State of Education in NSW, 2016

This report was originally published 19 December 2016.


The second biennial edition of the State of Education in NSW – 2016 report focuses on presenting trend data on key education indicators in NSW, providing accessible and transparent data for policymakers.

Early childhood education

Focus area Results
Ensuring all children have access to quality early childhood education (ECE) programs in the year before school.

The results show 96,184 children in NSW are enrolled in a preschool program in 2015, access to quality early including 4,400 Aboriginal children and 19,814 children from low socio-economic status childhood education (ECE) (SES) background.

This indicator has been difficult to measure accurately. Historically, national data has under-represented children participating in early childhood education through long day care centres. Over the past 18 months, NSW has been involved in a national collaborative approach to improve data reliability, resulting in an almost 80 per cent capture of long day care data.

Healthy development of young children so that they are ready for school.

The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) showed that in 2015, more than three children quarters of children in NSW were developmentally on track across a range of skills when for school they entered school.

Compared to other states and territories, NSW has some of the lowest proportions of children considered developmentally vulnerable across most domains.

Upskilling early childhood teachers. After a change in legislation in 2012, more early childhood staff have formal qualifications. In 2014, 28.8 per cent of workers delivering preschool programs in NSW were at least three years university trained while 15.3 per cent were at least four years university trained in early childhood education.
Assessing and rating early childhood services against the National Quality Standard (NQS).

As at December 2015, 73.0 per cent of ECE services have been assessed and rated against childhood services against the NQS. Of those, 60.3 per cent were meeting or exceeding the Standard.

The Standard was introduced in 2012, with the assessment of all services expected to take some time. Of note, higher-risk ECE services in NSW are being assessed ahead of other services, possibly lowering the percentage of services meeting or exceeding the Standard.

Affordable early childhood services. Attendance at preschool is typically measured by the cost per hour. In NSW, the median cost after subsidies was $3.60 per hour in 2014. This is higher than the Australian figure, which was $2.20 per hour in 2014.

School education

Focus area Results
Increase and maintain school attendance rates.

Given the complex nature of measuring attendance rates accurately across sectors, only two years of data are available for this report, limiting the ability to discern any trend.

School attendance rates are consistently higher in primary school compared to secondary school. In 2015, attendance was 94.0 per cent in primary school and 91.2 per cent in high school for all students.

Attendance is lower for Aboriginal students (90.3 per cent in primary school, 81.9 per cent in secondary school in 2015) and declines as remoteness increases.

Improved literacy and numeracy achievement.

Compared to 2009, fewer NSW students are achieving in the top two bands for reading and numeracy across all grade levels. This trend will need to be reversed if the target of an eight per cent increase the proportion of students in the top two bands by 2019 is to be achieved. This decline was most evident for low SES students. For example, the proportion of Year 3 low SES students achieving in the top two bands for numeracy fell by 3.5 percentage points between 2010 and 2015.

Aboriginal students remain underrepresented in the top two NAPLAN bands for reading and numeracy across all year levels. One of the NSW State Priorities is to increase the proportion of Aboriginal students in the top two bands by 30 per cent by 2019.

With the exception of Aboriginal primary students, the proportion of students achieving at or above the National Minimum Standard (NMS) has decreased across all primary students from 2009 to 2015. Whereas, over the same period of time, the proportion of secondary school students achieving at or above the NMS, including Aboriginal and low SES, has increased.

Increase the number of students achieving at least Year 12 or the equivalent Australian Quality Framework qualification.

A higher percentage of students are completing Year 12, with the retention rate in NSW schools improving from 70.5 per cent in 2006 to 78.2 per cent in 2015. Retention rates remain lower among Aboriginal students, but continue to improve – increasing from 30.6 per cent in 2006 to 52.1 per cent in 2015.

More students are being awarded the Higher School Certificate (HSC), up from 63,564 in 2009 to 68,062 in 2015. The numbers of Aboriginal, regional/remote and low SES students awarded the HSC have also increased.

There has been an increase in the proportion of 20-24 year old students attaining a Year 12 certificate or a Certificate II equivalent (rising from 82.0 per cent in 2006 to 88.8 per cent in 2015). The proportion of students completing Year 12 or a Certificate III equivalent in regional and remote areas has also increased (from 75.5 per cent in 2007 to 77.3 per cent in 2015).

Of note, the proportion of students from low SES backgrounds and/or regional and remote areas completing Year 12 (or equivalent) continue to remain below all students in NSW.

Promoting and ensuring quality teaching.

The number of teachers completing the requirements for accreditation as a proficient teacher has increased each year – from 4,696 in 2011 to 5,325 in 2015.

The number of teachers gaining accreditation at higher levels has fluctuated since 2011. By 2015, a cumulative total of 88 teachers had been accredited at the Highly Accomplished level, and 56 had been accredited at the Lead Teacher level in NSW.

Vocational education and training

Focus area Results
Increase the proportion of individuals with a Certificate III and above.

Certificate III is the cornerstone of vocational qualifications, providing graduates with individuals with increased chances of finding work and earning a substantial income. Over the last decade, the proportion of 20-64 year olds with a Certificate III or above has increased from 47.9 per cent in 2005, to 60.2 per cent in 2015.

Importantly, this trend is also reflected through increased numbers of disadvantaged students completing this level of qualification in recent years. This includes Aboriginal students, those from regional and remote areas, and from low SES backgrounds.

Encouraging people to undertake higher level vocational education and training (VET) qualifications. Diplomas provide a flexible pathway to higher education, which is important for people who undertake higher level have not completed the HSC. The number of adults completing Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas has increased since 2004, with 18,959 individuals in NSW completing one of these qualifications in 2013.
Boosting the number of apprenticeships and traineeships.

Boosting apprenticeships and traineeships is one of the NSW State Priorities1 , with the NSW Government aiming to create a highly-skilled workforce by giving young people the opportunity to learn key new skills.

The number of students commencing trade apprenticeships/traineeships (such as plumbing or carpentry) has remained steady over the last decade. Trade completions however have increased.

The trend for non-trade apprenticeships/traineeships (such as retail or food), however, has varied. Prior to 2012, there was steady growth in non-trade commencements, before numbers decreased by 53.1 per cent between 2012 and 2014. This fall is in part due to the removal of Commonwealth incentive payments from some courses in 2009.

The number of completions for non-trade training has increased over the last decade. However, the recent reduction in commencements has led to a 27.4 per cent fall in completions between 2013 and 2014 – a trend consistent with the fact that training in non-trade related areas usually takes between one and two years to complete.

Increase the proportion of young adults engaged in education, training or work. School leavers who do not engage in the workforce or in further training are at risk of experiencing long-term unemployment and related social disadvantages. Since 2012, there has been a decline in the percentage of young adults fully engaged in education, training or work – falling from 78.2 per cent to 72.9 per cent in 2015.

Higher education

Focus area Results
Maintain the higher-level employment skills necessary to facilitate innovation and meet the changing needs of the future.

The proportion of young adults with a Bachelor degree has risen over the last 10 years, increasing from 31.7 per cent in 2006 to 40.5 per cent in 2015.

More people are starting degrees, with the increase most pronounced for domestic students. The numbers of domestic students commencing a Bachelor degree have increased by 67.0 per cent over the last decade.

Improving equity in higher education, for example by providing alternative pathways for admission to higher education.

The average ATAR required has fallen from 79.4 in 2010 to 76.8 in 2014. On face value this could suggest that it is becoming easier to qualify for university enrolment. However, it should be noted that the ATAR is a percentile rank, measuring individual academic achievement in the NSW HSC in relation to that of other students. Given this, the ATAR will necessarily fall as more university places are made available to students as a result of the demand driven system. Furthermore, declining ATAR under the demand driven increase in enrolments is not generalisable to all universities and courses.

Proportions of domestic students who are Aboriginal and those from low SES backgrounds are increasing, although the proportion from regional or remote areas has been decreasing.

The number of Aboriginal students completing a degree has increased, more than doubling over the last 10 years, from 228 in 2005 to 510 in 2014. Whilst this is from a small base, the trend is strong, and is in the right direction in terms of closing the gap for Aboriginal students.


  • Research report
  • State of Education in NSW

Business Unit:

  • Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation
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