Simon Birmingham: It’s wonderful to be here at the John Hartley School and it’s wonderful to have had the chance to have a look at some of the facilities that you have here, to quickly meet some of the students beforehand, and to be able to see what an exceptional learning environment has been created here, which is a credit to you as the founding principal and to all of the staff and the local community for doing so. Of course we’ll say how it is built upon the foundation of the fully integrated learning environment that commences from the earliest moments of a child’s life. 

Ladies and gentlemen can I commence by also acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands here, the Kaurna people and all of Australia’s indigenous people, who as the Education Minister, I particularly acknowledge the fact we continue to learn much about indigenous culture, learn much from it and to build upon that knowledge and awareness as we build a nation for the future.

This is an incredibly important piece of work that we release today, the Australian Early Development Census. It is the third such document that has been produced by the Australian Government and it provides the most comprehensive snapshot of children in the foundation year of their education. Capturing students from right around the country, in 2015, the census which follows on from those in 2009 and 2012, we have some 300,000 students who have participated and today we’re joined by Associate Professor Sally Brinkman co-director of the Telethon Kids Institute, who will help us to touch on some of the findings in this here census. 

What the census shows us though is that overwhelmingly, children do start in their foundation year with the capacity and the capabilities to succeed at school and that of course is critically important because it’s those initial attributes the children have that can then ensure that they can enjoy their learning experience at school, and from enjoying that experience, [indistinct] and of course, capture the knowledge, capture the enthusiasm from their teachers and to be able to learn and to see as much as possible. But the census data does show that while four out of five children start in a good place, one in five do have particular vulnerabilities or at risk in different categories. 

Pleasingly since the census started, we’ve seen strong growth in terms of students capabilities in areas especially around their cognitive capacities and their language skills. A demonstration that the record levels of investment Australia is putting into early learning and child care services are helping to make sure that children are better able to support themselves in the future and the Turnbull Government is strongly committed to continuing that record level of investment, we’re planning child care reforms that will see around $3 billion extra invested in child care, in the early learning over the four years of the budget cycle, really lifting the level of support and targeting most directly to those families who work the hardest while earning the least who are in lower income categories, which is really important to make sure that support is there because the data we have here while showing a lift in those language and cognitive skills does show that we do still have some way to go in terms of emotional wellbeing, physical wellbeing, social interaction, to make sure that we do improve upon what are some concerning statistics in terms of the ability of children to succeed at school. It’s critically important that we embrace and support parents and families through this process because it’s the family environment that can help to ensure a child has had a good night’s sleep, has a nutritious diet, a good breakfast and comes to school best prepared emotionally, physically and socially to be able to succeed in that school environment.

Data like this of course when we produce it at a national level, is very important to guide research and awareness and understanding but the brilliance of the census is that it does break down the local communities. And here at the John Hartley School we have the evidence of how we’ve effectively being used in those local communities, to tackle some problems that we have identified. I’m delighted to see that since the first census this community, this school, has seen improved results across all areas that are measured in the census it’s a demonstration that the hard work is occurring locally, it’s paying dividends but a demonstration also that the type of research that’s been on the table is being used in a practical way to make a real difference to the lives of children, to their ability when they start schools and therefore of course their abilities as they progress through school. And it’s important what I would urge communities right around Australia to do is to look very carefully at the examples we have here and to see what has been achieved by using this data in a local way, by using systems that we have in place to really build the capacity in that school environment.

I want to thank and pay tribute to those that have helped and worked with the Federal Government for the development and undertaking of the census, over time this will become an even more critical benchmark document for early learning and childhood capabilities in Australia. This being the third such document is the first time where we start to use some trends, some directions within the census. Future programs will of course provide even richer ability to have a look exactly at how our children are tracking, to see whether we continue to make some inroads and bridging the gap between indigenous and nonindigenous students to see whether we can really seriously make inroads to bridge the gap between socioeconomic levels and ultimately to make sure that we are doing everything humanly possible to equip our children with all the skills they need for their very critical first year of school.

Thanks so much for your participation in this launch today; for many of for your participation in the undertaking the census, and for being here today.