Skip to main navigation Skip to content
Goodstart homepage Goodstart Early Learning logo Goodstart Early Learning logo

Heard about $10 per day childcare – sound too good to be true? You may be right.

Goodstart stories

Australia is on the brink of major reforms of our early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, as are many other countries. John Cherry, Goodstart’s Head of Advocacy, has taken a deep dive into Australia’s ECEC system comparing it with the Canadian province of Quebec and its $10 a day childcare, which many hold up as a model for Australia to follow. The results might surprise you.

The Australian Government want to reform our ECEC system, with the Prime Minister committed to moving towards a universal, quality early learning and care system that better supports all Australian children and families, a reform he has described as important as universal Medicare moving forward. The Government has tasked the Productivity Commission with developing a pathway to a universal ECEC system for Australia, with a final report due in June.

Access to affordable, quality ECEC plays a crucial role in supporting both child development and women’s workforce participation, and many other countries are also engaged in reforming ECEC. The Canadian Government has announced a $30 billion National Child Care Plan with the objective of reducing parental costs to $10 a day and expanding the provision of high-quality places in the not-for-profit sector. The Canadian plan builds on the so-called ‘success’ of Quebec where ECEC costs were capped at initially $5 a day (now $10), supporting a significant increase in women's workforce participation, but many of the new services provided low quality ECEC places which do not support child development.

Some advocates are suggesting that Australia should follow the Canadian $10 a day model, a supply side funding model where Government decides how many child care places will be provided, where and at what cost. While attractive at first glance such a system would be a major change needed a big new bureaucracy to develop the thousands of funding agreements with individual providers to deliver it, and make complex decisions on  how much educators paid, how many are needed, how much should be spend on supporting children, meals, playground upgrades and how many additional places should be funded each year.

But would the Canadian model work in Australia? Would it be an improvement, or would it mean lower quality or less places for children? A detailed comparison of the Quebec and New South Wales ECEC system finds some major challenges.

Both States have similar populations but quite different ECEC funding systems and quality regulation standards.:

  • ECEC is generally more affordable for most children in Quebec with 72% of children in places capped at $10 a day, although 28% of children miss out and must attend lower quality privately owned centres with uncapped, higher fees. There is simply not enough lower fee, capped places available
  • ECEC is more affordable in New South Wales for around 40% of children – mostly from families on low incomes or with more than one child in ECEC - who enjoy out of pocket costs of less than $10 a day now
  • Quality of ECEC is much higher in New South Wales than in Quebec, because:
    1. All educators required to be qualified in NSW, but only 50% of Quebec educators need to be qualified
    2. Generally, more educators per child, particularly for younger children
    3. Generally higher pay for educators in New South Wales than in Quebec
    4. Quebec relies much more heavily on family day care than New South Wales, where educators need only have a week’s training to care for children
  • Supply of ECEC places has grown much faster in New South Wales than in Quebec, with providers offering an additional 44,750 places in the last five years, compared to 13,903 places in the Government-funded supply system in Quebec. There is a waiting list of 37,000 children waiting for a fee-capped place in Quebec, and a further 45,000 who will want a place soon
  • Female workforce participation rates in Quebec and New South Wales are identical, although the participation rate for women with young children is higher in Quebec
  • Federal and State Governments invest substantially more on ECEC in New South Wales than in Quebec, support higher quality standards and better pay for educators, and more fee relief for low-income families.

When considering the future of ECEC in Australia, we can learn from international models, while objectively considering the strengths of the Australian system. Quebec’s cheaper childcare has delivered improved workforce participation but with lower quality, poorly paid educators and inadequate supply. The NSW system, while marginally more expensive for around 60% of families than Quebec, delivers higher quality learning for children and more access in terms of growth of new places. 

Australia has a lot to be proud of with a solid foundation from which a universal quality ECEC system can be built, a system that is accessible and affordable for all, while making improvement where they are needed.

The full paper can be read here.

Goodstart Live Chat