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ROGS exposes the madness of Australian education

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The final Report on Government Services (affectionately: ROGS) for 2018 was released late last week, around the same time as the new Pascoe-Brennan report, Lifting our Game, the Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools through Early Childhood Interventions.

There are some interesting parallels between the two.  Australia’s senior officials for early childhood and school education have to submit information to the Productivity Commission so the ROGS can be prepared, but the same group of officials (minus the Commonwealth) also commissioned the Lifting Our Game report which points out the real message behind many of the ROGS tables and analysis chapters:  Australia’s early learning sector is complex and unable to ensure participation in quality programs for the children who most need it.

Today we are going to choose just two tables from the report to illustrate the administrative confusion behind our sector.

The madness behind the sector

It’s 117 years and 36 days since Federation, but this is what Australia’s policy approach to funding education and care looks like.

Source: Report on Government Services, Final Report 2018, Chapter 3.

It’s a simple table, but it captures so much.  Inconsistent definitions, funding agreements, layers of support and accountability. You might have heard Australia’s states and territories called, ‘a loose collection of warring tribes’: the diagram above is an illustration of that in action. The different structures, policies, procedures, philosophies and bureaucracies behind each outcome create a web of tension that is just one reason it is so hard to get agreement for children’s benefit to occur at a national level.  The differences each ticked box demonstrates is also the reason that every national agreement brings losers as well as winners.

Too complex

No wonder the Lifting our Game authors noted that:

We were struck by the complexity for parents in navigating the early childhood education and care services, and the opportunity for governments to simplify these arrangements while consolidating high quality provision in a mixed market sector.

And that the authors recommended, under the theme Transparency and Accountability, that:

Australian governments consider the optimal allocation of roles and responsibilities between levels of government for early childhood in order to address policy and delivery issues, improve clarity and reduce complexity for families, providers and governments, and thereby improve outcomes for children.

But wait, there’s more!

As an Amplify reader you’ve probably seen our Around Australia School Transition Series stories. We looked at transition in every state and territory, as well as from specialist angles such as OSHC transition, or accelerating school transition for intellectually gifted children not deemed ready socially, or tips for early childhood to help families of children with disabilities make the transition to school.

We know there are longstanding historical reasons for different policies around transition to school in many jurisdictions however this simple table from the ROGS Final Report of 2018 really brings it home.

Evidence, much?

Yes, Australia has made many gains in consistency in the past decade and at least most children now undertake the same number of years in primary school and high school – which was far from the case at the start of this century. But now that the years are coming into alignment, can we take a cold hard look at the months?

Where is the evidence that turning five by 30 April (Victoria, ACT)  is any different to turning five by 1 May (South Australia)? Can anyone say with a straight face that turning five one month later on 30 June (Queensland, WA and Northern Territory) makes such a definite difference in a typical child’s development that it is worth legislating?

And let’s look at our outliers: Tasmania where every child must be five before the school year begins, and NSW where a child may seven months younger (31 July). How much are those dates set by educational merits and how much by the availability of funded preschool (Tasmania) and the country’s most expensive long day care fees (NSW)? Do early childhood experts have enough input into the decisions of school administrators?

No educator in early childhood or school can guarantee any child is ‘school ready’ based on birth date alone, and most of the jurisdictions offer some level of flexibility for early entry where it’s warranted.

This begs the question: if we know that school age cut-off is just a construct for administrative planning purposes, why can’t Australia’s educational administrators agree to the same constructed date and remove one more layer of complexity for families, funding, and regulation?

What about you?

What’s your favourite piece of Australian education funding or administrative madness? Share in the comments or use the contact form below. There may be more ROGS extracts in future issues, if we can manage the madness!




Bec Lloyd is the founder and managing director of Bec & Call Communication, providing professional writing, editing and strategy services to the school and early childhood education sector since 2014. In 2018 she launched UnYucky mindset and menus for happier family mealtimes. Formerly the communications lead at ACECQA and BOS (now NESA), Bec is a journo and mother of three who produces Amplify for us at Community Early Learning Australia.

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