Major investment by the Queensland Government into early childhood education will bring much needed certainty and viability and set a benchmark for other state and territory governments to step up and implement a similar policy, Emily Campbell writes.
The funding announcementmade earlier this year will see annual investment in kindergarten increase from $130 million to $211 millionper year.
This means more than $1 billion will go into Queensland kindergarten services over the next five years, with ongoing funding after that.
This new funding not only ensures the viability of the sector but means employers no longer have excuses to avoid enhancing the wages and conditions for early childhood education employees.
Key funding facts
IEU-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said the funding announcement was one of the most significant developments for Queensland’s early childhood education sector in a decade.
“The new funding reforms will go a long way to addressing many of the issues raised by our members regarding the viability of the sector,” Mr Burke said.
Over the next five years the reforms will see:
- $33 million to expand Kindy Uplift from 400 to 930 services
- $38.5 million to help remote and regional services attract and retain early childhood teachers
- $95 million in support for families with children who have a disability
- more than 40,000 children will receive reduced fees, 14,000 of which are to receive free kindergarten; and
- a total investment from 2023-24 of $307 million – a 60% increase ($81 million plus indexation for each of the five years).
The funding, which will be provided for community kindergartens and long day care centres, will be implemented from the start of 2023.
Affordability for families
A key goal of the new approach to funding will aim to keep kindergarten affordable, with new targeted subsidies for families attending community kindergarten and long day care in a bid to reduce out-of-pocket costs for vulnerable, low and middle-income families.
Under the new funding model, the government estimates over 40,000 Queensland children will benefit from discounted kindergarten, with around 14,000 children able to access kindergarten entirely free of charge.
Mr Burke said it was positive that a sizeable group of Queensland children will now have access to reduced or no-cost early childhood education programs, a vital recognition of the importance of the early childhood education sector.
“Our members have directly advocated for all levels of government to acknowledge the importance of quality early childhood education and the need to attract and retain qualified teachers and assistants as the main driver of quality education.
“Increasing access to kindergarten for vulnerable families and committing to ongoing long-term funding will allow centres to employ staff long-term, provide further professional development and training to upskill staff, and increase job security for our members,” he said.
Regional and remote community benefits
A large portion of the funding is being allocated to kindergartens in remote and regional areas of Queensland, in a bid to attract and maintain skilled staff to parts of the state facing staffing shortages.
IEU-QNT Branch Executive Representative for the sector Jenny Finlay, who is the Director of Borilla Community Kindergarten in Emerald, said the increase in funding will ensure equitable access to quality early childhood education for regional communities.
“It’s a really big issue for regional and remote services to attract and retain qualified staff compared to metropolitan areas, and children in these areas deserve good teachers too,” Jenny said.
“Increased funding and an expansion of the Kindy Uplift pilot program from 400 to 930 community kindergartens and long day care kindy programs will ensure more children will be on track developmentally because they’ll have access to a quality early childhood education program before beginning school.”
Jenny said the additional funding would improve teachers and assistant wellbeing by giving staff access to ongoing PD and a greater depth of knowledge to deal with the increasing complexities of roles.
“In a complex, triple-sized unit like my centre, where we have many First Nations children, children with English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EALD) and vulnerable low-income families, this will help improve staff longevity in the sector,” she said.
Addressing pressure points
The new funding initiatives fundamentally go towards addressing the key pressure points which have threatened the viability of the sector in Queensland, particularly for community kindergartens.
“Such pressure points have been well identified by both our union’s advocacy and raised by employer groups,” Mr Burke said.
An important and immediate challenge for our union now is to hold employers to account and demand this funding is spent wisely.
“This new funding commitment means many of the conditions and enhancements early childhood members have been advocating for are absolutely affordable and within reason,” Mr Burke said.
“Employers can no longer use the excuse of not being able to afford professional wages and conditions.
“It’s time for early childhood members in Queensland to take advantage of the new funding by collectively uniting to demand enhanced conditions and pay consistent with teachers in primary and secondary schools.
“Early childhood teachers and assistants knew the value of joining the IEU back in 1980 because they knew that professional recognition and respect would only come through union-negotiated professional wages and conditions.
“Kindergarten teachers are professionals who deserve professional rates of pay and respect, and quality early childhood education makes a hugely positive difference to children’s ongoing learning and development.
“Our experienced kindergarten teachers also deserve long-overdue access to advanced classifications such as Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher status which are available in primary and secondary schools.”
Acknowledging the importance of ECE
The new funding is vital recognition of the early childhood education sector’s importance and the Queensland Government has set an example the Federal Government, and all state and territory governments, should follow.
“Our members know firsthand the value of access to quality early childhood education in terms of setting children up for the best and brightest possible future,” Mr Burke said.
”As unionists and education professionals, we must ensure this precious new funding improves and maximises the viability of the sector.
“Part of that is campaigning for enhanced remuneration and working conditions, access to ongoing professional development and secure jobs,” he said.
Wider implications for other states
The Queensland Government’s funding commitment sets a new benchmark in recognition of the importance of the early childhood education sector.
This is important for all states and puts onus on the NSW and ACT Governments, which have the capacity to implement funding arrangements that would benefit early childhood education staff and improve the sector.
If the NSW and ACT Governments adopted a similar funding model, it would go a long way towards easing the burdens impacting teachers and assistants in these states.
Stress, burnout and the attraction and retention of qualified early childhood education staff are issues plaguing all Australian states and territories.
Early childhood education members in NSW and the ACT must now unite, step up and demand their governments follow the example of Queensland. Collectively, all IEU branches must continue our campaign calling on the Federal Government to permanently fund preschools and kindergartens through Universal Access funding, to provide certainty for the sector.