Preschool education in Australia

9 May 2008

Marilyn Harrington
Social Policy Section

Contents

Introduction
Research on the value of early childhood education

Overview
High/Scope Perry Preschool Study
The Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) Project

Preschool education in Australia

Overview
Statistics

Enrolments, attendance and providers

Indigenous preschool students

Funding

State and territory government funding
Australian Government support for Indigenous preschool students
International comparisons

Recent developments
Conclusion
Appendix. State and territory preschool education systems

Australian Capital Territory
New South Wales

Department of Community Services
Department of Education and Training

Northern Territory
Queensland
South Australia
Tasmania
Victoria
Western Australia

Introduction

Following on from its election commitment to ensure preschool access for four-year-old children, the Australian Government is proceeding with its plans to provide access to universal preschool education.[1]

This commitment is supported by an overwhelming body of evidence attesting to the efficacy of early childhood education for school and later life outcomes, as well as a growing economic argument for greater investment on the basis of productivity gains. Further, Australia s expenditure on early childhood education has compared poorly with other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in 2004 Australia s expenditure on pre-primary education amounted to 0.1 per cent of GDP, compared to the OECD average of 0.5 per cent of GDP.[2]

For various reasons not all Australian four-year-olds attend preschool or are accounted for in the available preschool attendance data. In 2006 07, 248,172 children attended state and territory government funded and/or provided preschool services in Australia.[3] There is also considerable variation in the provision of these services creating some confusion about the state of the preschool education sector (including what constitutes preschool education) variability in program structure and inequities in access and participation.

The purpose of this Background Note is to present some of the key research in the area of early childhood intervention and education that has informed Australian policy making. It also provides an overview of current preschool education provision in Australia and recent policy developments.

Research on the value of early childhood education

Overview

The value of early childhood education programs, particularly for children who are disadvantaged, is well-substantiated as the result of considerable research that continues to accumulate. Short-term benefits include improved cognitive functioning and social skills and, thereby, improved school readiness. Longitudinal studies have demonstrated positive effects on school completion, further education participation, employment outcomes, earnings and general social well-being. The importance of early childhood education has also been underlined by developments in the science of early brain development which suggests the earlier the intervention the better.[4]

Economists, too, are arguing for greater investment in early childhood on the basis of productivity gains. Key amongst these proponents is Dr James Heckman, a Noble Laureate in Economics, who came to the study of the efficacy of early childhood programs by way of a study on the economic return from job retraining programs for steel workers. He concluded that job retraining programs were ineffective because it was more difficult to learn new skills at a later age and there were fewer years to recoup the cost of retraining. From the findings of his later research, Heckman argues that the investment in early childhood intervention programs produces far greater gains at the same cost.[5]

As Australian academic and Founding Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Don Edgar, has remarked:

There is hardly a better-researched and documented aspect of education than these significant early childhood years, including the long-term cost-benefits of quality childcare/preschool programs and the long-tem disadvantage for children without access to quality early childhood programs investment in children at this level will pay off in myriad ways, helping to prevent child abuse, lack of thriving, ill-health, school failure, early dropout, poor job chances, delinquency and crime in later life [6]

Many of the studies and programs that form part of this research deal broadly with early childhood, encompassing a range of strategies that target children and their families from birth, providing not only early education but also health and nutrition services for families in combination with parent training and support. Such programs include:

Australia is also producing its own programs; for example, the NSW Government s Brighter Futures early intervention program and the Triple P Positive Parenting Program, which was developed at the University of Queensland and has been adopted overseas.

In addition to these early childhood intervention studies and programs, there are two well-cited longitudinal studies that specifically investigate the effects of preschool education programs on later educational and other life outcomes. These are the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study (USA) and, more recently, the Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) Project (UK). The results of these studies have significant messages for Australian policy makers.

High/Scope Perry Preschool Study

The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study is well-cited longitudinal research that has followed into adulthood the lives of 123 children from African American families to assess whether high-quality preschool programs provided short- and long-term benefits to children living in poverty and at risk of failing in school. The children were divided into a program group which received a high-quality preschool program; and a no preschool program group. Researchers assessed the status of the two groups annually from ages 3 to 11, at ages 14 15, at 19 and 27 and, most recently, at age 40.

Over the years the program group has scored significantly higher than the no-program group in:

  • levels of school completion rates
  • general level of education by age 27
  • general literacy at ages 19 and 27
  • better attitudes toward school at ages 15 and 19 (similarly parents had better attitudes towards their 15-year-old children s schooling)
  • school achievement at ages 9, 10 and 14 and
  • various intellectual and language tests from their preschool years up to age 7.

The findings of the most recent analysis at age 40 continued the trend of the previous findings. Compared to the no-program group, the program group members had significantly:

  • higher employment rates
  • higher median earnings
  • higher percentages of home ownership
  • more savings accounts
  • lower percentages of receiving social services (although the difference was not as significant as at age 27) and
  • fewer lifetime arrests for crimes across all categories.

A cost-benefit analysis was also applied to the results, producing an estimate that, in constant year 2000 US dollars discounted at 3 per cent, the economic return to society of the Perry Preschool program was $US17.07 per dollar invested. Of that return $US12.90 went to the general public and $US4.17 to each participant. Most of the public return came from crime savings (88 per cent) and the remainder from education savings (4 per cent), increased taxes due to higher earnings (7 per cent) and welfare savings (1 per cent).[7]

The Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) Project

Heralded as the first major European longitudinal study, the Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) Project is investigating the effects of preschool education and care on children s development between the ages of 3 and 14. Information is being collected on over 3000 children, their parents, home environments and the preschool settings they attended. A sample of home children who had no or minimal preschool experience was recruited to the study at entry to school for comparison with the preschool group.

Key findings over the preschool period included:

  • preschool experience, compared to none, enhances all-round development in children
  • duration of attendance (in months) is important; an earlier start (under age 3 years) is related to better intellectual development
  • full-time attendance led to no better gains for children than part-time provision
  • disadvantaged children benefit significantly from good quality preschool experiences, especially where they are with a mixture of children from different social backgrounds
  • high quality preschooling, including staff with higher qualifications, is related to better intellectual and social/behavioural development and
  • for all children, the quality of the home learning environment is more important for intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income.

Key findings at age 7 included:

  • the beneficial effects of preschool remained, although some outcomes were not as strong as they had been at school entry
  • the number of months a child attended preschool continued to have an effect on progress, although this effect was stronger for academic skills than for social and behavioural development
  • preschool quality was significantly related to children s scores on standardised tests of reading and mathematics at age 6. At age 7 the relationship between quality and academic attainment was somewhat weaker but still evident; and the effect of quality on social behavioural development was no longer significant. High quality preschool provision combined with longer duration had the strongest effect on development
  • more of the home children fell into the at risk of special educational needs category, even after taking into account background factors and
  • the effect of home learning activities during the preschool period continued to be evident in children s developmental profiles at age 7.[8]

There is an absence of similar longitudinal studies in Australia where research has mostly focussed on pilot projects. It is therefore these overseas longitudinal studies that have been instrumental in influencing public policy development in Australia. However, while there is agreement about the efficacy of early childhood intervention and education programs, Australian reviews of the research have highlighted the importance of interventions that are cost-effective and appropriate for Australian communities.[9]

Preschool education in Australia

Overview

The Report on Government Services 2008 describes preschool education as comprising:

services usually provided by a qualified teacher on a sessional basis in dedicated preschools. Preschool programs or curricula may also be provided in long day care centres and other settings. These services are primarily aimed at children in the year before they commence full time schooling [10]

There is an enormous range of arrangements for preschool education across the country and variation in the level of service and access. However, in recognition of the importance of early childhood education, preschool education is now undergoing significant restructure. The Australian Government is becoming more involved and the states and territories are also reforming preschool education. Following is an overview of current preschool education provision in Australia and detailed state and territory information is provided in the Appendix to this Background Note.

Since 1986 preschool education has been the sole responsibility of the states and territories with the exception of Indigenous preschool services for which the Australian Government provides supplementary funding.

Preschool services are offered by government, community and private providers. They may be stand-alone services, attached to schools or provided in child care centres. Regulation of preschool education is principally the responsibility of education departments (except in NSW):

  • Preschools are staffed and funded by education departments, and integrated with or linked to schools in the ACT, the Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia.
  • In Queensland and Victoria preschool education is principally delivered by community providers and regulated and funded in part by education departments.
  • In NSW there is a mixed system of preschool provision with most services provided by child care services or other community providers and regulated by the Department of Community Services. There are also 100 preschools which are attached to primary schools and administered by the Department of Education and Training.

Age eligibility is principally geared towards children, aged about four years, in the year prior to school commencement. Three-year-old children are eligible in some jurisdictions. There are also early access programs for Indigenous children and other children with special needs, including those with disabilities, gifted and talented children and children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Preschool services are usually provided on a sessional basis, with average hours of attendance in most states and territories between 11 and 12 hours per week for four-year-olds. In NSW average attendance for children attending preschools attached to schools is about 17 hours per week.[11]

Table 1. Summary of preschool education programs for 4-year-olds, two years prior to Year 1(a)

 

Name of program

Average hours attended per week(b)

Provider

NSW

Preschool

17 hours(c)
na

Dept of Education and Training
Dept of Community Services

Qld

Kindergarten

11 hours

Creche and Kindergarten Association of Queensland (C&K), funded by Dept of Education, Training and the Arts.

NT

Preschool

12 hours

Dept of Employment, Education and Training

WA

Kindergarten

11 hours

Dept of Education and Training

SA

Kindergarten

11 hours

Dept of Education and Children s Services

ACT

Preschool

12 hours

Dept of Education and Training

Tas

Kindergarten

11 hours

Dept of Education

Vic

Kindergartens

10 hours minimum(d)

Dept of Education and Early Childhood Development

na Not available.
(a) Table adapted from Australian Education Union (AEU), Preschool Education: Programs for 4 year olds, Two Years Prior to Year 1, accessed 20 March 2008; (b) Children s services attachment , Report on Government Services 2008; (c) As advised by the NSW Department of Education and Training; (d) Victorian Kindergarten Policy, Procedures and Funding Criteria Update 2008.

The usual pattern of staffing is a qualified teacher supported by a teacher s assistant. All systems require qualified teachers in preschools, but only Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, the ACT and NSW (Department of Education and Training preschools only) require teachers with early childhood education qualifications. In NSW, for preschools and child care centres regulated by the Department of Community Services, qualified teachers are mandated for centres with more than 30 children.

In Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, the ACT, the Northern Territory and NSW (Department of Education & Training preschools only), government provided preschool education is free with the option of a voluntary levy. The reported average fees for community preschools in NSW are about $25 per day; in Queensland daily fees range from $13 to $20; and in Victoria the average fees are about $140 per term. However, fee relief for eligible families is provided in these states.[12] It should also be noted that parents of children who participate in preschool programs through their attendance at child care centres are eligible for Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Tax Rebate.[13]

In most systems parent committees contribute to the management of preschools and fundraise to provide additional resources.

In all jurisdictions there are fully privately funded preschools (including preschools attached to non-government schools) and children may also access a form of preschool education program in long day care centres. It is difficult to determine how the latter compare to preschool education services as defined in the Report on Government Services.

A number of problems, many of which were highlighted by a 2004 inquiry into preschool education, confront the sector and remain a challenge.[14] These include issues of access (for example, geographic location and transport); affordability; the supply of qualified early childhood teachers; state and territory differences in administration, funding and curricula; and the provision of preschool services for children with special needs, particularly children with disabilities and Indigenous children. Children of working parents have also been described as trapped in long-day child care. The latter is not only symptomatic of the problem of program quality in childcare settings, but also the logistical difficulties for working parents of combining preschool with child care.[15]

Statistics

There are a number of sources for data on preschool education, including the Report on Government Services 2008 (RoGS) Children s Services chapter; the National Preschool Census (latest issue 2006; 2007 soon to be released); Australian Bureau of Statistics, Child Care Australia (latest issue June 2005); the 2006 Census of Population and Housing (the Census); and the Commonwealth Grants Commission.

Each source has a different rationale and methodology for collecting data and, consequently there is some variation in the data provided. For instance, RoGS calculates the number of children in preschool at 248 172 children in 2006 07; the National Preschool Census estimates total enrolments of 212 998 in 2006; and the 2006 Census, in which parents self-identify their children s education, places the number of children in preschool at 307 284 in 2006.

The following statistical information is mostly extracted from RoGS. There are some limitations with this data. The statistics cover government provided or funded preschool services. Therefore, children who attend private preschools and, generally, children who receive preschool services in child care settings (unless they are stand-alone preschools) are not included.

Further, the state and territory data is not always comparable because of the differences in preschool service provision and the lack or inconsistency of data. The RoGS tables include numerous notes explaining the basis of the data that has been provided by the jurisdictions and contain frequent caveats. Some of these notes are provided in the tables that follow.

It should also be noted that the full impact of the recent changes in preschool provision in Queensland is also not yet reflected in the RoGS figures (see the summary of preschool provision in Queensland). The apparently significantly smaller number of children in NSW does not take into account children attending preschool in other settings, particularly private preschools.

Enrolments, attendance and providers

In 2006 07:

  • 248 172 children attended state and territory government funded and/or provided preschool services, the majority of whom (89 per cent or 220 827 children) were attending in the year before commencing full-time schooling.
  • 87.2 per cent of all four-year-old children attended state and territory government funded and/or provided preschool in the year immediately before they commenced school, ranging from 100 per cent in Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia to 64.6 per cent in NSW. [16],[17]

From the figures in Table 2, 12.8 percent or 32 358 children of the estimated population of four-year-olds are not accounted for in preschool enrolment figures for 2006 07. Some of these children may be attending private preschools or participating in other preschool programs, such as in long day care centres, which are not included in the data collections. The reasons for children s non-participation in preschool may be the result of access and equity problems (such as geographic location or cost) or, as preschool is not compulsory, the result of parental choice.

Table 2. Children using state and territory government funded and/or provided preschool services, 2006 07(a)

 

NSW(a)

Vic

Qld

WA

SA

Tas

ACT

NT

Aust.

Number of preschool children

               

Year before full time school

54,181

59,453

53,094

25,569

16,320

5,994

3,378

2,838

220,827

Younger children

11,333

na

10,556

 

4,850

na

172

434

27,345

All preschool children

65,514

59,453

63,650

25,569

21,170

5,994

3,550

3,272

248,172

Estimated residential population of 4-year-olds(b)

           

No.

83,831

61,388

51,521

25,184

17,525

5,973

4,057

3,642

253,185

%

64.6

96.8

103.1

101.5

93.1

100.4

83.3

77.9

87.2

na Not available.
Nil.
Note: The RoGS source data for this table includes many detailed notes and caveats. It is advisable to check this information from the source carefully before doing any detailed analysis.
(a) Data may not be comparable between jurisdictions. In particular, NSW data does not include the sizable non-government school sector and are not directly comparable with other jurisdictions.
(b) A proxy for children eligible to attend preschool in the year before full time school.
(c) Proportion of estimated residential population of four-year-old children using state and territory government funded and/or provided preschool services in the year before commencing full-time school.
(d) There is some double counting of children in NSW, Qld, WA and NT because some children moved in and out of the preschool system throughout the year and some children accessed more than one sessional program. As a result, the number of children reported in preschool exceeds the number of children in the target population. There is no double counting for Victoria, SA, Tasmania and the ACT because a snapshot is used for each year s data collection.

Source: Children s services attachment , Report on Government Services 2008, Table 3A.11

Table 3. Participation by target groups in state and territory government funded
and/or provided preschool services, 2006 07

NSW

Vic

Qld

WA

SA

Tas

ACT

NT

Aust.

Indigenous

2,384

504

3,858

2,322

1,240

285

106

1,378

12,077

LBOTE(a)

6,399

9,721

993

na

2,180

na

523

na

19,816

With disabilities

4,079

3,426

1,449

692

3,200

na

149

222

13,217

Regional

20,149

19,652

30,762

7,525

5,920

5,903

37

1,476

91,424

Remote

829

149

5,244

2,338

1,190

91

na

1,796

11,637

na Not available.
(a) Language Background Other Than English.
Source: 'Children's services - attachment', Report on Government Services 2008, various jurisdiction tables.

The average attendance of children at state and territory government funded and/or provided preschool services in the year immediately before they commenced full-time schooling ranged from about 11 to 14 hours per week.

Table 4. Average attendance at government funded or provided preschools in the year prior to school commencement, 2006 07 (hours per week)

NSW(a)

Vic(b)

Qld

WA

SA

Tas

ACT

NT

Hours per week

na

10.0

13.7

11.0

11.0

11.0

12.0

12.0

na Not available.
(a)      Children in NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) preschools attend for an average of 17 hours per week, as advised by the NSW Department of Education and Training.
(b)     Minimum hours.
Sources: 'Children's services - attachment', Report on Government Services 2008, various jurisdiction tables; Victorian Kindergarten Policy, Procedures and Funding Criteria Update 2008, p. 11.

Preschool education was mainly government provided in all states and territories, except NSW and Victoria where preschool education was mainly operated by community providers.

Table 5. Licensed and/or registered preschool providers by management type, 2006 07

 

Community managed

 

Private

 

Government managed

 

Total

 

No.

%

 

No.

%

 

No.

%

 

No.

%

NSW

755

80.7

 

81

8.7

 

100

10.7

 

936

100.0

Vic

923

74.1

 

101

8.1

 

221

17.8

 

1245

100.0

Qld

344

23.1

 

341

22.9

 

804

54.0

 

1489

100.0

WA

na

na

 

na

na

 

855

100.0

 

855

100.0

SA

22

4.9

 

0

0.0

 

428

95.1

 

450

100.0

Tas

na

na

 

61

26.5

 

169

73.5

 

230

100.0

ACT

8

8.9

 

0

0.0

 

82

91.1

 

90

100.0

NT

na

na

 

na

na

 

104

100.0

 

104

100.0

na - Not available.
Source: 'Children's services - attachment', Report on Government Services 2008, various jurisdiction tables.

The National Preschool Census 2006 shows that about three-quarters of all preschool enrolments are in the non-government sector (community and private providers).[18]

Indigenous preschool students

According to RoGS, there were 12,077 Indigenous students enrolled in preschool in
2006 07 (see Table 3). Data from the National Preschool Census indicate that in 2005 the Indigenous preschool participation rate for 4-year-olds was lower than for non-Indigenous children (46.2 per cent compared to 51 per cent). However, in the Northern Territory the difference in participation rates was far greater 70.3 per cent for Indigenous 4-year-olds compared to 82.5 per cent for non-Indigenous children.[19] The National Preschool Census also indicates that in 2006 Indigenous preschool enrolments in government preschools (53.2 per cent) was slightly higher than in non-government preschools (46.8 per cent).[20]

Funding

In 2006 07, total government expenditure on preschool education was $0.5 billion ($2179 per student), with state and territory governments providing 99.34 per cent of this amount.[21]

State and territory government funding

Expenditure per student varies considerably between the states. As the Commonwealth Grants Commission has noted, the numbers of students and the costs and number of resources provided to each student are only two factors affecting expenditure. The number of students with special needs Indigenous, LBOTE, students with disabilities, remote and students from families of low socio-economic status cost more to educate. Policy decisions such as hours of attendance, number of places for younger children, fees, and proportion and uptake of private preschool services also affect costs.

Table 6. State and territory government expenditure on preschool services, 2006 07 ($'000)

NSW

Vic

Qld

WA

SA

Tas

ACT

NT

Aust

122,368

118,233

99,013

57,851

79,811

21,571

19,988

21,811

540,646

Expense per student ($)

1,868

1,989

1,556

2,263

3,770

3,599

5,630

6,666

2,179

Sources: Children s services attachment , Report on Government Services 2008, Table 3A.5; Preschool education in Commonwealth Grants Commission, Report on State Revenue Sharing Relativities: 2008 Update: Working Papers, vol. 3, p. 3.

Australian Government support for Indigenous preschool students

Australian Government funding for preschool education has been limited to providing supplementary assistance for preschool education and is estimated at $13.8 million for 2008.[22] Most of this funding is provided in the form of Supplementary Recurrent Assistance (SRA). To receive SRA a preschool must have five or more Indigenous students, be licensed or registered as a preschool and conduct an accredited preschool program. Preschool education providers which meet all the eligibility criteria for SRA except enrolments may form Clusters to meet the SRA eligibility enrolment requirement. There are four preschool funding categories based on geographic location, with non-government Indigenous preschool students funded at a significantly higher rate than government students.[23]

Table 7. Supplementary Recurrent Assistance rates for Indigenous preschool students, 2008 ($)

 

Category 1

Category 2

Category 3

Category 4

Government rate

727.78

363.90

363.90

671.71

Non-government rate

2425.97

1212.97

1212.97

2239.02

Source: As advised by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

The remainder of the funding comprises funding for Indigenous Support Units, the Parent School Partnerships Initiative, Building an Indigenous Workforce in Government Service Delivery and project funding.

International comparisons

The level of Australia s expenditure on preschool education, both in terms of total expenditure (public and private) and total public expenditure, has not compared well to that of other countries. According to the OECD, in 2004:

  • the OECD country average for total expenditure (public and private) on pre-primary education as a percentage of GDP was 0.5 per cent. With 0.1 per cent of GDP spent on pre-primary education, Australia was one of the two lowest spending countries amongst 34 countries (including OECD partner countries) for which data was available.
  • the OECD country average for public expenditure on pre-primary education (for children 3 years and older) as a proportion of total expenditure was 80.0 per cent. Australia s proportion of public expenditure for pre-primary education was 69.3 per cent. [24]

Recent developments

Since its election the ALP Government has started the implementation of its election commitment to provide access to quality universal preschool for four-year-olds, as part of its overall plan for early childhood education and child care. Accordingly, the government has established a Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Child Care (Maxine McKew) and the Office of Early Childhood Education and Child Care.

The Government has promised:

By 2013, all children in the year before formal schooling will have access to 15 hours of Government-funded, play-based early childhood education, for a minimum of 40 weeks per year, delivered by degree qualified early childhood teachers in public, private and community-based preschools and child care.[25]

To meet this commitment the Australian Government has announced:

  • funding of $10 million in 2007 08 for projects to improve access to early childhood education programs
  • a National Early Years Workforce Strategy which will include
    • additional early childhood education university places each year from 2009, increasing to 1500 places by 2011
    • removing TAFE fees for Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas of Children s Services and
    • a 50 percent HECS-HELP remission for early childhood education teachers who are willing to work in rural and regional areas, Indigenous communities and areas of socio-economic disadvantage
  • national collaboration of the development of a national Early Years Learning Framework emphasising play-based learning, early literacy and numeracy skills and social development. This Framework will be linked to new National Quality Standards for Child Care and Preschool.[26]

Ahead of the Australia 2020 Summit, the Prime Minister announced his proposal to combine maternal and child health and welfare, child care services and preschool at the one location.[27] This proposal was subsequently endorsed by the Summit.[28]

The proposal was also endorsed by state and territory governments at the April 2008 joint meeting of the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) and the Ministerial Council for Vocational and Technical Education (MCVTE). [29]

State and territory governments are also restructuring preschool education as a consequence of commitments given at Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meetings. In 2006 COAG undertook early childhood as a priority; specifically, to support families to improve childhood development outcomes in the first five years of a child s life.[30] In 2007 COAG resolved to develop an intergovernmental agreement on a national approach to quality assurance and regulations for early childhood education and care. [31]

Conclusion

The commitment to quality universal preschool education is now an entrenched agenda for all governments. As the recent joint MCEETYA/MCVTE meeting declared:

early childhood education and care is an important strategic priority for Australia and early childhood reform is essential for Australia s future prosperity achieving outcomes for children requires a whole of government approach, embracing education, child care and support for parents and families.[32]

There may, however, be some challenge in coordinating these efforts and producing an accessible, cost-effective option for all families.

Appendix. State and territory preschool education systems

The following information is compiled from a number of sources, including government reports and procedural guidelines, department websites and oral advice from various agencies.

Australian Capital Territory

Preschool education is the responsibility of the Department of Education and Training (DET). From 2008 preschools are amalgamated with primary schools and may be either on- or off-site some primary schools may have responsibility for more than one preschool. DET funds preschool employee costs, maintenance of buildings and grounds and provides funding for cleaning and consumables.

Preschool is principally offered to children aged four years who attend for 12 hours each week. Children with special needs may be placed in a targeted preschool program from three years of age. Indigenous children, hearing impaired children, children for whom English is a second language and gifted and talented children, are also eligible for early entry.

Indigenous (Koori) preschool sessions operate at five locations. Indigenous children aged 0 5 are eligible to enrol. Parents are encouraged to participate in the programs and are required to attend with children aged less than three years. Programs operate for eight hours per week. Eligible children can attend a Koori preschool in addition to a mainstream preschool.

Teachers must have early childhood education qualifications.

Parent committees set voluntary levies.

New South Wales

Department of Community Services

The Department of Community Services (DoCS) has responsibility for most NSW preschools (about 800), which take children aged 3 to 5 years. DoCS estimates that around 85 per cent of children in NSW experience a preschool program through the range of children services that are offered, including schools and long day care centres.[33]

DoCS funded preschool services receive funding for operational costs and fee relief. In 2005‑06:

  • Average operational funding per hour per place was $1.70 for centre-based services and $2.68 for mobile services. Average fee relief funding per hour per fee relief place was $1.49 for centre-based services and $1.48 for mobile services.
  • Average fee for centre-based services for parents who did not qualify for fee relief (i.e. income over $40,795) was $24.76 per day; and, for parents who received fee relief, it was $16.83 per day. For mobile preschool services, the average fees were $22.25 and $14.19 respectively.[34]

In May 2006 the NSW Premier announced the Preschool Investment and Reform Plan, providing $77.2 million over four years to strengthen the community-based preschool sector in NSW, the purpose of which is to improve preschool access in NSW by making it more affordable and making it easier for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to participate in a preschool program The Plan has involved:

  • in 2005 06, $8.3 million emergency funding to about 400 preschools under immediate financial pressure
  • over two years, 2006 07 to 2007 08, $17.5 million viability funding to 539 community-based preschool services. Applicants could apply for operational funding, fee-relief funding, one-off capital improvement funding and service analysis and business development support and, further,
  • from 2008 09, an additional $29.8 million per year will be provided to expand the number of subsidised preschool places and further subsidies will be provided to accommodate 10,500 children in the year before starting school.

All staff in DoCS funded preschools must be trained in early childhood but qualified teachers with early childhood qualifications are only mandated for centres with 30 or more children. However, according to advice from DoCS, many centres with less than 30 children do have qualified teachers.

The preschools are usally run by a parent committee or sponsored by a church, community organisation or local government.

Department of Education and Training

The Department of Education and Training (DET) has preschools attached to 100 primary schools. These preschools are mostly located in low socioeconomic status (SES) areas with priority given to disadvantaged children from low SES backgrounds, ATSI children, children with disabilities and children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds i.e. for children of families who may not be able to afford to pay for preschools administered through DoCS.

Twenty four DET preschools are in communities with high Indigenous populations. Children in geographically isolated areas may be eligible for a preschool program through the Dubbo School of Distance Education. Four preschools are for children with hearing disabilities. There are also 50 early intervention programs in 46 schools for children 3 to 5 years with special needs.

DET preschools are run by the school, school council or by parent committees. The majority of children in DET preschools are aged four years and attend part-time. The attendance patterns vary some offer half day sessions; others offer full day sessions for two, three or five days per week with an average attendance of about 17 hours per week.[35].

DET employs an early childhood trained teacher and a teacher s aide in each preschool class. All teaching staff are fully qualified teachers and all new appointees are also required to have early childhood education qualifications.

Some schools charge a voluntary levy.

For further information see DET, Enrolment of Students in NSW Government Preschools Classes Procedures.

From July 2008 DoCS will begin to implement the requirement that school-based preschools (government and non-government) will need to be licensed by DoCS. For further information see the DoCS website, Licensing School-based Preschools or Children s Services.

Northern Territory

The Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) has responsibility for preschools which are integrated with primary schools. There are also mobile preschool services in remote areas additional mobile preschools have been provided as the result of the Commonwealth Government s NT Emergency Response which provided $16.0 million in administered expenses for extra teacher workforce capacity and classrooms.[36] The NT Government is spending $9.5 million over the next five years to provide six new mobile preschools in remote areas and 21 teachers and assistants.[37]

Children may enrol in preschool at the beginning of the year if they turn four on or by 30 June.

All preschool teachers must be qualified teachers and, while early childhood qualifications are desirable, they are not mandatory advice from DEET is that there are not sufficient teachers with these qualifications.

Some preschools are managed by parent committees; others opt to have representation through the primary school council. Voluntary contributions are levied.

A significant problem in the Northern Territory is that schools are required to have 12 enrolments in preschool in order to have a formal (staffed) preschool program. It has been estimated that 94 per cent of remote communities do not have a preschool.[38]

Queensland

The previous system of preschool education in Queensland, whereby preschools were part of primary schools, was replaced with the universal introduction of a Prep Year in Queensland schools in 2007. The Prep Year represents an extension of the number of years of formal schooling and is fully integrated into the rest of the school. It is similar to the systems in existence in other states and territories i.e. it is a non-compulsory, full-time program which children attend from Monday to Friday during normal school hours. Prep Year caters for children aged 4 to 5 children must be 5 by 30 June in the year they start Prep. It is available in all Queensland state schools and most non-state schools offering a primary program.

The Creche and Kindergarten Association of Queensland (C & K) is funded to provide pre-Prep programs, known as Kindergarten, for 3 to 4 year olds in the year before they commence Prep. Younger children may be accepted, depending on vacancies. C&K has a three-year funding agreement with the Department of Education, Training and the Arts (DETA), which provides about 80 per cent of teacher s salaries to C&K affiliated community kindergartens. Kindergartens which are approved by C&K and have plans for affiliation receive a fixed rate subsidy based on the number of teacher/child contact hours (a maximum of $16 600 per annum). Capital assistance is also provided to kindergartens.[39] The remainder of the costs are met by fees and fundraising. Fees vary from $13 to $20 daily. Some kindergarten fees may be more expensive if enrolments are small.

C&K oversights all the kindergarten programs, whether they are run by C&K branches or affiliated bodies. All these services employ qualified teachers with early childhood qualifications. Some of these services have an extended model, offering child care services after kindergarten to cover the remaining school hours or offering after school hours as well.

C&K also has a kindergarten curriculum which is currently being accredited by the Queensland Studies Authority, in part to ensure that kindergarten teachers continue to meet their teacher registration requirements.

Affiliated kindergartens are run by parent committees which are separately incorporated management committees. C&K Branch kindergartens have parent advisory groups.

South Australia

The Department of Education and Children s Services (DECS) is responsible for providing preschool education programs in a range of government funded centres including kindergartens, child-parent centres, integrated centres and Early Childhood Development Centres.

In government funded preschool programs:

  • children aged four years and above are entitled to attend a preschool program for the equivalent of up to four sessions per week for up to four terms in the year before they start school
  • children who are Aboriginal or under the guardianship of the Minister for Families and Communities, are entitled to attend up to four preschool sessions per week from three years of age, and may continue to attend up to four sessions per week until they are six years old
  • children attending DECS designated Rural Preschools can attend up to three sessions of preschool from the age of three years and six months and

There are also approved early and extended enrolments for other children with additional needs such as a disability, developmental delay, gifted development, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds or other disadvantaged family and social circumstances.

DECS regulates preschools, provides the staff (a qualified early childhood teacher plus an early childhood worker or school support officer) and funds operational costs. Parent committees participate in the management of preschools, contribute to policy development and fundraise.

Voluntary levies are set by the preschool s management committee.[40]

The South Australian Government is currently reviewing its education legislation to, in part, better integrate early childhood services, including preschool.[41]

Tasmania

Preschools, termed kindergarten, are regulated by the Department of Education. Preschool programs are offered to children who must be four years of age on or by 1 January in the year in which they start. Exceptions may be made for gifted children (they must be at least three years and six months of age as of 1 January in the year they start) and children previously enrolled in a government school in another state. Kindergarten is provided for 11 hours per week and may be offered as half day or full day sessions. Kindergartens are integrated with a primary school and are usually located on the same campus. Kindergarten programs are integrated with primary school programs the kindergarten curriculum is part of the Tasmanian school curriculum. No fees are charged but voluntary contributions may be levied.

As kindergartens are part of the school system, all teachers are qualified and registered as teachers. Most kindergarten teachers will have early childhood qualifications but it is not mandatory. There are instances of teachers with general primary training teaching in the early years.

Victoria

In August 2007 responsibility for Victorian preschools, known as kindergartens, moved from the then Department of Human Services to the newly-created Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Kindergartens provide a one-year program for children aged four years in the year prior to school entry (they must be four by 30 April). Service providers must offer each child a minimum of 10 hours of funded kindergarten per week.

Younger children may be eligible for early age entry upon application. There are Inclusion Support Services for children with severe disabilities to assist their participation in their local kindergarten programs. Indigenous children of kindergarten age are assisted through the Koorie Early Childhood Education Program which provides Koorie early childhood field officers and Koori preschool assistants. The 2007 08 state budget also provided funding for the staged introduction of free kindergarten for three-year-old Indigenous children who are, or whose parents are, concession card holders.

The state government funds kindergarten programs, which are provided by a range of organisations, including local government, community organisations, child care providers and schools. They operate in a variety of settings, including long day care centres, community kindergartens, community centres and schools (government and non-government). For state funded kindergartens, the Kindergarten Certificate identifies that the kindergarten service provides a qualified early childhood teacher and that the licensed premises comply with the Children s Service Act and meets the Children s Services Regulations.

The state government provides indexed per capita grants which vary with the service setting and location.[42] The government also provides funding for the management and coordination of kindergarten clusters. The cluster manager is responsible for the overall management of the services operating within the cluster, including the management and employment of staff, licensing requirements and financial management. From July 2007 the cluster management grant is $7000 per location.

Kindergarten organisations are also eligible to apply for an additional annual payment if they employ an early childhood teacher classified at a certain level, with seven years experience or who is classified as exemplary . The payments vary according to the kindergarten setting and range from $225 to $409. A travel allowance is also provided to assist rural services to attract qualified early childhood teachers.

Most kindergarten services charge fees in addition to the government s contribution. According to the Australian Education Union Victorian Branch, in 2006 the average fee per term for four-year-old groups was $172.94 fees ranged from $50 (10 hour group) to $598 per term (20 hour group).[43] A kindergarten fee subsidy is available for eligible families. From 1 July 2007 the fee subsidy rate is $730 per year (or $182.50 per term).

Kindergarten staff who plan and deliver kindergarten programs must hold an approved early childhood teaching qualification. If an appropriately qualified early childhood teacher cannot be found, an organisation must seek Ministerial approval to receive funding on condition that a primary trained teacher is employed. For appointments longer than 12 weeks, the primary teacher must enrol in a course that achieves an approved early childhood qualification.[44]

The Victorian Government also has incentive schemes for kindergarten teachers:[45]

  • The Early Childhood Teacher Scholarships for Pathway Students Scheme provides 50 two-year scholarships per year in 2008 and 2009 to a diploma qualified staff employed in long day care settings to update their qualification to an early childhood degree. Upon graduation, scholarship recipients will be required to work for two years in a long day care setting.

Scholarship recipients will receive payments of up to $6,000 over two years to cover their HECS fees. They will also have access to literacy support during the period that they are studying. In addition their employers may be eligible to receive reimbursement for part of the cost of releasing staff to undertake further study.

  • The Early Childhood Teachers in Long Day Care Incentives Scheme provides 50 two-year Incentive Packages per year in 2008 and 2009 to attract early childhood degree graduates to work in long day care settings. Incentive Package recipients will be required to work for two years as a teacher in a long day care setting. During this time they will participate in a Professional Mentoring Program which will provide them with individual and group support from experienced early childhood teachers.

Incentive Package recipients will receive payments of up to $12,000 over two years to cover their HECS fees. In addition their employers may be eligible to receive reimbursement of the cost of releasing staff to participate in the Professional Mentoring Program.

Most recently, in February 2008 the Victorian Government announced new proposals for the reform of early childhood education which include the provision of multiple services at a single site; improving the integration of 0 8 learning; better coordinated early intervention support for children with disabilities and Indigenous children; and improving the percentage of qualified staff.[46]

Western Australia

Western Australia has a universal preschool program for four year olds (they must be four by 30 June), known as kindergarten, with most integrated with the pre-primary year on school sites. The kindergarten program is 11 hours per week and may be offered as four half days, two full days or a combination of half and full days per week. There are also Aboriginal kindergartens which provide programs for three and four-year-olds in 2006 07 there were 28 locations under the direct management of local primary schools.

There are also community kindergartens (in 2006 there were 1180 children enrolled in 37 community kindergartens). The Department of Education and Training provides these kindergartens with operational funding and a teacher and education assistant. Their programs are overseen by a linked primary school. Parent management committees are responsible for financial management and daily operations.

Kindergarten teachers are required to have early childhood teaching qualifications.

There are no fees for attending kindergarten but voluntary levies may be charged.



[1]. K. Rudd and others, Labor s Plan for Early Childhood: Election 2007 Policy Document, Australian Labor Party, Canberra, 2007.

[2]. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Education at a Glance 2007, OECD, Paris, 2007, Table B2.2, p. 206.

[3]. Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, Children s services , Report on Government Services 2008, The Committee, Melbourne, 2008, p. 3.8.

[4]. See, for example, J. F. Mustard, Experience-based brain development: scientific underpinnings of the importance of early child development in a global world, in M. E. Young (ed.), Early Child Development From Measurement to Action: A Priority for Growth and Action, World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2007, pp. 27 33.

[5]. See, for example, Heckman, James J.,
Skill formation and the economics of investing in disadvantaged children , Science, vol. 312, no. 5782, 30 June 2006, pp. 1900 1902. See also, C. Coffey, Early child development is a business imperative , in M. E. Young, op. cit., pp. 35 63.

[6]. D. Edgar, The Patchwork Nation: Re-thinking Government Re-building Community, HarperCollins, Pymble, NSW, 2001, p. 174.

[7]. L. J. Schweinhart, The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40:
Summary, Conclusions, and Frequently Asked Questions
, High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, 2003.

[8]. K. Sylva and others, The Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) Project:
Final Report: A Longitudinal Study 1997 2004
, Institute of Education, London, 2004; the Report s website; and the EPPE
summary reports.

[9]. See S. Wise and others, The Efficacy of Early Childhood Interventions:
A Report Prepared for the Australian Government Department of Family and Community Services
, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne, 2005; and J. Watson and others,
Prevention and Early Intervention Literature Review, NSW Centre for Parenting & Research, NSW Department of Community Services, Ashfield, NSW, 2005.

[10]. Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, op. cit., p.3.3.

[11]. As advised by Early Childhood and Interagency Programs, NSW Department of Education and Training.

[12]. See Appendix for further information.

[13]. Centrelink, Child Care Information website.

[14]. K. Walker, National Preschool Education Inquiry:
For all Our Children: Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Provision of
Universal Access to High Quality Preschool Education
, Australian Education Union, Southbank, Vic., 2004.

[15]. D. Gough, Daycare stopping children going to kindergarten , The Sunday Age, 22 July 2007.

[16]. RoGS, op. cit., Table 3A.11.

[17]. Current Queensland figures will be affected by the changes in preschool provision in 2007. The RoGS figure for NSW runs counter to verbal advice from the NSW Department of Community Services which estimates that 85 per cent of four-year-olds are receiving preschool education services this figure takes into account privately funded preschool services in NSW.

[18]. National Preschool Census 2006: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and All Students: Summary Report, p. 8.

[19]. Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision,
Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2007
, The Committee, Melbourne, 2007, p. 6.5.

[20]. National Preschool Census 2006, op. cit., p. 10. For further information, see also M. Kronemann,
AEU Briefing Paper: Universal Preschool Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children, Australian Education Union, 2007.

[21]. Preschool education in Commonwealth Grants Commission, Report on State Revenue Sharing Relativities: 2008 Update: Working Papers, vol. 3, p. 1. This figure includes the government component of Australian Government payments under its Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives; but excludes the non-government component, which constitutes the majority of Australian Government assistance for Indigenous preschools.

[22]. As advised by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR).

[23]. Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR),
Indigenous Education Program Elements: Provider Guidelines 2005 2008, DEEWR, Canberra, 2008, pp. 29, 58.

[24]. OECD, op. cit., Tables B3.2a and B2.2.

[25]. Office of Early Childhood Education, Universal Access to Early Childhood Education website.

[26]. ibid.

[27]. K. Rudd, Press conference with Maxine McKew, Sydney Day Nursery, Sydney, 17 April 2008.

[28]. Australia 2020 Summit: Initial Summit Report, p. 8.

[29]. Communique, Joint Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs/MCVTE Meeting, 17 April 2008, pp. 3 4.

[30]. Communique, Council of Australian Governments Meeting, 14 July 2006, p. 6.

[31]. Communique, Council of Australian Governments Meeting, 13 April 2007, p. 4.

[32]. MCEETYA/MCVTE, op. cit.

[33]. As advised by DoCS. This figure is in contrast to the RoGS estimate of 64.5 per cent participation rate for NSW in the year before full time school which does not take account of fully privately funded preschool services.

[34]. Department of Community Services,
NSW Preschool & Reform Plan: Guidelines for Allocation of the $17.6M Viability
Funding 2006/7 & 2007/8
, p. 9.

[35]. As advised by DET.

[36]. As advised by DEET.

[37]. J. Ferrari, Preschool vow depends on finding the teachers , The Australian, 14 February 2008. See also M. Kronemann, Education is the Key: An Education Future for Indigenous
Communities in the Northern Territory
, Australian Education Union, Melbourne, 2007, p. 28.

[38]. ibid.

[39]. For further information see DETA s website,
Community Kindergarten Assistance Scheme DEKAS Grants, accessed 3 April 3008.

[40]. For further information, see DECS, Preschool Enrolment Policy.

[41]. South Australia. Department of Education and Children s Services,
Education and Care Legislation Reform: Discussion Paper No 2:
Registration and Regulation of Schools and Children s Services
, 2008.

[42]. For the various rates see Department of Education and Early Childhood Development,
Victorian Kindergarten Policy, Procedures and Funding Criteria Update 2008
, p. 19, accessed 3 April 2008.

[43]. AEU Victorian Branch, State of Our Preschools 2006, p. 7.

[44]. For further information see Victorian Kindergarten Policy,
Procedures and Funding Criteria Update 2008
, accessed 3 April 2008.

[45]. For further information see Scholarships and Incentives for Early Childhood
Teachers to Work in Long Day Care Settings
, accessed 3 April 2008.

[46]. Victoria. Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD),
Blueprint for Early Childhood Development and School Reform
, DEECD, Melbourne, 2008. See also DEECD s Blueprint for Early Childhood Development and School Reform website.

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