Australia’s preschool system is “not meeting the needs of the children who stand to benefit most” according to a new report
Apr 22, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
A national campaign to highlight the importance of preschool is being urged by policy think tank the Mitchell Institute.
The institute’s Quality Education For All report says work to close the growing gap between Australia’s advantaged and disadvantaged children must begin before they reach school.
It calls for a campaign to raise community awareness of the value of preschool and says access should become a legal entitlement, with all four-year-olds and eventually all three-year-olds allocated a place.
And it urges high-intensity programs for the most vulnerable children, prioritising disadvantaged communities containing children most at risk of falling behind developmentally.
The report follows the launch this week of a $2.5 million early childhood obesity research centre in Sydney focussing on the importance of early intervention in raising healthy children.
While almost all children in Australia are enrolled for pre-school, only two-thirds get the recommended number of hours.
The report states: “The early years are a critical window for building foundations that enable all children to become creative, entrepreneurial, resilient and capable learners.
“Yet current policy settings are not meeting the needs of the children who stand to benefit most.
“Early education is one of the most significant investments in education and productivity that governments make.
“It has positive impacts on all children and is a key strategy for overcoming the impact of early disadvantage on educational outcomes and life chances.”
The report claims many early childhood centres are not meeting the quality measures set by national standards introduced four years ago.
It recommends ensuring the 2012-introduced National Quality Framework, the regulator for early years care, is better resourced and implemented and that all early learning centres are required to hit national quality benchmarks by mid-2017.
"So far, three-quarters of services have been assessed, but a quarter still haven't been assessed," said co-author Bronwyn Hinz.
"Of those that have been assessed, one-third were not meeting the national standards.
"We're moving in the right direction, but we haven't provided enough support to those services, especially those catering for kids with greater needs."
The report calls for a national data strategy to establish “the information infrastructure needed to drive policy and practice improvement”.
It argues responsibility for funding and service delivery is spread across all levels of government, leading to a lack of reliable data on how resources should be targeted.
The national partnership agreement on early education, signed earlier this year between federal and state governments, allocated $840 million towards ensuring all four-year-olds have access to 15 hours of preschool education in the year before they start school.
Federal education minister Simon Birmingham says the Government’s proposed child care reforms, planned for introduction in July, include more than $3 billion in extra funding to improve early years accessibility.
But he argues that while the Federal Government subsidises family child care payments, the states and territories are responsible for regulating the system and should fund improvements to its management.
“Our priority is to provide assistance that helps families, not state and territory bureaucrats,” he said.
“State regulatory costs are a pittance compared to the billions the Turnbull Government provides to help families with the cost of care and, although we give the states some support for their costs, they are more than capable of meeting the remaining costs themselves.
“The National Quality Framework has moved from an ‘establishment’ phase into a ‘maintenance’ phase and if I were a state or territory minister I’d be asking questions if regulators hadn’t learned from their experiences and driven down the costs of regulation.”
The report calls for a ramping up of quality across the system, saying: “More than one-in-five children start school with vulnerabilities that can make it hard for them to take up the opportunities that schooling provides.
“This has long-term consequences for the future productivity and prosperity of the nation.”
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