Government funding cut a backward step for early childhood education

The IEUA NSW/ACT Branch has called on the Federal Government to continue Universal Access funding to ensure four year olds have access to 15 hours of early childhood education and care (ECEC) delivered by a university qualified teacher.

The May federal budget included a statement which said government spending on the National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to early childhood education will end from 30 June, 2020 (5 August, Financial Review).

The Review reports a saving of more than $440m, together with a cut to the Quality Agreement program for early childhood, leading to cuts close to half a billion dollars.

“This is a huge backward step for early childhood education. The recent Lifting Our Game Report commissioned by COAG clearly details the benefits of extending Universal Access to three year olds,” Verena Heron, Senior Industrial Officer IEUA NSW/ACT Branch said.

To decouple funding from the National Quality Framework would be to seriously undermine children and their families, because according to the Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) project, high quality preschool education has been shown to:

increase children’s intellectual achievement, concentration, social skills, independence, cooperation, self-regulation and peer relationships upon entry to school

improve prereading skills, non-verbal reasoning and early number skills, and

decrease anti-social behaviours and the risk of developing learning difficulties later in life.

“Preschools are heavily dependent upon funding and need certainty in order to set future budgets and daily fees,” Heron said.

“The IEU is very concerned that the Federal Government has not committed to maintaining Universal Access funding on an ongoing basis.

“One-year extensions to funding put preschools in a constant state of financial uncertainty, yet according to Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham: “Our commitment to the value of early childhood education and care is why we’re delivering $440.1 million to extend access for preschoolers to 15 hours of early learning each week in the year before school to the end of 2019”.

The IEU also seeks a commitment from the NSW Government to continue the current Start Strong funding for preschools, irrespective of whether Universal Access funding is renewed.

“NSW has the highest fees in the country and the lowest enrolments numbers, and these financial cuts will only exacerbate that situation,” Heron said.

The NSW Government recently released its Early Education Childhood Workforce Strategy for 2018-2022.

The Strategy states that it wishes to improve the status and perception of early childhood teaching, but it does not mention any funding increases to improve teachers’ wages.