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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2005  
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Contents >> Education and training >> Primary and secondary education

School attendance

School attendance is compulsory throughout Australia between the ages of 6-15 years (16 years in South Australia and Tasmania). Most children start primary school at around five years of age. The final two years of secondary schooling generally fall outside the compulsory stage of education. Despite this, just under 88% of the cohort of students who entered secondary school in 1998 or 1999 (depending on the state or territory of schooling) continued on to Year 11 in 2002, and 75% continued to Year 12 in 2003.

Although each state and territory has developed its own approach to schooling, moves are underway across Australia to standardise core education curriculum modules (such as Mathematics, Science and English) and age of commencement of students. Queensland, which is currently trialling the provision of Pre-year 1 school education, is expected to extend this across the whole state within the next 3-4 years. The expectation is that these changes will then ensure all Australian children have access to 13 years of schooling, on a comparable basis, transferable anywhere in Australia.

Primary schooling in most states and territories begins with a preparatory or kindergarten year, followed by six or seven primary grades. Secondary schooling then involves a further six or five years to complete a full course of school study.

Changes in school commencement ages in Western Australia in 2001 resulted in a smaller than usual cohort in Pre-year 1 (called Pre-primary in Western Australia) in 2002 and Year 1 in 2003. This smaller group is expected to continue on to Year 2 in 2004 and finally leave the school system in Year 12 in 2014.

School organisation and operation

Primary schooling provides a general elementary program lasting for seven or eight years until Year 6 or Year 7. Students enter secondary schools at Year 7 in some state (or territory) systems and at Year 8 in others. Primary and secondary schools are usually separate institutions, but in some areas there are central, combined or area schools which provide both levels of schooling. In Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, the final two years of government schooling are undertaken at separate secondary colleges.

Generally, schools in Australia have a considerable degree of autonomy. Most states and territories have established regional administrations which are responsible for matters such as planning school buildings and deploying staff, while a central curriculum unit provides general guidelines on course planning. Typically, individual schools determine teaching and learning approaches within the given guidelines and offer various course options. The assessment of students varies across states and territories, some having a completely school-based assessment system, while others combine school-based assessment with external examinations.

Primary schooling

In early primary education, the main emphasis is on the development of basic language and literacy skills, simple arithmetic, moral and social education, health training and some creative activities.

In the upper primary years the focus is on development of the skills learned in earlier years. English, mathematics, social studies, science, music appreciation, art and craft, physical education and health are studied. There are also optional subjects such as religious instruction, foreign and community languages, and specific music courses.

Secondary schooling

In some systems the first one or two years of secondary school consist of a general program which is undertaken by all students, although there may be some electives. In later years, a basic core of subjects is retained, with students able to select additional optional subjects. In other systems, students select options from the beginning of secondary school.

In senior secondary years, a wider range of options is available in the larger schools and there is an increasing trend towards encouraging individual schools to develop courses suited to the needs and interests of their students, subject to accreditation and moderation procedures. There is also an increasing emphasis on the incorporation of vocational programs into the senior secondary curriculum. School students may obtain certificates and undertake New Apprenticeships in the VET sector as part of their senior school study and undertake some parts of their programs in the workplace.

Students reaching the minimum school leaving age may leave school and seek employment, or enrol in a vocational course with a VET institution, such as a technical and further education (TAFE) institution or a private business college. For many VET courses, completion of Year 10 of secondary school is a minimum entry requirement. For those continuing to the end of secondary school (Year 12), opportunities for further study are available at higher education institutions, VET institutions and other educational institutions. For students continuing to higher education, eligibility to undertake university courses is almost always based on completion (at a satisfactory level) of a senior secondary school certificate.

Other schooling arrangements

Children may be exempted from the requirement of compulsory attendance at a school if they live too far from a school or have a disability. These children receive tuition through a variety of educational delivery mechanisms, including distance education, School of the Air, and use of computer and facsimile technologies.

Children of some Indigenous groups in remote areas of the Northern Territory, who live in small decentralised communities, receive schooling mainly in Homeland Learning Centres or Catholic Indigenous schools. They are taught by Indigenous teaching assistants supported by visiting teachers from established schools.

Boarding facilities are available at some non-government schools, mainly in the larger towns and cities. A small number of government schools, in particular those catering for groups such as Indigenous people, have residential hostels located close by.

Children may receive tuition at home, but they must have applied to their state or territory Department of Education for permission. They must be enrolled as a student at a day school and be available when required for assessment against the regular school year curriculum.

Special education is provided by government and non-government authorities in special classes or units in regular schools, by withdrawal from regular classes for periods of intensive assistance by special staff, or in specialist schools. In all states and territories, and particularly in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, parents have formed voluntary organisations to establish additional schools catering for their children's special needs. The Australian Government provides funds to states and territories, non-government authorities and community groups to assist in the provision of services and upgrading of special education facilities.

Schools, students, and teaching staff

There were 9,607 schools operating in Australia at the time of the 2003 schools census (August 2003) of which 72% were government schools. There were 154,872 full-time, plus full-time equivalent (FTE) of part-time, teaching staff employed in government schools (67% of all teachers) and a further 74,704 employed in non-government schools (table 10.3).


10.3 SCHOOLS, STUDENTS AND TEACHING STAFF - August 2003

Non-government schools

Government schools
Catholic
Independent
Total
All schools
%
%
%
%
'000

Schools
72.1
17.7
10.2
27.9
9.6
Students (FTE)(a)
Males
68.5
19.5
12.0
31.5
1,696.0
Females
67.5
20.2
12.3
32.5
1,634.3
Persons
68.0
19.8
12.1
32.0
3,330.3
Teaching staff (FTE)(b)
Males
65.7
17.9
16.4
34.3
74.9
Females
68.3
18.8
12.9
31.7
154.7
Persons
67.5
18.5
14.0
32.5
229.6

(a) Full-time students plus full-time equivalent of part-time students.
(b) Full-time teaching staff plus full-time equivalent of part-time teaching staff.

Source: ABS data available on request, National Schools Statistics Collection, 2003.


In August 2003, 3.3 million students (FTE) were attending primary and secondary schools, comprising 2.3 million (68%) in government schools and 1.1 million (32%) in non-government schools. Between 1998 and 2003 the number of students (FTE) attending government schools increased by 15,300 (0.7%), while the number of students attending non-government schools increased by 105,400 (11.0%) (table 10.4).


10.4 STUDENTS(a), By category of school - August

1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000

Government schools
Males
1,149.2
1,153.1
1,154.8
1,156.9
1,163.4
1,161.9
Females
1,100.5
1,105.9
1,105.6
1,103.0
1,105.4
1,103.1
Persons
2,249.7
2,259.0
2,260.3
2,259.9
2,268.8
2,265.0
Non-government schools
Males
482.8
492.2
501.7
512.2
524.7
534.1
Females
477.2
487.8
498.4
508.9
521.4
531.3
Persons
960.0
979.9
1,000.1
1,021.1
1,046.2
1,065.4
All schools
Males
1,632.0
1,645.3
1,656.5
1,669.0
1,688.1
1,696.0
Females
1,577.7
1,593.7
1,604.0
1,611.9
1,626.8
1,634.3
Persons
3,209.7
3,238.9
3,260.5
3,280.9
3,314.9
3,330.3

(a) Full-time equivalent students.

Source: ABS data available on request, National Schools Statistics Collection, 2003.


Table 10.5 shows the percentage of school students (FTE) in 2003 by level of education. Among primary school students, 71.7% attended government schools and 28.3% attended non-government schools. For the secondary school students, 62.9% attended government schools and 37.1% attended non-government schools. Approximately a fifth of all school students attended Catholic schools (18.9% of primary school students and 21.1% of secondary school students).


10.5 STUDENTS(a), By level/year of education - August 2003

Non-government schools
All schools


Government schools
Catholic
Independent
Total
Males
Females
Persons
%
%
%
%
%
%
'000

Primary
Pre-year 1(b)
71.1
20.0
8.9
28.9
51.6
48.4
214.7
Year 1
71.3
19.6
9.2
28.7
51.3
48.7
253.5
Year 2
71.9
19.4
8.7
28.1
51.2
48.8
264.2
Year 3
71.9
19.1
8.9
28.1
51.2
48.8
268.9
Year 4
71.9
19.1
9.0
28.1
51.2
48.8
268.5
Year 5
71.4
19.0
9.6
28.6
51.1
48.9
270.7
Year 6
71.1
18.8
10.2
28.9
51.2
48.8
269.0
Year 7 (Qld, SA, WA, NT)
72.4
15.8
11.9
27.6
51.0
49.0
103.9
Ungraded
87.7
1.5
10.8
12.3
66.5
33.5
17.2
Total
71.7
18.9
9.4
28.3
51.4
48.6
1,930.6
Secondary
Year 7 (NSW, Vic.,Tas., ACT)
61.7
23.3
14.9
38.3
51.1
48.9
166.2
Year 8
62.9
21.5
15.6
37.1
51.1
48.9
266.9
Year 9
63.2
21.2
15.6
36.8
50.9
49.1
262.7
Year 10
63.0
21.0
16.0
37.0
50.6
49.4
254.3
Year 11
62.6
20.5
16.9
37.4
49.2
50.8
229.2
Year 12
61.1
21.5
17.4
38.9
47.5
52.5
199.3
Ungraded
88.7
3.1
8.2
11.3
61.3
38.7
21.2
Total
62.9
21.1
16.0
37.1
50.3
49.7
1,399.7
All students
68.0
19.8
12.1
32.0
50.9
49.1
3,330.3

(a) Full-time equivalent students.
(b) Pre-year 1 now includes a small number of Qld students engaged in a trial of Pre-year 1 education.

Source: ABS data available on request, National Schools Statistics Collection, 2003.


Graph 10.6 shows student/teacher ratios by category of school by level, in 1993 and 2003. These ratios represent the number of (FTE) students divided by (FTE) teaching staff. The most significant reduction in these ratios between 1993 and 2003 was an almost 2 percentage point decrease for primary schools - down from 18.5 students per teacher in 1993 to 16.6 in 2003. Among secondary schools, both the Catholic and Independent schools showed decreases (from 13.8 to 13.1, and 12.3 to 11.1 respectively). Government secondary schools reported a small increase from 12.3 to 12.5 students per teacher over the same period. Non-government schools had a higher student/teacher ratio than government schools in 1993 (16.0 and 15.3 respectively). In 2003 the student/teacher ratio for non-government schools was lower than for government schools (14.3 and 14.6 respectively). Both school systems showed decreases in their student/teacher ratios between 1993 and 2003.

Graph 10.6: STUDENTS TO TEACHING STAFF(a), By category of school



Apparent retention rates

Apparent retention rates are important measures of the performance of education systems and related government policies. The apparent retention rate is an estimate of the percentage of students of a given cohort who continued to a particular level or year of education. For instance, in 2003 the apparent retention rate of full-time secondary school students from Year 7/8 to Year 12 was 75.4%. As in previous years, the 2003 apparent retention rate for female students (80.7%) was higher than the corresponding rate for male students (70.3%).

Table 10.7 shows apparent retention rates from Year 10 to Year 12 rather than from the commencement of secondary schooling, where attendance due to age requirements is generally compulsory. Retention rates have been calculated for full-time students, and for all students.


10.7 APPARENT RETENTION RATES, From Year 10 to Year 12

1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
%
%
%
%
%
%

Full-time students
Males
68.9
68.9
69.0
70.8
72.4
72.3
Females
79.4
79.9
80.0
80.1
81.7
81.6
Persons
74.1
74.4
74.4
75.4
77.0
76.9
Total students(a)
Males
71.8
71.9
72.1
73.9
75.7
75.1
Females
83.6
84.5
84.7
84.9
86.9
86.4
Persons
77.6
78.1
78.3
79.4
81.3
80.7

(a) Includes part-time students.

Source: ABS data available on request, National Schools Statistics Collection, 2003.


The apparent retention rate in 2003 of all students from Year 10 to Year 12 was 3.1 percentage points higher than the 1998 rate.

Care should be taken in interpreting apparent retention rates as the method of calculation does not take into account a range of factors. These include students who repeat a year of education, migration and other net changes to the school population.

Indigenous school students

In August 2003 there were 84,149 full-time equivalent (FTE) Indigenous students attending primary schools and a further 42,247 (FTE) Indigenous students attending secondary schools (table 10.8).

Most Indigenous students (88%) attended government schools in 2003. Of the remainder attending non-government schools, most were attending Catholic schools (65%). The increase in ungraded students between primary and secondary education is mostly attributable to the classification of secondary-age students in Northern Territory remote Homeland Learning Centres as ungraded. This is due to the difficulty of classifying such students in terms of the normal secondary grade structure.


10.8 FULL-TIME EQUIVALENT OF INDIGENOUS SCHOOL STUDENTS - August 2003

Non-government schools

Government schools
Catholic
Independent
Total
All schools

Primary
Pre-year 1(a)
7,533
718
209
927
8,460
Year 1
9,735
861
262
1,123
10,858
Year 2
10,363
886
298
1,184
11,547
Year 3
10,416
842
334
1,176
11,592
Year 4
10,113
857
289
1,146
11,259
Year 5
10,134
901
340
1,241
11,375
Year 6
9,946
856
292
1,148
11,094
Year 7 (Qld, SA, WA, NT)
5,731
442
255
697
6,428
Ungraded
1,277
36
223
259
1,536
Total
75,249
6,399
2,502
8,900
84,149
Secondary
Year 7 (NSW, Vic., Tas., ACT)
3,650
331
77
408
4,058
Year 8
8,600
883
607
1,490
10,090
Year 9
7,725
762
535
1,297
9,022
Year 10
6,433
710
450
1,160
7,593
Year 11
4,178
579
364
943
5,121
Year 12
2,530
417
228
645
3,176
Ungraded
2,250
209
729
938
3,187
Total
35,366
3,891
2,990
6,881
42,247
Total
110,614
10,290
5,491
15,781
126,396

(a) Pre-year 1 now includes a small number of Qld students engaged in a trial of Pre-year 1 education.

Source: ABS data available on request, National Schools Statistics Collection, 2003.


Graph 10.9 shows a decline in numbers of Indigenous school students at secondary school level, after Year 7. This decline is most marked in government schools and is due to a number of factors, such as declining retention, movement of students to non-government schools and to the difficulty in allocating a specific grade for some students. The number of Indigenous students attending non-government schools remained relatively stable across the early grades, followed by a slight increase in Year 8 students, then a moderate drop-off until Year 12.

Graph 10.9: FULL-TIME EQUIVALENT INDIGENOUS SCHOOL STUDENTS - August 2003



Table 10.10 shows an increase in (FTE) Indigenous students attending school between 1998 and 2003, from 102,488 to 126,396 students. New South Wales and Queensland experienced the largest increases in (FTE) Indigenous school student numbers, by 8,041 and 7,360 respectively. The number of (FTE) Indigenous students attending primary and secondary schools increased in every state and territory over the period.

Between 1998 and 2003 overall growth of (FTE) Indigenous students attending school was 23%. With the exception of the Northern Territory, all states had growth of between 20% and 30%. The Northern Territory grew by 6.5%. Secondary school (FTE) Indigenous students grew by 32% between 1998 and 2003, compared with 19% for primary students.


10.10 FULL-TIME EQUIVALENT INDIGENOUS SCHOOL STUDENTS, By level of education - August

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT(a)
Aust.

PRIMARY

Students
1998
19,185
3,412
19,242
4,511
11,697
2,422
9,629
475
70,572
2003
23,835
4,377
23,541
5,230
13,871
2,837
9,808
651
84,149

SECONDARY

Students
1998
9,941
1,750
8,712
1,543
4,470
1,709
3,440
350
31,915
2003
13,332
2,321
11,774
2,075
6,073
2,159
4,110
403
42,247

TOTAL

Students
1998
29,126
5,162
27,954
6,054
16,167
4,131
13,068
825
102,488
2003
37,167
6,699
35,314
7,304
19,944
4,996
13,918
1,054
126,396

(a) Includes Indigenous students from one government primary school in Jervis Bay Territory.

Source: ABS data available on request, National Schools Statistics Collection, 2003.


The retention of Indigenous students in senior secondary schools has increased over the five-year period ending 2003. The growth in retention generally has been more notable than is the case for non-Indigenous students (table 10.11).

The apparent retention rate for Indigenous students to Year 12 rose 7.0 percentage points from 1998 to 2003 compared with a rise of 3.8 percentage points for non-Indigenous students over the same period. Nonetheless, retention of Indigenous students in secondary schools remains below that for non-Indigenous students. The apparent retention rate to Year 12 was 39.1% in 2003 for Indigenous and 76.5% for non-Indigenous students.


10.11 APPARENT RETENTION RATES(a), Indigenous and non-Indigenous students

1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
Apparent retention of students from Year 7/8(a)
%
%
%
%
%
%

To Year 9
Indigenous
95.0
93.9
95.5
96.5
97.8
96.8
Non-Indigenous
99.7
99.9
99.8
99.9
99.8
99.9
To Year 10
Indigenous
83.3
82.0
83.0
85.7
86.4
87.2
Non-Indigenous
97.4
97.9
98.0
98.4
98.5
98.9
To Year 11
Indigenous
52.3
56.0
53.6
56.1
58.9
61.4
Non-Indigenous
85.4
86.4
86.2
87.6
88.7
89.5
To Year 12
Indigenous
32.1
34.7
36.4
35.7
38.0
39.1
Non-Indigenous
72.7
73.2
73.3
74.5
76.3
76.5

(a) Refers to retention from the first year of secondary school in each state. See 'Schools, Australia, 2003' (4221.0) for further detail.

Source: ABS data available on request, National Schools Statistics Collection, 2003.


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