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PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION
Schools in Australia have considerable autonomy. Most states and territories have 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. Individual schools typically determine teaching and learning approaches within given guidelines, and offer various course options. 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.
The main emphasis in early primary school is on the development of basic language and literacy skills, simple arithmetic, moral values and social education, health training and personal development, and some creative activities.
In upper primary school, the focus is on developing 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.
In some jurisdictions 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 the middle secondary years, a basic core of subjects is retained, with students able to select additional optional subjects. In other jurisdictions, students select options from the beginning of secondary school.
In senior secondary schooling (Years 11 and 12) a wider range of subject options is available in the larger schools. Individual schools increasingly develop courses suited to the needs and interests of their students, subject to accreditation and moderation procedures. Vocational programs are included in the senior secondary curriculum in all jurisdictions. School students may obtain certificates and undertake apprenticeships in the VET sector as part of their senior school study, and may undertake some parts of these 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) college or a private business college. For many VET courses, completion of Year 10 is a minimum entry requirement. For those continuing to the end of secondary school, 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 satisfactory completion of a senior secondary school certificate (Year 12 qualification).
Other schooling arrangements
Children may be exempted from attending a school if they live too far away from an appropriate institution or have a disability. These children receive tuition through various means, including distance education, School of the Air, and use of computer, facsimile, and satellite 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 cities and some larger towns. A small number of government schools, in particular those catering for groups such as Indigenous people, have residential hostels located close by.
Children may be home-schooled, if they have met the criteria set down by the relevant state or territory Department of Education. 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 instruction for physically and/or mentally disabled or impaired students or those with social problems is provided as 'special education' by government and non-government authorities. It may be provided in special classes or units in regular schools, by withdrawal from regular classes for periods of intensive assistance by specialist staff, or in specialist schools. Parents in all states and territories have also formed voluntary organisations to establish additional schools, which cater 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, maintenance and upgrading of special education facilities.
School students and teaching staff
There were 9,562 schools operating in Australia at the time of the August 2008 schools census, of which 71% were government schools. In this chapter, student enrolments are generally reported as absolute numbers. Staff however, are generally reported as 'full-time equivalent' (FTE), which is calculated by adding the full-time equivalent of part-time staff to the respective full-time count. There were 161,351 FTE teaching staff employed in government schools (65% of all teachers) and a further 85,755 FTE employed in non-government schools (table 12.3).
Table 12.5 shows the number of school students in 2008, at each year level and their distribution by category of school. Among all primary school students, 70% attended government schools and 30% attended non-government schools. At secondary level, 61% attended government schools and 39% attended non-government schools. A fifth of all school students attended Catholic schools (19% of primary school students and 20% of secondary school students).
Graph 12.6 shows student/teacher ratios by category of school by level, in 1998 and 2008. These ratios represent the FTE number of school students divided by the FTE number of teaching staff. Over the decade 1998 to 2008, student/teacher ratios fell from 15.4 to 13.9 students, across all schools in Australia. This decline was more marked in primary schools where the student/teacher ratio declined by 12% from 17.7 to 15.6 students per teacher over this period.
In 1998, student/teacher ratios were similar for government and non-government schools at 15.5 and 15.2 respectively. By 2008 these ratios had decreased to 14.1 for government schools, and to 13.7 in non-government schools.
Apparent retention rates
Apparent retention rates are regarded as important measures of the performance of education systems and related government policies. The apparent retention rate is an estimate of the proportion of students of a given cohort who continued to a particular level or year of school education. In 2008 the apparent retention rate of full-time secondary school students from Year 7/8 to Year 12 was 75%. As in previous years, the 2008 apparent retention rate to Year 12 for full-time female students was higher (81%) than the corresponding rate for full-time male students (69%).
Consistent with apparent retention from the commencement of secondary schooling, apparent retention from Year 10 to Year 12 also remains higher for females than males. In 2008, the apparent retention rate from Year 10 to Year 12 full-time students, was 81% for females compared with 70% for males (graph 12.7).
The apparent retention rate in 2008 of full-time students from Year 10 to Year 12 was 1.4 percentage points higher for males, and 1.6 percentage points higher for females, than in 1998. While both male and female retention has risen over this time, and peaked between the years 2002 and 2004, the difference between male and female retention remains similar, a gap of 10.5 percentage points in 1998 and 10.7 percentage points in 2008 (graph 12.7).
Indigenous retention rates generally increased over the years 1998 to 2008, but have shown stronger growth since 2005. The Year 7/8 to Year 12 series and the Year 10 to Year 12 series were at an historical high in 2008, for both male and female students.
Care should be taken in interpreting apparent retention rates as their calculation does not take into account a range of factors such as overseas migration, repeating students, mature-age students, the change in part-time students and other net changes to the school population.
Indigenous school students
The age profile of the Indigenous population differs markedly from the non-Indigenous population. At 30 June 2006, 38% of the Indigenous population was aged 0-14 years, compared with 19% of non-Indigenous people.
In August 2008, there were 96,000 Indigenous students attending primary schools (70,500 in 1998) and a further 55,600 attending secondary schools (31,600 in 1998) (table 12.10).
Table 12.10 shows increased Indigenous full-time student enrolments in every state and territory between 1998 and 2008, for both primary and secondary schooling. Overall, Indigenous enrolments increased across Australia by almost 50% over this period. A greater proportionate increase in secondary school enrolments (76%) than primary school enrolments (36%), is largely a reflection of the increased retention of Indigenous students in secondary schooling over that period. Also, in 2008, the Northern Territory government changed its grade structure to identify Year 7 students as being in secondary education, removing about 3,000 students from the primary student total and reclassifying them as secondary students for the first time.
In 1998, numbers of Indigenous students declined steadily between Years 1 to 8 (graph 12.11). In 2008 the decline in student numbers between Year 1 through to Year 10 is much less marked, which significantly boosts the potential for Year 12 completion.