Notes on the data: Education

Aboriginal children aged 4 or 5 years i) enrolled in a preschool program and ii) attending a preschool program, 2021


Policy context: Research has shown that positive educational and life outcomes for children, particularly those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, are linked to participation in a quality preschool program [1]. Participation in high quality preschool supports school readiness as children were found to perform better at school with these benefits persisting over time. Children who attended preschool were found to outperform those who did not across all elements of national assessment results for Year 3 students, including numeracy, reading, spelling, writing and grammar [2].

The educational trajectories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are different from non-Indigenous Australians. The Australian Government has in the last decade increasingly recognised the importance of quality early childhood education to be fundamental in improving the future educational outcomes for Indigenous children and how this could help in closing the gap in later educational outcomes as measured compared with non-Indigenous children [3].

The 2019 Closing the Gap report highlighted attending early childhood education services is linked to better social and developmental skills which can assist children's developmental readiness for school as measured by the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC). Increasing the preschool attendance levels was adjudged to have a larger effect on the school readiness of Indigenous children despite the fact that they had lower rates of preschool attendance than non-Indigenous children [4].

Nationally in 2021, 96.7 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the Year Before Full time Schooling (YBFS) age cohort were enrolled in a preschool program. This is an increase from 76.7 per cent in 2016 (the baseline year). Nationally, based on progress from the baseline, the target shows good improvement and is on track to be met. This assessment is provided with a high level of confidence [5].

According to the latest Closing the Gap report, attendance in Indigenous early childhood programs is on track to meet 2025 targets in all States and Territories apart from the Northern Territory [5].


  1. Rosier K. & McDonald, M. Promoting positive education and care transitions for children. Child Family Community Australia Resource Sheet, November 2011. Australian Institute of Family Studies, accessed 9 April 2018. Available from:
  2. Department of Education and Training. How is the Government supporting access to preschool education? Factsheet, July 2017, accessed 9 April 2018. Available from:
  3. Moyle K. Literature review: Indigenous early childhood education, school readiness and transition programs into primary school 2019. Camberwell, Australia: Australian Council for Education Research.2019. Available from:
  4. Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Closing the Gap Prime Minister’s Report 2019. Commonwealth of Australia 2019, Accessed 29 November 2109. Available from
  5. Productivity Commission, Closing the Gap Targets and Outcomes, Accessed 15 February 2023. Available from



The data for 2021 have been limited to ‘Preschool’ under the ‘Sector’ category that ABS provide in the Preschool TableBuilder dataset: data published by PHIDU in previous years included children in a ‘Preschool program within centre-based day care’ and ‘Children across more than one provider type’. In the 2021 Preschool Census there were 8,400 in centre-based day care program and 2,259 children across more than one provider type.

The use of the sum of four- and five-year old children as the denominator was necessary as the ABS have used a calculation (which cannot be replicated at the IARE level), to produce a denominator that reflects the different ages across the states and territories at which children are enrolled in preschool. Had we published the data separately for four- and for five-year old children, many IAREs would have had over 100% of the four-year age cohort as enrolled in a preschool program; and for the five-year age cohort the data for a majority of IAREs would have been suppressed, due to small numbers. Despite combining the ages there is, however, a small number of areas with Per centages in excess of 100%. In addition, it should be noted that in 2021, there were some 2,233 Aboriginal children aged three or six years enrolled in a preschool program. In addition, in 2021 there were some 2,233 Aboriginal children aged three or six enrolled in a preschool program.

Data source of denominator population

There is a substantial difference between the Census counts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and the estimated resident population (ERP), adjusted for net undercount as measured by the Post Enumeration Survey undertaken by the ABS (the ERP for children aged 0 to 9 years is 22.8% higher for Australia than the Census count). Given this large difference, and as the ABS has not released Aboriginal ERP by age at the Indigenous Area level as used in the Social Health Atlases, PHIDU has calculated an estimated resident population for 30 June and 2020, and has used this population for the calculation of Per centages. Note that this population is for 2020, and not 2021 (the year of the data), as there are insufficient data available upon which to update the estimate to 2021. Further detail can be obtained by contacting PHIDU.

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic

Care should be taken when interpreting preschool enrolments data for 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, various restrictions were in place when the National Early Childhood Education and Care Collection (NECECC) was conducted. Due to the temporary closure of preschool program providers in New South Wales and Victoria, attendance data for those states have not been published.


Geography: Data available by Indigenous Area, Primary Health Network, Quintile of socioeconomic outcomes (based on IRSEO) and Remoteness Area


Numerator:  Aboriginal children aged 4 or 5 years enrolled in a preschool program, and those attending a preschool program


Denominator: Aboriginal children aged 4 or 5 years


Source: Compiled by PHIDU based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics Preschool Education, Australia, 2021; data extracted from TableBuilder


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