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NSW votes on early learning: the Minister’s response

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Election countdown

As we’ve previously shared, the NSW election has raised early learning and OSHC issues to a higher level than we’ve seen in many years. The inclusion of Federal Labor in the state-based promises is also sending signals to educators across Australia about what an ALP Commonwealth government might have in store following the next national election, expected before the end of May this year.

When the NSW ALP leader, Michael Daley, and Shadow Early Childhood Education Minister, Kate Washington, released their policy we shared all available details with you. The same courtesy is extended now to current NSW Early Childhood Education Minister, Sarah Mitchell, a National Party representative based in the regional north-west of the state. Minister Mitchell today provided a statement for Amplify, in which she replies to the ALP commitments.

With the snags defrosting and the barbecues warming up for the NSW election taking place this Saturday, 23 March, it’s our final chance to examine the options for Australia’s largest state. If you’ve missed the earlier articles covering a range of sector and political positions, please check them out too:

The evidence for quality early years education is irrefutable: all Australian governments need to turn their attention to ‘upstream’ programs for children, in preschool years, instead of our traditional ‘downstream’ focus of remedial and late-intervention programs in school years.

Michele Carnegie

Scroll to the end for commentary from CELA’s CEO, Michele Carnegie,

Minister Mitchell’s response

As Minister for Early Childhood Education, it has become evident to me that both the sector, and politicians across the political spectrum, are united in the view that more funding is required for three year olds in early childhood education to give them the best start in life.

My concern with Labor’s policy isn’t about three year olds receiving more funding – it’s the way it simply rebadges what Federal Labor has promised and what the NSW Liberals & Nationals are already delivering.

It remains to be seen what their Parliamentary Budget Office’s costings reveal this week, but I think that it’s unlikely they’ll have put enough aside to cover doubling the [community preschool] subsidy and meeting all the other promises they have made to the sector and to families.

Sarah Mitchell

The NSW Labor announcement shows that they are relying on Federal Labor to chip in $449 million and NSW Labor will only invest $90 million to fund their commitments.

Sarah Mitchell MLC NSW Minister for Early Childhood Education
Sarah Mitchell MLC
NSW Minister for Early Childhood Education

Labor says they are going to immediately double the current NSW Government’s subsidy for three year olds in community preschools. It remains to be seen what their Parliamentary Budget Office’s costings reveal this week, but I think that it’s unlikely they’ll have put enough aside to cover doubling the subsidy and meeting all the other promises they have made to the sector and to families.

I’m proud that under the Liberals & Nationals NSW was the first state in the country to introduce subsidies for all three year olds in community preschools. We intend to gradually increase the subsidy to allow the sector time to adjust to demand and for services to use our capital funding to create more places for more children.

Labor says that they are going to fund three year olds in Long Day Care for the first time, but they haven’t said when this will happen. Indeed the Federal Labor party’s policy indicates that should they be elected and able to get their savings policy measures through the Senate, NSW will only receive federal funding for this rollout in 2020-21. Labor needs to provide the sector with certainly and tell them when this funding will start.

The NSW Liberals & Nationals have been putting NSW’s money where its mouth is for three year olds. We have already made allocations for this funding in last year’s budget and over the forward estimates. I think we have placed ourselves in the best possible position to negotiate with the Commonwealth for increased, longer term funding for children for the two years before school, no matter which party holds power in Canberra.

Labor have been coy about details on what they will do if a hypothetical Federal Labor Government is not elected, or what happens if they can’t get their savings measures through a hostile Senate. They have not presented any option of how to fund their plan should Federal Labor fail to deliver.

Labor says they are going to boost funding for Assessment and Rating by $4 million. They ignore the fact that NSW stepped into the breach left by the Commonwealth with the axing of the National Quality Standard funding.

Sarah Mitchell

Labor says they are going to launch an $18 million Specialist Early Intervention trial program. They ignore the fact that we have already allocated $30 million in funding to enhance participation and education outcomes for children with disability and additional learning needs and we are investing $16 million through our Start Strong Pathways for children too young for preschool, funding early intervention services, and organisations like Playgroup NSW for the first time.

Labor says they are going to start a $10 million Early Childhood Education Professional Development program and engage with the sector on a long-term roadmap. They forget that we have already launched our $6 million Early Childhood Education Workforce Strategy with plenty more consultation to come.

Labor says they are going to provide $15 million for capital grants. They ignore the fact that the total number of new preschool places committed by the NSW Liberals & Nationals since 2011 is more than 8,500. We have allocated $62 million for capital works funding.

Labor says they are going to boost funding for Assessment and Rating by $4 million. They ignore the fact that NSW stepped into the breach left by the Commonwealth with the axing of the National Quality Standard funding. We have also committed $5 million to intensively engage services rated at ‘Working Towards’ to help lift their performance and quality rating.

Labor says they will establish a sector Ministerial Advisory Panel to meet at least quarterly. They overlook the fact that as Minister I have engaged with the sector through the Early Childhood Education Advisory Group, visited early childhood Services all over the state and regularly meet with stakeholders to discuss their issues.

Labor says they will review and improve Outside School Hours Care and mobile preschool tender processes. There is already an OSHC review underway. Furthermore, the NSW Liberals & Nationals will invest $120 million to dramatically expand before and after school care, providing working families more access to affordable, convenient and flexible services.

We want the same things. But on behalf of the Liberals & Nationals I also think it is important that we’re clear and honest with the sector about the way forward.

Sarah Mitchell

 

In the 2018-19 Budget alone, the NSW Government invested $474 million in Early Childhood Education, more than double the budget when Labor was last in office.

Here are some more facts – when Labor were in government, only 56 per cent of four-year-olds were enrolled in a preschool program. Since the Liberals & Nationals were elected, this figure has soared to more than 83 per cent.*

Between 2016 and 2017, we have seen the number of children enrolled in the year before school for 600 hours increase by over 8% – the largest increase in the nation.

We want the same things. But on behalf of the Liberals & Nationals I also think it is important that we’re clear and honest with the sector about the way forward.

In advocating for the next National Partnership Agreement, we will seek to ensure further funding to extend the Start Strong Long Day Care program to include three year olds. Should we achieve this outcome the extra funding will be used to better resource the sector, develop an early childhood education program based on the Early Years Learning Framework, and invest further in staff and educator development, including upgrading qualifications from a diploma to a four-year degree.

If re-elected, I hope to build upon our track record to get the best results for our children, families, educators and communities.

Sarah Mitchell

*Amplify note: while NSW has in recent years contributed significantly more to preschools through Start Strong and related programs, the increase in children enrolled in a preschool program can be heavily attributed to the subsidies available under the Universal Access agreement, which was brokered by a Federal Labor Government through the Council of Australian Governments Education Council and is currently overdue for renewal under the Federal Liberal/National Government. In other states and territories the proportion of children of this age enrolled in preschool programs is higher. NSW has experienced a tremendous increase in preschool aged enrolments, however it was starting from a lower base.

CELA responds

Michele Carnegie, CEO, CELA

Michele Carnegie
Michele Carnegie

Minister Mitchell’s response is welcome and we appreciate the effort to address so many of the issues causing concern in the sector and to draw comparisons where possible between the different funding and policy approaches by Labor and Liberal/National parties.

It’s been a long time coming, but we are finally observing a greater recognition of the evidence for quality early learning – in particular in two years of preschool – from many more politicians.  The evidence for quality early years education is irrefutable: all Australian governments need to turn their attention to ‘upstream’ programs for children, in preschool years, instead of our traditional ‘downstream’ focus of remedial and late-intervention programs in school years.

As we’ve stated in earlier articles and the current issue of Broadside, we want to see from the next NSW government, of either party, a bigger the slice of the state’s education budget to make this happen faster.

The one in three rule

NSW is home to one third of Australia’s children, but our education spending for children aged five or less is disproportionately low compared to other states and is certainly well behind other developed nations.

As the most populous and urbanised state in Australia, it’s easy for some people to forget that large parts of NSW are also remote and rural. Communities in regional NSW face geographic barriers to meaningful professional support they need to reach high quality early education and overcome educational disadvantage.

From the next NSW government – no matter who they are – CELA expects to see an intentional focus on turning around rural disadvantage with targeted strategies to identify, train and retain quality educators. CELA expects quality, affordable and accessible early education for all children, for two days a week, for two years before starting school across the State.

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