Postcards send preschool message

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28 April 2017

14,000 postcards have sent Education Minister Simon Birmingham a message that we need permanent, ongoing funding for preschools to ensure our kids get the best start to their education.

The postcards – individually signed by parents and educators – were delivered to Minister Birmingham’s office today and call on him and Malcolm Turnbull not to stop the funding that gives every four-year-old access to 15 hours per week of preschool.

The value of preschool in preparing a child for education is undisputed but federal funding is not guaranteed beyond the end of this year.

Without it state governments will not be able to guarantee that all four-year-olds will have access to the 15 hours of preschool they need.

Childcare centres are operating in a climate of uncertainty, with many educators still not sure exactly what work will be available next year.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that the lack of certainty was already having a negative effect on the sector and making it harder to retain staff.

“We know the huge benefits that quality preschool can give to a child. So why can’t Minister Birmingham tell us whether it will be funded from next year?”

“Centres can’t plan to meet community demand without a funding commitment from the Turnbull Government. They can’t manage enrolments, plan learning programs or invest in staff when they don’t know whether their services will be funded.

“Preschool employees are primarily women, often working part-time. They are also passionate educators who make an invaluable contribution to the lives and future of their young students. This uncertainty is making it harder for centres to retain the quality staff they need.

Educators will be keenly awaiting the Federal Budget on May 9th, to see if funding is allocated for preschools, or if the Protect Our Preschools campaign will need to continue to put pressure on the government over this issue.

Australia is already behind in this area: many European nations and New Zealand not only fund four-year-old preschool, but have extended it so all three-year-olds have access to fully-funded early childhood education.

Proven benefits

Preschool’s immediate effect is demonstrated by the Australian Early Development Census, which assesses children about six months into their primary schooling against five domains: physical health and wellbeing; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive skills; and communication skills and general knowledge.

Nearly a quarter of children (22 per cent) will be rated as ‘developmentally vulnerable’ in at least one domain.

Professor Stacey Fox says that for children who receive at least one year of preschool, the risk of registering as developmentally vulnerable falls by at least a quarter.

“Preschool benefits children from low socioeconomic status backgrounds the most. But it also has an impact on kids throughout the socioeconomic spectrum. It’s a bit of a wonder drug that way.”

This is why federal and state government got together in 2013 and agreed to jointly fund this vital first step in education.

The results have been exceptional, preschool attendance has risen, and more four-year-olds are getting the benefits of 15 hours with a university-trained teacher.

Ms Haythorpe said the continued uncertainty was putting these gains at risk.

“Primary school teachers report children who miss out on preschool start their schooling six months behind. Access to preschool education should not depend on parents’ capacity to pay. Every child deserves the chance to benefit from early childhood learning – regardless of their background.”