National Partnership on Early Childhood Education
The 2013–14 Budget provides $660.1 million to extend the National Partnership on Early Childhood Education (the NP) until 31 December 2014. The measure does not affect the Budget’s forward estimates because additional NP funding generally has been anticipated through the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The funds will be appropriated through the Federal Financial Relations Act 2009.
The NP was first agreed to in 2008 when all governments committed to ensuring, by mid-2013, universal access to an early childhood education program delivered by a four-year university-trained early childhood teacher, for 15 hours a week, 40 weeks a year, in the year before full time schooling. Funding of $970.0 million over five years was provided for the NP’s implementation.
Five years into the program, it is difficult to assess progress in meeting this commitment. Preschool attendance data show that, in 2011–12, 72.5 per cent of children (excluding children enrolled in a long day care setting) attended a government funded and/or provided preschool service in the year before they commenced full-time school. It cannot be assumed, however, that those who do not attend a preschool service are without access because preschool attendance is not compulsory. Information about the ‘quality’ of these services is also not apparent from this data. The annual reports on the NP’s implementation (the most recent are for 2011) are gradually providing more information.
The provision of preschool services varies significantly between jurisdictions with a mix of services provided by governments, community organisations and in long day care settings. A review of early childhood education provision in New South Wales, for instance, reported that generally about one in seven children were missing out and that in some areas, particularly rural and remote areas, this proportion was higher. Reinforcing these findings, Early Childhood Australia has welcomed the NP’s extension, but warns that more work needs to be done, particularly for ‘vulnerable populations’.
Child Care Workforce – Early Years Quality Fund
The 2013–14 Budget provides ‘up to’ $300.0 million over two years to assist long day centres (LDCs) to offset the costs of employing higher qualified staff who are required as part of the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care (the NQF). The NQF requirement is that all early childhood education and care (ECEC) workers hold certain minimum qualifications from 1 January 2014. The measure also provides $8.2 million over three years to administer the Early Years Quality Fund (EYQF), which includes the establishment of an advisory board. The funding for this measure appears in the portfolio budget statements and will be appropriated by future legislation.
The measure does have some limitations: ECEC providers other than LDCs will not be eligible to apply for the funding, the funding will not necessarily be available for all LDCs because they will have to apply for the funding, and the funding will be capped for a period of two years.
It seems that the measure is only a first step. The Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Peter Garrett, has indicated that ‘longer term consideration’ will need to be given to the future remuneration of the sector. To this end, the measure provides $6.2 million over four years to establish a Pay Equity Unit in the Fair Work Commission—the ECEC sector will be its first task.
The measure has not allayed the concerns of the ECEC sector. The Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) considers the EYQF funding inequitable, claiming that the funding will go to less than 40 per cent of educators working in the LDC sector. The Opposition also considers the EYQF funding inadequate for the same reason. The Shadow Minister for Childcare and Early Childhood Learning, Sussan Ley, argues that, instead, a ‘proper’ wage case should be run through the Fair Work Commission.
. See also P Garrett (Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth), K Ellis (Minister for Early Childhood and Child Care) and B Shorten (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Financial Services and Superannuation), Boost for quality early childhood education, media release, 19 March 2013, accessed 21 May 2013; and DEEWR, ‘Early Years Quality Fund’, DEEWR website, accessed 21 May 2013.
. P Garrett (Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth), K Ellis (Minister for Early Childhood and Child Care) and B Shorten (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Financial Services and Superannuation), Doorstop, transcript, 19 March 2013, accessed 21 May 2013.
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