Education Transitions

Tabled: 18 March 2015

2 Early-years transition

At a glance

Background

A well-researched, system-wide approach to transitioning children is needed to support schools in minimising the negative impact of transitions and making sure that vulnerable children are not disadvantaged.

Conclusion

The Department of Education and Training (DET) has implemented a robust and comprehensive approach to supporting early-years transitions. While outcomes are improving, DET does not adequately monitor the impact of transitions. This means it cannot easily identify and support vulnerable cohorts of children or drive system-wide improvement.

Findings

  • DET has a well conceptualised approach to early-years transitions that facilitates transferring information with the child, through a transition statement.
  • Despite improvements in kindergarten participation, one in five Victorian children start their first year of school with a developmental vulnerability.
  • Children who are Aboriginal, from a language background other than English, or who live in low socio-economic areas are more commonly assessed as having a developmental vulnerability.
  • DET does not collect sufficient service-level or child-level data to enable it to understand the relationship between its approach and later outcomes.

Recommendations

That the Department of Education and Training:

  • reviews all child-level and service-level data collected by it in order to:
    • ensure that it can monitor their impact on children's long-term outcomes
    • link data collected prior to school with data collected after school enrolment
  • reviews the use of early-years transition statements with a particular focus on:
    • adequacy of the information captured
    • relationships between early childhood and school-based educators
    • training to develop a shared understanding of the role of both sectors
  • develops and monitors transition-related outcomes for the early years.

2.1 Introduction

Children who enter school for the first time require a set of life and learning skills in order to make a successful transition to primary school. Research has established that children who commence school without these basic skills are at risk of poorer academic and social outcomes.

Promoting successful transitions in the early years is not just about the readiness of the child. It requires the involvement of parents and families, communities, early childhood education and care providers, as well as schools.

The Department of Education and Training (DET) oversees and regulates the early childhood education and care sector, and is the major provider of education to children through government schools.

Early childhood education and care service providers and schools have the autonomy to adopt practices to best support the children in their care. DET's role is to provide advice and guidance on current best practice approaches to support children's successful transitions and to monitor children's outcomes so that improvements to strategies, planning and service delivery can be made.

2.2 Conclusion

Most Victorian children are well prepared for their transition to primary school. Prep teachers' assessments of children's developmental vulnerability and academic preparedness have both improved. However, one in five children still begin school with a developmental vulnerability, and particular cohorts of children—including those from Aboriginal backgrounds, areas with lower socio-economic status, and boys—fare much worse.

The improvements have occurred concurrently with DET's development and implementation of a comprehensive framework for early-years transitions that includes:

  • high‑quality guidance and resources for schools, early childhood education and care services and families
  • the requirement for schools to complete and issue transition statements for each child
  • specifically-funded programs.

However, more could be done to better monitor the quality and effectiveness of kindergarten programs as well as the initiatives DET has in place to encourage a positive transition to school. DET needs to increase its focus on transitions into school for boys, Aboriginal children, students learning English as an additional language, and students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

2.3 Transition outcomes

There are two key measures of transition outcomes for children moving into primary school. These are:

  • developmental status—measured by the three-yearly census of Australian children in their first year of school, the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC)—known as the Australian Early Development Index until 1 July 2014
  • academic readiness—measured by Prep-teacher judgements against the statewide learning standards.

Kindergarten participation is a key input strongly associated with improved performance in both areas. In Victoria, the proportion of children attending a kindergarten program has increased each year between 2006 and 2013. Over the 2009 to 2012 period, the rate of children defined by the AEDC as having an area of developmental vulnerability in their first year of schooling has declined. Victoria's performance exceeds that of any other Australian jurisdiction. The next AEDC survey is due to be conducted in 2015.

Victorian Prep teachers assessed the literacy and numeracy standards of the majority of their students as being at the expected level, and believe that approximately three‑quarters of Victorian children are adapting well to their first year of school.

However, there is still a sizable minority of children who start their transition to school with a developmental vulnerability that is likely to impact on their later success at school.

2.3.1 Kindergarten participation

Kindergarten programs play a critical role in preparing children to transition into school. They are designed to engage children, to develop their skills in communication, thinking and building positive relationships, and to build their sense of identity and wellbeing.

Attendance at kindergarten is not compulsory in Victoria. However, for several years Victoria has been moving towards the nationally agreed target of providing all children with access to a kindergarten program for 15 hours a week in the year before they start school. Consistent with the national agreement, Victoria has set its target for kindergarten participation—as distinct from universal access—at 95 per cent. Figure 2A shows the improvements that have been made in the reported kindergarten participation rate over the last nine years, including significant improvements for Aboriginal children.

Figure 2A

Kindergarten participation rates over time against Budget Paper No.3 service target

Figure 2A shows the improvements that have been made in the reported kindergarten participation rate over the last nine years, including significant improvements for Aboriginal children.

Note: Budget Paper No.3 (BP3) target figures are from http://www.dtf.vic.gov.au/State-Budget/Previous-budgets. As BP3 figures are reported by financial year, and participation rate figures are reported by calendar year, we have selected the first year of the BP3 data due to the August kindergarten census being in the first half of the financial year, i.e. the 2006 figure here represents the figure reported in the 2006–07 BP3.

Note: There is no separately reported data available for Aboriginal children since 2012.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on data provided by DET, and the DET Annual Report 2013–14 and BP3s (2006–07 to 2014–15).

2.3.2 Assessment of children's development in their first year of school

Developmental status

The Commonwealth Government undertakes a national three-yearly census of all children in their first year of school—the AEDC. This census is completed by Prep teachers and measures children's development in five areas or domains, including:

  • physical health and wellbeing
  • social competence
  • emotional maturity
  • language and cognitive skills
  • communication skills and general knowledge.

The AEDC was implemented nationally for the first time in 2009 and repeated in 2012. The next data collection will occur in 2015.

Being competent in all five of these domains is considered important to making a successful transition to school. Figure 2B shows that the number of Victorian children in their first year of school who were considered by their Prep teacher to be developmentally 'on track' increased from 55.9 per cent in 2009 to 57.1 per cent in 2012.

Figure 2B

Per cent of Victorian Prep children considered 'on track' by gender over time

 

'On track' on five domains

'On track' on five domains

'On track' on five domains

Year

Boys

Girls

All

2009

47.3

64.4

55.9

2012

48.7

65.7

57.1

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on AEDC data provided by DET.

Figure 2B also shows that boys are far less likely than girls to be developmentally 'on track' when they begin school. In fact, less than half of boys were considered to be developmentally 'on track'. This pattern persists throughout schooling in most indicators.

As shown in Figure 2C, Victoria has the highest proportion of children 'on track' on all five developmental domains of any state or territory, closely followed by New South Wales.

Figure 2C

State-by-state comparison of the proportion of children considered developmentally 'on track' in their first year of school, 2012

As shown in Figure 2C, Victoria has the highest proportion of children 'on track' on all five developmental domains of any state or territory, closely followed by New South Wales.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on AEDC data reported in The state of Victoria's children 2012: early childhood.

AEDC results also provide measures of the proportion of children vulnerable in one or more developmental domains. Figure 2D shows that the proportion of Victorian children rated by their Prep teachers as vulnerable against the AEDC domains had reduced between 2009 and 2012, and is lower than in any other state or territory.

Figure 2D

Per cent of Prep children developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains by state and territory in 2009 and 2012

 

2009

2012

State/territory

Victoria

20.3

19.5

New South Wales

21.3

19.9

Tasmania

21.8

21.5

Australian Capital Territory

22.2

22.0

Western Australia

24.7

23.0

South Australia

22.8

23.7

Queensland

29.6

26.2

Northern Territory

38.7

35.5

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on the Australian Government 2013. A Snapshot of Early Childhood Development in Australia 2012 – AEDI National Report Re-issue November 2013, Australian Government, Canberra.

Despite this improving trend overall, results for boys, Aboriginal children, children from language backgrounds other than English and students from low socio-economic backgrounds were consistently lower, albeit also showing improvement between 2009 and 2012, as shown in Figure 2E.

Figure 2E

Per cent of Victorian Prep children developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains by population cohort

 

2009

2012

Significance of

comparative result

Boys

26.4

25.2

Significant decrease

Girls

14.1

13.8

No significant change

Aboriginal

42.4

39.6

Significant decrease

Non-Aboriginal

20.1

19.2

Significant decrease

Language background other than English

30.4

28.0

Significant decrease

English speaking only

17.8

17.3

No significant change

Low socio-economic status

32.0

31.5

No significant change

High socio-economic status

14.1

12.5

Significant decrease

Total

20.3

19.5

Significant decrease

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on AEDC data. Significance testing by DET.

The AEDC also compiles information from Prep teachers on the success of students' transitions into school. Figure 2F shows that more than three-quarters of Victorian children were considered by their Prep teachers to have made a good transition to school.

Figure 2F

Victorian Prep teachers ratings of children's transitions to school in 2012

School transition indicators

Often or very true (per cent)

Sometimes or somewhat true (per cent)

Never or not true (per cent)

Don't know (per cent)

Child is making good progress in adapting to the structure and learning environment of the school

78.9

18.3

2.4

0.5

Child has parent(s)/caregiver(s) who are actively engaged with the school in supporting their child's learning

77.5

16.5

5.2

0.7

Child is regularly read to/encouraged in their reading at home

79.4

14.5

4.8

1.2

Note: Totals subject to rounding errors.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on AEDC data provided by DET.

Academic readiness

The Australian Curriculum Victorian Essential Learning Standards (AusVELS) outline common statewide standards for children between Prep and Year 10 that schools use to plan learning programs, assess progress, and report to parents. Introduced in 2013, AusVELS replaced the previously used curriculum standards, the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS). Each semester, school teachers at each year level assess each of their students against AusVELS.

In 2013 end of year data, only a very small percentage of children in Prep were rated as six months or more behind in English and mathematics—3 and 1 per cent respectively. Between 25 per cent, for English, and 20 per cent, for mathematics, of Prep children were at least six months above the level expected.

Image of students reading a book together - Photo courtesy of bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock.com.
 

Photograph courtesy of bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock.com.

Since 2007, the proportion of children who were rated by their Prep teacher as above the expected level in both mathematics and English has risen, as seen in Figure 2G. Correspondingly, the proportion of children at the expected level has declined over the same period. There has been negligible change in the proportion of students below the expected level.

Figure 2G

Prep children, rated by teacher judgements, compared to their expected level for English and mathematics from 2007 to 2012

Since 2007, the proportion of children who were rated by their Prep teacher as above the expected level in both mathematics and English has risen, as seen in Figure 2G.

Note: This figure reports end-of-year data recorded in Semester 2.

Note: From 2013, teacher assessment data was collected against a revised standard, which is not comparable to past results.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office analysis of Victorian Essential Learning Standards data.

These outcomes suggest that the majority of children who transition to school are well prepared academically. They also highlight that there is a sizeable and growing minority—approximately 30 per cent in English and 20 per cent in mathematics—of children who start school considerably above the expected level.

2.4 Strengths in the current approach

There are a number of strengths in DET's current approach to early-years transitions. It has developed a well-researched, robust framework with clear guidance and resources for schools and early childhood education and care providers. In addition to targeted programs for vulnerable children, DET introduced transition statements that convey information from early childhood educators and families to Prep teachers. DET has also increased kindergarten participation rates to very high levels.

2.4.1 Attendance at high-quality kindergarten services

There is increasing international and Australian evidence that participation in a quality kindergarten program has a positive impact on children's developmental vulnerability as they enter school and on their later school outcomes. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Education at a Glance report in 2013 concluded that this impact was present even when accounting for the socio‑economic background of the child. Using the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Children the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research concluded that attendance at kindergarten added 10 to 15 points to a child's Year 3 National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy results, which is equivalent to 15 to 20 weeks of schooling.

Figure 2H shows the link between kindergarten attendance and the development of language and cognitive skills for children in their first year at school in Victoria.

Figure 2H

Association of attendance at kindergarten with language and cognitive development

Percentage of Prep children developmentally 'on track'

in AEDC language and cognitive skills domain, 2012

Had attended kindergarten

85.7

Had not attended kindergarten

68.6

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on AEDC data provided by DET.

This difference may reflect either the population likely to attend a kindergarten program or the benefits of the program itself. The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research noted that children who do not attend kindergarten may be more disadvantaged and have parents who place less value on education, making it difficult to isolate the impact of kindergarten participation on later outcomes. After controlling for socio-demographic characteristics, the research concluded that children who did not attend kindergarten would have gained more from attending kindergarten than those who actually attended.

2.4.2 Sound and well-supported early-years framework

Sharing information—common framework

One of the ways to support successful transitions is to ensure that information gathered by one educator is shared with the next. In Victoria, all early childhood education and care professionals working with children from birth until the age of eight—which includes teachers working in schools—were brought under the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) in 2009.

VEYLDF provided educators with a common language and set of outcomes, regardless of whether they worked in early childhood education and care setting such as kindergartens, or within schools with children in years Prep to Year 2. The framework brought together the Australian Early Years Learning Framework and the school-based VELS.

DET's Transition: A Positive Start to School initiative is an important element of VEYLDF. It aims to improve children's experience of starting school by enhancing the development and delivery of transition programs.

A key part of this initiative was the introduction of a standardised Transition Learning and Development Statement (transition statement) that early childhood educators and families complete to share information with the school about the child's learning and development. It also allows the early childhood educators to indicate to the school if they would like to speak with the child's Prep teacher about specific issues. This remains a good example of DET seeking to address a major transition issue.

The initiative is accompanied by a comprehensive resource kit for schools and early childhood education and care services that provides detailed information about effective programs and approaches to transition planning. It also includes advice about additional support for specific groups of children and families.

In 2009, DET changed the Victorian kindergarten policy, procedure and funding criteria to make completion of transition statements a requirement of funding. In 2013, providers of kindergarten programs reported completing a transition statement for 95.2 per cent of enrolled children. It is likely that linking the funding to the completion of the statements by kindergarten services has contributed to this high compliance rate. However, in 2013, only 80 per cent of children at government schools arrived with a completed transition statement. Of the 20 per cent of children who did not have a transition statement, half were then completed by the Prep teacher with the family. Multiple factors influenced this result, including parents not giving consent to transfer information and not advising where the child is transitioning to.

Comprehensive approach

DET has adopted a comprehensive three-tiered approach to supporting successful transitions in the early years:

  • Universal—all children are expected to arrive at school with a transition statement containing information from early childhood educators and family that will assist in supporting a successful transition to school.
  • Targeted—initiatives to support children who are part of a cohort known to be vulnerable to poor transition to school, such as Aboriginal children.
  • Individual—initiatives to support children identified as being vulnerable to poor transition because of a disability.
Funded programs and resources for students with extra needs

DET allocated $367.5 million in 2013–14 to support students to prepare for and transition into school through support for regular kindergarten places and a range of special initiatives in the early years including:

  • Early Childhood Intervention Services
  • Kindergarten Inclusion Support Packages
  • Early Start kindergarten.

Further, children who require additional support at school due to having disabilities and moderate to severe needs can be supported under the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD) once they commence school. Currently government schools receive PSD funding to provide targeted support for 22 281 students (4 per cent). Two-thirds of applications for Prep students are made prior to or shortly after the start of the school year, by mid-February. This means that the majority of these students are identified as potentially needing assistance before they commence school.

2.5 Weaknesses in the current approach

Despite the strengths, there are some weaknesses in DET's approach to supporting early-years transitions. In particular:

  • further work is required to target support towards the students identified as vulnerable in Figure 2E
  • DET could make better use of available data
  • there are persistent challenges for schools and early childhood services in how they communicate and understand continuity of learning between kindergarten and school.

2.5.1 Better targeting of vulnerable cohorts is needed

The current National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education, agreed to by DET, has an explicit focus on improving participation in kindergarten programs for vulnerable and disadvantaged children. The agreement defines these as including, but not being limited to, children:

  • from Aboriginal backgrounds
  • with a disability
  • being in, or at risk of being placed in, the child protection system
  • in communities identified, through AEDC, as having significant vulnerabilities
  • in low socio-economic communities
  • who are refugees or children of refugees at risk
  • from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Despite this and the fact that DET has met its overall kindergarten participation performance measure for the past four years, DET does not set or report on targets for increasing kindergarten participation in these high priority groups.

2.5.2 Inadequate collection and use of data

While DET has taken steps to improve data collection and the use of that data in relation to early-years transitions, there are a number of unresolved issues.

Lack of child-level outcomes and indicators

Currently in Victoria, once a child enters a government or non-government school they are given a unique student identifier called a Victorian Student Number (VSN). The VSN was introduced in 2011, and follows a child from Prep until they are aged 25 if they are enrolled in school or vocational education and training—but not in higher education. While currently linked to basic identification and enrolment information, it has the potential to allow for better tracking, and the linking of children's outcomes with a range of other data. This unique identifier does not exist in early childhood education.

As part of its Transition: A Positive Start to School initiative, DET commissioned research to develop and trial an evaluation tool to measure the outcomes and indicators of a successful transition to school for children, families and their educators. DET has not completed this work.

While DET has sought to use its mid-year supplementary school census to establish the value and use of the transition statements for Prep teachers, the data is of low quality and there is no evidence that the data collected is used to inform ongoing policy development in this area.

Through its Abilities Based Learning and Education Support curriculum resource, DET has made some progress on measuring outcomes for school students with disabilities. However, it remains unclear if this will enable DET to examine whether the funding allocated to support these students is being effectively used, or if the extensive policy and program work aimed at supporting these students during transitions has been effective.

Issues with kindergarten reporting and measures of quality

Care must be used when looking at kindergarten participation rates, as data on participation in kindergarten is fraught with difficulties. This situation is not just particular to Victoria.

Consistent with national data collection measures, the definition of attendance or participation in kindergarten used in reporting is that the child was enrolled and had attended the program for at least one hour during the reference period—the census week in August.

Audited early childhood education and care services and schools provided examples of children not attending kindergarten for periods of up to three months while visiting relatives from their home country, or having attendance impacted by a lack of transport, for example. Despite DET's reported local and statewide averages being much higher, one audited school reported that less than 50 per cent of students that enrolled in 2014 had attended a kindergarten. None of the publicly reported data on participation captures these variations.

Until 2014, DET calculated local kindergarten participation rates based on the postcode of the service, rather than the child's address. This contributed to inaccuracies in locally reported rates, including the situation that in 2013, 34 of 79 local government areas had participation rates of more than 100 per cent. DET has recently started to use the postcode of the child's address rather than the provider's address. It hopes this will produce more accurate data for planning and service delivery. In addition, DET has begun scoping for an Early Childhood Management Solution which aims to improve the identification and tracking of children in early childhood services. The scoping phase is due to be completed in late 2015.

2.5.3 Issues with information transfer

As mentioned earlier, transition statements are intended to help Prep teachers get a better understanding of the children coming into their classes. Most early childhood education and care providers comply with the requirement to supply these statements to government and non-government schools because their completion is linked to funding.

However, early childhood service providers visited for this audit reported that the transition statement took over an hour to complete for each child, not including the time needed to explain and receive feedback from parents. Many early childhood service providers also felt unsure about whether the transition statements, or indeed their own professional knowledge of the child, was valued by schools. This is not necessarily a reflection about the usefulness of the statements to transfer information, but is more about the communication and respect that exists between early childhood teachers and primary school teachers.

Most Prep teachers in audited schools stated that the transition statements were of limited use, as they did not provide a balanced picture of the skills of a child. In line with the research literature that informed the Transition: A Positive Start to School initiative, and the fact that parents must give permission for the transition statements to be sent to schools, kindergarten educators are instructed to write the statements based on the child's strengths, rather than deficits. This focus on 'strength-based' assessment was cited as a difficulty. Understandably, Prep teachers placed more value on being able to observe the child in an early childhood setting or during Prep orientation days. However, this does not mean that the statements are without value, particularly where observation of the child was not possible.

Despite the common framework developed under VEYLDF, staff in audited schools perceived a lack of consistency and congruity in what is taught in early childhood education and care services with what would set the foundation for a successful transition to school.

According to DET, the principal role of a kindergarten program is to engage each child in effective learning, thereby promoting communication, learning and thinking, and to develop in each child the capacity for positive relationships and a sense of identity. Notably, the majority of early childhood educators stated that they did not see their role as preparing children for school—rather they saw their role as helping children develop social and self-care skills.

Few educators in either early childhood or school-based settings had professional experience in the alternate settings. Educators who had this experience felt that they had a special insight that would ultimately help them provide a positive transition experience for children. This suggests that more training and professional development is required to bring educators in early childhood and school-based settings to a shared understanding of the roles of the two sectors.

Recommendations

That the Department of Education and Training:

  1. reviews all child-level and service-level data collected by it from maternal and child health services, and early childhood education and care providers in order to:
    • ensure that the collected information is sufficient and appropriate for the Department of Education and Training to monitor the impact of these services on children's long-term educational outcomes
    • develop reporting requirements to collect and record this information in a way that allows the Department of Education and Training to link child-level data collected prior to school with data collected after school enrolment
  2. reviews the use of early-years transition statements with a particular focus on:
    • adequacy of the information captured
    • relationships between early childhood and school-based educators
    • training and development for educators in early childhood and school-based settings to develop a shared understanding of the role of both sectors
  3. develops and monitors transition-related outcomes for the early years including for children identified as most vulnerable during school transitions.

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