Preschool generally refers to education 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 ABS Child Care Survey (results published in Child Care, Australia (4402.0)) which is conducted every three years. However, 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 Department of Education, Science and Training. The purpose of the NIPC is to allocate Commonwealth funding to preschools for Indigenous students. The two data sources are not directly comparable due to differences in scope and collection methodology.
In 1999, some 231,600 children attended preschool, with four year olds representing 56% of all preschool students. This compares with 267,200 attendees in 1990, when four year olds represented 44% of preschool students.
There is no national policy on the provision of preschool education, the responsibility for this lying 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 between 1990 and 1999, peaking at 25% in 1996 (graph 10.8). There was some fluctuation in the proportion of four year olds attending preschool between 1990 and 1999, with a high of 57% in 1993 and a low of 46% in 1996. In 1990, 42% of five year olds attended preschool (however, this does not take into account five year olds attending school).
This proportion dropped between 1990 and 1996, then increased to 17% in 1999. The 1990 and 1999 Child Care Surveys were conducted in November, which may account for the higher proportion of five year olds in those years, while the 1996 survey was conducted in March, which may account for the higher proportion of three year olds in 1996.
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 1990 and 1999, the proportion attending long day care centres has increased steadily (from 10% in 1990 to 22% in 1999) (table 10.9).
Indigenous preschool students
In 2000, Indigenous students represented 5% of total preschool enrolments, as counted in the NIPC. The number of Indigenous children attending preschool increased by 18% from 10,000 in 1996 to 11,800 in 2000. As with all children, the highest preschool participation rate for Indigenous children was for four year olds (48% in 2000) (table 10.10).
10.9 PARTICIPATION OF FOUR YEAR OLDS
|Type of care|
|Long day care|
|Total in preschool/long day care|
|Source: Child Care, Australia (4402.0).|
10.10 INDIGENOUS PRESCHOOL PARTICIPATION(a)
3 years and under
4 years old
5 years and over
|(a) Shown as a proportion of the relevant age group.|
Source: Department of Education, Science and Training, 'Data Analysis Australia 1997 & 2001, National Indigenous Preschool Census'.