AEDC 2018 released – what is the data, and how can it support your service?

by Freya Lucas

March 26, 2019

The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) has released data focusing on how Australia’s children have developed in the years before school. This data set is the fourth since the commencement of the AEDC collection, and provides a picture of how the developmental vulnerabilities of Australia’s children have  changed over time. The Sector Editor Freya Lucas takes a look at what the data says, and how it can be used by the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector to improve their service.

 

The data, gathered from 2016-2018, focuses on five key areas – physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills, and communication skills and general knowledge. These key areas are referred to in the data as early childhood development domains.

 

For each of the five AEDC domains, children receive a score (determined by their educators) of between zero and ten. A score of zero in any domain means a child is highly vulnerable, developmentally, when compared with their peers. A child scoring ten would be performing extremely well developmentally, in comparison with their peer group.

 

The scores are based on observed performance during standard activities and lessons, and there is no specialised testing involved in determining a child’s level of vulnerability.

 

In 2009, cut-off scores were determined, using baseline data gathered, to provide a reference point against which later results can be compared. These cut-off scores have remained the same across all three AEDC cycles, to provide continuity to the data.

 

What does the 2018 data set show?

 

At its simplest level, the data shows that improvements have been made in some domains, with much work to be done in others. Of key concern, the data shows that one in five children begin school developmentally vulnerable, with that number rising to two in five for First Nations children.

 

image provided by Early Learning Everyone Benefits

 

There are positive elements to the data, such as an increase in children who are developmentally on track in language and cognitive skills, increasing from 77.1 per cent in 2009 to 84.4 per cent in 2018. The number of children who are ranked as developmentally vulnerable overall has fallen from 8.9 per cent to 6.6 per cent in the same timeframe.

 

In a statement about the data, Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan said that while the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children continues to narrow, “it is still too high”, citing data which showed that in 2018, only 35 per cent of First Nations children in their first year of full-time school were assessed as being on track in all five domains.

 

In Australia’s most disadvantaged communities, 32.3 per cent of children were rated as developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains in 2018, a downward trend from 2015, where 32.85 per cent of children were considered developmentally vulnerable.

 

Michele Carnegie, CEO of CELA, said that while the 2018 data shows heartening progress in some parts of Australia and some domains, there is more work to be done, adding that “in other areas and domains the outcomes remain deeply troubling”.

 

“How can we tolerate a national outcome where only three out of four children are on track in social and emotional domains?” she asked.

 

Ms Carnegie said the results were “not tolerable” when research clearly pointed to the value of two years of fully funded participation in a quality preschool program in boosting children in all AEDC domains.

 

Both CELA and Early Childhood Australia (ECA) described the 2018 AEDC results as showing that children in all states and territories are experiencing “unacceptably high” levels of vulnerability, with Samantha Page, CEO of ECA, saying more action is needed, calling on both Federal and state-based governments to work together to ensure all children have access to two years of preschool education.

 

“On far too many indicators, progress has been minimal or has slipped backwards. With trends varying between the states and territories, it is clear that a concerted national effort is needed to deliver a really significant improvement in results by the next two census periods (2021 and 2024),” Ms Page said.

 

How can the data be used by services?

 

The 2018 report can be viewed down to a community level, providing insights and intelligence that services can use to develop their educational program assessments, professional development goals, and to enhance their quality improvement plans (QIPs).

 

ECA has prepared information and reflective questions about using AEDC data to inform and shape the QIP, with practical examples of how services have embedded AEDC into their QIP available from Riverton Kindergarten here and Lake Windermere Children’s Centre here.

 

ACECQA has given guidance about using the AEDC data to support children to transition to school in this post, and a number of states and territories have contextualised information to their context, such as this example from the Queensland Department of Education.

 

To support ECEC services to use AEDC data to build a picture of the needs of the community, and provide services in response to community need, the AEDC team has developed a series of guides which support all service types working with children and young people to co-ordinate a response. A range of tools to use the AEDC data can be accessed here, with the early childhood guide available here.

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