Schools: Language Diversity in NSW, 2020

This bulletin was originally published 14 April 2021.

Image: Schools: Language diversity in NSW 2020


CESE’s Schools: Language diversity in NSW, 2020 bulletin summarises the diversity of students with language backgrounds other than English (LBOTE) who were enrolled in NSW government schools in March 2020. The census of students from language backgrounds other than English (LBOTE) was conducted on 6 March 2020 in all NSW government schools, including preschools, intensive English centres and distance education centres.


LBOTE enrolments

In March 2020, 63.1% (519,326) of students enrolled in NSW government schools came from homes where English was the only language spoken. More than a third (36.9%, 304,187) of students came from homes where languages other than English were spoken by either the students themselves and/or at least one parent or carer.

This was a noticeable increase from 2019, when 35.9% of NSW government students came from language backgrounds other than English (LBOTE). The proportion of LBOTE students has grown steadily from 29.4% in 2010, an increase of 7.5 percentage points in ten years.

Language breakdown

Students from language backgrounds other than English in NSW government schools came from 243 different language backgrounds. In 2020, the largest single language spoken by LBOTE students and/or their parent/carers was Arabic with 41,342 enrolments (13.7% of all LBOTE students). Collectively, Indian languages accounted for 20.2% of all LBOTE students. Of the 24 Indian languages reported, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil and Punjabi each represented the backgrounds of more than 5,000 students.

Students from a Chinese language background made up 15.4% of LBOTE students in 2020 (46,464 students), with the largest number of these students (28,728 or 9.5%) coming from a Mandarin speaking background. There were also 14,380 students from a Cantonese background and 3,456 students from other Chinese language backgrounds including Hakka, Min Nan and Wu.

Largest Language Backgrounds other than English, 2010 – 2020

In March 2020, there were 22 language backgrounds that each accounted for more than 1% (or approximately 3,000) students, and 35 languages which more than 1,000 students identified as their language background. Diversity in language background of students in NSW government schools has increased by 12% from 217 languages in 2010 to 243 languages in 2020.

56.7% of all LBOTE enrolments came from five language backgrounds. Indian and Chinese (both comprised of several languages) accounted for 20.2% and 15.4% of students from a language background other than English respectively. Enrolments of students from Indian language backgrounds continued to rise relatively steeply compared to Chinese and the third largest language, Arabic. Indian also rose by the largest number of enrolments (4,590). The next largest languages represented are Vietnamese (6%) and Filipino/Tagalog (3%).

Enrolment of LBOTE students in NSW government schools by SA4 groupings, 2020

There were greater concentrations of LBOTE students in the Sydney metropolitan area than in other parts of NSW. Across all Sydney schools, 56.2% of the students were from language backgrounds other than English compared with 9.3% of enrolments in regional NSW.

At 71.4%, Sydney-West remained the area with the largest percentage of students from a language background other than English. The areas with the next largest percentages of students with a LBOTE background were Sydney South-West (63.7%) and Sydney South (61.3%).

For more information

To access data on NSW government school student attendance, visit the NSW Education Data Hub.
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