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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2004  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/06/2004   
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Contents >> Education and Training >> Attending preschool

Participation in Education: Attending Preschool

In 2001, 56% of all four year olds attended preschool.

Early learning in the years before school fosters children's cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development and wellbeing. This lays the foundation for a smooth transition to school and later school success. In recognition of the importance of early childhood to children's development, in 2003 the Australian Government launched a National Agenda for Early Childhood. The National Agenda focuses on children aged 0-5 years and highlights what needs to be done to ensure they get the best possible start in life.(SEE ENDNOTE 1)

Disadvantage in early childhood poses multiple risks to children's development. Factors such as low socioeconomic status, long-term unemployment of parents, and social isolation may have lasting impacts on a child's chance of reaching their full potential. Whilst not eliminating disadvantage, preschool education can help to lessen the effects of these risk factors and can provide children with a better start to school.
(SEE ENDNOTE 2) However, some of these factors may also be barriers to preschool attendance for groups that would benefit most from preschool education.

In Australia, the early years of children's education is the responsibility of many government and non-government agencies and it occurs in a range of settings.(SEE ENDNOTE 3) Preschool is aimed at children around four years of age to prepare them for compulsory schooling from the age of six years. In most states and territories, children can start full-time schooling at five years of age, when they enrol in a kindergarten or preparatory year.(SEE ENDNOTE 4) In 2001, just over half of five year olds (57%) were at school with about a third (34%) attending preschool. While in some states and territories children can commence preschool before they turn four, participation rates for three year olds are much lower than four year olds (24% compared with 56% for four year olds in 2001). The preschool participation rate of four year olds in 2001 (56%) was similar to the rate in 1991 (58%).

PRESCHOOL PARTICIPATION RATES(a)(b) - 2001

Males
Females
Total
%
%
%

Indigenous status
    Indigenous
44.5
47.3
45.9
    Non-Indigenous
56.5
57.3
56.9
Language spoken at home
    English
57.0
58.2
57.6
    Other
49.6
48.4
49.0
All four year olds
55.7
56.5
56.1

(a) Children aged four years.
(b) People who stated they attended school but did not indicate the type were excluded prior to calculation of percentages.
Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


PRESCHOOL

There are several data sources that measure characteristics of preschool students. These include the ABS Child Care Survey, the Census of Population and Housing and the Department of Education, Science and Training National Indigenous Preschool Census. Individual states and territories also collect data relating to preschool students. All of the data sources have limitations, in part due to different definitions of preschool between states and territories but also the inability of collections to identify those children who attend preschool within a childcare centre.

This article uses data from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing for calculations of participation rates. The census provides detailed demographic and socioeconomic information about the Australian population at a detailed geographical level.

In this article preschool refers to the year which is two years prior to Year 1.

Preschools provide sessional education for children before they enter school. They generally cater for children aged 3-5 years and are usually open only during school terms. There are variations regarding the age of children attending preschool, hours of operation, location and management. As preschool is generally aimed at children aged four years, this article focuses on that age group i.e. four year olds.

The preschool participation rate is the number of four year olds who were reported as attending preschool expressed as a percentage of the total number of children aged four years.

ACCESS TO PRESCHOOL EDUCATION

Some communities and families experience difficulties gaining access to preschool education. These include rural and remote communities, Indigenous communities and families who speak a language other than English at home. Problems in gaining access may be due to the lack of services available, language barriers, or insufficient staff numbers or expertise to provide the level of education required.(SEE ENDNOTE 5)

PRESCHOOL PARTICIPATION RATE(a)(b) ACROSS REMOTENESS AREAS(c) - 2001

Indigenous
non-Indigenous
Total
Remoteness Area
%
%
%

Major Cities
49.4
58.2
57.7
Inner Regional
46.4
54.5
53.9
Outer Regional
47.5
53.8
53.0
Remote
47.1
58.8
56.6
Very Remote
36.0
51.8
42.6
Australia
45.9
56.9
56.1

(a) Children aged four years.
(b) People who stated they attended school but did not indicate the type were excluded prior to calculation of percentages.
(c) Broad geographical regions which share common characteristics of remoteness based on the Remoteness Structure of the ABS’s Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC). For additional detail see page 120.
Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.

The preschool participation rate varied according to the Remoteness Area in which a child lived. For example, 58% of four year olds from Major Cities attended preschool, compared with 43% of those in Very Remote areas. The size of Australia and the sparse population distribution in some locations is a challenge to the effective provision of preschool education. Issues of access, choice, affordability and quality are most acute in Very Remote settings.
(SEE ENDNOTE 6)

In 2001, 46% of Indigenous four year olds attended preschool, compared with 57% of non-Indigenous children of the same age. The participation rate for Indigenous four year olds was lower than for non-Indigenous children of the same age in each Remoteness Area; and exhibited a much greater decline as the distance from population centres increased. However, among three year olds, Indigenous participation was higher than non-Indigenous in all Remoteness Areas outside Major Cities; while, among five year olds, it was lower.

A lower proportion of four year olds who spoke a language other than English at home attended preschool in 2001 - 49% compared with 58% of those who spoke English at home. Children from families who speak a language other than English may be less likely to attend preschool due to their parents' lack of knowledge of the system, and may also face language difficulties once attending preschool.


PRESCHOOL ENROLMENT AGE

To enrol in preschool, children usually need to be aged four years (or over), or be turning four years by a specific date during the year they enter preschool. These cut-off dates vary across states and territories but are most commonly early in the year (e.g. April, June or July). Consequently, children aged three years may attend preschool but they have a lower participation rate than four year olds, particularly when this is measured later in the year by which time many who started preschool at age three have had their fourth birthday. It should also be noted that some children who had turned four by August 2001 would not have been eligible to enrol in preschool earlier in that year (i.e. those whose birthday fell later than their respective state/territory cut-off date). Differences in enrolment age impact on preschool data at the national level and also make comparisons across states and territories difficult.


FAMILY CHARACTERISTICS OF PRESCHOOL STUDENTS

Risk factors in early childhood are often cumulative and many persist or multiply as a child grows older.(SEE ENDNOTE 1) One of these risk factors is socioeconomic disadvantage. Household income, parental employment and parental educational attainment can be used as measures of a child's socioeconomic status. Any or all of these components may have a bearing on preschool participation rates. Children's preschool participation tends to increase in line with their household's income. In 2001, preschool participation rates ranged from 49% of four year olds from households in the lowest income quintile to 66% of those from households in the highest income quintile.


PRESCHOOL PARTICIPATION RATE(a)(b) BY HOUSEHOLD INCOME - 2001
GRAPH - PRESCHOOL PARTICIPATION RATE(a)(b) BY HOUSEHOLD INCOME - 2001


Employment and income are closely linked. As parental employment (and income) increases, preschool becomes more affordable and, in addition to its educational role, may also become increasingly useful as a form of child care. In 2001, the four year olds least likely to attend preschool (with a participation rate of 47%) were those in couple families where neither parent was employed, and those from one-parent families in which the parent was not employed (48%). Participation rates were higher for four year olds from families with one parent employed (54% for one-parent families and 58% for couple families). The lower rate for one-parent families may reflect relative affordability as well as demand. Children aged four years in couple families with both parents employed were the most likely to attend preschool (61%).


PRESCHOOL PARTICIPATION RATE(a)(b) BY CHARACTERISTICS OF PARENTS - 2001

%

Labour force status of parents
Couple families
58.0
Both parents employed
60.9
One parent employed
57.8
Neither parent employed
46.8
One-parent families
50.0
Parent employed
53.6
Parent not employed
48.2
Educational attainment of parents(c)
Bachelor degree or above
64.6
Other non-school qualification
58.8
Year 12 or equivalent
53.4
Below Year 12
49.3
All four year olds
56.1

(a) Children aged four years.
(b) People who stated they attended school but did not indicate the type were excluded prior to calculation of percentages.
(c) Based on highest level of education of either parent.
Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.
A low level of parental education has been identified as being associated with lower preschool participation.(SEE ENDNOTE 1) The preschool participation rate varied based on the highest level of education of either of their parents. In 2001, participation of four year olds at preschool was highest when a parent had a Bachelor degree or above (65%), decreasing to 49% for those whose parent(s) left school before Year 12.

USE OF PRESCHOOL EDUCATION

It has been recommended that children spend at least 10 hours per week in preschool education.(SEE ENDNOTE 7) In 2002, more than half (57%) of preschool students aged four years attended preschool for 10-19 hours per week. However, a considerable proportion (37%) received less than 10 hours of preschool education per week. Students aged four years attending preschool due to their parent(s) work commitments were more likely than other children to receive 10 or more hours of preschool education per week.

The majority of students aged four years who attend preschool do so mainly because their parent(s) consider it to be beneficial for the child (75% in 2002). However, a growing proportion attend preschool mainly because of parental work commitments (16% in 2002 compared with 9% in 1993).


PRESCHOOL STUDENTS(a) - 2002

%

Weekly hours spent at preschool
Less than 10
10-19
20-39


Main reason attended preschool(b)
37.3
57.4
5.3
Work-related
16.2
Personal
4.5
Beneficial for child
74.8
Other
4.6
Total
100.0

(a) Aged four years.
(b) As reported by parent(s).
Source: Child care, Australia 2002 (ABS cat. no. 4402.0).
ENDNOTES

1 Commonwealth Task Force on Child Development, Health and Wellbeing 2003, Towards the development for a national agenda for early childhood, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
2 Sylva, K et al. 2003, The effective provision of preschool education project: findings from the preschool period <http://ioe.ac.uk>, accessed 23 July 2003.
3 Fleer, M and Udy, G 2002, 'Early years education in Australia', Year Book Australia 2002, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra.
4 MCEETYA 2000, The structure of Australian schooling <http://www.curriculum.edu.au/mceetya/>, accessed 25 July 2003.
5 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2000, OECD Thematic Review of Early Childhood Education and Care Policy: Australian Background Report, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
6 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001, OECD Country Note: Early Childhood Education and Care Policy in Australia, OECD, Paris.
7 Kronemann, M 1999, Towards a National Policy for Preschool Education, Australian Education Union, Abbotsford.


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