Literacy and numeracy skills at school


Theme: Prosperous
Dimension: Access to education, skills development and learning throughout life


Average Year 3 NAPLAN scores for literacy and numeracy

Why does this matter  

Language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills, as well as general skills like organising, problem solving, and teamwork, are critical to participating in all aspects of life and are required to engage in work and further learning.

Has there been progress   

Attainment of foundation skills is uneven across our population. OECD data from 2012 suggest that around one-fifth of Australians have low literacy and/or numeracy skills, and are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and older age groups A more contemporary assessment of adult foundation skills is being developed by Jobs and Skills Australia.

The literacy and numeracy skills among young Australians are improving. Average NAPLAN Year 3 scores have increased across all domains since NAPLAN started in 2008. There have been statistically significant improvements in most domains for Year 3 and Year 5 students, although performance at Year 7 and Year 9 has been more varied. Numeracy, reading and writing mean performance for all students has remained largely stable nationally, but there is a growing gap for disadvantaged students.

While Australia was once a top performer across the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment rankings, the performance of 15 year olds in science, reading and maths has slipped compared with other OECD countries. This may partly reflect an increased share of 15 year olds in Australia being in lower grade levels (that is, one less year of schooling) compared with earlier rankings for Australia.1

How does this differ across cohorts

There was little change in Year 3 NAPLAN reading and numeracy performance between 2018 and 2021 for children from either high or low socio‑economic status (SES) backgrounds (based on parental occupation).

The gap in achievement between children from low SES and high SES backgrounds (based on parental occupation) was equivalent to almost 2 years of learning in Year 3 reading and around one year of learning in Year 3 numeracy (in both 2018 and 2021).

The Australian, State and Territory Education Ministers introduced major changes to NAPLAN in 2023. NAPLAN results from 2023 onwards will not be directly comparable to the results from 2008 to 2022 displayed here. Following these changes, NAPLAN will more clearly and simply show parents and schools the students who need additional support.

1 The Productivity Commission notes that “declines in Australia’s results in international testing of reading and mathematics among 15 year old students likely overstate the deterioration of these skills among that age group” because of these changes. See Productivity Commission (2022), Study report - Review of the National School Reform Agreement

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