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COAG education reports show early childhood and Year 12 are key

Educational outcomes in Australia are showing signs of improvement, particularly in the early years and in Year 12 attainment…

The latest report into Australian education shows some positives and some negatives. School image from

Educational outcomes in Australia are showing signs of improvement, particularly in the early years and in Year 12 attainment, according to the latest reports from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) reform council.

But the reports also reveal that one in eight working age Australians have the lowest level of literacy, while one in five have the lowest level of numeracy.

More than a quarter of young people are also not fully engaged in work or study after they leave school.

The number of young people fully engaged in work or study is down 1.2% since 2006. This is in part due to a fall in full-time young workers and comes despite a rise in the proportion of young people in full-time study.

Professor Greg Craven, deputy chairman of the COAG reform council and vice-chancellor at Australian Catholic University, said while there were positive results in other areas, this development was of real concern.

“What happens to young people when they leave school is crucial to how we meet the future demands of our economy – and to the quality of their lives,” Professor Craven said.

The fall in full-time young workers was in part due to the effects of the global financial crisis, Professor Craven said.

The reports, which show the five year progress on state and federal government targets, also provides worrying signs in a number of other areas, including educational disadvantage and performance in the high school years.

Primary school reading and numeracy scores improved over the five years, but there was little or no improvement at the high school level.

But Professor Craven said Australian education was heading for “structural” improvement through greater access to quality early childhood education.

In 2008, COAG agreed to ensure that all children have access to a quality early childhood education program in the year before they go to school. This program would be delivered by a four-year university-trained early childhood teacher, for 15 hours a week, 40 weeks a year.

In 2012 the levels of enrolment and attendance at pre-school programs were high, with a national average of around 96%. The highest levels were in Western Australia and the lowest were in the Northern Territory.

“Down the track we should see the benefits of the early childhood reforms flow on to better primary and high school results,” Professor Craven said. The reports note that those Australian students in Year 4 who attended up to one year or more of early childhood education achieved a higher score on international tests than those who hadn’t.

The goal to lift the number of students reaching Year 12 or equivalent to 90% by 2020 was also on track. The most recent figures show the attainment rate at 85.9%, up from 82.8% in 2006.

Bill Fogarty, a research associate at The National Centre for Indigenous Studies' at ANU, said the good news on attainment extended to Indigenous students. “The reports show more Indigenous young people are attaining Year 12 or equivalent. This rise is a trend that we’ve seen for over a decade,” Dr Fogarty said.

“On the less rosy side, we see that from 2008 to 2012 there’s been no real improvement in school attendance at all for Indigenous students. And in fact, in the remote and very remote regions we’ve seen decreases. The Northern Territory as a whole has seen a 14% decrease in year 10 attendance which shows us that we still have a long way to go,” he said.

The reports also found that more than half of working age Australians now have higher level qualifications but that there was a disconnect between vocational training and getting a job.

The number of working age people with a higher level qualification has increased over the last five years. COAG reform council Skill in Australia 2012 report

From 2008 to 2012, the proportion of vocational education graduates who reported improved employment status after training fell by almost five percentage points.

Associate Professor at Griffith Business School John Rice said that recent reforms to the TAFE sector, particularly in Victoria, had been “a complete disaster”.

“Various providers are making qualifications available to eligible students for free - but many of these subsidised qualifications are not worth the paper they’re printed on, and certainly not worth what the States are paying for them,” he said.

When it came to the results on adult literacy skills, lecturer in literacies education at the University of Southern Queensland Stewart Riddle said the results show an important generational shift.

“Despite ongoing claims that we urgently need to return to the basics in schools, young people are more literate than older Australians. In fact, people in their 30s have the highest literacy and numeracy levels. It seems that the good old days of schooling did not actually provide people with better literacy skills at all,” he said.

Younger Australians are more literate than older Australians. COAG reform council Skill in Australia 2012 report

But more can be done to help working Australian men and women improve their literacy levels, Dr Riddle said.

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11 Comments sorted by

  1. Ella Miller


    "people in their 30s have the highest literacy levels"
    I wish the article had looked at;
    what style of education did these people receive
    in primary school
    high school
    and compared it with what is happening today.
    I can't help but feel that in primary schools because of the crowding of the curriculum, children are not given sufficient time needed to assimilate the knowledge needed.
    Watching my young grandson ... they rush too quickly (in mathematics)
    to operations with large numbers when…

    Read more
    1. Michael Sheehan

      Geographer at Analyst

      In reply to Ella Miller

      Ella, it would also be interesting to see what % of those 30 year olds were educated outside Australia.

    2. Jack Arnold


      In reply to Ella Miller

      Good point Ella. Perhaps we need Personal Key Performance Indicators (PKPIs) that test such skills as times tables, oral reading fluency, logical thinking and creativity rather than sit down tests that are easy to mark for the computer.

      But wait ... then the politicians and departmental desk jockeys would be required to consider education rather than just fixing a system (that ain't really broke for classroom practitioners).

    3. John Perry


      In reply to Ella Miller

      "Any teacher worth their pay ( in primary school) would by the 5th week of first term should have diagnosed children in their class for their strengths and weaknesses particularly in Language and mathematics."

      Actually, at the primary school I teach this is EXACTLY what is done. But I would argue that teachers are worth much more than what we are currently paid ...!

    4. Robin Bell

      Research Academic Public Health, at University of Newcastle

      In reply to John Perry

      Wish all schools were as good as yours John. I'm still finding students enrolled in undergraduate degrees with major literacy issue, i.e. bearly able to read and unable to write.

    5. Lynne Newington


      In reply to Ella Miller

      Thanks for the opportunity to bring attention to the wonderfuul achievement of Kristijan Jovanoski.
      The son of immigrant factory working parents, winning a Rhodes Scholarship, whose primary education were spent at St Albans South State school where he learnt to first speak English.
      We really need to hear something positive for a change, and where some students seem to slip through the cracks, for others it has a different connotation.
      The Age Friday Nov 1.
      I'm sure you will all support me in congratulating him and his proud parents, maybe it will filter backto the family.

  2. Jack Arnold


    "Primary school reading and numeracy scores improved over the five years, but there was little or no improvement at the high school level."

    Isn't this self evident because the NAPLAN testing has only occurred for five years and so the studnets ahead of Year 9 would not have been prepared for, or tested by, NAPLAN testing. The effects of NAPLAN are working up through the education system.

  3. Robin Bell

    Research Academic Public Health, at University of Newcastle

    A less than credible report.
    No mention of indigenous boys as a separate group in either the report or the statistical appendix to the report when numerous peer reviewed articles identify that current education strategies are failing to successfully improve literacy in this group.
    Similarly no mention of differences between the literacy of girls and boys (year 4 TIMSS) when there is strong difference in literacy between these groups in the statistical appendix.

    1. Ella Miller


      In reply to Robin Bell

      The Naplan tests are a one size fits all test are they not?
      Your other comments add weight to the ideas;
      what are you trying to test?
      Are the tests appropriate to what you are trying to find out?
      Is the test appropriate to the group you are testing?
      Are you comparing apples with apples when you look at the results?
      Sorry for my layman's terms .