The Australian Government has announced a $440 million funding boost for preschool education and is urging states to boost the enrolment and attendance rates of preschoolers in early learning amid suggestions enrolment calculations are incorrect.
The Independent Education Union of Australia (IEUA), however, has expressed disappointment that the funding boost only provides a one year extension.
Minister for Education Simon Birmingham said the extra funding would extend the National Partnership on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education into 2019 to ensure more than 348,000 children have access to 15 hours of quality early learning in the year before commencing school.
“The research is clear about the positive impact quality early education and care has for children, especially as preparation for school,” Mr Birmingham said.
“This is an investment that we’ve seen gets results but could get even better results.
Mr Birmingham said his focus for the future of preschool policy would be to ensure it was as effective as possible.
He also said he was raising concerns with states and territories about new data that showed nearly one in 10 children the program was intended to support weren’t enrolled in preschool. The best available data from the ABS also showed that only around 70 per cent of children enrolled in dedicated preschool were attending for the full 15 hours a week.
That compares to current methodology used to assess performance under National Partnership arrangements that’s reporting states and territories are achieving enrolment rates over 100 per cent.
“There’s clearly an opportunity to work with states and territories to ensure our funding for preschool is best supporting all children, especially those who most need it,” Mr Birmingham said.
“The new analysis from the Productivity Commission highlights the way enrolments have been calculated to date meant they could be flawed by showing all students in the year before school had been enrolled by comparing four and five year olds in preschool with just the population of four year olds.”
IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Industrial Officer Verena Heron said it was impossible for early learning providers to plan and invest in quality education and staff when they did not know what their funding would be from one year to the next.
“Underfunding in the early childhood sector persists even though research has shown time and again that the education a child receives at ages two, three, and four is equally important to that which she receives at ages eight, 12 or 14,” Ms Heron said.