Five easy steps to using census data


When it comes to investing in early childhood education programs, an evidence-based approach helps take the guesswork out of planning.

Cranbrook State School principal, Jeff Capell, turned to the data from the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) when he wanted to learn more about the lives of children starting Prep at his Townsville school.

The AEDC collects statistical information on the developmental health and wellbeing of every child in their first year of formal schooling.

When Jeff first looked at the data, no clear trends emerged. But after mapping out the following 5 steps, he began to find the information he was looking for.

  1. Forget what you 'know'
    Jeff thought he understood his school’s community, but the Census revealed the gaps in his understanding. The team he assembled to look at the AEDC information soon realised one in three of the school’s Prep students had missed out on attending an early childhood service and transition program. The school leaders decided to put aside their assumptions about the community, and do some more fact-finding to discover why children were missing out.

  2. Play detective
    The AEDC data is comprehensive and easy to use, but isn’t meant to be used on its own. Comparing data from different sources helped fill in the gaps in the team’s knowledge. Useful information on population, education levels, early childhood attendance, housing/transport and socio-economic indexes can be found through the AEDC data explorer, the Social Health Atlas of Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and more information on data products.

  3. Partner up
    Armed with new-found knowledge, Jeff worked with a transition and partnerships officer from the department’s regional office to identify community organisations that worked with children and families. As well as existing partners in early childhood education and care services, Jeff was introduced to new partners in child health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services, the local library, city council and housing.

  4. Talk it out
    Jeff called a meeting of his new contacts to discuss the AEDC data and the possible reasons children were missing out on early childhood services. He found that many families were under stress on several fronts.

    Some had moved to the area for more affordable housing while others were under financial strain. Parents either  didn’t know what services were available, or had poor transport options, or had poor school experiences themselves. The services that were available were often unaware of each other or how they could work more effectively together.

  5. Brainstorm solutions

    The group decided to set up a playgroup to tackle the challenges local parents and carers faced.

    It wasn’t the first time the school had tried to set up a playgroup. A previous attempt had closed due to low numbers. But now that Jeff understood the challenges parents were facing, he was prepared to change tactics. 
    'We decided on a mobile playgroup,' Jeff said. 'But the outcome of the playgroup wasn’t the important part.
    'It was the partnerships with other community groups which allowed us to engage better with parents and support them on the pathway of early childhood education for their children.'

Australia is the first country in the world to collect data on the health and wellbeing of every child. The census has been held every 3 years since 2009.

Visit the AEDC website to view the results of the 2018 census and learn more about using the data.

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Last updated 17 October 2019