Disadvantaged children less likely to attend kindergarten

Melbourne’s least advantaged children are less likely to attend kindergarten than their socio-economically advantaged peers, raising concerns about the effect on academic performance in later years.

And socio-economically disadvantaged Melburnians are more likely to have finished school in year 10 or below, are more likely to participate in vocational education and training, and less likely to attend university.

Melbourne’s least advantaged children are less likely to attend kindergarten. Credit:iStock

The research, compiled by the public health information development unit at Torrens University in Adelaide, which has compiled a suburb-by-suburb database of socio-economic indicators.

Professor John Glover from the unit said there were very “clear differences” at the ends of the socio-educational spectrum for many indicators of educational participation and achievement.

“These have implications for future employment and a healthy life,” he said.

Professor Glover said many of the gaps in educational participation – including studying beyond year 10, and being at school full-time at age 16 – were long-standing.

“We’re making little progress on closing the gap on these measures,” he said.

The research found 57 per cent of children aged 4 and 5 with the highest socio-economic status attended kindergarten in Melbourne, compared with 54 per cent of children with the lowest socio-economic status.

Professor Glover said it was concerning that just 33 per cent of Victorian children in the most disadvantaged areas were attending kindergarten for the recommended 15 hours or more a week, compared with 52 per cent of those from the most advantaged areas.

“They’re not getting the hours they need,” he said.

The database also showed that Melburnians with the lowest socio-economic status were almost twice as likely to have left school at year 10 or below (31.45 per cent) compared to those with the highest socio-economic status (15.85 per cent).

Almost 11 per cent of those of high socio-educational status participated in vocational education and training in 2019, compared with 14 per cent of the least advantaged.

More than half of socio-educationally advantaged Melburnian school leavers were participating in higher education, compared with 39.4 per cent of the lowest.

Professor Glover pointed to the 2018 Australian Early Development Census, which found 87 per cent of children in the most disadvantaged areas in Melbourne were assessed in their first year of school as being developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains (of social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language development).

“This suggests that many of the poorer educational outcomes seen today will continue into the future, unless the low levels of participation and educational difficulties faced by disadvantaged populations are addressed,” he said.

Dr Sue Thomson, a deputy chief executive at the Australian Council for Education Research. Credit:Simon Schluter

Sue Thomson, a deputy chief executive at the Australian Council for Educational Research, said children who started primary school behind their peers did not catch up.

“If kids start school behind they never really catch up and the distance between the ones who do have the pre-primary education and the ones who don’t actually gets bigger as the years go by,” she said.

A recent international study found Australian students are almost twice as likely to start school without kindergarten or preschool than the OECD average.

The world’s largest study of 15-year-old students found 11.5 per cent of Australian students did not attend pre-primary school or attended for less than a year, compared with the OECD average of 6.2 per cent.

Preschool attendance is not compulsory, although the Australian, state and territory governments have committed to boosting participation.

The Andrews government is spending up to $169.6 million on rolling out 15 hours of free kinder in a bid to “get as many children into a free kinder program, save families money and help parents, particularly women, get back into the workforce.”

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