Baseline Indicator Report, Department of Child Protection and Family Support. 
Children with disability

Research shows that participating in an inclusive early learning program in the year prior to commencing full-time school leads to positive behavioural and developmental outcomes for children with or without disabilities.1 Inclusion of children with disability in early childhood programs can set a trajectory for inclusion across the life course.2

Kindergarten program providers have additional obligations under the Disability Standards for Education 2005 to ensure that students with disability can access and participate in education on the same basis as other students. To ensure equal access, services may need to seek support and resources to fully include all children and meet high quality outcomes.3

Analysis of the Australian Early Development Census data suggests that children with special needsare less likely than other children to be in early childhood education and care prior to starting their first year of full-time schooling (Kindergarten in WA). However, this finding is not supported through analysis of Longitudinal Study of Australian Children data, although this may be due to differences in variables used to identify children with special needs.5

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Disability, Ageing and Carers data collection reports that approximately 5,100 WA children aged 0 to four years have a reported disability6 and approximately 2,600 children are living with ‘profound or severe core activity limitation’ which indicates that a person is unable to do, or always needs help with, a core activity task.7

No data exists on the number of WA students that enter Kindergarten with a diagnosed disability, what they are diagnosed with or the types of support provided.

Endnotes

  1. Odom SL et al 2004, Preschool inclusion in the United States: A review of research from an ecological systems perspective, Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, Vol 4 No 1, pp. 17-49.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services U.S. Department of Education 2016, Policy Statement on Inclusion of Children With Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs, September 14, 2015, Infants & Young Children, January/March, Vol 29, No 1, pp.3–24.
  3. Early Childhood Australia and Early Childhood Intervention Australia, Position statement on the inclusion of children with a disability in early childhood education and care.
  4. The term ‘special needs’ is used if a child requires special assistance because of chronic medical, physical, or intellectually disabling conditions (e.g. Autism, Cerebral palsy, Down syndrome) based on a medical diagnosis or diagnoses. Commonwealth of Australia 2015, Definition of AEDC terms, viewed 13 August 2018.
  5. Baxter J and Hand K 2013, Access to early childhood education in Australia, Research Report No. 24, Australian Institute of Family Studies, p. 36.
  6. ABS uses the following definition of disability: ‘In the context of health experience, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICFDH) defines disability as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. In this survey, a person has a disability if they report they have a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts everyday activities.” Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia, 2015, Glossary.
  7. Estimates are to be used with caution as they have a relative standard error of between 25 and 50 per cent. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia, 2015: Western Australia, Table 1.1 Persons with disability, by age and sex, 2012 and 2015 estimate, and Table 1.3 Persons with disability, by age and sex, 2012 and 2015, proportion of persons.
Policy implications

Successful participation in early childhood education is a key contributor to attaining positive life outcomes1 and attendance is a good indicator of engagement. Research by the Telethon Kids Institute demonstrates that children who start school with irregular attendance are more likely to continue attending irregularly, and that this has a significant and negative impact on their academic achievement and school engagement.2

In WA, enrolment in early childhood education programs is very high due to the National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education. The Agreement supports universal access and participation in quality early childhood education in the year before full-time school (Kindergarten in WA), with a focus on vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

One of the key targets of the National Partnership Agreement for Indigenous Early Childhood Development is to ensure access for all four year-old Aboriginal children, particularly in remote communities, to early childhood education. In WA, the target to have 95 per cent of Aboriginal four year-olds enrolled in Kindergarten is on track.3

However, attendance data shows that despite almost universal enrolment, Aboriginal students are significantly less likely than their non-Aboriginal peers to attend Kindergarten regularly (90 per cent or more of available time). Low attendance levels affect a child’s foundation for learning and contribute to the gap in educational outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.

The Australian Government has recognised the importance of attendance to the educational achievement of Aboriginal students through the decision to target closing the gap in school attendance between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. To achieve these targets, it is important to understand that early childhood education and care cannot be separated from child, family and community health and wellbeing.4

Education policies must recognise the wider social and cultural environment in which children live.Adopting a community development focus that involves active collaboration with Aboriginal communities is associated with positive educational outcomes and therefore recommended.6 It is also critical that Kindergartens and other ECEC environments recognise the strengths of Aboriginal children and their culture and provide a culturally safe place for Aboriginal children to learn.7

Data gaps

While research shows that attendance at Kindergarten can enhance developmental outcomes for all children, there is very little Australian research on the effectiveness and efficacy of particular early learning programs and practices, especially for Aboriginal and vulnerable children.To improve learning outcomes for children experiencing disadvantage in WA, an investment in the evidence base of what works in early learning interventions for vulnerable children is required.

It is also essential that data is collected on Kindergarten attendance levels of children in care and children with disability. These children represent some of the most vulnerable in WA and successful and consistent participation in early childhood education is essential to support their current wellbeing and future life outcomes.

Endnotes

  1. Commonwealth of Australia 2009, Investing in the Early Years—A National Early Childhood Development Strategy: An initiative of the Council of Australian Governments.
  2. Hancock KJ et al 2013, Student attendance and educational outcomes: Every day counts, Report for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, pp. iv-vi.
  3. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2018, Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s Report 2018, Commonwealth of Australia.
  4. Sims M 2011, Early childhood and education services for Indigenous children prior to starting school, Resource Sheet No. 7, Closing the Gap Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  5. Kulunga Research Network of Telethon Kids Institute 2007, National Indigenous education: an overview of issues, policies and the evidence base, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, p. 25.
  6. Osbourne K et al 2013, What works? A review of actions addressing the social and economic determinants of Indigenous health, Closing the Gap Clearinghouse issues paper No. 7, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  7. Krakouer J 2016, Aboriginal Early Childhood Education: Why attendance and true engagement are equally important, Australian Council for Education Research.
  8. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2015, Literature review of the impact of early childhood education and care on learning and development: working paper, Cat No CWS 53, AIHW, p. 23.
Further resources

For more information on formal early learning refer to the following resources: