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PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION
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 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 VET certificates and undertake apprenticeships in the VET sector as part of their senior school study, undertaking some parts of these programs at the workplace or another educational institution.
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 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.
School students and teaching staff
There were 9,612 schools operating in Australia at the time of the August 2006 schools census, of which 72% 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 158,194 FTE teaching staff employed in government schools (66% of all teachers) and a further 81,445 FTE employed in non-government schools (table 12.3).
The 3.4 million students attending primary and secondary schools in August 2006 comprised 2.3 million (67%) in government schools, and 1.1 million (33%) in non-government schools. Overall, while student enrolments at all schools increased by 1.8% (61,300) between 2002 and 2006, this growth was not uniform across government and non-government schools. Non-government schools experienced a 7.1% growth (74,600) in enrolments over this period. By contrast enrolments in government schools declined slightly, by 0.6% (13,300), over the same period (table 12.4).
Table 12.5 shows the number of school students in 2006, at each year level and their distribution by category of school. Among all primary school students, 70.5% attended government schools and 29.5% attended non-government schools. At secondary level, 62% attended government schools and 38% attended non-government schools. A fifth of all school students attended Catholic schools (19% of primary school students and 21% of secondary school students).
Graph 12.6 shows student/teacher ratios by category of school by level, in 1996 and 2006. These ratios represent the FTE number of school students divided by the FTE number of teaching staff. Over the decade 1996 to 2006, student/teacher ratios fell from 15.5 to 14.1 students, across all schools in Australia. This decline was however more marked in primary schools where the student/teacher ratio declined by 12% - from 18.1 to 16.0 students per teacher over this period.
In 1996, student/teacher ratios were similar for government and non-government schools (15.5 and 15.4 respectively). By 2006 these ratios had decreased to 14.3 for government schools, and to 13.8 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 education. In 2006 the apparent retention rate of full-time secondary school students from Year 7/8 to Year 12 was 75%. As in previous years, the 2006 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 2006, the apparent retention rate from Year 10 to Year 12 of full-time students, was 81% for females compared with 71% for males (table 12.7).
The apparent retention rates in 2006 of all students from Year 10 to Year 12 were 1.1 percentage points higher for males, and 0.7 percentage points higher for females, than in 1999. While both male and female retention have risen over this time and peaked in 2002, the difference between male and female retention remains similar at 12.6 and 12.2 percentage points respectively (graph 12.8).
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, 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 persons.
In August 2006 there were 91,100 Indigenous students attending primary schools and a further 50,600 attending secondary schools (table 12.9).
Graph 12.10 shows a decline in the number of Indigenous students at secondary school level, after Year 8. Decreasing enrolments in Year 9 and Year 10 largely reflect students leaving school at the end of compulsory education.
Table 12.9 shows increased Indigenous student enrolments in every state and territory between 2001 and 2006, for both primary and secondary schooling. Overall, Indigenous enrolments increased across Australia by 22% over this period. A greater increase in secondary school enrolments (36%) than primary school enrolments (15%), is largely a reflection of the increased retention of Indigenous students in secondary schooling over that period.
From 2001 to 2006, increases of more than 7,000 Indigenous student enrolments were reported by New South Wales and Queensland. While this represented 22% growth of Indigenous enrolments in both states, Victoria experienced the greatest growth (30%) over the same period.
The apparent retention rate of Indigenous full-time students in secondary schooling increased between 1999 and 2006, but remains below that of non-Indigenous students. The increased retention of Indigenous students has generally been more notable than for non-Indigenous students over this period, leading to a reduction in the difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous retention rates.
During the period 1999 to 2006, retention of Indigenous full-time students to Year 10 has increased from 82% to 91% (non-Indigenous retention rose from 98% to 99%). Over the same period, Indigenous retention to Year 12 increased from 35% to 40%, compared with increases of 73% and 76% for non-Indigenous retention. However, Indigenous retention to Year 11 (after which the minimum school leaving age has usually been reached), increased more markedly, from 56% to 68%. The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous retention to Year 11, narrowed from 30 percentage points in 1999 to 21 percentage points in 2006 (graph 12.11).