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New reports highlight the need for Government to invest in the early years

Government and sector

Two new reports released this week demonstrate clearly the huge benefits that could flow to Australia’s children, families, and society and economy more broadly if we increased access to quality early learning.

A major report commissioned by all eight State and Territory Governments by experts Susan Pascoe and Deborah Brennan lays out a compelling case that if Australia is to improve our lagging school outcomes in literacy and numeracy, we need to ensure more children have access to quality early learning in the two years before they start school.

The report points out that only 15% of Australian three year olds are educated by degree-qualified teachers compared to the OECD average of 69%, and this is a key contributing factor to why so many Australian children are starting school developmentally behind.

With the new Child Care Subsidy starting in July 2018, access to early learning will become more affordable for around 70% of families, but 279,000 families could be worse off.

Green Senator Sarah Hanson Young has called on the Government ensure all children get access to at least 15 hours of early learning each week. This, she says, could be paid for by reinvesting the $1 billion of savings from cracking down on Family Day Care rorts back into early learning rather than paying for tax cuts for big business.

Goodstart Advocacy Manager John Cherry said Goodstart supports this call.

“While most families will be better off under the new subsidy, too many low income families could see their access to early learning cut under the tougher rules applying to the subsidy,” he said.

The other major report released was the Productivity Commission’s annual review of the Government’s performance on child care and early learning.

This report highlighted the importance of access to preschool programs in the year before school, with children who do not attend preschool twice as likely as children who do attend preschool to start school developmentally behind.

The report found that 92.4% of four year olds attend preschool or kindergarten, most in long day care centres like Goodstart (which is Australia’s largest non-government provider of preschool). But, upwards of 43% of three year olds do not attend early learning programs, despite the compelling evidence that two years of early learning is better than one.

Federal funding for preschool and kindergarten programs for four year olds are only guaranteed to the end of this year. If the Federal Government does not renew the funding in the May Budget, the cost of preschool programs could rise by $1200 a year – or around $30 a week – next year.

That would be a cost too much to bear for many families, and many children could miss out.

Australia’s Education Ministers are meeting next week to discuss the future of preschool funding. Let’s hope that they renew funding for four year olds and also take steps to improve access to three year olds as well. Because every Australian child deserves the best possible start in life.
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