ACT State of the Environment 2007

Indicator: Education


The ACT is the most highly educated jurisdiction in Australia with the best literacy and numeracy outcomes across Years 3, 5 and 7, the highest retention rates to Year 12, very strong post-school outcomes leading to employment or further study and a very high proportion of the population who have a bachelor degree level or higher qualification.

Overall, the higher qualifications for ACT residents appear to correlate with higher average weekly earnings of the local workforce, and lower unemployment rates compared to Australian averages.

During the reporting period, the ACT Government embarked on a major package of reform. This long-term strategic program focuses on a regional model for delivery of education that replaces the traditional neighbourhood schooling approach. The package includes:

  • maintenance of P-6, P-10, 7–10 and 11–12 school models with the addition of new P-2 schools
  • closure of 23 schools
  • amalgamation of preschools with primary schools from 2008
  • investment of more than $350 million to enhance teaching and learning environments
  • consolidation of a number of preschools and schools to support sustainable provision of education
  • development of clusters of schools to form integrated or collegiate structures
  • opening of new schools and refurbishing others to better reflect community requirements
  • provision of $750 for each child affected by the schools renewal decisions who subsequently enrols in an alternative ACT public school.

Closure of the 23 schools did raise concerns in the community.

A significant environmental program that commenced during the reporting period was the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI). The initiative encourages a whole-of-school approach to managing facilities and resources, lifts school capacity in sustainable management, integrates sustainability learning into curricula and builds participation across the whole school community. The initiative was offered to all ACT schools in 2007 and by late 2007 over half had registered (the national average is 25%).

There has been some discussion in the media concerning students moving from the public system into private schools thereby raising the issue of equity between students.

About 60% of ACT students are enrolled in public schools; they educate almost four times the number of Indigenous students and five times the number of students with disabilities than the non-government sector.

What the results tell us about the ACT

During the reporting period, the ACT continued to maintain its higher levels of education compared with the rest of Australia. Not only are students staying at school longer in the ACT than in the rest of the country, but also their results, as measured through national literacy and numeracy benchmarks and international studies, show they are performing the best in the country and well above OECD averages.

The ACT is also leading the country in development of new schooling models, such as integrating public preschools with primary schools from the start of 2008. With this focus on development of the early years, the ACT education system evaluates kindergarten students at the beginning of the year and again at the end of the year to provide teachers and parents with clear diagnostic information needed for any early intervention strategies.

The ACT: a highly educated population

The proportion of ACT residents with post-school qualifications has continued to increase, particularly in the areas of bachelor degrees and postgraduate studies (Table 1). In particular, the proportion of the ACT population with a postgraduate degree, diploma or certificate has doubled since 1991. Over the same period, the proportion of the ACT population without any post-school qualifications has dropped from 64% in 1991 to under 50% (for the first time) in 2006.

Table 1: Highest post-school qualification of ACT people aged 15 years or older, 1991 to 2006
Highest qualification Proportion of 15+ years population
1991 1996 2001 2006
Postgraduate degree, diploma or certificate 5% 7% 8% 10%
Bachelor degree 13% 16% 17% 19%
Advanced diploma, diploma or certificate 18% 18% 20% 21%
No post-school qualification, none stated or none in definition 64% 59% 54% 49%
Total number people 15 years or older 212,317 231,524 246,075 266,506
Total population of the ACT 279,323 299,243 311,947 334,225

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001 and Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006 census data

Around nine in 10 ACT students were retained from Year 10 to 12 in each of the years between 2002 and 2006 (Figure 1). These results were the highest in the country and much higher than the national average, which was under 80% over the period.

Figure 1: Apparent retention rates from Year 10 to Year 12 for all ACT full-time students, 2002–06

Apparent retention rates from Year 10 to Year 12 for all ACT full-time students, 2002-06

Source: SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2008, Report on Government Services 2008, Productivity Commission, Canberra. Figure 4.9

The OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has shown that the average performance of 15-year-old ACT students in 2006 was significantly above the OECD average and most other Australian states and territories in reading, mathematics and scientific literacy (Thomson and de Bortoli 2008, p. vi; Productivity Commission 2008).1 There has however, been a decrease in reading literacy between 2003 and 2006 in the ACT, this mirrors the national and international declines, while there was no significant change in mathematics in recent years (Thomson and de Bortoli 2008: 301, 329).

ACT students also compare well against standardised Australian benchmarks (Table 2), continuing the trend reported in previous state of the environment reports. This is particularly the case for reading, with ACT students performing significantly better than the Australian average across each year level (Thomson and de Bortoli 2008, p. x).

The ACT also performs well in writing and numeracy with at least nine in 10 students above the national benchmark (except Year 7 numeracy, which is just below at 89.5% in 2006), although the ACT results were in general not statistically different to the national results.

Table 2: Proportion of Year 3, 5, and 7 ACT and Australian students achieving benchmarks, 2001–06
Year and grade Reading Writing Numeracy
ACT Aust ACT Aust ACT Aust
Year 3 96.4 ± 0.8 93.0 ± 1.7 93.8 ± 1.8 93.9 ± 1.3 94.3 ± 1.6 93.0 ± 1.4
Year 5 95.6 ± 0.6 88.4 ± 1.6 95.5 ± 1.2 93.8 ± 1.3 93.0 ± 1.4 90.3 ± 1.3
Year 7 94.2 ± 0.9 89.2 ± 0.8 91.4 ± 2.9 92.4 ± 1.5 89.5 ± 1.2 79.7 ± 1.1
Year 3 96.3 ± 0.8 93.5 ± 1.4 94.0 ± 1.4 93.7 ± 1.5 94.6 ± 1.2 94.6 ± 1.0
Year 5 94.9 ± 0.8 88.6 ± 1.7 92.6 ± 2.3 94.2 ± 1.3 93.2 ± 1.2 91.8 ± 1.2
Year 7 93.5 ± 0.8 91.0 ± 0.8 92.1 ± 2.7 93.3 ± 1.4 88.1 ± 1.2 83.1 ± 0.9
Year 3 95.2 ± 0.9 93.6 ± 1.4 95.5 ± 0.9 93.6 ± 1.4 95.3 ± 1.2 94.2 ± 1.1
Year 5 96.5 ± 0.6 89.7 ± 1.5 92.8 ± 2.4 95.0 ± 1.1 92.1 ± 1.2 92.1 ± 1.1
Year 7 95.0 ± 0.7 91.9 ± 0.7 93.1 ± 2.1 94.4 ± 1.2 87.7 ± 1.1 83.4 ± 0.8
Year 3 96.2 ± 0.9 93.1 ± 1.5 94.4 ± 1.0 93.1 ± 1.4 95.2 ± 1.1 94.7 ± 1.0
Year 5 96.1 ± 0.9 90.0 ± 1.4 94.0 ± 1.9 94.8 ± 1.0 91.9 ± 1.7 91.8 ± 1.1
Year 7 91.4 ± 1.1 90.5 ± 0.8 93.1 ± 2.3 93.1 ± 1.6 86.4 ± 1.6 82.5 ± 0.8
Year 3 95.7 ± 0.7 92.3 ± 1.7 91.2 ± 1.6 93.6 ± 1.2 95.4 ± 0.8 92.8 ± 1.3
Year 5 92.6 ± 1.0 89.3 ± 1.4 87.2 ± 2.3 93.6 ± 1.1 91.3 ± 1.1 90.0 ± 1.3
Year 7 91.1 ± 1.0 89.1 ± 0.8 91.3 ± 1.9 90.7 ± 1.7 86.9 ± 1.2 83.5 ± 0.9
Year 3 95.1 ± 0.8 90.3 ± 2.0 93.3 ± 1.3 89.5 ± 2.3 97.0 ± 0.6 93.9 ± 1.2
Year 5 94.6 ± 0.8 89.8 ± 1.3 90.6 ± 1.8 94.0 ± 1.0 93.1 ± 1.1 89.6 ± 1.3
Year 7 92.4 ± 1.4 88.4 ± 0.9 90.8 ± 2.0 92.6 ± 1.5 88.3 ± 1.3 82.0 ± 0.9

Notes: Ranges are the 95% confidence intervals; text in bold shows results that are significantly different from the Australian average.
Source: Productivity Commission 2008: Attachment 4a; 2007: Attachment 3a.


The total number of students enrolled in ACT schools (public and non-government) has not changed much during the reporting period, declining by around 480 students or 0.8% from 2007 to 2004 (Table 3). However, this decline is part of a larger trend dating back to 1995, where total student numbers are down around 3% (DET 2006b). There is almost certainly a range of factors associated with this decline, including the ageing of the population, smaller family sizes and slowed population growth in Canberra in the mid 1990s. It may be possible that this declining population of school-aged children could be slowed by the Australian Government 'baby bonus' initiative.

The 4.5% increase in ACT preschool enrolments from 2005 to 2006 (DET 2007a) may be a consequence of the increased availability of long day sessions and the 'mini' baby boom in recent years (see the Population indicator).

Table 3: ACT school enrolments, 2004–07
Sector 2004 2005 2006 2007 Change 2004–07
Public schools 36,333 35,721 35,463 35,020 –1,313
Non-government schools 24,166 24,554 24,679 24,950 784
Total 60,449 60,275 60,142 59,970 –529

Sources: February enrolment data from DET 2006b, 2007b

Nationally and in the ACT there has been a long-term drift away from public education (Figure 2). During the reporting period, enrolments at ACT public schools declined by 1,313 students compared with an increase of 784 students in the non-government sector. There is a range of complex reasons for this decline and research recently undertaken by the ACT Department of Education and Training (DET 2007c) and supported by national research shows that peer relationships, school culture and quality of education are some of the key factors parents and carers highlighted for moving their child from a public school.

Figure 2: Trends in proportion of students attending public and non-government schools, 1995–2007

Trends in proportion of students attending public and non-government schools, 1995-2007

Source: DET 2006b

Other recent research (Dowling 2007) indicated that this drift might be as a result of a substantial increase in the level of Australian Government funding for non-government schools since 1996, making non-government schools more affordable. From 2002–03 to 2005–06, ACT and Australian Government funding for ACT schools has increased in both the public and non-government school sectors, in total and when calculated on a per student basis (Table 4).

Table 4: ACT and Australian Government recurrent expenditure on school education 2002–03 to 2005–06, ($ million)
School and funding source Funding ($ million per year) Increase 2002–06
2002–03 2003–04 2004–05 2005–06 Total (%) Per student (%)
Public schools
Australian Government 30 30 31 32 7 11
ACT Government 359 397 408 433 21 25
Non-government schools
Australian Government 78 90 92 99 27 22
ACT Government 31 33 36 38 23 17

Source: Productivity Commission 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008

Equity in education

Although public schools have about 60% of ACT students, they educate almost four times the number of Indigenous students and five times the number of students with disabilities than the non-government sector (Table 5).

Table 5: ACT students with identified needs as a proportion of ACT students in each sector, 2006
School sector Indigenous students Students with disabilities
Public 2.6% (896 students) 4.8% (1690 students)
Non-government 0.9% (231 students) 1.4% (332 students)
ACT average 1.9% (1127 students) 3.4% (2022 students)

Source: 2006 data reported by Productivity Commission 2008

Figure 3 shows that in government schools, almost a 25% of students are from low-income families whereas in Catholic and other non-government schools students from low-income families account for 13% and 10% of enrolments, respectively (Preston 2007). Conversely, just under half of the students in government schools are from high-income families, while many more in the non-government sector (up to 74% of students) are from higher income families. There is also evidence that students from single-parent families and Indigenous families are very likely to be in low-income circumstances (Preston 2007). This information needs to be considered within the context of student performance.

Figure 3: Proportion of ACT students achieving the OECD average in four domains by socioeconomic status, 2003

Proportion of ACT students achieving the OECD average in four domains by socioeconomic status, 2003

Note: Error bars show the 95% confidence interval.
Source: SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2008, Report on Government Services 2008, Productivity Commission, Canberra., Tables 3A.99, 3A.104, 3A.109, 3A.107

Support for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds

As reported in previous state of the environment reports, the ACT Department of Education, and Training continues to address disadvantage at the lower socioeconomic levels through a program for learning assistance support for students in the greatest need, which is allocated to public schools based on ACT Assessment Program scores. Funding covers programs such as Reading Recovery and Scaffolding Literacy as well as the Parents as Tutors program at the University of Canberra. Schools also use data from their ACT Assessment Program and Performance in Primary Schools to support their applications for Early Literacy Officers.

The Schools Equity Fund Program provides assistance to those schools defined as socioeconomically disadvantaged, with 15 schools (14 primary and one high school) receiving funding from 2004 to 2007 (Gallagher 2004). Funding for this program has more than doubled over the past seven years, from $145,000 in 2001 to $296,000 in 2007–08 – an increase of 104%.

The student support fund, worth $500,000 and allocated to schools based on enrolment data and level of disadvantage in the community, has been provided since 2004–05 for principals to provide additional support to disadvantaged students.

Under an expansion to the Secondary Bursary scheme announced in the 2007–08 Budget, eligible students from low-income families in Years 7–10 can access $500 per year to help with education costs. Before expansion of the scheme, the bursary was available only to students aged 14 or 15 years who were from low-income families. Families who have a health care card or a Centrelink concession card are eligible to apply for the bursary.

Increased expenditure on infrastructure

Expenditure on ACT schools is reported in the Infrastructure indicator.

Sustainability in action

The Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI) began in 2006 and is a co-funded partnership of all Australian governments helping public and non-government schools work towards a sustainable future.

The initiative encourages a whole-of-school approach to managing facilities and resources, lifts school capacity in sustainable management, integrates sustainability learning into curricula, and builds participation across the whole school community – thereby benefitting sustainability at the school and in other life activities.

The initiative was offered to all ACT schools in 2007 and by late 2007 over half had registered (the national average is 25%). By the end of 2008, most others are expected to be involved. In registering to take part, schools commit to:

  • Establishing a leadership team from all staff: most of the registered schools have done so.
  • Conducting audits: most have finished waste and started water and energy. Schools did their own audits first with students gaining mathematical benefits from graphing data and literacy benefits in writing reports; then government teams did professional audits. Schools then work through best practice guides. As they make satisfactory progress on waste, energy, water, biodiversity and curriculum development matters, a five-star Accreditation System rewards schools with a star for each field.
  • Reducing resource consumption and improving management of facilities: schools have reduced waste to landfill – their initial priority area – by 75%; already they have all reduced electricity consumption, one by 28%.
  • Developing a School Environmental Management Plan: 30 have completed and are implementing their plan; others are well into the planning process.
  • Encouraging staff development: 300 teachers have attended development workshops including observing 'best practice' schools.
  • Sharing information and achievements: an audits database helps comparisons and monitoring of progress; all schools receive a quarterly newsletter.
  • Promoting each school as a model for sustainability within its community.

Other activities that have been implemented in the ACT as part of AuSSI include:

  • embedding educating for sustainability into their curriculum through its inclusion in the Curriculum Framework for ACT Schools Preschool to Year 10 which was trialled in 2007 and launched in 2008
  • launching a helpful AuSSI ACT Toolkit which has best practice guides and strategies and resources for schools
  • launching a website ( in March 2007 to provide access to information about sustainability, activities to promote sustainable practices in schools, provide curriculum units of work on water, energy and biodiversity and publish case studies for three schools.

The AuSSI model developed for the ACT has been adopted enthusiastically, and positively received nationally, with Tasmania keen to implement it.

Schools have participated in environmental events and the Jigsaw Theatre worked with them for a performance on climate change, Too Hot to Handle. School environmental issues and strategies to engage school communities were discussed at a youth sustainability forum.

As AuSSI ACT builds momentum, it will continue to deliver teacher workshops, better prepare new teachers at university to educate for a sustainable future, partner with businesses and community groups, support toolkit implementation, collect data and develop case studies. It will also build a youth network, inform teachers on sustainability education, develop awards, increase accreditation, establish a water, waste and energy wise demonstration school site and provide professional activities for all staff.

Preparations are also in place for the 2008 ACT Sustainable Schools Awards, which will recognise excellence and best practice in education for sustainability by schools, students, staff and school communities.

School communities are learning, and teaching us, valuable lessons about sustainability.

Towards 2020: Renewing Our Schools

Education in the ACT during this reporting period saw implementation of the government's Towards 2020 program of schools renewal, a major educational reform. This is a long-term package of reform that focuses on a regional model for delivery of education and includes plans for expenditure of $350 million on infrastructure (including information technology, commissioning of new schools and restructuring of provision of education). During six months of public consultation on these proposed reforms in 2006, the government held more than 700 public meetings and received more than 350 submissions.

Ginninderra High School in North West Belconnen was closed in 2005 to make way for a new $43 million P-10 school that will open in 2009 (West Belconnen P-10). Nearby Holt and Higgins primary schools are also planned to close as part of the renewal process in this region.

Altogether, the initial phase of the 2020 reforms involved closure of 23 schools, amalgamation of all preschools with primary schools, conversion of four P-6 schools to a P-2 structure, and administrative amalgamations of other schools. A new P-10 school at Kambah will replace Kambah High School (closed in 2007) and possibly nearby Urambi Primary School (see DET 2006d for a list of changes). Two school communities appealed the proposed closures in the ACT Supreme Court. One appeal did not proceed and the other was still underway at the end of the reporting period (see Community participation indicator).

At least 675 students from kindergarten to Year 5 attended a school that closed in 2006. The ACT public schools census shows that nine out of 10 of these students are now attending an alternative ACT public school. Data for the number of preschool students affected by primary school closures were not available. Data from 2007 school closures will be reported in the next state of the environment report.

The Towards 2020 initiative represents the single most significant change to education provision in the Territory since the start of self-government. It is part of a move away from a decentralised model towards a regional model of services and infrastructure provision. This appears to parallel the centralisation strategies in the Canberra Plan and the Canberra Spatial Plan. The environmental and social equity implications of regional centralisation in education in a city designed for motor vehicle transport should be the subject of long-term monitoring and reporting.

Closing schools necessarily entails some environmental consequences (see DET 2006c,e). One is that closure of local schools in some neighbourhoods means some parents and carers may feel it is too far or is unsafe for their children to walk to school. In some cases this may result in an increase in those families' reliance on the private car, increased greenhouse gas emissions, increased driving and fuel costs. Uptake of the Walking School Bus program is likely to be low in areas without a local neighbourhood school. Following consultation with relevant school communities, ACTION adjusted several bus routes to accommodate the transport needs of children from suburbs that no longer have a school; this consultation is ongoing (see Transport indicator).

The environmental effects of closing schools cannot be reported because data at the required level of detail are not available. A soundly developed longitudinal study would be required. Some short-term effects due to issues with managing transition and provision of counselling services were reported (for example, ABC Online 2007; Sherlock and Massola 2007; Parkes 2007). The ACT Department of Education and Training identified other impacts of closing local schools, including ongoing social costs to communities and associated social equity issues in two reports (DET 2006c, 2006e).

In June 2007, the end of this reporting period, the future use for closed and soon-to-be-closed schools, now the responsibility of Territory and Municipal Services, had not yet been publicly announced. In reusing school buildings or demolishing them for other uses, care should be given to maximising opportunities for reusing, recycling and achieving maximum energy and water efficiencies. The environmental cost of demolishing buildings in good condition and rebuilding new facilities, needs to be incorporated into the decision-making process regarding the future use of any school infrastructure, as should the environmental costs associated with renovations and additional demountable classrooms where these are required. Other environmental impacts will be reported in the 2011 State of the Environment Report, when any final decisions about the ongoing use of closed school infrastructure will have been implemented.

In summary, the ACT Government's Schools Renewal package includes:

  • Maintaining P-6, P-10, 7–10 and 11–12 school models with the addition of new P-2 schools, which will focus on quality early childhood education and early intervention, providing a solid foundation for future learning. Amalgamation of preschools with primary schools from 2008 will further strengthen education in the early years.
  • Investing more than $350 million, between 2006–07 and 2010–11, to enhance teaching and learning environments, through renewing ageing infrastructure ($90 million), building new schools ($176 million), the ongoing capital upgrades program ($59.5 million), the school building renewal fund ($6.3 million) and the Smart Schools: Smart Students initiative for information technology in schools ($20 million).
  • Supporting sustainable provision of education by consolidating the number of schools and preschools in each region These included:
    • seven primary schools (Flynn, Hall, Melrose, Mount Neighbour, Rivett, Tharwa, Weston Creek) and three preschools (McKellar, Rivett, The Causeway) were closed at the end of 2006
    • two primary schools (Cook, Village Creek), one high school (Kambah) and three preschools (Cook, Macarthur, Page) were closed at the end of 2007
    • the primary schools and preschools at Holt and Higgins will close at the end of 2008
    • Village Creek Preschool will close in 2010.
  • Forming integrated or collegiate structures based on clusters of schools, specifically:
    • Stromlo High School extended its middle years program to include Year 6 from the beginning of 2007
    • Melba High School and Copland College will become a twin campus school –Melba Copland Secondary School – with one administrative structure in 2008
    • Chisholm Community School P-10 will be established, integrating Chisholm Preschool, Chisholm Primary School and Caroline Chisholm High School in 2008
    • Hawker Collegiate will be established in 2008, linking Hawker Preschool, Hawker Primary School, Belconnen High School and Hawker College.
  • Establishing schools to reflect changes in the community, specifically:
    • Harrison School P-10 will be established in 2008
    • West Belconnen School P-10 will be established in 2009
    • Gungahlin Secondary College will be established in 2010
    • Tuggeranong School P-10 will be established in 2011.
    • Providing families with transition support funding of $750 for each child affected by the schools renewal decisions, who subsequently enrols in an alternative ACT public school. Schools have worked with students and their families to develop individual transition plans.


ABC Online 2007, 'Tharwa parents say school transition has been botched', 23 April, at <>, accessed on 5 February 2008

Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Census of Population and Housing, Census Community Time Series, cat. no. 2003.0

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006, Census of Population and Housing, Census Community Time Series, cat. no. 2003.0.

DET 2006b, ACT Government and Non-government School Enrolments, February 1995 to 2006, Department of Education and Training, Canberra, June 2006

DET 2006c, Towards 2020 Consultation Report, ACT Department of Education and Training, Canberra, December 2006

DET 2006d, Towards 2020 Decisions, ACT Department of Education and Training, Canberra, December 2006

DET 2006e, Towards 2020 website, List of Submissions, ACT Department of Education and Training, Canberra, December 2006, at <>, accessed 6 June 2008

DET 2007a, ACT Preschool Census February 2007, ACT Department of Education and Training, Canberra

DET 2007b, ACT School Census February 2007, ACT Department of Education and Training, Canberra

DET 2007c, School Movement Survey, August 2007, ACT Department of Education and Training, Canberra

Dowling A 2007, Australia's School Funding System, Australian Council for Educational Research, Camberwell, at <>, accessed 2 February 2008

Gallagher K 2004, 'ACT Government gives Schools Equity Funding a boost', Media statement by Katy Gallagher, Minister for Education Youth and Family Services, 17 February 2004, at <>, accessed 6 February 2008

Parkes S 2007, 'Call for student assessments', The Chronicle, 11 December 2007, p.5

Preston B 2007, The social make-up of schools: family income, religion, indigenous status, and family type in government, Catholic and other non-government schools, A report prepared for the Australian Education Union, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra, October 2007

SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 2005, Report on Government Services 2005, Productivity Commission, Canberra

SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 2006, Report on Government Services 2006, Productivity Commission, Canberra

SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 2007, Report on Government Services 2007, Productivity Commission, Canberra

SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, 2008, Report on Government Services 2008, Productivity Commission, Canberra

Sherlock E and Massola J 2007, 'Expert says schools lack counsellors', The Canberra Times, Sunday 4 November 2007, p. 14

Thomson S and de Bortoli LJ 2008, Exploring scientific literacy: how Australia measures up: the PISA 2006 survey of students' scientific, reading and mathematical literacy skills, ACER, Camberwell, Victoria


1 For data see Productivity Commission 2008, Tables in Appendix 4A, tables 4A.101, 4A.105, 4A.106, 4A.108.

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