This publication contains statistics on children enrolled in and attending preschool programs across Australia in 2020. The statistics were compiled from data collected through the National Early Childhood Education and Care Collection (the collection). The collection includes data about service providers and children.
The Australian Government and the state and territory governments share responsibility for early childhood education (ECE). ECE programs are administered through a range of government and non-government service providers. In 2007, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) established a partnership between the Australian Government and the state and territory governments to encourage reform in education, skills and early childhood development.
Since late 2008 the provision of ECE has been supported through National Partnership Agreements. From 2013 these National Partnership Agreements extended coverage to support Universal Access to Early Childhood Education in the year before full-time school.
The collection was established in 2010 to improve the quality of ECE data required for reporting under National Partnership Agreements. Data from the collection also supports national ECE reporting through the Report on Government Services and the National Indigenous Reform Agreement.
For the purposes of the collection, a preschool program is defined as a structured, play based learning program, delivered by a degree qualified teacher, aimed primarily at children in the year or two before they commence full-time schooling. A preschool program can be delivered in a variety of settings such as stand-alone preschools, preschools co-located as part of a school (both government and non-government), and centre based day care (CBDC) services (formerly known as long day care). A child may attend both a preschool and a separate or adjoined child care facility, such as family day care, outside school hours care, vacation care, in-home care and occasional care services. Participation in preschool is not compulsory and is influenced by parental preference and other factors, such as school starting age in the particular jurisdiction.
Preschool programs are referred to by a variety of other terms across state and territories. Preschool age entry requirements also differ across states and territories. These differences are summarised in the following table:
|Jurisdiction||Preschool program||Transition to primary school Foundation year (Year prior to year 1)|
|Program||Age of entry||School year||Age of entry|
|New South Wales (a)||Preschool||Generally 4 and 5 year olds||Kindergarten||5 by 31 July|
|Victoria (b)||Kindergarten||4 by 30 April||Preparatory (Prep)||5 by 30 April|
|Queensland||Kindergarten||4 by 30 June||Preparatory (Prep)||5 by 30 June|
|Western Australia||Kindergarten||4 by 30 June||Pre Primary||5 by 30 June|
|South Australia (c)||Preschool||4 by 1 May||Reception||5 by 1 May|
|Tasmania||Kindergarten||4 by 1 January||Preparatory||5 by 1 January|
|Australian Capital Territory||Preschool||4 by 30 April||Kindergarten||5 by 30 April|
|Northern Territory (d)||Preschool||4 by 30 June||Transition||5 by 30 June|
a. New South Wales subsidises early access to community preschool for 3 year old Aboriginal children and 3 year old children from low-income families. In New South Wales, all licensed children’s services for under 6 year olds (who have not commenced Kindergarten) are required to offer programs that meet children’s educational and developmental needs.
b. In Victoria, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children known to child protection are eligible for free kindergarten through Early Start Kindergarten funding if they are aged 3 by 30 April of the year in which they are enrolled.
c. South Australia provides early access to Department funded preschool for children who are Aboriginal or under the Guardianship of the Minister after their 3rd Birthday. The compulsory school starting age in South Australia is 6 years at the oldest.
d. In the Northern Territory, children living in very remote areas can attend preschool from the age of three, provided a parent/guardian accompany the child and remain with them at each session until they reach the age of three years and six months.
Source: Report on Government Services 2020.
Scope and coverage
The scope of the Collection consists of all service providers delivering a preschool program to children aged 3 to 6 years (inclusive) enrolled during the reference period.
A service provider is considered to be in-scope if it was providing a structured, play based learning program, delivered by a degree qualified teacher, aimed at children in the year or two before they commence full-time schooling (a preschool program) during the reference period.
All children who at 1 July in the collection year were aged 3 to 6 years (inclusive) and were enrolled in a preschool program during the reference period are in-scope. To be considered enrolled, the child must have attended the preschool program for at least one hour during the reference period (including attended an early childhood education program online or remotely due to COVID-19 impacts), or be absent due to illness or extended holiday leave or due to COVID-19 impacts and expected to return.
To achieve comprehensive coverage, data were sourced from the Australian Government, state and territory education departments and the Catholic Education Office of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn. The data are sourced from administrative collections, supplemented where necessary to improve the coverage of service providers not otherwise captured due to funding, regulation or licensing arrangements. The coverage in each state and territory for the 2020 collection is described in Appendix 3 - Jurisdictional data quality statements.
Data quality and comparability
To ensure national comparability, all jurisdictions were required to follow national data standards. The Early Childhood Education and Care National Minimum Data Set (ECEC NMDS) is a set of national data standards established by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) together with the ABS, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, and state and territory departments responsible for ECE. More information on the ECEC NMDS can be found on the AIHW website.
Appendix 3 - Jurisdictional data quality statements details if and where jurisdictions were unable to align their collection methods with the ECEC NMDS. Issues affecting data comparability between the states and territories are included as footnotes and/or explanatory notes within this publication.
Statistics in this release may not be fully comparable with previous releases due to differences in coverage and methodologies. Caution should therefore be used when comparing the data over time. Key methodology changes and impacts on data quality over time include:
From 2018, and previously from 2016, the ABS has improved the approach to data linkage in the NECECC to enhance the accuracy of child counts. That is, improvements were made to the way records were linked (when representing the same child), within data provided by a jurisdiction, or across CBDC data provided by both the Australian Government and jurisdictions. These changes reduced over-counts of children. Ongoing improvements to the data linkage methodology may continue over time.
From 2018, the Australian Government implemented the new Child Care Subsidy System (CCSS), replacing the older Child Care Management System (CCMS). From 2016, the Australian Government expanded the strategy for identifying children in the CCMS. As a result, all children at CBDCs (of the appropriate age) are recorded as attending a preschool program. This has particularly affected the count of children aged 3 years enrolled in a preschool program. Prior to 2016 the Australian Government imputed attendance data in the CCMS data extracted for the NECECC to factor for under reporting by provider.
From 2018 all fees for preschool programs delivered in centre-based day care have been derived using data (fees and enrolled hours) supplied by the Australian Government in the CCSS dataset. This was to ensure that all preschool program fees provided were inclusive of government subsidies and that there was consistency between the numerator (fees) and denominator (enrolled hours) for the hourly fees to be derived.
For more information, please see the Appendix 3 - Jurisdictional data quality statements in this, and past, releases. The National Early Childhood Education and Care Collection: Concepts, Sources and Methods publication provides detailed information from the early years of the NECECC, however was no longer updated after the 2013 NECECC.
Centre based day care data
For the 2020 collection, information on preschool programs delivered in CBDC settings was provided by the Australian Government from the Child Care Subsidy System (CCSS), supplemented by jurisdictional CBDC data where provided. All services approved for administering Child Care Subsidy (CCS) must provide data.
Collection date and reference period
The collection date is the first Friday in August each year. The census date for the 2020 collection was Friday 7 August 2020, with the 1 week reference period from 3 August to 9 August 2020. Some jurisdictions use a 2 week reference period that includes the census week. This means the permissible reference period spans 26 July to 15 August 2020 inclusive. Collection dates and reference periods for 2020 are summarised in the table below.
|Jurisdiction||Collection Date||Reference Period|
|Australian Government||7 August 2020||3 August - 9 August 2020|
|New South Wales||7 August 2020||3 August - 14 August 2020(a)|
|Victoria||7 August 2020||29 July - 3 August 2020|
|Queensland||7 August 2020||3 August - 9 August 2020|
|South Australia||7 August 2020||3 August - 14 August 2020(a)|
|Western Australia||7 August 2020||24 July - 7 August 2020|
|Tasmania||7 August 2020||27 July - 7 August 2020(a)|
|Northern Territory||7 August 2020||13 June - 7 August 2020(b)|
|Australian Capital Territory|
7 August 2020
27 July - 7 August 2020(a)(c)
3 August - 14 August 2020(a)(d)
(a) Jurisdiction collected data for a fortnightly reference period to reflect their preschool delivery model.
(b) Reference period for NT did not apply for school holidays between 27 June 2020 – 20 July 2020. In addition, two remote schools operate on different school terms. The reference periods for these schools are 22 June - 31 July and 15 June - 21 August respectively.
(c) Reference period for ACT Catholic preschools.
(d) Reference period for ACT Independent & Government preschools.
Jurisdictions collect and report data for the collection using a unit record level (URL) collection methodology. A URL methodology collects information for individual children and service providers. A URL collection is the most appropriate method for ensuring a child who is enrolled in multiple preschool programs is only counted once in child level estimates.
For the collection, an episode is a single occurrence of a child enrolled in and/or attending a preschool program. When a child attends two different preschool programs, this is described as a child having two attendance episodes.
Unique child counts
The unique child count ensures that when a child attends two or more different preschool programs, the child is only counted once. In any given collection year, the number of unique children will be expected to be less than their number of preschool episodes.
Year before full-time schooling (YBFS)
The YBFS population takes into account the preschool and school entry provisions of the state in which the child usually resides and the child’s date of birth. As part of deriving this state-specific YBFS population, adjustment factors have been applied to certain cohorts for both New South Wales and Victoria to account for the rates at which children proceed from preschool to school education in those states. The adjustments are based on advice from the state education departments and are:
- For NSW, children aged between 3 years and 11 months and 4 years and 6 months (at 1 July of collection year) are likely to proceed to school in the following year at a rate of 56%.
- For Victoria, children aged between 4 years and 2 months and 4 years and 6 months (at 1 July of collection year) are likely to proceed to school the following year at a decreasing rate (month of birth: January 74%, February 63%, March 52%, April 41%).
Preschool program fees
Fee schedules can differ between programs, organisations and jurisdictions. Fees may be charged daily, weekly, annually, per session or per term. If data is collected at any level other than weekly, the weekly fee is derived from the collected fee and fee schedule. Fees charged are usually based on the number of hours of a preschool program a child is enrolled to receive. Information on fees is collected at the episode level. Where a child has more than one preschool episode, their fees are calculated by summing the fees for all of their episodes. Data on fees are rounded to the nearest dollar for publication.
For URL data, information on hours is collected at the episode level. Where a child has more than one episode at a preschool program their hours are calculated by summing the hours for all of their episodes. Data on hours are rounded to the nearest hour for publication. Hours less than 1 but more than 0 are rounded to 1 hour.
Hours and fees data have been rounded prior to being assigned to distinct ranges. Where estimates are rounded discrepancies may occur between components items and their totals.
Estimated resident population (ERP)
The preliminary ERP figures presented in this publication are based on the 2016 Census. The ABS has provided these numbers as indicative only. They are included here to support comparative reporting performed using the 2016 ERP time series. In the collection, children enrolled and attending preschool programs in Jervis Bay are included in statistics for the ACT. The Other Territories of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands are included in statistics for WA. Norfolk Island are included in statistics for NSW. Official ERP numbers for WA, ACT and NSW do not include Other Territories.
|3 yr old||98,872||80,740||63,641||19,876||35,103||5,874||3,536||5,682||313,352|
|4 yr old||103,580||86,229||66,127||21,458||36,242||6,338||3,706||5,866||329,600|
|5 yr old||101,855||84,566||66,417||20,846||35,276||6,239||3,502||5,947||324,697|
|6 yr old||102,036||83,444||67,392||21,113||34,942||6,256||3,476||5,763||324,489|
- Estimated resident population (ERP) by state/territory and age as published on 17 December 2020 in National, state and territory population. The Census base for ERP is 2016
- Australia total includes Other Territories
Statistics in this publication are presented according to Sector, Statistical Geography and Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA).
The sector classification used in this publication is a combination of the service provider characteristics Service activity type and Management type, which are part of the ECEC NMDS. Where a child is enrolled in multiple preschool programs, the child’s sector is determined by the characteristics of all the providers at which the child was enrolled.
Tables presented with this classification assign episodes and unique child counts to states and territories according to the geographic location of the service provider.
For the 2020 collection, data have been classified to the 2016 Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) standard. The ASGS has been updated based on results from the 2016 Census, including Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) and remoteness area.
The digital boundaries, codes and labels for each of these regions can be downloaded from the ABS website free of charge.
The remoteness structure within the ASGS divides each state and territory into areas on the basis of their relative access to services. The classes of remoteness area (RA) are:
- major cities of Australia
- inner regional Australia
- outer regional Australia
- remote Australia
- very remote Australia
For more information please refer to the online publication: Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 5 - Remoteness Structure, July 2016.
There are two sets of statistics presented using RAs in this publication. The RA of the child’s main service provider is used, and the RA of the child’s usual residence. Where a child’s usual residence is not stated, their main service provider’s geography is used as a proxy. If the service provider’s geography is also not stated, the child’s RA may be imputed where possible and otherwise included only in the totals. It is possible for states or territories to have a zero count in a certain RA class; Tasmania does not contain a major city, the Northern Territory does not contain a major city or an inner regional classification, and ACT does not contain remote or very remote classifications.
The quantity of records for which RA was derived, using service provider geography, can be identified from the not stated SEIFA IRSD data.
The ASGS local government areas are an ABS approximation of gazetted local government boundaries as defined by each state and territory local government department. The 2020 edition of the local government areas structure has been used in the collection. For more information, see Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 3 - Non ABS Structures, June 2020.
The ASGS indigenous structure provides a geographical standard for the publication of statistics about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of Australia. The 2016 edition of the indigenous structure has been used in the collection. For more information, see Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 2 - Indigenous Structure, July 2016.
The ASGS commonwealth electoral divisions are an ABS approximation of Australian Electoral Commission electoral division boundaries. The 2020 edition of the Commonwealth electoral divisions structure has been used in the collection. For more information, see Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 3 - Non ABS Structures, June 2020.
The ASGS state electoral divisions are an ABS approximation of the respective state and territory electoral commission's state electoral districts. The 2020 edition of the State electoral divisions structure has been used in the collection. For more information, see Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 3 - Non ABS Structures, June 2020.
Socio-economic indexes for areas
The SEIFA is a product developed especially for those interested in the assessment of the welfare of Australian communities. SEIFA is a suite of four summary measures that have been created from 2016 Census of Population and Housing information. For each index, every geographic area in Australia is given a SEIFA number which shows how disadvantaged that area is compared with other areas in Australia. Quintiles are calculated by ordering the scores for all areas from lowest to highest, with the lowest 20% of areas given a quintile number of 1 and so on, up to the highest 20% of areas which are given a quintile number of 5. The indexes provide more general measures of socio-economic status than is given by measuring, for example, income or unemployment alone. The SEIFA index used for the collection is the Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage (IRSD). Where a child’s geography was not stated, the SEIFA IRSD is published as not stated.
For more information on SEIFA please see the Information Paper: An Introduction to Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), 2006.
Privacy and confidentiality
Information received by the ABS is treated in strict confidence as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and the Privacy Act 1988. Some figures in this publication have been perturbed in order to prevent the disclosure of information that may allow the identification of individuals or organisations.
This publication draws on information provided by the Australian Government, state and territory governments, and the Catholic Education Office of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn. Their continued cooperation enables the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to publish a wide range of education statistics. Information received by the ABS is treated in strict confidence as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905 .
For more information on the collection measurement concepts see the National Early Childhood Education and Care Collection: Concepts, Sources and Methods.
For more information on data collection instructions and guidelines see the National Early Childhood Education and Care Collection: Data Collection Guide (available on request).
Additional statistics are available from Microdata: Preschool Education, Australia using the TableBuilder and/or DataLab facilities.
For more information on estimated resident population and population projections, see National, state and territory population, Regional Population by Age and Sex and Estimates and Projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
For further information about these and related statistics, contact the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070.