Early Learning is key in proposed national action plan to address decline in Australia's education performance

A new consortium of early childhood services, research organisations, community and parenting groups supports the latest call for all political parties to include a national action plan to improve education outcomes in their election platforms. 

The Early Learning: Everyone Benefits campaign supports the call by the CEO of the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER), Professor Geoff Masters AO for a national action plan agreed by Commonwealth, state and territory governments to arrest declining performances in schools. 

“We agree whole heartedly with ACER’s assessment that one of the key elements of a national strategy must be improving the provision of quality early learning nationally, and especially to the one in five children identified as ‘vulnerable’ in the Australian Early Development Census,” said campaign spokesperson Samantha Page, CEO of Early Childhood Australia.

As ACER’s report  Five challenges in Australian school education outlines, ‘children who lag behind their age peers on entry to school often become locked into trajectories of long-term low achievement. Some fall further behind with each year of school and ultimately have poorer long-term outcomes in areas such as employment, teenage pregnancy, mental health and crime’.(p20)

“If we want to improve education and life outcomes for  60,000 children currently starting school behind their peers, we need to ensure we have a robust system of quality early childhood learning, with qualified early childhood educators to address the education needs of those children,” said Ms Page.

“We also need to improve the attendance of three year olds in early learning – Australia is in the bottom third of countries identified by the OECD in its ‘Education at  a Glance’ report with only 66percent of three year olds enrolled in early learning.”

A study by the Melbourne Institute found that  children who attend a high quality early learning program in the year before school are up to 40% ahead of their peers by the time they reach year three.

“Increased investment in early learning will also address our declining performance in international education testing, like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA),” said Ms Page.

In the latest PISA testing Australia dropped from 15th to 19th in mathematical literacy, 10th to 16th in scientific literacy and 9th to 14th in reading literacy (OECD, 2013). PISA analyses also show that in most countries, students who had attended at least one year of early leaning perform better than those who had not, accounting for students’ socioeconomic background (OECD, 2015, p. 326).

PISA research shows that the relationship between early learning and performance ‘tends to be stronger in school systems with longer duration pre-primary education, smaller child-to-teacher ratios in pre-primary education and higher public expenditure per child at the pre-primary level’ (OECD, 2015, p. 326)..

More information: www.everyonebenefits.org.au/resources

ACER Report: http://research.acer.edu.au/policyinsights/5/