By Michele Carnegie
CELA will continue to advocate for the importance of early education with the re-elected government. We will work with the new government to:
- address the impact of the CCS Activity Test for disadvantaged children and families
- present the clear case to raise children’s education & wellbeing outcomes with two years of preschool
- address workforce issues across the sector, including professional wages
- remove qualifications from the category of ‘red tape’
- develop meaningful strategies for addressing the needs of more than 60,000 children who are developmentally vulnerable and start school behind their peers.
Firstly, let’s look for the positives. We have commitment from the Australian Government to some important funding initiatives, and we have a known set of issues which we can continue to work on with them without the ‘distraction’ of an impending election.
We know the Morrison government is committed to funding universal access to 4-year-old preschool programs in 2020. We also know from pre-election statements that this government is willing to ‘work with the states and territories to support a longer-term plan’ (source: Early Learning: Everyone Benefits). We also know all state and territory governments have accepted the evidence that two years of preschool education benefits children and communities (they collectively funded the Lifting Our Game report).
These two factors, read together, could mean Council of Australian Governments’ Education Council is finally ready to deal with the necessary discussion about bringing Australian education up to OECD standards and funding preschool for two years for every child.
We also know the Federal Government wants to understand this area more. It committed $4.9m to improve the data available to policy makers on preschool participation. This funding will also be shared with The Smith Family to improve preschool participation in collaboration with the states and territories and disadvantaged communities.
We won’t know for a few days whether early childhood education’s place in the Education portfolio will look the same as pre-election. We also won’t know whether the previous Education Minister, Dan Tehan, will continue in the portfolio and, if so, whether he will continue to operate without the assistance of a junior minister for early childhood education.
So what else do we know?
We know they were relying on the Safety Net to waive the Activity Test for vulnerable families – however we know that many ECE services now report the Safety Net is ineffective and often obstructive for a number of reasons, including the complexity of the process.
In fact, recent data shows the number of children receiving the supplement has reduced by over 14,000, more than a third, since the introduction of the new Childcare Package. It is deeply concerning that 14,000 fewer children in vulnerable circumstances are accessing early childhood education. We believe this is an unintended outcome and we will raise these concerns with the Morrison government, with our view that the Additional Child Care Subsidy needs reviewing and amending to ensure that the process for approval does not act as a barrier to vulnerable children accessing services. This review should place the need for continuity of a child’s care at the centre.
Ahead of the election the Morrison government announced a further $4 million to enhance child care subsidy. While well below the funding the ALP proposed, all additional funding is welcome and we need to ensure the government and its policy makers are well aware of the areas most in need of ‘enhancement’.
We also know there was silence ahead of the election on any workforce strategy to help employers and staff in early childhood education build a robust and professional sector. Government representatives reacted strongly against the idea of intervening in educators’ pay or conditions – rejecting such ideas as ‘tantamount to communism’. That view, however, does not mean the door is closed to supporting the kind of planning and quality career development that is funded for school education staff.
Another area where we need to work with this government is to inform and improve their perspective on educator qualifications. Conservative members of the recent Senate Sub-committee ‘red tape’ inquiry agreed with some contributors from the sector that qualifications for early childhood educators need to be reviewed as training may not be necessary in all roles. This would be a backward step in the sector and we believe we have growing proof of the value a fully qualified workforce brings to ECE.
Evidence, as always, is advocacy’s best friend.
Uphold the National Quality Framework
Last, but not least, is to discover what thinking is really behind the Morrison government’s removal of the $20m National Quality Framework funding in 2018. Was it just a prod to the states and territories to commit more of their own funds to the NQF? Commonwealth governments of any political persuasion are known to use such tactics in federation level discussions. Or was it a definite signal – which it seemed to be – that there is no longer a commitment to the NQF or to national collaboration for the future.
At the time, the previous Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, forecast ‘ongoing Commonwealth leadership following the completion of the partnership agreement with states and territories [in 2020]’. We need to understand what this means for ACECQA and for the sector.
New Simple Guide
It’s early days yet, but to capture the current outcomes we’ve released a new Simple Guide to help you consider Where to from here?
One essential next step is to maintain the strength of your voice! Thanks to all the people who contacted CELA, we have engaged in dialogue with government and opposition in the lead up to the election and we’ve been able to work with other peak bodies and providers to put together some of the most evidence-based advocacy this sector has ever seen.
Your real life examples matter greatly to us, and we want you to stay in touch and keep sharing them.
We know the advocacy work has already significantly shaped the policies of the ALP and the Greens. We will continue to provide the information governments need to develop policies which acknowledge the outstanding economic and social benefits of investing in ECE.
We also urge you to contact your local Federal MP – whether they are continuing in their seat or brand new – and let them know what matters to you and your community in regard to early childhood education. You can find shortcuts to reach your MP in the red box of the latest Simple Guide.