1136.0 - A Directory of Education and Training Statistics, 2009  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/03/2009   
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National Centre for Education and Training Statistics
Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra
Telephone (02) 6252 5936


The Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey (ALLS) was conducted in Australia in 2006 as part of an international literacy study, coordinated by Statistics Canada and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Its predecessor, the Survey of Aspects of Literacy (SAL) was conducted in 1996 as part of the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS). The IALS, the world’s first internationally comparable survey of adult literacy skills, was undertaken with three waves of data collection between 1994 and 1998. The ALLS allows for some comparison of 2006 literacy skill levels to those reported in 1996, and comparison of Australians' literacy skills with those of other countries.

In 2003, seven countries were involved in the first wave of ALLS: Bermuda, Canada, Italy, Mexico (state of Nuevo Leon), Norway, Switzerland, and the United States of America. The second wave of ALLS in 2006 included Australia, Hungary, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and South Korea.

The purpose of ALLS was to:

  • assess the skills of adult Australians in prose and document literacy, numeracy, and problem solving;
  • collect general participant information, including familiarity with information and communications technology; and
  • determine the relationships of each of the assessed skills to participants' social and economic status.

The ALLS was designed to identify and measure literacy, which can be linked to the social and economic characteristics of people both across and within countries. The ALLS was jointly funded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the former Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Technology, and the former Australian Government Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR).

The ALLS survey provides information on knowledge and skills in five domains: prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy, problem solving and health literacy. Three domains were assessed in the 1996 SAL: prose literacy, document literacy, and quantitative literacy. The addition of problem-solving, and the expansion of quantitative literacy to the numeracy domain, provides extra dimensions to the assessment of adult skills. In addition, the 'health literacy' domain has been derived from responses to relevant textual material from the other four domains. A number of prose and document literacy tasks administered in the 1996 SAL have been retained for the 2006 ALLS to provide comparison of levels of literacy over time for these domains. Both SAL and ALLS measured skills in the official language, which in Australia is English.

The survey covered all persons aged 15-74 years who were usual residents of private dwellings, excluding overseas residents in Australia; certain diplomatic personnel of overseas governments; and members of non-Australian defence forces (and their dependants) stationed in Australia. It was conducted in both urban and rural areas in all states and territories, but excluded persons living in very remote areas of Australia.

Reference Period

The survey was conducted in the second half of 2006.

Frequency of Collection

This is an irregular survey. Its predecessor, the Survey of Aspects of Literacy, was conducted in 1996.

Method of Collection

The ALLS survey involved a random sample of private dwellings in which one person per dwelling participated in the survey. ABS interviewers conducted personal interviews at selected dwellings. Respondents were asked a series of questions to obtain background information of a socio-demographic nature, and information about their perceptions of their literacy and numeracy abilities, their literacy-related practices in daily life and at work, and about their use of different languages. After the interview was completed, the respondent was asked to participate in an objective assessment of their literacy skills. The assessment was based on a methodology developed by Statistics Canada and the Educational Testing Service (ETS, United States of America), which was adapted for use in several countries. There were no time limits, and no assistance was allowed.

The first assessment, a core task booklet, contained six relatively simple literacy-related tasks. Respondents who completed three or more of these correctly, as assessed by the interviewer, were then given a much larger variety of tasks in a separate main task booklet. The tasks in the main booklet, which were more numerous and ranged in complexity and subject matter, were designed to provide an understanding of the literacy skills of the general adult population. Respondents were asked to use the textual materials provided in the booklet to complete a series of tasks.


Release schedule

The first results of the 2006 ALLS, including state and territory tables, were released on 9 January 2008 (Reissue).


Health Literacy, Australia, 2006 (ABS cat. no. 4233.0)

Adult Literacy and Life Skills, Summary Results, Australia, 2006 (ABS cat. no. 4228.0)

Adult Literacy and Life Skills, Australia: User Guide, Australia, 2006 (ABS cat. no. 4228.0.55.002)

Research Paper: Experimental Estimates of Adult Literacy for Local Government Areas (Methodology Advisory Committee) June 2008 (ABS cat. no. 1352.0.55.094)

Data Service

Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, Australia: Basic Confidentialised Unit Record File, 2006(ABS cat. no. 4228.0.30.001)

Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, Australia: Expanded Confidentialised Unit Record File, 2006(ABS cat. no. 4228.0.30.002)

Additional data is freely available as data cubes, see Adult Literacy and Life Skills, Summary Results, Australia, 2006 (ABS cat. no. 4228.0). Customised data is also available on request; this is a charged service.
Other information

In 2006 the ALLS assessed four types of skills in related domains. The methodology also permitted the derivation of the health literacy domain. Only two scales - prose and document literacy - have been defined and measured in the same manner as the 1996 SAL, and are therefore directly comparable. While the 2006 ALLS collected some items consistent with the 1996 SAL, a variety of new topics such as use of technologies, social capital and well-being have been introduced. The five scales available from the 2006 Australian ALLS are:
  • Prose literacy – The knowledge and skills needed to understand and use various kinds of information from texts including editorials, news stories, brochures and instruction manuals.
  • Document literacy – The knowledge and skills required to locate and use information contained in various formats, including job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables and charts.
  • Numeracy – The knowledge and skills required to effectively manage the mathematical demands of diverse situations. This definition is broader than in 1996, and involves more than the application of arithmetical skills to information embedded in printed materials, which was the 1996 focus. Numeracy in 2006, is not directly comparable with the quantitative scale used in 1996.
  • Problem solving – Problem solving is goal-directed thinking action in situations for which no routine solution procedure is available. The understanding of the problem situation and its step-by-step transformation, based on planning and reasoning, constitute the process of problem solving.
  • Health literacy – The knowledge and skills required to understand and use information relating to health issues such as alcohol and other drugs, disease prevention and treatment, safety and accident prevention, first aid, emergencies, and staying healthy.

Further information regarding the international ALLS can be found on the Statistics Canada website, www.statcan.gc.ca, by searching on 'adult literacy'. That websearch will also find the joint Statistics Canada and OECD publication, 'Learning a Living: First results of the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey', which presents detailed internationally comparable results for the seven first-wave ALLS countries. A further comparative report analysing the five second-wave countries, including Australia, is planned for 2008. A further comparative report Literacy for Life: Further Results from the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey analysing the five second-wave countries, including Australia, is planned for 2009.


State or territory of usual residence
Area of usual residence
Marital status
Relationship in household
Country of birth
Year of arrival in Australia

Current Labour force participation and employment activities in the last 12 months
Current labour force status
Status in employment in current job
Occupation of main job
Industry of main job
Hours (usually) worked
Duration and other characteristics of unemployment
Duration and other characteristics of underemployment

Educational Attainment
Highest year of school completed
Level of highest non-school qualification
Level of highest educational attainment
Years of formal education completed

Participation in learning
Participation in educational or training courses in the last 12 months
Participation in informal learning
Type of educational institution/organisation enrolled at for most recent qualification
Level of most recent educational qualification studied
Reasons for undertaking the course

Language and literacy
Language first spoken
Main language spoken at home
Proficiency in spoken English
Self-perception of current reading and writing skills in language first spoken
Self-perception of English reading, writing and mathematics skills needed for daily life
Assessed skill level - prose scale
Assessed skill level - document scale
Assessed skill level - numeracy
Assessed skill level - problem solving scale
Derived - Health Literacy

Parental information
Country of birth of parents or guardians
Level of highest educational qualification of parents or guardians
Occupation of parents or guardians

Use of technologies
Use of computers for various tasks
Use of the internet
Self-perception of computer skills

Activities participated in as an unpaid volunteer
Self assessed health status
Personal income from wages, salary or self-employment
Personal income from all sources
Types of income from government sources

Historical Data

The first large-scale survey study of Australian adult literacy was the 1996 Survey of Aspects of Literacy (SAL). It was the predecessor to ALLS.

Aspects of Literacy: Assessed Skill Levels, Australia, 1996 (ABS cat. no. 4228.0)

Aspects of Literacy: Profiles and Perceptions, Australia, 1996 (ABS cat. no. 4226.0)