National push for guaranteed preschool funding reaches Canberra

15 August 2018

Early Childhood Education (ECE) delegates from around the nation will descend on federal parliament today to ensure that politicians understand the importance of guaranteed ongoing funding for universal access to preschool for all four-year-old children.

Until recently, an agreement between the Commonwealth and the states and territories, meant that funding for all four-year old children to attend15 hours of preschool per week was only guaranteed for 12 months at a time. However even this temporary arrangement is now under threat.

The delegates will meet with Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development Amanda Rishworth, Greens leader Richard Di Natale, and other members of parliament. They will discuss how guaranteed ongoing funding for ECE is vital for improving school readiness, developing children’s cognitive, social and emotional outcomes and for ECE workforce planning.

The meetings follow recent revelations that Australia’s already low world ranking in ECE funding will plummet further if planned Turnbull government cuts to the ECE sector are implemented.

Australia currently ranks 23rd in spending on ECE as a percentage of GDP, well below the OECD average. OECD figures place Australia below countries such as Brazil, Mexico and the Russian Federation in terms of funding for early learning[1].

However, according to the May Federal Budget, Commonwealth support for ECE is set to fall even further. The National Partnership agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education, between the Commonwealth and the states and territories, is only funded until the end of June 2019, cutting $440 million from the sector. With the National Quality Framework program already scrapped by the Turnbull government in June 2018, Commonwealth ECE funding is set to be slashed by nearly half a billion dollars a year.

Australian Education Union (AEU) Federal President Correna Haythorpe said the Commonwealth’s cuts to ECE ran against the global trend of OECD countries actually devoting more resources to the vital ECE sector.

She said that ECE’s compelling and proven benefits meant that Australian children would fall further behind those in nations which are actually boosting funding to the early learning sector.

“When it comes to funding early childhood education, Australia is already lagging behind much of the rest of the world,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“We only offer one year of preschool for young children, while many other OECD countries offer two years as standard.”

“The benefits of a structured early childhood education program arecompelling and proven. The benefits for children of attending preschool are equivalent to 20 weeks of schooling at the Year 3 level[2]. For the sake of our children we can’t afford to fall further behind with this funding.”

“The Turnbull government must immediately address the vitally important issue of funding Universal Access to 15 hours of preschool per week for all four-year-old children. Instead of cutting ECE funding, it must commit to expanding this funding to include three-year-old children as well, to match overseas standards,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“It should also end uncertainty in the ECE sector by guaranteeing ongoing funding instead of its recent history of cutting or temporarily extending funding commitments year by year. This uncertainty affects planning for budgets, staffing, and most importantly, how early education is delivered to children during what is an optimal time for them to learn.”

According to OECD figures, Australia invests less than 0.5 per cent of GDP in early childhood education and care, well below the OECD average of 0.8 per cent of GDP. Countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland already invest significantly more – between 1.2 and 2 per cent[3].

World Bank data shows that in 2015, of the 207 countries examined, the vast majority provide two or three years of pre-primary education. Only 11 provide one year – Algeria, Angola, Bermuda, Gibraltar, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ireland, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Australia[4].

Ms Haythorpe said that all children in Australia should have the opportunity to access two years of quality early childhood education.

“It is critically important for young children to have the opportunity to attend preschool. Early childhood education supports children’s development and improves school readiness, as found by the Productivity Commission in 2015,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“The number of years spent in early childhood education is a strong indicator of a child’s level of achievement in later stages of life, both in and out of school.”

“Preschool improves cognitive, social and emotional outcomes, and is important in forming healthy behaviours. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit the most from early learning, as it provides a strong foundation for them to close the achievement gap with their peers.”

“Guaranteed funding for our early learning sector is a critically important investment in the future of our children,” Ms Haythorpe said.