By CELA on 18 Jun, 2019

We rounded up the commitments in a post-election story, and launched a national survey (now closed) to help policy makers better understand the nature of services’ needs in NSW and beyond.

The survey ran through Term 2 and garnered responses from 15% of all NSW services and a fair representation from other states and territories. Today we bring you the first analysis of the results as we focus on the questions relating to the supply and demand of places. Future stories will cover the other surveyed topics: Fees/Finance, and Stability/Viability.

Respondent profile

More than 150 of the survey respondents were from a wide spread of metropolitan and regional areas in New South Wales, while more than 30 were from other states and territories. Nationally, most of the respondents represented single services. The 19 multi-site respondents provided answers covering an additional 62 sites.

Supply and demand in OSHC

“The school could offer the school hall, but then we have children disconnected from the main service [and] then you are not a quality service as it makes it hard for families, children and educators.”

90 place service, southern Sydney

As we’ve previously reported in Amplify, early childhood education does not always respond well to the free-market planning approach that governments prefer to apply.

As part of a well-regulated sector that is responsible for young people, services like long day care and OSHC are subject to additional requirements of space and staffing aimed at ensuring all children receive high quality education and care in safe services.

While essential for children’s wellbeing, these requirements often mean services cannot respond to free-market principles of supply and demand in the same way as most businesses or many community organisations.

Levels of supply

“School restricts our access to additional rooms.”

75 place service, inner west Sydney

As NSW is the largest respondent group, and as there are some variations in state regulatory requirements and operating conditions, our analysis will concentrate on the NSW responses.

Nearly one in three (50) NSW services reported undersupply of places – in other words, their capacity cannot meet the demand from families for before and after school hours care for their children.

The NSW services in the survey reporting undersupply covered a substantial geographic area – some 60 postcodes.  A smaller number of services, around 10%, reported an oversupply of places.

“Extrapolated across New South Wales, these results indicate more than 8000 families cannot access the OSHC they require.”

CELA Policy and Research Consultant, Megan O’Connell

A range of reasons have been given for the services being unable to meet family demand.  These included:

  • The school restricts access to additional space
  • The school does not have any other suitable space
  • The off-site premises don’t have additional space

A small number of services also reported undersupply resulting recently from increases in local population. This demonstrates one of the flaws in the free-market planning approach to OSHC: housing markets can expand without due consideration for the full range of services families will require.

“… a substantial increase in families moving into the area due to the increase in housing, particularly units. Both the schools are at capacity as are schools in the surrounding areas. The schools … regularly have families calling from out of area wanting a school that has places available.”

Multi-service response, southern Sydney

Extent of undersupply

This data shows that there are nearly a thousand families on waitlists just for the services responding to the CELA survey. They have sought but cannot access the care they need. Extrapolated across New South Wales, these results indicate more than 8000 families cannot access the OSHC they require.

Nearly 90% of the services reporting undersupply problems also maintained waiting lists, although some respondents made the point that the lists they hold do not reflect the full scope of family needs.

“There was a waitlist at the beginning of the year. Families had to find alternative arrangements and now share care or nannies.”

Large service, northern Sydney

Waitlists certainly deserve further attention if the NSW government wants to understand the scale of the undersupply issue for OSHC places. There is a large spread of waitlist numbers ranging from just 1-4 families up to 200 or more hoping for places. The average number is around 20.

In some cases waitlists have regular peaks and troughs depending on timing for kindergarten enrolments.  In others, a longstanding waitlist has only recently been addressed with approval for new places recently acquired. As there’s no central record for waiting lists, some families may be on lists for several services, although this is less likely in OSHC than in long day care or preschool since most families focus on a single on-site service or one off-site service close to the child’s school. It’s also likely that many families don’t bother to add their names if they hear there is a long waiting list, even though they would prefer to have OSHC places than to leave work early or rely on grandparents.

Will the government be able to help?

The majority of reasons provided for the undersupply related to physical facilities – most services with a waiting list reported that either the school they serve does not have other rooms available or that it restricts access to available space. Issues around being off-site, and staffing availability were also reported but by a minority of services.

“[we]… regularly receive phone calls from families frustrated with the lack of places in the area.”

Multi-service response, southern Sydney


Some of the NSW Government’s promised new programs for OSHC could help services respond more readily to demand and help families to find the places they need for their children.

Specifically, these three programs taken from the government’s campaign statement:

  • $50 million for more funding to help schools buy new equipment and expand or establish new facilities, especially in high demand areas
  • $8.5 million to create a specialist OSHC team to help provide bespoke solutions, coordinate services, take the hassle out of managing contracts for schools and offer providers more support than ever before
  • $2 million to develop an online portal to allow parents and carers to register interest, search for and book student places online.

Support from the Department

CELA CEO Michele Carnegie and her team have been working with the relevant Department of Education staff to share the feedback CELA’s receiving from OSHC providers and educators. At a recent meeting with DoE staff the results of this survey were shared and further discussions will be held to ensure the NSW programs reach the services and families in greatest need. Your high level of response to this survey has helped ensure it carries weight with the policy makers.

NSW DoE is expected to launch consultations with OSHC next month (July 2019) and gave Amplify additional information about the new commitments to supporting OSHC services and building capacity in areas of undersupply:

The NSW Government is working hard to deliver on its $120 million commitment to expand access to OSHC for public primary school children across NSW.

OSHC services operate in about 720 public schools in NSW. They provide before and after school hours care as well as on-site holiday care for students at the school and other eligible children.

The Government initiatives aim to fill gaps in access to services across the state, particularly in regional areas, as well as to clear waiting lists in areas of high demand.

The goal can only be achieved with the support of the hundreds of care providers who already deliver quality and affordable care for families and communities.

We will be consulting with school communities and providers to find innovative solutions for creating more places for more schools and build on the solid foundations of the existing services.

This includes upcoming consultation with the sector on improvements to current guidelines, contract terms and tendering processes.

Applications will open in the near future for grants from the $50 million Before and After School Care Infrastructure Fund* to buy new equipment and expand facilities to create more places.

A further $40 million will provide rental subsidies to service providers located at public primary schools while another $20 million is earmarked for those communities where a standalone service may not be viable, including smaller schools and rural and remote communities.

Different areas and sometimes individual services will need different solutions. We will work with schools, communities and providers to pilot some new approaches and to better understand the needs of parents.

We are also making it easier for schools to host OSHC services. The package provides $8.5 million over four years for a team of specialists to help coordinate services and resources on an area or regional basis.

While the commitment is for children attending public primary schools, we understand that many services cater to children from multiple schools, both public and non-public. In expanding the overall number of services and places available, the initiatives will benefit a wider range of students and families.

*NSW note: you may see more references in government communication to BASC – Before and After School Care – rather than OSHC or OOSH. According to our Department contacts, the terms are interchangeable and the use of BASC is a convenience relating to the title of one of the new funding programs.

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About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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