IPART is reviewing affordability, access and choice in the NSW early childhood education and care sector.
CELA’s submission to IPART outlines a roadmap for reimagining NSW’s early education and care system. Our ECEC system should recognise that all learning starts from birth. The needs of NSW children should be the basis for reform.
CEO Michele Carnegie put CELA’s case for change at a recent hearing with IPART ECEC Review Team, saying:
If we meet children’s needs first, we can better meet the needs of the family, increase workforce participation and maximise the benefits of government investment. We cannot miss this opportunity for lasting reform.
CELA continues to represent its members and the families they support ahead of IPART’s interim and final reports to the NSW Government.
Summary of our submission
CELA welcomes this important and timely inquiry into the NSW early education and care sector. Improving accessibility, affordability and consumer choice is critical to ensuring every child gets the best start in life and every family can work the hours that they choose.
Accessibility, affordability, and consumer choice in our current ECEC sector is primarily influenced by the historical funding structures shared between state and federal governments.
Most of the funding for the ECEC sector is through the federal government funded Child Care Subsidy (CCS). When originally introduced, the CCS was designed as a welfare payment to families to support workforce participation as well as to encourage rapid sector growth to meet emerging demand1. As a demand driven funding model focused on parent costs, other vital considerations including contributing to improved education and development outcomes for Australia’s children, were not part of the primary policy design.
At the time of introduction, there were also clearer distinctions between the roles of state and federal governments in this space. Funding for children from 0-4 was seen as ‘care’, supporting families to return to work, while state funded preschool was clearly defined as "education".
However recent decades have debunked these outdated distinctions between "care" and "education", and the ages at which these occur. Evidence clearly shows that the first five years are the most critical for a child’s learning and development2. It has also shown the significant value of investing in quality education and care from birth to five for improved child outcomes and reduced poverty and social inequality. However our shared funding models have not kept up with this understanding, and hold back the full benefits of investment in early childhood education and care. Instead, we have a system plagued with increasing out of pocket costs, variation in accessibility, especially in regional areas, and lack of choice for families and children.
While we note that the scope of this enquiry is focused on the role and responsibilities of the NSW Government, we recognise that this is occurring concurrently to several Federal Government inquiries including the National Early Years Strategy, the ACCC Childcare Inquiry and the Productivity Commission inquiry into Early Childhood Education and Care. These extensive and concurrent reviews present an opportunity for state and federal governments to consider how shared funding models can be reset to better reflect modern understanding of the vital role and benefits of early education and care.
We have an opportunity to reimagine an ECEC system, that recognises all learning starts from birth, and which truly holds the needs of Australia’s children at its heart and as its fundamental starting point.
By meeting children’s needs first, the needs of the family are also met and can be supported more efficiently. By recognising the value of education and care to children as the first objective of funding for all ages, and increased workforce participation as a dual benefit, we can more clearly target state and federal government investment to maximise social and economic benefits.
DOWNLOAD THE FULL RESPONSE
1 Brennan, D and Oloban, M, Child Care in Australia A market failure and spectacular public policy disaster; https://policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2009/04/Child%20Care%20in%20Australia.pdf, pg 120.
2 OECD, 2018. Early Learning Matters. https://www.oecd.org/education/school/Early-Learning-Matters-Project-Brochure.pdf, pg 6.