State of Education in NSW, 2014

This report was originally published 04 September 2014.


This report provides a high-level account of the state of the NSW education system. It sets out the key goals and targets established by state and national governments and reports on progress against those goals. These indicators will provide a baseline against which future performance can be compared. They also set the scene for more detailed research and evaluation to identify what works in improving educational outcomes for NSW students.

The reported indicators are not the only measures of change or progress in education. Factors such as the levels of engagement of students, their social development, increasing the pedagogical skills of teachers and trainers, and the commitment of educational leaders to partner with their communities to address local challenges are equally important. These factors should be part of the discussion about progress in education. However, by necessity, a report on progress must deal with the indicators for which state-wide, cross-sectoral data are available.

The following summary does not outline progress against each of the indicators assessed in the report. Rather, it draws out a high-level overview of the more notable findings from each of the sectors. Readers are encouraged to read individual chapters for a comprehensive analysis of progress against indicators within each sector.

Early childhood education and care

More children are attending preschool

The increase in participation of children in the year before full-time schooling is undoubtedly the most notable trend in the early childhood education sector in recent years. Growth has been particularly strong among children from low socio-economic areas and among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. For example, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children enrolled in the year before full-time school increased by 15.5 per cent between 2011 and 2013 (from 3,606 in 2011 to 4,164 in 2013). Participation among children from low income families increased by 46.8 per cent (from 17,691 to 25,976) over the same time period. The increases corresponded with significant funding policy changes for state-based early childhood services.

Long day care costs remain high and improving quality remains a challenge

While participation rates are increasing, the sector still faces a number of significant challenges. The out-of-pocket cost associated with Commonwealth-funded long day care is higher in NSW than in most other states and territories. NSW families with one or more children in long day care spend 10.0 per cent of their gross annual income on long day care. This compares with 9.1 per cent nationally. The sector also faces challenges in terms of quality. Half of the 1,783 services assessed under the National Quality Framework to date have been found to be ‘working towards’ the National Quality Standard.

School education

Raising the school leaving age has led to a dramatic increase in school retention in NSW

In 2008, around seven in ten students who were enrolled in Year 7 were still in school in Year 12. By 2013, this had increased to 77 per cent. This has led to a significant increase in the number of students attaining a Higher School Certificate award, including a 39 per cent increase among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children between 2008 and 2012.

Performance of NSW students on international assessments has declined.

The recent decline in performance on international assessments should be viewed with concern. If NSW were a country, in 2000 NSW 15 year-olds would have ranked 3rd in Maths, 1st in Science and 2nd in Reading on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). By 2012, these rankings would have fallen to 18th, equal 9th and 13th, respectively. While some of the decline in rankings can be attributed to the entry of new high performing education systems engaging in PISA, actual performance of NSW students has also declined over this time period. Mean scores of NSW students on national literacy and numeracy assessments have been relatively stable since NAPLAN testing was first introduced in 2008. However, many of the targets set under NSW 2021 (for proportions of students at or above the National Minimum Standards) may not be met, with outcomes for NAPLAN Numeracy particularly worrying.

Vocational education and training (VET)

More people are gaining higher level qualifications

As with the early childhood sector, there have been large increases in participation and course completions in the VET sector over the last 10 years. The increase in qualification at the AQF Diploma level and above has been particularly pronounced (increasing from 16,022 completions in 2009 to 25,683 in 2011). While increases in completions have been observed among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and people living in regional areas, these equity groups are still over-represented among lower level VET qualifications. It is also concerning that approximately one in four young people were not engaged in work or study in 2013.

Higher education

More students who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, or who come from low SES backgrounds are enrolling at university

The most notable trends in the higher education sector are the growth in numbers of young people with AQF Bachelor level qualifications or higher, and the increases in participation by students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The proportion of 25-34 year olds with a Bachelor degree or higher increased by about five percentage points (to 38.1 per cent) between 2006 and 2013. This is on track to meet longer term targets under NSW 2021. There have also been increases in university participation among students from low SES areas and among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The proportion of students from low SES areas increased from 16.8 per cent in 2009 to 17.6 per cent in 2012. The number of course completions among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students increased from 516 in 2008 to 557 in 2012.


  • Research report
  • State of Education in NSW

Business Unit:

  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
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