By CELA on 1 Oct, 2019

The Commonwealth Government is reviewing the national funding agreement that supports all Australian children to attend 15 hours of quality early childhood education in the year before they start school. The Universal Access National Partnership funding is crucial to supporting vulnerable learners – without it they are at risk of starting school even further behind.

As part of the review process, CELA is preparing a joint submission with NSW Mobile Children’s Services Association and Early Start, University of Wollongong.

We asked for your input, and you definitely delivered!

“Thank you to CELA members and non-members alike for your overwhelming response to our survey on what the National Partnership on Universal Access means to you, your service and quality early education for all Australian children.

“As highlighted in our recent Amplify article, the agreement is being reviewed with submissions due to the NOUS group by 6 October. Your meaningful responses will strengthen our joint submission with Early Start, University of Wollongong and NSW Mobile Children’s Services Association.”

CELA CEO Michele Carnegie

137 services responded to our survey within a week, providing commentary on the importance of the National Partnership. This is what you said:

Increased enrolments and participation

You told us that under the national partnership funding you have increased access to early childhood education in the year before school, including:

  • 70% of services increasing hours provided
  • Over half of all services enrolling more children
  • Nearly half of all respondents had hired more staff.

Pleasingly, over half of all respondents had seen an increase in attendance by vulnerable children.

Implementation challenges

We also heard of challenges in implementing 15 hours of early learning before school, including:

  • Not being able to accommodate as many children due to the increased hours,
  • Pressures on staff to work longer hours to accommodate longer session times,
  • Less access for three year old children, and;
  • Challenges of providing 15 hours of education for families living far from centres.

Ability to work more intensively and provide more intervention

The graph below shows the top three areas that the 15 hours of early childhood education in the year before school have impacted, based on survey answers:


The impact reported by respondents includes an ability to work more intensively with children and families.

“Children gain more from the program due to being present for a longer time each day.”

It also revealed an opportunity to provide early intervention:

“Families are able to be referred to specialist services where needed (speech being the main referral) prior to attending ‘big school’, lessening the burden on teachers during term 1.”

However, some service providers also reflected that children are likely to only attend one year, due to limited capacity for 3 year olds, which limits the quality of the relationship.


Offering disadvantaged children a brighter future

The comments below are representative of those received:

“Since the implementation of Universal Access we have seen an increase in participation in the program for all children. It has provided children with the opportunity to be better prepared for formal schooling for several reasons including – being used to longer days, routine, increased opportunities for learning and skill development, friendship development, and family engagement in the site. It would be an utter tragedy and disgrace to lose this vital program for our children, who are the future of our country.”

“Our preschool is in a LGA that is considered very disadvantaged. Universal Access funding has been really significant for our community. Families were previously not prioritising preschool as it was not affordable. The National Partnership has offered a life blood to our community. Australia’s first economic analysis of early childhood education found that when we spend in the sector, we get double our money back”.

“Mobile services are better placed to meet the requirements of universal access now that mobile services are coming under assessment and rating and aligning to the national regulations and as such should be included in the definition of a quality early childhood education program.

“The universal partnership is vital to achieve quality in early education across Australia. With a greater emphasis on mobile services within the national partnership agreement, the desired outcomes will be reached”

Of note is the response from providers in rural areas about the importance of early learning for children whose families are in hardship:

“We are in a rural community where lots of families are dealing with hardship due to the water issues. If we couldn’t provide subsidised fees for our preschool program many of those families would not be able to attend. We all know how important early years education is and how it sets children up to succeed in life. It also provides a safe space for children in our community to come away from the daily struggles and just be children”.

The National Partnership funding was viewed as critical for children from vulnerable backgrounds and any reduction in funding could see vulnerable children fall further behind:

“Children from vulnerable backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and those identified as equity children will lose opportunities to attend a quality preschool program due to higher costs and reduced accessibility as business structures change. Families will be disadvantaged as the quality education they seek for their children increases in cost, reduces in availability and potentially becomes less flexible to their needs.”

Members also highlighted the need for more than one year of early learning to build relationships and ensure more children start school well prepared, and for stability of funding:

“Children need two years of funding; children who are coming from disadvantaged homes need additional hours per week to ensure they are given the same opportunities as other children. Preschools need basic operational funding to ensure we can offer stable employment.”


The National Partnership funding must continue for the good of all Australians

Responses showed that you strongly support a continued and growing investment in preschool, arguing:

“The overall cost the nation of not investing in quality preschool education is substantially greater as children grow and mature into adults. Investing in the first 5 years of life has proven benefits academically for the nation, but more importantly socially. The process of creating connected, empathetic and actively engaged citizens begins in early childhood with a strong foundation in respect, decision-making, negotiation and compassion. All of these are the base of a quality preschool program offered for 15 hours a week or more”.


How to make your  voices heard

CELA is preparing a submission with the Early Start, University of Wollongong and Mobile Children’s Services Association to inform the NOUS review.

We have also met with the NOUS group and highlighted the importance of continuing, stable funding for quality early learning.

Members are encouraged to prepare their own submissions, or complete the NOUS group survey before the 6th October.  For more details see

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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