In 2015, 1 in 5 Australian children started school developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains and there has been little change in this proportion since 2009. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more than twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable at the start of school, and this number increases to two in five for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
The early years of a child are vital in shaping their development. Children who start school ‘developmentally on track’ are likely to learn well and experience lifelong benefits. These benefits also accrue to the wider society. Although most Australian children start school in pretty good shape, an unacceptably large number of children still arrive at school either at risk or vulnerable in their development. These gaps in children’s performance levels start early and are harder and harder to close as they age.
In 2015, 1 in 5 Australian children started school developmentally vulnerable and there has been little change in this proportion since 2009. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more than twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable at the start of school, and this number increases to two in five for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Compared to other developed countries, Australia is not doing as well in certain areas of child well-being. Some areas that we are found lacking include the amount of jobless families, the low levels of young people in education, and the low rate of enrolment for 3-5 year olds in preschool.
The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) data has demonstrated that attending preschool plays a large part in addressing development vulnerability in children. Quality early learning gives them the opportunity to develop the vocabulary, the understanding and the behavioural skills that are essential to get them off to a flying start in the school environment.
While the National Partnership on Universal Access to Early Education has driven significant rises in preschool participation in recent years, the participation of Australian three-year-olds in early learning is still lagging behind the rest of the developed world.
Moreover, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children attending preschool programs can be as much as 10 percentage points lower than non-indigenous children in some areas. We must do a better job of building a system that offers the best opportunities for our young children during their crucial first five years of early development - wherever they live and whatever their family circumstances.