NSW funding of three-year-old preschool is good news - but more is needed

The announcement by the New South Wales (NSW) Government to subsidise preschool for three-year-olds in community preschools is a landmark decision that will increase access for thousands of children to high-quality early education – it’s a move in the right direction but more needs to be done.

In the NSW Budget, the government allocated close to $200 million to subsidise preschool attendance of three-year-olds in about 730 community preschools—plus $42 million for capital works to increase capacity to accommodate the extra children.

It’s important to recognise that this announcement does not mean that all three year olds in NSW will have access to free preschool –It’s also important to recognise that this funding  will not support the delivery of preschool programs offered by other service providers such as long day care providers or the private schools.

Ideally the NSW Government needs to further increase its investment to reach more children and reduce out of pocket costs to families in order to significantly increase access to quality early education programs for children from the age of three. 

However, the new funding will make a difference to many of those children who do not or cannot otherwise access early education and care in the two years before school, and who will benefit greatly from two days a week of play-based early education.

Importantly, the NSW subsidy for three year olds will come with no conditions regarding parental activity, in stark contrast to the Federal Child Care subsidy where both parents need to demonstrate that they are working, studying or volunteering for eight hours a week or more each fortnight to qualify for support.

It is the lack of eligibility requirements that makes this a 'universal' platform for three-year-old preschool. The value of a universal platform is that it allows those families who have no other options, perhaps due to location or income, to access early education for their young children at a manageable cost.

It is significant that NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet publicly acknowledged the long-term benefits of early learning when he announced the initiative:

‘Benefits from two years of quality early childhood education include stronger student performance in NAPLAN and PISA, as well as longer-term benefits such as increased likelihood of university attendance, higher lifetime earnings and better health outcomes’ (Smith 2018 in Sydney Morning Herald 18/06/18).

As the Lifting Our Game report points out:

‘Investing in integrating education and care creates the potential for a double dividend—promoting children’s wellbeing, learning and development, and supporting parental workforce participation. If supporting workforce participation eclipses children’s education, this opportunity is lost’ (Pascoe & Brennan, 2017, in Lifting Our Game p. 14).

The NSW government has shown leadership by investing in three year old preschool independent of federal funding. While the Federal Government has supported the delivery of preschool via a National Partnership Agreement in the year before school (ie. For four year olds) since 2008, no moves have yet been made to extend this to high quality early education programs for three year olds across the states and territories. Hopefully this announcement from NSW will move forward the national debate about extending and improving access to early education in the two years before school.

It is time that Australia got on board with ensuring that all children have access to two days a week of high quality early education delivered by a degree qualified educator, whether they are attending long day care centres or standalone preschools or kindergartens. When the National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access for Early Learning is next renewed, there needs to be money on the table to deliver this.

References

Pascoe, S., & Brennan, D. (2017). Lifting Our Game: Report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools through early childhood interventions. Retrieved from www.education.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/1159357/Lifting-Our-Game-Final-Report.pdf

Smith, A. (2018, June 18). Families to save $800 a year on preschool fees in education bonus. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from www.smh.com.au/politics/nsw/families-to-save-800-a-year-on-preschool-fees-in-education-bonus-20180618-p4zm73.html.

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