95 per cent of all Indigenous four year-olds enrolled in early childhood education (by 2025)
- In 2018, 86.4 per cent of Indigenous four year‑olds were enrolled in early childhood education compared with 91.3 per cent of non‑Indigenous children.
- Between 2016 and 2018, the proportion of Indigenous children enrolled in early childhood education increased by almost 10 percentage points. There was a slight decline of less than 1 percentage point for non-Indigenous children.
- The attendance rate for Indigenous children was highest in Inner Regional areas (96.6 per cent), almost 17 percentage points higher than the lowest attendance rate in Very Remote areas (79.7 per cent).
What the data tells us
The target to have 95 per cent of Indigenous four year‑olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025 is on track. In 2018, 86.4 per cent of the estimated population of Indigenous children were enrolled in early childhood education programs (the year before full-time school). This was higher than the agreed trajectory point for 2018 to reach the target by 2025 (Figure 2.1).
Early childhood education is important for children’s cognitive and social development. It prepares them for the transition to school, to progress through school and beyond (Holzinger and Biddle 2015; Social Research Centre 2016; Jorgensen et al. 2017; Biddle and Bath 2013). Children who attend early childhood education are more likely to perform well at school, including in literacy and numeracy (DEECD and Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research 2013).
Developmental vulnerability can be mitigated by children’s regular participation in early childhood education and care, although services must be high quality for benefits to be realised (AIHW 2018; Harrison et al. 2012). This is because the relative value of early childhood education is ‘directly proportional to what it replaces’ in terms of the home environment (CESE 2018).
Between 2016 and 2018, the proportion of Indigenous children enrolled in early childhood education programs increased by almost 10 percentage points (from 76.7 per cent to 86.4 per cent).2 In comparison, the proportion of non-Indigenous children enrolled in early childhood education programs declined slightly from 91.9 per cent to 91.3 per cent between 2016 and 2018.
While the target focuses on enrolment, attendance rates provide more of an insight into how children are preparing for schooling into the future. The proportion of enrolled Indigenous children attending early childhood education3 (attendance rate) has remained relatively stable between 2016 and 2018 (93.4 per cent to 93.7 per cent). The equivalent attendance rate improved slightly for non‑Indigenous children during this period (from 96.4 per cent to 97.8 per cent).
Barriers to Indigenous children’s participation in early childhood education include: out of pocket costs, a limited awareness of services, administrative complexity, lack of transport or locally available services, poor child health, a perception that the child is too young to participate, a lack of confidence in the value of early education services or fear of racism and judgment (AIHW 2018; Holzinger and Biddle 2015; Productivity Commission 2014).
States and territories
The target to have 95 per cent of Indigenous four year‑olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025 is on track for all jurisdictions except the Northern Territory (based on 2018 data) (Figure 2.2).
In 2018, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory achieved full enrolment for Indigenous children, while Western Australia (97.7 per cent) and Tasmania (98.5 per cent) achieved close to full enrolment. The other three jurisdictions—New South Wales (75.7 per cent), Queensland (86.7 per cent) and the Northern Territory (76.4 per cent)—had relatively lower proportions of Indigenous children enrolled.
Enrolments of non-Indigenous children in early childhood education varied from 85 per cent in New South Wales to full enrolment in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.
Indigenous enrolment rates in Victoria and South Australia were higher than those for non‑Indigenous children. Other jurisdictions had lower enrolment rates for Indigenous children ranging from a 1 percentage point gap in Western Australia to a 22 percentage point gap in the Northern Territory (Figure 2.2).
All jurisdictions (except for the Northern Territory), had Indigenous early childhood education attendance rates close to the national rate (93.7 per cent)—ranging from 90.5 per cent in Western Australia to 97.9 per cent in Tasmania. The Northern Territory had the lowest attendance rate (73.1 per cent).
Non‑Indigenous early childhood education attendance rates had relatively less variation across jurisdictions (ranging from 96.0 per cent in Victoria to 99.4 per cent in New South Wales). The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous attendance rates was largest in the Northern Territory (around 23 percentage points), followed by Western Australia (around 6 percentage points).
Attendance rates by remoteness
Indigenous early childhood education attendance rates tended to decrease with increasing remoteness. In 2018, the attendance rate for Indigenous children varied from 96.6 per cent in Inner Regional, to 79.7 per cent in Very Remote areas. However, the non-Indigenous rates were fairly similar across remoteness areas (ranging from 97.9 per cent in both Inner and Outer Regional areas to 96.6 per cent in Remote areas) (Figure 2.3).
Progress against this target is measured by the number of children enrolled in early childhood education in the year before full-time schooling as a proportion of the estimated or ‘potential’ population of children in the year before full-time schooling.
The National Early Childhood Education and Care Collection (NECECC) is the source of enrolment numbers and attendance rates.
Population estimates are adjusted for the school starting age provisions in each state and territory. These are sourced from Estimates and Projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2006 to 2031 (ABS 2019a), based on the 2016 Census. Further information on how the year before full-time schooling potential population is calculated to adjust for school starting age can be found in the Preschool Education, Australia, 2018 (ABS 2019c) publication.
For this report, previously published rates of enrolment in early childhood education have been revised due to the application of the new 2016 Census based population estimates. This provides a consistent data source to enable comparison of enrolment rates for 2016, 2017 and 2018. Previously published rates are not comparable to those published in this report. Because of these revisions, including to the 2015 target baseline, the trajectory to the 95 per cent target benchmark has also been revised. This allows the rebased enrolment rates to be compared with the trajectory for monitoring progress.
For more information see the Technical Appendix.
 Estimated population eligible for enrolment in the year before full-time school. For more information see the Data notes. In 2018, there were 16,389 Indigenous children enrolled in early childhood education programs.
 Trend results in this chapter have not been tested for statistical significance as only three years of trend data are available. While the baseline for this target is 2015, comparable enrolment data are available only from 2016. The ABS changed the data collection methodology for the 2016 NECECC to improve data quality. Therefore, data for 2016 onwards are not fully comparable to the 2015 data. For more information see the ABS 2017, Preschool Education, Australia 2016, Cat. No. 4240.0, ABS: Canberra.
 The attendance rate for early childhood education is a supporting indicator for the target. It includes attendance for at least one hour in the reference week. The reference week—30 July 2018 to 5 August 2018—includes the Census date for the 2018 collection—Friday 3 August 2018. Some jurisdictions may adopt a two-week reference period that includes the Census week.