Preschool generally refers to education that is provided for children in the year prior to the first year of full-time primary school, is largely sessional, and operates only during school terms for children three years of age to school starting age. Preschools may be operated by government, community organisations or the private sector. Preschool programs may also be provided in long-day child care centres. Data about preschools are from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Child Care Survey which is conducted every three years. There is some undercounting of the number of children attending preschool in this survey. Reasons for this include differences in terminology and starting ages of preschool between states and territories, and the fact that children who are attending a preschool program within a child care centre may not be separately identified in the survey.
Data on Indigenous preschool students are from the National Indigenous Preschool Census (NIPC) which is conducted annually by Data Analysis Australia on behalf of the DEST. The purpose of the NIPC is to allocate Australian Government funding to preschools for Indigenous students. The two data sources are not directly comparable due to differences in scope and collection methodology.
In 2002, some 239,100 children attended preschool, with four year olds representing 62% of all preschool students. This compares with 236,900 attendees in 1993 when four year olds represented 61% of preschool students.
There is no national policy on the provision of preschool education, the responsibility for this resting with individual states and territories. The age at which children may attend preschool varies, reflecting the different school commencement ages in each jurisdiction. The proportion of three year olds attending preschool increased from 18% in 1993 to 25% in 1996 but by 2002 had decreased to 18% (graph 10.5).
There was some fluctuation in the proportion of four year olds attending preschool between 1993 and 2002, with a high of 59% in 2002 and a low of 46% in 1996 (graph 10.5).
In 2002, 17% of five year olds attended preschool (reflecting the entry of the majority of five year olds into primary school). This proportion was fairly steady for the 1993, 1999 and 2002 Child Care Surveys which were all conducted in June. The 1996 Child Care Survey was conducted in March and this may account for the lower number of five year olds and the higher number of three year olds reported in that year.
The changing focus of long day care to include an educational component may account for some of the changes in the participation of four year olds at preschool. While the proportion of four year olds attending preschool has fluctuated somewhat between 1993 and 2002, the proportion attending long-day child care centres has increased steadily (from 12% in 1993 to 25% in 2002) (table 10.6).
Indigenous preschool students
In 2002, a total of 8,731 Indigenous children were enrolled in government and non-government preschools Australia-wide, representing 4% of total preschool enrolments, as counted by the NIPC. Of these enrolments 31% were in New South Wales. Table 10.7 contains time series data for Indigenous preschool enrolments from 2000 to 2002. Between 2001 and 2002, the number of Indigenous children enrolled in preschools increased across all states and territories, excluding Tasmania where enrolments declined by 8%. A change in the definition of a preschool in Queensland and Western Australia in 2001 has made the estimates for these two states no longer comparable to earlier estimates.
The 2002 NIPC also shows that 60% of Indigenous preschool students were aged four, 25% were aged three and the remaining 15% were aged five or more.
10.6 PARTICIPATION OF FOUR YEAR OLDS
|Type of care|
|Long day care|
|Source: Child Care, Australia (4402.0).|
10.7 INDIGENOUS PRESCHOOL ENROLMENTS
|New South Wales|
|Australian Capital Territory|
|(a) There were changes in definition of preschool in Qld and WA in 2001, resulting in data from these two states no longer being comparable to previous years.|
|Source: Department of Education, Science and Training, 'National Indigenous Preschool Census 2002'.|