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There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Simon, dear Simon …

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You know the song? It takes us from point A back to point A, and at the end the bucket still needs to be fixed!

That’s how we feel about the Commonwealth’s position on extending the duration and scope of funded preschool programs.

If the bucket fits

Let’s try it out:

There’s a hole in Australia’s school performance, as student results continue to decline against international standards despite increase school funding.

But we could fix this – evidence shows – by committing to long term investment in two years of preschool for every Australian child.

But the Commonwealth won’t agree to this, because the Minister says the states and territories haven’t yet got enough children enrolled in one year of preschool under the current funding.

But the states and territories funded an independent report that shows this shouldn’t be the argument because two years of preschool is the key to improving school students’ performance anyway.

But the Commonwealth says it won’t consider a ‘blank cheque’ for funding like that unless the states and territories try harder to get disadvantaged children to show up for the full 15 hours per week of preschool it currently funds.

But the states and territories say it is not possible to solve long term vulnerabilities and institutionalised disadvantage with the short-sighted one- or two year funding promises the Commonwealth has been offering lately.

But the Commonwealth says until it sees the states better target those children with disadvantage, lift those attendance rates, and “get over the next couple of years better data and better attendance” it won’t be committing to anything.

And so: the hole in the early childhood and school education system remains and the states and Commonwealth continue to push responsibility back and forth across the COAG Education Council table.

Defending the indefensible

The Commonwealth accepts that quality preschool improves school performance, particularly for disadvantaged children, but it won’t fund long term programs that might make that possible. The Minister says: “States must find ways to motivate the parents of educationally vulnerable preschoolers to both enrol and attend, otherwise we risk a lost generation of children who start school too far behind their counterparts.”

He says the states have had 10 years to make this happen and their ‘chronic failure’ means they don’t deserve an extended agreement.

Yet in that 10 years preschool attendance has increased from 12% to more than 90%, in large part because the relatively stable nature of the funding (until recent times) insulated it from election cycles and political budget cuts.

Is it so unreasonable to think that long term, stable funding for preschool for two years before school, even more children from disadvantaged families would benefit and the ultimate goals of 100% preschool enrolment could be met?

 

And meanwhile…

Pretty much everyone in the sector looks on in disbelief, because the biggest losers in the Commonwealth’s much more extensive Jobs For Families Child Care Package funding will significantly reduce quality early learning access for disadvantaged children, so, really, who is the Commonwealth kidding?

Diane Lawson

CEO, CELA

email Diane: info@cela.org.au

 

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Diane Lawson

Diane has over 25 years’ experience as an executive in the non-profit, health and social care sectors in Australia, England and the Middle East. With qualifications at degree and masters level in nursing, women’s studies and human resource development, Diane has lead on the development of an extensive range of highly credible evidence based policies, products and services to build workforce capacity.

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One thought on “There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Simon, dear Simon …

  1. I actually agree with the Government decision despite some aspects being missed and lost.
    Preschool funding is ultimately for disadvantaged children; inclusion in education. Affluent areas/ Preschools within Australia are also receiving this funding where their normal attendance would be 100% capacity without the funding. In such cases the funding only benefits the centre, whom are likely to be on a good income stream and attendance does not necessarily include disadvantaged children, inclusion, participation or literacy rates as intended.

    Figures shown in the report are inflammatory. participation rates over 10yr is not just an indication of preschool funding but it is also a reflection of society changes; economic, social & political. Whoever wrote that article has a very narrow-minded appreciation of the world and how this world and country is evolving.

    The focus on funding should be case by case. Just as ISS is funded case by case. If preschools can justify and provide evidence a family is participating and is from a disadvantaged background and without funding that child would not attend by all mean provide the entitlements for that child to attend. Continuity in attending care for some families has its struggles and obstetrical and again these factors are needing consideration. Involving social supports, cultural supports, inclusion agencies, perhaps bus system in remote areas and addressing the real issues of attendance needs to be view through a different lens. Communities need visiting and discussions need to be had with the families who this funding effects to gain a true appreciation of the barriers being faced.

    From a different perspective, disadvantaged families who have say a 90% attendance could be granted a ‘schooling fund’ to assist with others costs associated with attendance and thus encourage these families to make a concerted effort to get children into the classroom.

    This is a big issue and I am well aware of them as an educator of 20yrs. I have worked with minority groups and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The problems go far beyond handing out money and expecting participation. This approach is nothing short of arrogant. One size fits all wont work, having a dictatorial approach wont work, white man telling black man wont work. Wake up Australia and get to the real issues that are about real people with real lives. Band aids will always fall off!

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