To improve and equalise children’s emotional and social readiness for formal schooling, the plan seeks to provide all young children with an additional, full-time year of government-funded learning in Early Childhood Education Centres (ECEC) or pre-school centres.
Of course, ensuring that ‘no child misses out’ would significantly alter the landscape of the early education sector. With as much as $14b in funding over the next 10 years, let’s take a look at the (as yet fairly limited) detail of the proposed reform.
In this blog:
What does the plan involve?
It’s important to remember that the plan has not yet been approved; the full details are yet to be clarified and consultation periods are still underway.
However, if it does proceed, the reform will see all children across New South Wales and Victoria offered an additional year of wholly subsidised, full-time play-based learning before the commencement of their formal primary school education.
The universal learning opportunity will occur in ECECs and pre-school settings, and aims to welcome the large catchment of children who may not otherwise have had the opportunity, or may only have attended part-time. In doing so, it will better pave the way between childcare and school for the vast majority.
Importantly, the structure of the learning will be “play-based”, to promote children’s physical, social, emotional, cognitive and creative development in addition to their literacy and numeracy skills. Through this play-based model, the learning will also make connections between imaginative play and the Australian Curriculum; another key link in ensuring smooth transitions to primary school.
The quality of the facilities and educators will be critical to the success of the reform and, for this reason, trials will commence as soon as 2023, before a proposed rollout from 2025 (in Victoria) and 2030 (in New South Wales).
While the opportunity will be available to all, it won’t be mandatory.
Why an extra year of schooling?
Currently, as many as one in five children are starting primary school while developmentally vulnerable. By providing 12 months of accessible, full-time early childhood learning in the year before formal schooling, it’s anticipated that the ‘playing field’ will be levelled and children will enjoy more consistency in the transition to school.
While it is natural for children of similar age to develop differently, the plan seeks to address gaps caused by factors such as socio-economic disadvantage.
Recent Australian research shows an interesting trend. Children from more affluent backgrounds are tending towards delayed schooling, while early commencement is more common amongst children from a lower socio-economic standing (even for those who may not be developmentally ready) – primarily because families can’t afford the cost of ongoing childcare.
In fact, statistics show New South Wales has some of the highest rates of delayed school entry in the world, with as many as 25% of students only starting school the year after they were eligible.
By removing the financial barrier and requiring full-time attendance, the plan would see all children enjoy a more consistent baseline and have the same experiences before transitioning into school.
The proposal is backed by growing international evidence, which shows that quality preschool learning provides the foundation for a child’s long-term success.
In Canada, Ontario’s full-time preschool program has been operating for more than 10 years and demonstrates strong evidence of benefits for both children and their families, while also reducing educational inequalities and the need for special education services.
In the United Kingdom, studies indicate that children who attended two to three days of quality early childhood learning before commencing school were up to eight months ahead in literacy skills upon school commencement.
How will the plan roll out?
Both the NSW and Victorian governments have now commenced extensive community engagement and consultation with interested parties. Submissions received during this time will inform the trials that occur from 2023.
With the critical emphasis on the quality of the care, significant investment ($280m in NSW alone) has been committed towards educational scholarships to attract new workers, and re-training for existing early childhood workers to ensure the availability of highly professional educators to service the proposal.
Substantial funds have also been earmarked for the expansion of existing services and construction of additional preschool centres (the majority of which will be on or near primary school grounds) to ensure facilities are not overwhelmed.
So, while we are yet to understand the full detail of how and when this proposed reform will impact ECECs, what is evident is that a significant funding boost and increased demand for ECEC services are on the cards in the years and decades ahead.
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