MORE than one in five children were not fully prepared to begin school in 2012, a new report shows.
Education Minister Peter Garrett released the latest round of data from the Australian Early Development Index on Thursday.
The index was devised using data collected in May last year on nearly 290,000 students, representing 96.5% of children in their first year of full-time school.
It is a population measure of young children's development based on a teacher-completed checklist consisting of 100 questions across five domains: physical health and wellbeing; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive skills (school-based), and communication skills and general knowledge.
The latest AEDI showed Australian five-year-olds were developing better than three years ago and had improved in four of the five key development indicators.
The improvements came in social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills, and communication and general knowledge skills.
Results in physical health and well-being have remained steady.
But almost 60,000 children, or 22%, were considered to be developmentally vulnerable in one or more areas - a 1.6% drop since the 2009 AEDI.
Mr Garrett conceded this was "not good enough".
More than 40% of 14,000 indigenous children who began school last year fell into this category, although this represented a decrease of 4% since 2009.
A further 10.8% of children were deemed to be vulnerable on two or more domains.
More than a quarter of Queensland's 52,000 five-year-old children were considered developmental vulnerable, the second highest percentage behind the Northern Territory on 35.5%.
However, both states showed the most improvement, with each recording a more than 3% decrease in this category over the past three years.
Interestingly girls fared much better than boys, who were more likely to be developmentally vulnerable than girls on all of the AEDI domains.
Almost a third of boys were vulnerable in one or more domains compared to 15.7% of girls.Boys (14.8%) were also more likely to be developmentally vulnerable on two or more of the AEDI domains than girls (6.8%).
Mr Garrett said despite there being "more work to do", there were clear signs Australia was on the right track.
"Research shows that investing time, effort and resources in children's early years, when their brains are developing rapidly, benefits them and the whole community," he said.
"Australia is the only country in the world that collects this level of information about health, well-being and development of our children before they enter school.
"Communities have been able to use this data to develop new programs for children and their families, and deliver extra, targeted help to children at risk."
Based on the overall national improvement Mr Garrett said over the next five years Australia could expect 24,000 more children to start school better prepared.
HOW IT WORKS
AEDI scores range from 0-10 based on the checklist answers.
To determine whether an individual domain score was "on track", "at risk" or "vulnerable", national AEDI cut-offs were established during the first data collection in 2009.
Scores ranked in the lowest 10% were classified as developmentally vulnerable
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