Significant changes cast cloud of uncertainty over early childhood sector

The Federal Government perceives early childhood education as only valuable as a means to getting parents into the workforce, the actual benefits to the child’s development are ignored.

There are a number of changes to the funding of early childhood education and care that will have a significant impact on the sector.

The Jobs for Families Package comes into effect on 1 July. The introduction of an ‘activity test’ where children’s access to subsidised early childhood education and care is halved for those born to families who are not working or studying, in other words those children who have the most to gain from enrolment in high quality early childhood education.

Indeed, figures released by the Federal Government state that 279,000 families will be worse off and SMH journalist Stephanie Peatling used figures provided to her under Freedom of Information legislation and came to the conclusion that: “The major losers under the Turnbull government’s revamp of childcare payments will be low to middle income families”.

Early Childhood Australia is concerned that 130,000 children may miss out on early childhood education altogether. The Federal Government perceives early childhood education and care as only valuable as a means to getting parents into the workforce, the actual benefits to the child’s development are ignored.

These benefits include children being less likely to need to repeat a grade or require special education interventions.

Later in life higher scores on literacy and numeracy tests in primary and even high school, as well as higher rates of high school graduation and lower levels of welfare dependency and involvement in the juvenile justice system eventuate.

In addition, subsidised education and care will be funded as a percentage of a theoretical maximum of a centre’s fees of $70 per day. In Sydney, with fees as high as $160 per day, this appears to fall far short of the mark.

The Federal Government has only committed to one further year of the National Partnership Agreement that funds the states/territories to enable access to preschool for all children in the year before school.

Since the introduction of the NPA enrolment of four year olds for at least 600 hours in preschool in the year before school has increased significantly in all states and territories.

The lack of commitment to ongoing funding has cast a cloud of uncertainty over those working in services, who are understandably concerned about whether the NSW Government will continue to fund preschools at the current level by picking up the tab themselves.

Paradoxically, this comes at a time when experts are calling on the government to extend funding to three year olds as research demonstrates that children that have access to two years of high quality preschool have even more beneficial outcomes than those who have access to one year.

The Federal Government has only guaranteed to fund ACECQA (Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority) for a further two years. This will push the cost of regulating the National Quality Framework on to the states and territories, despite this being a national system.

Currently ACECQA assess early childhood qualifications to determine whether an employee can be recognised as an early childhood teacher, support teachers through resources, including guidance on how services can demonstrate they have reached ‘Exceeding’, as opposed to ‘Meeting’ the National Quality Standards, in addition to answering questions about the national regulations.

Lisa James
IEU Early Childhood Organiser