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Age group 0 to 5 years

Readiness for learning

The assessment of a child’s readiness for learning involves the combined consideration of children’s socio-emotional, cognitive and behavioural strengths and vulnerabilities and the individual literacy and numeracy skills the child brings to school. 

This indicator is informed by the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC), formerly the Australian Early Development Index, which is a national measure on early childhood development. 

Literacy and numeracy is discussed in the Transition to school indicator.

Overview and areas of concern

School readiness is a multidimensional concept that incorporates children’s readiness for learning, school’s readiness for children and the capacity of families and the broader community to support children’s early learning and development.1

‘Children entering school with basic skills for life and learning have higher levels of social competence and academic achievement, increasing their likelihood of achieving their full potential’.2

The AEDC can help measure how young children are developing across WA, and can assist communities and governments to target services, resources and support needed by young children and their families.3

Data overview

The majority of WA children are considered developmentally ‘on track’ as they enter their first year of formal full-time school.

Children entering full-time school who are developmentally ’on-track’ by domain, in per cent, WA, 2015

Source: AEDC Data Explorer (online)

Areas of concern

More than 20 per cent of WA children are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains when they start school.

Aboriginal children are more than twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains as non-Aboriginal children (47.5% compared to 19.5%).

Children living in the lowest socioeconomic areas are twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable on one or more indicators as children living in higher socioeconomic areas (31.9% compared to 15.3%).

Endnotes

  1. Centre for Community Child Health 2008, Policy Brief 10: Rethinking School Readiness, Centre for Community Child Health.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012, A picture of Australia’s children 2012, Cat No PHE 167, AIHW, p. 40.
  3. Department of Education 2016, Australian Early Development Census National Report 2015: A snapshot of Early Childhood Development in Australia, Commonwealth of Australia.
Measure: Developmental vulnerability

The AEDC is a population-based measure of children’s development as they enter their first year of full-time school (Pre-primary in WA).1 It takes place nationally every three years. Teachers complete the Australian version of the Early Development Instrument for each child in their class.2

The AEDC collects data relating to five key areas of early childhood development which are closely linked to child health, education and social outcomes. The five domains are physical health and wellbeing; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive skills (school-based) and communication skills and general knowledge.

AEDC results are presented as the number and percentage of children who are developmentally on track, developmentally at risk and developmentally vulnerable in each domain.3 Further, two summary indicators are presented to show the percentage of children who are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domain(s) and developmentally vulnerable on two or more domains.

Children entering full-time school who are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains, in per cent, by gender and Aboriginal status, WA and Australia, 2015

All children

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

Male

Female

WA

21.3

47.5

19.5

27.9

14.6

Australia

22.0

42.1

20.8

28.5

15.5

Source: Australian Early Development Census National Report 2015 and Australian Early Development Census: State Report Western Australia 2015

Results from the latest AEDC data collection (2015) show that the majority of WA children attending Pre-primary are considered ‘on track’ on each of the five developmental domains of the AEDC. The percentage of children developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains of the AEDC at school entry was 21.3 per cent.

This result is an improvement of the percentage reported in 2012 of 23.0 per cent and also the 2009 result of 24.7 per cent. The 2015 results show that the percentage of WA children developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains is slightly lower than the national average (21.3% compared to 22.0%).

Proportion of children developmentally vulnerable on multiple domains, WA and Australia 2009, 2012 and 2015

2009

2012

2015

Vulnerable on one or more domains

WA

24.7

23.0

21.3

Australia

23.6

22.0

22.0

Vulnerable on two or more domains

WA

12.2

11.2

10.5

Australia

11.8

10.8

11.1

Source: Australian Early Development Census: State Report Western Australia 2015

Proportion of children developmentally vulnerable on multiple domains, WA and Australia 2009, 2012 and 2015

Source: Australian Early Development Census: State Report Western Australia 2015

Male children are more likely than female children to be developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains. In 2015 in WA, 27.9 per cent of male children were developmentally vulnerable compared to 14.6 per cent of female children. This is consistent with the differences measured between male and female children in Australia overall (28.5% and 15.5% respectively).

A significantly higher proportion of male children than female children were vulnerable across all domains. 

Proportion of children who were developmentally vulnerable by domain and gender, WA, 2015

Female

Male

Physical health and wellbeing

6.7

13.0

Social competence

4.7

11.9

Emotional maturity

3.7

13.1

Language and cognitive skills

4.8

8.5

Communication skills and general knowledge

5.6

10.4

Source: Australian Early Development Census: State Report Western Australia 2015

Proportion of children who were developmentally vulnerable by domain and gender, WA, 2015

Source: Australian Early Development Census: State Report Western Australia 2015

For more information on gender differences in the AEDC refer to the AEDC Research Snapshot – Gender.

Aboriginal children are significantly more likely to be developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains than non-Aboriginal children.

Children entering full-time school who are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains by Aboriginal status, number of children assessed and per cent, WA and Australia, 2009, 2012 and 2015

2009

2012

2015

Number of
children

%

Number of
children

%

Number of
children

%

WA

Aboriginal

1,594

52.3

2,033

49.0

2,068

47.5

Non-Aboriginal

24,458

22.9

28,598

21.2

30,305

19.5

Total WA

26,052

24.7

30,631

23.0

32,373

21.3

Australia

Aboriginal

11,190

47.4

14,011

43.2

15,874

42.1

Non-Aboriginal

235,231

22.4

258,271

20.9

270,167

20.8

Total Australia

246,421

23.6

272,282

22.0

286,041

22.0

Source: Australian Early Development Census National Report 2015 and Australian Early Development Census: State Report Western Australia 2015

In 2015, nearly one-half of WA Aboriginal children (47.5%) were developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains. This is more than double the incidence for non-Aboriginal children (19.5%). Despite this figure decreasing slightly with each Census (from 52.3% in 2009 and 49.0% in 2012), the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children continues to be very significant.

The biggest gap in development between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children is in the language and cognitive skills area where Aboriginal children are five times as likely to be vulnerable.4

Aboriginal children are more likely to experience developmental vulnerability for a number of complex reasons. One reason is socio-economic disadvantage. Forty-two per cent of Aboriginal children live in communities classified as the most disadvantaged, in comparison to 10 per cent of non-Aboriginal children.5

The percentage of children developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains increases with the level of socio-economic disadvantage of a community.

Proportion of children entering full-time school who are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains by SEIFA category, in per cent, WA, 2009, 2012 and 2015

Quintile 1*

Quintile 2

Quintile 3

Quintile 4

Quintile 5

No. vulnerable 2009

35.9

30.7

24.1

21.2

18.2

No. vulnerable 2012

37.6

28.2

23.7

19.8

15.2

No. vulnerable 2015

34.9

25.0

22.0

18.2

15.3

Source: Australian Early Development Census: State Report Western Australia 2015

* Quintile 1 – most disadvantaged to Quintile 5 – least disadvantaged.

Proportion of children entering full-time school who are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains by SEIFA category, in per cent, WA, 2009, 2012 and 2015

Source: Australian Early Development Census: State Report Western Australia 2015

In WA, 34.9 per cent of children who live in communities classified in the lowest Socio-economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) category (Quintile 1) are considered developmentally vulnerable when they enter school compared to 15.3 per cent of children in the least disadvantaged areas (Quintile 5). Alarmingly, this gap has widened by almost two percentage points since 2009. This is due to a reduction in the number of children developmentally vulnerable in the least disadvantaged areas, however with no commensurate improvement for children in the most disadvantaged areas.

Geographic location is also an important factor. In WA, 38 per cent of children who live in very remote areas are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains compared to 20.1 per cent of children who live in the metropolitan area.

Very remote areas are also more likely to be classified in the lowest Socio-economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) category (Quintile 1).6

Children entering full-time school who are developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains, number of children assessed and per cent, by remoteness area, WA, 2009, 2012 and 2015

2009

2012

2015

Number of children

%

Number of children

%

Number of children

%

Metropolitan

19,157

23.6

22,780

22.1

24,279

20.1

Inner regional

2,494

24.7

2,938

23.2

3,233

23.0

Outer regional

2,304

28.9

2,581

25.5

2,549

23.4

Remote

1,315

27.6

1,540

23.3

1,499

25.2

Very remote

782

36.4

792

38.8

813

38.0

Source: Australian Early Development Census: State Report Western Australia 2015

The percentage of children developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains has decreased from 2009 to 2015 for all locations except in ‘very remote’ areas where the percentage has increased (from 36.4% to 38.0%).

In summary, levels of developmental vulnerability are higher for children living in more disadvantaged and/or very remote locations, they are also higher for boys than for girls and for Aboriginal children. For more and detailed AEDC information about developmental vulnerability by domain, see the AEDC Data Explorer.

Another summary indicator used to present the data from the AEDC collection is ‘proportion of children developmentally vulnerable on two or more domains’. In 2015, one in ten (10.5%) WA children were developmentally vulnerable on two or more domains which is similar to the proportion for Australia overall.7

Endnotes

  1. Children who have turned five years of age by 30 June attend Pre-primary that year, those who turn five after 30 June attend in the following year.
  2. For more information on the Australian Early Development Census refer to the Australian Early Development Census website.  
  3. Children who score above the 25th percentile (in the top 75 per cent) of the national AEDC population are classified as ‘on track’. Children who score between the 10th and 25th percentile of the AEDC population are classified as ‘developmentally at risk’. Children you score below the 10th percentile (in the lowest 10 per cent) of the national AEDC population are classified as ‘developmentally’ vulnerable’. Source: Australian Early Development Census National Report 2015, p. 8.
  4. WA Department of Education 2016, Early Childhood Development Census, Australian Early Development Census – State Report: Western Australia 2015, WA Department of Education, p. 26.
  5. Ibid, p. 21.
  6. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, 2033.0.55.001 - Census of Population and Housing: Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), Australia, 2016, IRSAD Interactive Map (website). 
  7. WA Department of Education 2016, Early Childhood Development Census, Australian Early Development Census – State Report: Western Australia 2015, WA Department of Education, p. 39.
Measure: Developmental strengths

In the past, the AEDC has been criticised for pointing to the negative implications of identifying communities as vulnerable rather than highlighting their strengths.1 The Multiple Strengths Indicator (MSI) focuses on the strengths that children have developed by the time they start school. The MSI measures developmental strengths in social and emotional development which include advanced literacy skills, a particular interest in reading, numeracy and memory, and very good communication skills.

The MSI is calculated using 39 questions selected from the Australian version of the Early Development Instrument (AvEDI) that captures AEDC data and has a particular focus on more advanced skills and competencies across the five domains. Children with valid scores are classified into one of the following three categories:

  • Highly developed strengths: children are likely to be on track and show strengths across all five AEDC domains;
  • ‘Well developed strengths’: children show strength in 50 to 70 per cent of skills;
  • ‘Emerging strengths’: children may be meeting developmental expectations when they start school but do not exhibit a high number of strengths.

Children can exhibit strengths as well as vulnerabilities in their development and the MSI provides a different (strengths-based) perspective on a child’s development at school entry. Seventy five per cent of children that are classified as developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains fall into the ‘emerging strengths’ category and 25 per cent are in the ‘well developed’ or ‘highly developed’ category. Around 95 per cent of children who show developmental vulnerability across two or more domains are in the ‘emerging strengths’ category.2

MSI data is only provided at the community level and is not aggregated. Communities can use the information provided by the MSI in addition to the other indicators to inform service planning. See below for examples of Multiple Strengths Indicator 2015 Community Summaries.

Children with valid scores on Multiple Strengths Indicator: AEDC Community Summary for Cambridge, Joondalup and Wanneroo, in number and per cent, WA, 2015

SEIFA score

Highly developed strengths

Well developed strengths

Emerging strengths

Index*

Number

%

Number

%

Number

%

Cambridge

1,114

279

67.9

89

21.7

43

10.5

Joondalup

1,078

1,260

58.4

520

24.1

376

17.4

Wanneroo

1,015

1,449

50.9

714

25.1

685

24.1

WA

N/A

16,927

52.1

8,096

24.9

7,467

23.0

Australia

N/A

159,942

55.8

64,639

22.5

62,195

21.7

Source: AEDC community profiles

* ABS 2017 SEIFA Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage by Local Government Area. The lower the number the higher the level of disadvantage.

Cambridge, Joondalup and Wanneroo provide examples of results from communities located in areas of low and middle socioeconomic disadvantage within the Perth metropolitan area.

Consistent with the AEDC data on vulnerability, children living in areas of higher disadvantage are less likely to be developmentally ‘on-track’ when they start school. Conversely, children living in areas of high socioeconomic advantage are more likely to exhibit highly developed strengths when they start school and are less likely to be classified in the ‘emerging strengths’ category.

Endnotes

  1. Atelier Learning Solutions 2010, Evaluation of the Australian Early Development Index: Desktop analysis, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, p. 43.
  2. For more information on the Multiple Strength Indicator refer to the Understanding the Multiple Strength Indicator fact sheet.
Children in care

In 2017, there were 1,191 children in care aged between 0 and four years, more than half of whom (56.8%) were Aboriginal.1

There is no data currently available on the learning readiness of children in care in WA.

However, it is well established that children in care are some of the most vulnerable in our community.2

The NSW Child Development Study linked AEDC data with birth, health education and child protection data to find that exposure to any form of childhood maltreatment is associated with an increased risk of developmental vulnerability at age five. They also found that children exposed to multiple maltreatment types were more likely to be vulnerable on multiple developmental domains, relative to non-maltreated children.3

Endnotes

  1. Department for Child Protection and Family Support 2017, Annual Report 2016-17, WA Department for Child Protection and Family Support, p. 43.
  2. Osborn A and Bromfield L 2007, Outcomes for children and young people in care, National Child Protection Clearinghouse Brief No. 3, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  3. NSW Family and Community Services 2018, Evidence to Action Note: Child maltreatment in early childhood – developmental vulnerability on the AEDC, NSW Government.
Children with disability

Information about children with disability is not included in the AEDC results because of the already identified substantial developmental needs of this group. However, Table 4 of each Community Profile provides data about the number of children with special needs in a particular community.1

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 disability2 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.3

There is no available data on the readiness for learning of WA children with disability.

Endnotes

  1. For help in understanding AEDC results or to request further information, visit www.aedc.gov.au/about-the-aedc/how-to-understand-the-aedc-results
  2. 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.
  3. 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

The assessment of a child’s readiness for school involves the combined consideration of children’s strengths and vulnerabilities (provided by measures such as the AEDC) and the individual literacy and numeracy skills the child brings to school. This is discussed further in the Transition to school indicator.

The AEDC provides a population-based picture of children’s development and the results are used by government, schools and communities to inform priorities, programs and policies relating to child development. Preliminary research findings from the Telethon Kids Institute which link AEDC and NAPLAN results, indicate that a child’s level of school readiness (measured through the AEDC) can predict future learning outcomes.1

A child’s readiness for school and learning is developed by a combination of nurturing, safe and stimulating home and community environments; accessible and culturally safe family services; and engagement in high quality early childhood education and care. Through these processes children develop physical, socio-emotional, behavioural and cognitive strengths. These basic building blocks support a child’s health and wellbeing and enable them to start school with the best possible chance of success.

Aboriginal students are less likely to be ‘ready’ for primary school than non-Aboriginal students.2 As a group, Aboriginal people experience widespread socioeconomic disadvantage and health inequality and the AECD data shows that disadvantage in wellbeing outcomes starts from an early age. Furthermore, research suggests that a ‘lack of readiness’ is not a problem of the children, but can represent an inability of some schools or ECEC providers to engage with Aboriginal children in a culturally safe manner.3

WA Department of Education’s commitment to improving educational outcomes for Aboriginal students is encompassed in its Directions for Aboriginal Education 2016 statement and its endorsement of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Strategy 2015. School readiness and attendance are both highlighted as priority areas.

Data gaps

No data or research exists on the learning readiness of WA children in care or children with disability.

Longitudinal research exploring how early learning programs influence outcomes for children with developmental vulnerabilities would be beneficial to provide a better understanding of the scope and quality of care provided to children and what supports are needed to assist their carers.

Endnotes

  1. Brinkman S et al 2014, Research Snapshot: Predictive validity of the AEDC – Predicting later cognitive and behavioural outcomes, Telethon Kids Institute and Commonwealth of Australia.
  2. 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. 10.
  3. Dockett S et al 2010, School readiness: what does it mean for Indigenous children, families, schools and communities? Issues paper No. 2, Closing the Gap Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Further resources

For more information on readiness for learning refer to the following resources: