ALP preschool policy—the leap forward that we need in the early learning revolution


The ALP’s recently announced National Preschool and Kindy Program has been warmly received by early childhood advocates from across the country. In it, the ALP commits, if elected at the next Federal election, to fund permanent subsidised, universal access to preschool programs for two years before children start school.

If delivered, this $1.75million commitment will be a major step forward for our children and for the future prosperity of Australia.

It clearly delivers on the majority of key policy drivers identified by the Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign as vital to support all Australian children to access at least two days of quality early learning.

In addition to extending access to preschool into the two years before school, committing to the permanency of funding that the sector has been hoping for, and reinstating funding to the National Quality Framework, the commitment also ensures that all children accessing preschool in the long day care sector will be exempted from the Child Care Subsidy Activity Test.

The Everyone Benefits campaign is calling for this to be extended to all children attending early education services, not just those in the preschool years, but we see this as an important step in the right direction.

We will also continue to argue the need for a whole of government ‘Early Years Strategy’ to ensure no children fall though the gaps, and consider more explicitly how they might improve support for children experiencing disadvantage, especially those living in regional and remote areas and from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. In its universality, the commitment to extending preschool will help address access for at risk groups, but it’s clear that these children in particular need our specific attention, as we know that they will benefit the most from better access to high quality early education.

There is also no doubt that the delivery of the ALP commitment will depend very much on the engagement and cooperation of the states and territories, including their financial commitment to support the roll-out to three-year-olds. This was identified by the Federal Education Minister in his response to the announcement, and is something that the Federal ALP can’t guarantee. But the ALP announcement establishes a clear policy direction and a starting point for further engagement with States and Territory Governments.

Labor’s Early Childhood Shadow Minister Amanda Rishworth acknowledged on Sky TV, that if they win Government, the ALP will need to work with states and territories to make this policy a reality:

‘We have made very clear that we will work with the states and territories in delivering this in a range of settings, whether that be through community kindy, whether that be through state-run kindergartens or, indeed, long day care. So we are looking at all options. Each state and territory has a different setup, a different culture. We were able to achieve that with four-year-olds and we will be able to achieve that with three-year-olds as well.’

It struck me as I watched Bill Shorten’s speech, listened to news coverage and read the ALP’s media release and factsheet, that the ALP have listened to the advocacy of the early childhood sector in their formulation of this very welcome policy, and they have shifted the language to emphasise the value of children’s early education.

In his speech at Monash University on 4 October, Mr Shorten said that Labor’s vision and commitment was to provide, ‘two years of quality universal preschool with qualified early educators for every Australian child and family regardless of the wealth of the parents’. He also said it would be play-based and age-appropriate, and that: ‘Parents will be able to choose the early learning setting that suits their needs, with play-based programs delivered in existing long day care, preschool and kindergarten programs right across the country.

‘Early childhood education is so much more than childminding. Early childhood educators are not babysitters. Child care is not just a participation incentive to help women back into the workforce. It is how we guarantee our kids the best start in life. Early childhood education needs to be re-imagined as nothing less than the foundation stones of education.’

 

A key challenge will be to ensure there are enough qualified early childhood teachers to provide quality preschool programs for 700 000 three and four-year-olds.

The ALP's follow-up announcement to ‘waive upfront fees for 10 000 students who study early childhood education’ acknowledged this.

Professor Alison Elliott  in her analysis first published in The Conversation, welcomed this initiative although cautioned that workforce development is more complex due to the level of qualifications required to teach preschool.

Let’s hope that as we approach the Federal Election, we see all parties and candidates able to make a commitment to young children’s development and well-being by ensuring access to high quality early education for all Australian children.

By Carolin Wenzel, Campaign Manager, Early Learning Everyone Benefits with Helen Oakey, ECA Advocacy Manager

Read more here:

What you can do:

  • Congratulate Bill Shorten and Amanda Rishworth on this policy announcement.
  • Thank Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan for guaranteeing funding for preschool for four-year-olds for 2019, and urge him to:
    • develop the Coalition’s policy to guarantee ongoing funding for four-year-olds and extend preschool funding to three-year-olds.
    • Restore funding and support to the National Quality Framework
  • Ask all parties to include the following items in their early childhood policies:
    • Ensure that all children (not just three and four-year-olds) have access to at least two days per week of early childhood education, irrespective of their parents’ activities.
    • Commit to a whole of government ‘Early Years Strategy’ to ensure no children fall though the gaps.
    • Improve support for children experiencing disadvantage, especially those living in regional and remote areas and from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
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