This website is no longer being updated but remains for the convenience of users and as a matter of record

  What Works - The Work Program

Icon Note

Some facts

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. 

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

— from the Prime Minister’s Motion of Apology to Australia’s 
Indigenous Peoples, House of Representatives, 13 February 2008

More Indigenous Australians are succeeding at school than ever before, but we still have a long way to go to close the gaps. That’s why we need to take action now. Here are some details about where we’ve come from and where, as a country, we believe we need to go.

In the 2008 ABS Census, nearly 152,000 Australian school students identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. This compares with 106,628 students ten years ago, an increase of more than 40 percent.

Preschool education has become more accessible to young Indigenous children and more than 40 percent of preschool age children participate. This is still significantly below the participation level of non-Indigenous preschoolers.

There were generally no significant changes in Indigenous Year 3, 5 and 7 students’ performance against the national benchmarks for reading, writing and numeracy between 1999 (2001 for Year 7 students) and 2007. A substantially lower proportion of Indigenous than non-Indigenous students in all year levels achieved the national minimum standards for reading, writing and numeracy in 2008.

The retention rates from the beginning of secondary schooling (Years 7 or 8) to Year 12 of Indigenous students have shifted from under 10 percent in 1970 to 47 percent in 2008. The number of Indigenous school students enrolled in Year 12 has doubled since 1999. In 2008, there were 4779 Indigenous school students enrolled in Year 12, compared with 2206 enrolled in 1999. But the proportion of Indigenous students completing Year 12 is still half that of non-Indigenous students.

The very first Aboriginal tertiary students at Australian universities began graduating in the early 1960s. In 2008 there were over 8400 Indigenous students enrolled in university courses. However, in 2006 Indigenous people aged 20–24 years attended university at about one-fifth the rate of non-Indigenous people (5 and 24 percent, respectively) and attended Technical and Further Education (TAFE) at about two-thirds the rate of non-Indigenous people (5 and 8 per cent, respectively).

During the past five years many schools have introduced Indigenous language, culture and history programs to improve education outcomes for Indigenous students and to improve all students’ knowledge and appreciation of Indigenous peoples and cultures. But, despite policy and other forms of encouragement, many have not.



Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009) Schools Australia, 2008 (cat. no. 4221.0).
Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (2009) Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: 
Key Indicators 2009, Productivity Commission, Canberra.


© Commonwealth of Australia 2020