Government failing early childhood education sector, report finds
Government failure to adequately invest in the early years of learning has seen early childhood become the most “at risk” component of the Australian education system, according to a new report.
The Quality Early Education for All report, released by the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, has found that better access to quality early years services improves children’s capabilities and wellbeing that in turn lifts school outcomes and national productivity.
The three key issues identified within the report that must be addressed to make early childhood education more equitable are:
- Ensuring access to early education for all children, including systemic implementation of evidence-based strategies for attracting and retaining the families who currently experience signifi cant barriers to access.
- Ensuring all children receive high-quality early education with the ‘dose and intensity’ necessary to make a difference.
- Investment that is proportionate to impact, including the investments needed to achieve equitable outcomes for disadvantaged children and the ability to measure that impact.
Despite the wide-ranging benefits of a well-resourced early childhood education sector, governments are not providing enough support. Mitchell Institute Director, Dr Sara Glover said governments should treat early childhood education as just as vital as schooling.
The report shows that nearly five years after National Quality Standards (NQS) were introduced, a quarter of services have not been assessed and of those that have, a third are not meeting minimum standards.
More than 60,000 children start school vulnerable, less able to engage in learning or build relationships with their peers. These children show poor social skills and emotional wellbeing when they start school, then experience behaviour problems that can harm progress throughout the rest of their school years.
The impact of early childhood education
- The report also speaks to the indisputable postive effect that quality early childhood education has on children’s ongoing learning and development, stating that:
- children from diasadvantaged backgrounds have a less than 30 per cent chance of being developmentally vulnerable if they attend preschool, compared to a 40 per cent chance if they do not;
- children who attend preschool score higher on Year 3 NAPLAN tests;
- a lack of pre-primary education increases a young person’s likelihood of performing poorly in maths;
- a child with no pre-primary education is 1.9 times more likely to perform poorly in education than a student who has attended more than a year of pre-primary education; and
- In 2012, Australian children with a year of pre-primary education scored 27 points more in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) than children who did not attend preschool.
Quality Early Education for All Report 2016, p. 6-7
Most worryingly, the latest data from the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) shows the learning and wellbeing gap between wealthiest and poorest children is widening.
While good early education could help turn some of these issues around, the report finds one in three children are not getting the 15 hours per week needed to make a difference.
The findings also highlight a need to move away from talking about early years services as ‘child care’ that allows parents to return to work to ‘early education’, which sets children up well for a lifetime of learning.
The report makes five “Priority Recommendations” to address these issues:
- Establish affordable access to preschool as a legislated entitlement, make a permanent commitment to funding Universal Access for 4 year olds, and commence work on extending Universal Access to 3 year olds.
- Scale up evidence-based, high-intensity programs for the most vulnerable children, prioritising the communities in each state that are in the bottom decile for developmental vulnerability in the AEDC.
- Ensure the National Quality Framework (NQF) is achieving its objectives and is appropriately resourced to do so, and that all services are meeting the NQS by mid-2017.
- Deliver a national early childhood data strategy that establishes the information infrastructure needed to drive policy and practice improvement into the future.
- Commence a national campaign to strengthen family and community knowledge and beliefs about children’s early learning.
Our union Branch Secretary Terry Burke said a well-resourced sector is essential to long-term improvements in early childhood education outcomes.
“Our members have long-been concerned by the lack of permanent funding commitment to the Universal Access program.
It is only through signifi cant campaigning by our members and others in the sector that we have seen the temporary funding extended on multiple occasions in recent years,” he said.
“Until governments make early childhood education funding a priority, we will continue to see a system that does not have the resources to give every child the start in life they deserve.”
To read a full copy of the report, visit www.mitchellinstitute.org.au