ECEC sector needs to be involved in planning for ALP three-year-old universal access
Careful planning will be required to mitigate the oversupply of early childhood education and care (ECEC) centres and early childhood teacher (ECT) shortages if the Australian Labor Party (ALP) is elected and delivers on its promise to extend up to 15 hours of preschool universal access to three year olds, ECEC providers have warned.
As part of its promise, the ALP has said that it will commit $9.8 billion over 10 years to ensure that three year olds receive the same universal access to preschool that is currently available to four year olds. The Federal Labor party’s pledge has led the recently re-elected Victorian Labor Party to announce 785 new facilities, and upgrades of existing facilities to ensure the proposed policy can be delivered.
But ECEC providers have told The Australian Financial Review (AFR) that the proposed policy could put further pressure on the sector by further lowering occupancy within long day care (LDC) centres in favour of funded preschool places.
Goodstart Early Learning Advocacy Manager John Cherry told the AFR, “There has been a massive building boom in Victoria in terms of LDC centres and there are real problems in the outer suburbs in terms of oversupply.
“If the Victorian Government then enters the market and decides they are going to build hundreds of new preschools on top of that it could actually collapse the entire Victorian LDC market.”
According to the March 2018 quarterly release of the Early Childhood and Child Care in Summary report, the number of LDC services continues to rise nationally, while LDC vacancies have also increased by 48 per cent since the December 2017 quarter from 98,850 to 145,907.
In December, the Australian Childcare Alliance, the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia (ELACCA) and Australian Community Children’s Services (ACCS) released a report that found the net increase in LDC centres in 2017 was approximately 2 to 3 times more than what is estimated to be needed in 2021.
At the time, Paul Mondo, President of the ACA, noted “If the same growth is to be continued in the coming years, there is likely to be an enormous impact on the viability of all services.”
Commenting in the AFR, Mr Mondo said that new builds were not required to ensure delivery of funded preschool to three-year-olds.
“It would be a waste of taxpayer dollars to build all of this new infrastructure when, by and large, the system is already well on the way to being able to deliver,” Mr Mondo told the AFR.
“Where the caution is if all of a sudden you have a large number of three-year-old children being withdrawn from the LDC sector, the viability of a whole lot of those services becomes quite significantly impacted.”
Mr Cherry also highlighted the shortage of ECTs as an issue in the AFR, “There’s a massive shortage of early childhood teachers across the country and, certainly if we’re trying to split them between an over-supplied LDC sector and rapidly expanding preschool sector, it would quickly become unsustainable.”
Attracting and retaining ECTs within the ECEC sector is an ongoing issue for the sector, which is set to receive additional pressure from 2020 when providers will be required to have two ECTs in attendance when 60 or more children aged preschool age or under are being educated and cared for.
The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership is also taking steps to ensure that ECTs are appropriately recognised for their qualifications regardless of work setting; the ALP and Victorian Government have both said that they will support extra TAFE training for the early childhood sector; and, the ALP has pledged to increase the rate of pay for ECEC staff, in order to help attract more trained staff to the ECEC sector, however it is unlikely that either government measure will be in effect prior to the 2020 change in requirements.