Published by CELA on 8 Oct, 2018

Will 4/10/18 become a date that future early childhood students have to commit to memory? That’s the day when Labor promised to extend universal preschool access to every three and four year old child in Australian, permanently.  CELA CEO Michele Carnegie and Amplify Editor Bec Lloyd put this round up together for today’s edition.

On Thursday 4 October 2018, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) pledged $1.75 billion for early education and universal access to two years of quality preschool education if elected the next government of Australia.

Finally, a political leader has spoken out loud the words that we know connect early childhood education with the success or failure of our schools:

“Nearly one in four Australian children – 22% – start school without the foundational skills to be successful learners,” Bill Shorten said, announcing the new policy.

“Those children are twice as likely not to meet the minimum NAPLAN standards in Years 3, 5 and 7.”

Finally, a political leader has stepped aside from the ‘get women back to work’ productivity argument for investing in ‘care’ and grasped the real, lasting benefits to Australia  if two years of quality preschool was available to every child, and especially to those whose families are most disadvantaged.

Record breaker

If elected, and if the promise is kept, the ALP will be responsible for the largest investment in early childhood education in Australian history.

We would immediately begin climbing back up the OECD’s ladder of per capita spending on early learning. Australia has been sadly falling further and further behind as other economically developed countries listen to the evidence and commit to greater investment in preschool. We currently sit at 23 out of 30 developed nations, and countries like Russia, Brazil and Mexico spend more per person on early learning now than Australia.

Can it really have been a surprise to anyone that Australia’s internationally benchmarked school results also fell further and further behind as other nations turned their attention to preparing younger children’s capacity to learn before they started school?

Scrap upfront TAFE fees for ECE

Preschool isn’t the only beneficiary of the ALP policy promises.  On 5 October Bill Shorten followed up with an announcement that upfront fees at TAFE would be scrapped for 10,000 students in a bid to rapidly increase the early childhood education workforce to meet the demand of thousands of extra three year olds attending standalone preschool and programs in long day care and family day care.

Degree qualified educators wouldn’t be left out, either, with Shorten saying they would benefit from the general ‘unfreezing’ of Commonwealth funding for university places in teaching and learning.

Where’s the money coming from?

Announcing these investments, Shorten described the additional funding sources that would bring this policy to life without passing a burden on to parents.

Firstly, he said the changes the ALP would make to Australia’s negative gearing property investment tax breaks would contribute substantially to the additional funding early learning requires.

Secondly, he’s commissioned his Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education Amanda Rishworth to develop a new National Partnership Agreement (NPA) that brings the states and territories on board with joint funding commitments to cover both three and four year olds for two years of preschool at 15 hours per week.  As Amplify readers will remember, the current Australian Government has quietly removed support for the NPA for Early Childhood Education and Care and has failed to establish a new or adequately extended NPA for Universal Access to preschool for four year olds.

So the funding would come from both savings from other ALP policies and from increased contributions from the states and territories.  This is not as unlikely as you might be thinking: the states and territories commissioned the Lifting Our Game report last year, which captured such compelling evidence for two years of preschool education. Since then several jurisdictions, including NSW, Victoria and the ACT, have made some inroads into extending preschool subsidies or similar programs to three year olds.

Shorten points to the ALP’s track record: it was a Labor Federal Government that saw both the current NPAs through to successful partnering among all Australian governments.

What does the current government say?

The good news is that a Coalition policy to match the ALP’s promise has not been ruled out – yet.  The

On Thursday the government did not rule out supporting an expansion of early childhood education but attacked the cost of Labor’s $9.8bn policy and the lack of detail about coordination with the states.

The new Commonwealth Education Minister, Dan Tehan, told The Guardian that Labor wanted to extend preschool to three-year-olds “but it’s the states and territories who will pay for it, and ultimately the taxpayer”.

“Bill Shorten says he ‘thinks’ the states and territories will be happy to pay for his election promises but he hasn’t asked them,” he said. “Bill Shorten doesn’t say who will pay for the infrastructure to house all the three-year-olds requiring preschool.”

Bill Shorten reveals $1.7bn plan to fund access to preschool or kindergarten

Image source: The Guardian

Why does it matter?

It matters for all the reasons we have constantly promoted through Amplify on behalf of the sector and CELA members.

In 2018, early childhood education is an essential government investment, not a ‘nice-to-have’ handout to working parents.  Children today are preparing for a world that their parents cannot imagine, with changes in technology, world politics, and the environment affecting every aspect of their future lives. The only way to provide the best possible start for children is to stop seeing the first year of school as the beginning of their learning.

The first five to eight years of a child’s life is a period of irreplaceable learning and development.  Children who have access to quality early years education – in a play-based curriculum – are able to move more smoothly into their school years and take immediate advantage of the more formal learning available in the classroom.  Children who do not have access to quality preschool programs may be able to keep up if their families are actively involved in their development and provide valuable learning opportunities and resources.  Children who have neither the quality preschool program nor the advantages of a rich learning environment at home form the growing ‘tail’ of learners in Australian schools – they are some way behind when they start school and they are most likely to be significantly further behind when they finish. Everything will be more difficult for them than it would be if they’d had two years of quality preschool.

The research

Only half a dozen years ago it was difficult for the sector to present hard evidence for what they witnessed every day.  The research was out there – like the Heckman Equation – and sufficient to spark the National Quality Framework, but many studies were dismissed by critics as being too small, too foreign, too old, or all three.

In recent years, however, Australian longitudinal studies like E4Kids and the establishment in 2013 of The Mitchell Institute thinktank on educational policy, as well as new reports by the OECD and advanced studies in neuroscience, have helped put clearer data around the value of quality programs, qualified educators, play-based learning and, in particular, two years, rather than one, of preschool.

Each year around 60,000 Australian children – one in five – start school behind, and nearly half of these children starting behind stay behind.

This puts a strain on teachers and students at school, can lead to behavioural problems and cause social and health issues later in life.

An extra year of preschool can be transformative for vulnerable children but all children benefit.

The most crucial brain development that lays the foundation for lifelong learning occurs before children start school, so preschool plays a crucial role in ensuring children go on to be happy and engaged learners.

Extending preschool into a second year is a minor cost compared to the almost half a billion dollars spent each year on supporting 24 year olds who fail to make their way into education or employment.

– The Mitchell Institute

CELA says adequate funding must include a nationally consistent approach to quality early education, accessibility for all children irrespective of location or background, with a qualified workforce that is paid equally to their school counterparts.

Irrespective of your political perspective, ensuring early education is adequately funded is an investment that offers a very real return for our nation. Ideally, we would have both major parties commit to the same level of investment and pursue two years of preschool, with qualified educators, for every Australian child regardless of who was in government and without any of the current funding insecurity from year to year.

Read the full announcement and fact sheet from the ALP below

LABOR’S NATIONAL PRESCHOOL AND KINDY PROGRAM GIVING YOUR CHILD THE BEST START

A Shorten Labor Government will establish a new National Preschool and Kindy Program – guaranteeing every three and four year old can access the quality early education they need for the best start in school and life.

This is the biggest investment in early childhood education in our nation’s history.

It will give every Australian child the opportunity to access the early learning opportunities that will set them up for success later in life.

The former Labor Government’s four year old preschool program has been a success and has resulted in over 90% of Australian four year olds enrolled in preschool programs. But the number of three year olds in an early education program is still well below the OECD average. We also know that these programs vary from place to place and children don’t always attend regularly.

The rest of the world is moving, and under a Shorten Labor Government, Australia will too.

Labor’s new preschool and kindy program will ensure all Australian children can access an affordable age-appropriate play-based early education program in the two years before school – boosting their success in school and beyond.

Offered across a variety of settings, including long day care, sessional preschools and kindergartens, parents will have the flexibility to choose the services that best meets their needs.

THE IMPORTANCE OF EARLY EDUCATION

Between the ages of three and five are critical for a child’s development – 90% of a child’s brain develops before the age of five. Age-appropriate early learning programs have been proven to have a positive impact on children’s outcomes through school.

Play-based preschool programs, delivered by qualified early childhood educators, have been shown to lift learning and development outcomes for all children, while also closing the achievement gap for disadvantaged children.

There is a strong correlation between children attending early learning and their results in primary school. For example, an OECD study found children attending more than one year of pre-school scored significantly higher in PISA test scores at age 15 years.

Numerous studies have demonstrated a positive return on investment from investing in two years of preschool, with a cost-benefit ratio ranging from 3.4 (Texas) to 4.3 (Spain) due to the better social, health and education outcomes for children, as well as increased female workforce participation.

Two years of preschool is also the key recommendation to achieving educational excellence in Australia in the recent Lifting our Game Report prepared by early education experts for state and territory education ministers.

AUSTRALIAN KIDS ARE FALLING BEHIND – LABOR WILL ACT

Nearly one in four Australian children – 22% – start school without the foundational skills to be successful learners. Those children are twice as likely not to meet the minimum NAPLAN standards in Years 3, 5 and 7.

While Australia has a high rate of enrolment in preschool for four year olds, only 57% of Australian three year olds currently access some kind of early learning program – well below the OECD average of 78%.

The evidence shows the children missing out – children from disadvantaged backgrounds – are the ones who would benefit most from a preschool program.

Many OECD countries are prioritising the provision of two years of high-quality preschool. The UK, NZ and Ireland are already offering at least two years of preschool and China has commenced implementing its plan to ensure children have access to at least two years of preschool by 2020.

Australia now ranks 23rd (out of 30) in the OECD for early childhood education expenditure as a percentage of our gross domestic product – we only invest 0.5% of our national income on early education compared to the OECD average of 0.8%. Australia is below Brazil, Mexico and the Russian Federation in terms of funding for early education.

LABOR’S RECORD

In 2009, Labor established the first preschool program for four year olds – which the Government is not funding beyond the next school year. The current program provides
600 hours of preschool and kindy a year for children in the year before school, delivered by a university trained early childhood teacher.

Labor will ensure that our investment supports every child, and that every child gets their fair share – whatever setting their parents choose.

Labor will work with the states and sector to build on the Early Years Learning Framework and draw on national and international experts to ensure our two-year play-based preschool program is truly world-class, because that’s what every Australian child deserves.

LABOR’S NATIONAL PRE-SCHOOL AND KINDY PROGRAM

Labor will introduce a new National Preschool and Kindy Program, which will:

  • Commit permanent ongoing funding to the national preschool and kindy program for all four year olds.

  • Extend the program to cover all three year olds – commencing in 2021.

  • Establish a $100 million facilitation fund to support the roll-out of the program,including workforce development and supporting expanded capacity where required.

  • Ensure early learning centres are high quality and safe by restoring the $20 millionsafety and quality funding cut by the Liberals.Labor will also extend the existing preschool exemption to the Child Care Subsidy activity test to all children accessing the preschool program at a centre-based day care service in their second year before school. This will ensure every child will have access to affordable early learning.

Labor will work with the States and Territories and the sector to deliver 90% enrolment of three year olds in the program by 2023.

The program will be delivered across government and community run preschools and kindies, and long day care centres. Parents and carers will be free to choose the setting that best suits their needs.

Labor will ensure that our investment supports every child, and that every child gets their fair share – whatever setting their parents choose.

Labor will work with the states and sector to build on the Early Years Learning Framework and draw on national and international experts to ensure our two-year play-based preschool program is truly world-class because that’s what every Australian child deserves

FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS

Labor’s commitment to early education will cost $1.75 billion over the forward estimates.

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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