Schools, Australia contains statistics on students and schools, and the staff involved in the provision or administration of school education. It includes the government and non-government school populations for all Australian states and territories.
Data used in the compilation of these statistics are sourced from the National Schools Statistics Collection (non-finance), which is a joint undertaking between state and territory government departments of education, the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills, and Employment, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
These explanatory notes and the accompanying glossary provide information on the data sources, counting rules, terminology and classifications associated with these statistics. All data are collected and reported to standard classifications as stated in the National Schools Statistics Collection Data Collection Manual which is available from the ABS on request.
Data from the collection support national education reporting through the Report on Government Services, the National Report on Schooling in Australia, and the National Indigenous Reform Agreement.
Scope and coverage
The scope of the statistics in this publication includes establishments which have, as their major activity, the administration and/or provision of full-time day primary, secondary or special education, or primary or secondary distance education. The statistics do not include school-level education conducted by other institutions, in particular technical and further education establishments (commonly known as TAFEs), unless it is part of the student’s school enrolment.
Students undertaking 'home schooling' are only included if they are also formally enrolled and active in a course of study at an in-scope establishment. No part of a student’s home schooling is included in the National Schools Statistics Collection.
Statistics for the government series include:
- all establishments administered by the departments of education under the director-general of education (or equivalent) in each state/territory
- students attending those establishments, and
- all staff engaged in the administration or provision of school education at those establishments.
Statistics for the non-government series include:
- all in-scope establishments not administered by the state/territory departments of education
- students attending those establishments, and
- all staff engaged in the administration or provision of school education at those establishments.
Data for the non-government establishments are reported by schools through the Schools Entry Point, which is managed by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills, and Employment to support schools in meeting their mandatory reporting requirements under the Australian Education Act 2013. These data are then collated by the department and a subset is provided to the ABS for the National Schools Statistics Collection.
Education services in Jervis Bay Territory are provided by the Australian Capital Territory Education Directorate. Figures for Jervis Bay Territory are included with those for the Australian Capital Territory.
Education services in the Territory of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and the Territory of Christmas Island are provided by the Department of Education Western Australia. Figures for these territories are included with those for Western Australia.
Education services in Norfolk Island are provided by the New South Wales Department of Education. Figures for Norfolk Island are included with those for New South Wales.
Emergency and relief teaching staff who are employed on a casual basis are not included in this collection to avoid double counting. Emergency and relief teachers replace permanent teaching staff when they are absent for short periods of time.
Part-time student data by age are available only from 2006 onwards.
The census date for the National Schools Statistics Collection is the first Friday in August each year. For 2020, the census enrolment reference date was 7 August.
Age reference date
The age reference date for students is 1 July.
Occasionally, different jurisdictions make changes in the administration of their education system that can impact on the coherence of the statistics produced in this publication over time. The following information notes the most significant changes of this nature made to the collection from 2012 onwards. For changes prior to 2012 please refer to previous releases.
In 2020, support students in New South Wales Government mainstream schools were recorded against their grade of enrolment for the first time, to be more aligned with national counting rules. Only students in Schools for Specific Purposes (SSP) are now recorded as ungraded. Care should be taken when comparing with previous years as enrolments by grades will be higher than previously due to the revised methodology.
In 2020, Year 7 became the first year of secondary schooling for three Government schools in South Australia.
In 2020, the Victorian Government provided revised 2019 teaching staff FTE data. Relevant revisions have been included in this release.
In 2019, the structure of schooling for some non-government schools in South Australia changed, with Year 7 becoming the first year of secondary schooling whereas previously it was Year 8.
In 2018 to 2020, a proportion of South Australian Government school students undertook a study load greater than 1 full-time equivalent (FTE) load. The study load component which exceeds 1.0 FTE for a single student has been excluded from these data.
The New South Wales Department of Education transitioned to a new payroll system in a phased roll-out during the 2018 calendar year. This system provides stricter controls and validation over the way casual and temporary teachers are engaged. This improved the information available to distinguish and therefore better identify those teachers that should be included as ‘generally active’ in schools. Care should be taken when comparing New South Wales Government in-school staff time series data.
In 2018, the Australian Capital Territory provided revised 2017 staff data.
In 2015, the structure of schooling in Queensland and Western Australia changed, with Year 7 becoming the first year of secondary schooling, whereas previously it was Year 8.
Commencing in 2015, Queensland Government schools were expected to provide a language program in Years 5 to 8. Students enrolled in a school of distance education for their language program were recorded as a part-time enrolment in addition to their full-time enrolment at their base government school, resulting in dual enrolments for 2015 and 2016. The addition of these dual enrolments were not reconciled in student counts, resulting in an increase to the number of part-time students reported in Years 5 to 8 between 2014 and 2015, most noticeably in Year 5. This treatment of dual enrolments in Queensland government school student counts will also be present in other totals to which these counts contribute. This increase is expected to be small.
Prior to 2014 in South Australia, most children started school at age five, and it was common for children to start school at the beginning of the school term following their fifth birthday. From 2014 onwards, children will usually commence school at the start of the year in which they turn five.
Tasmania has alternated between a single and multiple entity college structure. This has impacted on the number of students included in the National Schools Statistics Collection as these structural changes have seen some Year 11 and 12 students change classification between school and the vocational education and training sector and hence move in and out of scope of the National Schools Statistics Collection.
From 2012 on, the Victorian Department of Education and Training has assigned a proportion of the full-time equivalent of staff working at combined schools, or at more than one school, at the school level. This was previously done at the state level. This results in a more accurate estimate of full-time equivalent staff.
In 2012, the Queensland Department of Education and Training noted continuing improvements in the response to identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status in government schools, along with a considerable reduction in the number of 'not stated' responses. This may affect comparisons of students by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status with previous years.
The number of schools in a particular jurisdiction may vary from year to year due to administrative changes which alter the composition of schools. For example:
- secondary schools may split to create middle schools and senior secondary schools
- schools may fall in or out of scope based on changes in the major activity of the establishment, or
- two or more schools may be amalgamated to form one school. Such changes may also result in a changed profile of school characteristics (e.g. the merger of the primary and secondary school to form a combined school means that the amalgamated school's enrolment size would be reported as a sum of the enrolments).
For more information on specific changes in individual jurisdictions, please refer to the relevant state or territory department website.
For more information on potential COVID-19 impacts, please see 'COVID-19 in this publication'.
The structure of primary and secondary schooling in Australia differs between states and territories. For the impact on comparability of statistics, please see Appendix - differences in schooling structures.
The compilation of government sector data vary between the different state and territory departments of education. Data may be accessed from central administrative databases, sourced from education sectorial bodies or collected directly from education establishments. Data are provided to the ABS for the compilation of these statistics.
The Australian Government Department of Education, Skills, and Employment collects data for establishments in the non-government sector for all states and territories for administrative purposes. The non-government sector statistics in this publication are a summary of results from that collection.
Interpretation of results
The comparability of these statistics may vary between state and territories, and that of schooling sectors, where different policies and administrative arrangements may affect:
- the organisation of year levels
- timing and rates of student intake and advancement
- flows from secondary to vocational education, or
- the recruitment and employment of teachers.
There is no national standard covering the allocation of all students and classes to a particular year level of school education. A number of schools (other than special schools) do not maintain a formal year level structure. Where possible, students at these schools have been allocated to equivalent values by the relevant education authorities, but otherwise appear against the ungraded category in either the primary or secondary level of school education.
Relatively small changes in some small populations between years can create large movements in rates and ratios. These populations might include smaller jurisdictions, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and subcategories of the non-government sector.
The estimated resident population series is used in the calculation of some apparent rates in this product. This series is used as a denominator to calculate students as a proportion of the Australian population, by state and territory, age and sex.
The estimated resident population is a quarterly estimate of the population of Australia, based on data from the five yearly ABS Census of Population and Housing, and is updated using information on births, deaths, and overseas and internal migration provided by state, territory and Australian Government departments. For more information, see: National, state and territory population.
This product includes apparent rates statistics measuring the proportion of students proceeding through the Australian schooling system. The calculation of actual rates is not currently possible due to the varied levels of detail in data provided to the ABS.
Rates are calculated using the total reported cohort populations in a selected jurisdiction at a selected year either as a percentage of the total estimated resident population or as a percentage of the population for the cohort in an earlier year. Rates calculated in this way are known as 'apparent' rates. Accordingly, the term 'apparent' is used to refer to all rates in this product that are not the 'actual' rate that would result from direct measurement of the movement of each individual student.
For example in Victoria in 2020, the National Schools Statistics Collection reported 70,613 students aged 16 years, while the estimated resident population was 73,447 persons aged 16 years. In 2019, in Victoria, the National Schools Statistics Collection reported 72,089 students aged 15 years, while the estimated resident population was 72,629 persons aged 15 years. This equates to an apparent continuation rate of 100*(70,613/73,447)/(72,089/72,629) or 96.9%.
There are a number of reasons why apparent rates may generate results that differ from actual rates. These reasons include, but are not limited to:
- students progressing at a faster or slower rate than expected (one year level each calendar year)
- students changing between full-time or part-time study
- migration (interstate/international)
- inter-sector (affiliation) transfer
- enrolment policies (which contribute to different age/year level structures between states and territories)
- students who attend school in a state/territory different to that in which they live
- a different reference period used in calculating the estimated resident population (30 June) verses that used as the reference in the school system (1 August), and
- the children of diplomats, short term international exchange students and possible other anomalies, where students are counted in school enrolments but not in the estimated resident population.
Such scenarios may also lead to apparent rates that are greater than 100%. From 2015 onwards, the ABS released rates tables in two formats, one with rates exceeding 100% capped to a maximum value of 100%, and one where rates exceeding 100% continue to be reported as the raw calculated value (uncapped). Rates that are capped at 100% are recommended for use as the authoritative measures of student progression, while uncapped rates tables may be more suitable for specific purposes such as undertaking time series analysis of the data or examining movements in underlying student populations.
The formulae and methodology used for the calculation of school participation rates, apparent continuation rates and apparent progression rates are available in the Research Paper: Deriving Measures of Engagement in Secondary Education from the National Schools Statistics Collection published in December 2006.
Apparent retention rate
This statistic provides an indicative measure of the proportion of students who have stayed at school, for a designated calendar year and year level of education. It is expressed as a percentage of the respective cohort group that those students would be expected to have come from, assuming an expected rate of progression of one year level each calendar year. For example, in 2020, an apparent retention rate for Years 10 to 12 would measure the proportion of Year 10 students in 2018 that had remained in the schooling system until Year 12 in 2020.
The year level of commencement of secondary school varies across states and territories and over time. Rates that use the year level of commencement of secondary school as the base may use a different base for each state and territory to account for differences in schooling structures. Despite this, these rates are comparable as the cohorts are retrospective to the year level of schooling and calendar year from which the rate is calculated. These variations are incorporated into the calculation of rates at the Australia level.
In 2015, the structure of schooling in Queensland and Western Australia changed, with Year 7 becoming the first year of secondary schooling, whereas previously it was Year 8. For apparent retention rates using the first year of secondary education as the base year, this will impact both state specific apparent retention rates in Queensland and Western Australia, and national rates calculated from 2016 onwards.
South Australia is the only state or territory where Year 8 remains as the first of secondary schooling for most schools. While some non-government schools transitioned in 2019, and three government schools transitioned in 2020 to a new structure of Year 7 being the start of high school, Year 8 remained as the base cohort for calculating rates for students commencing secondary school in South Australia.
School participation rate
This is a measure of the number of school students of a particular age expressed as a proportion of the estimated resident population of the same age. It indicates the proportion of the population by age enrolled at school.
Rates in the Australian Capital Territory may exceed 100% by large amounts. This is mainly due to the enrolment of students in Australian Capital Territory schools who are not usual residents of the Australian Capital Territory, but who live in surrounding New South Wales regions. This is referred to as cross-border enrolment.
Non-participation in school education is not included in this product as it cannot be accurately calculated from the data supplied.
Apparent continuation rate
This is a measure of the proportion of a single year age group of students (full-time and part-time) who have continued from one calendar year to the next. It can be expressed as the school participation rate of an age cohort in one calendar year as a percentage of the school participation rate of the same cohort in the previous year. For example, an apparent continuation rate for students aged 15 turning 16 would measure the proportion of 15 year old school students that were still at school 12 months later.
Apparent continuation rates can be calculated for any age cohort with a specific characteristic such as all students of a given sex or in a given state/territory as long as a count of the total population with that age and characteristic is available.
Apparent continuation rates include both full-time and part-time students, and are adjusted to factor in changes in the population.
Apparent progression rate
In 2018 the ABS ceased producing apparent progression rates.
Full-time equivalent student/teaching staff ratios
Full-time equivalent student/teaching staff ratios are calculated by dividing the full-time equivalent student figure by the full-time equivalent teaching staff figure. Student/teaching staff ratios are an indicator of the level of staffing resources used and should not be used as a measure of class size. They do not take account of teacher aides and other non-teaching staff who may also assist in the delivery of school education.
Some states and territories are not able to calculate full-time equivalent values on a time-spent basis for all staff functions, but instead use wages paid as a fraction of the full-time pay rate, or a resource allocation based formula. Some also use a pro-rata formula based on student or staff numbers to estimate aggregate full-time equivalents for some categories of staff. This includes staff at combined schools who are allocated to either primary or secondary.
In 2020, there were 234 students whose biological sex was reported as neither male nor female. Reporting on this basis was only completed by a small number of providers. This number does not reflect the total number of Australian school students who are not male or female. There was also a small number of staff from the non-government school sector whose biological sex was reported as neither male nor female.
In order to protect the confidentiality of these individuals the ABS has randomly assigned them either a male or female status. This approach aligns to the United Nations Statistical Division 2010, Handbook on Population and Housing Census Editing, Revision 1, (Sections 346-347). The ABS will review this approach as input data quality improves.
This publication draws extensively on information provided by state and territory government departments with responsibility for school education and the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment. The information is provided to the ABS under applicable state and territory legislation. The continued co-operation of these agencies enables the ABS to publish a wide range of education statistics.
Where estimates are rounded discrepancies may occur between component items and their totals.
Privacy and confidentiality
For further information about these and related statistics, contact the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070.