Goodstart Early Learning Advocacy Manager John Cherry talks ECEC state of play ahead of election

by Freya Lucas

February 13

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.

As we approach two key elections, one federal and the other state, early childhood education and care (ECEC) is being thrust into the news as all sides of politics seek to communicate their policy positions to the electorate.

 

The Sector sat recently with John Cherry, Advocacy Manager for Goodstart Early Learning, to pose some questions about the Universal Access commitments made by the Australian Labor Party (ALP), funding,  wages and workforce issues, the Victorian Labor Party’s recent announcements and their scalability across the country and why the Federal Government have yet to make any firm commitments to the sector beyond the end of 2019.   

 

On the ALP’s commitment to extend UA funding to 3 year olds:

 

It is very exciting to have the commitment that the ALP have proposed for two years of access to preschool programs for all children in Australia. Part of that is also ensuring that all families can access at least 18 hours of childcare subsidy regardless of whether they are attending an early learning centre or preschool program in a long day care service in the two years before school instead of one, which is very important given over 90% of 3 year olds currently in early learning attend through long day care settings.”

 

On the roll out of the policy over time:

 

“Meeting the additional demand created by the policy is something which obviously has to be carefully thought through and planned to have regard to both current unused capacity and future unmet need.”

 

On the probabilities of success of the roll out:

 

Certainly, it’s a big challenge to get the 100,000 children currently not attending early learning to enrol in a preschool program. Many of those would be from low income families so we have to make sure that quality programs are also affordable.  We, as a sector, will also need to do a good job of educating parents as to why early learning will make such a difference for their children.”

 

On whether the Federal Government will match Labor’s commitment:

 

“We do hope that the Federal Government will make kindergarten and preschool a big-ticket item in the lead up to the election, and certainly we will be working on that issue in our advocacy.”

 

On the outlook for preschool funding after 2020:

 

“We believe preschool funding should be made permanent, in the same way that school funding is guaranteed. We’d like to see the Federal and State governments have that conversation and come up with a more long-term plan.”

 

On the impact the new policy will have on the workforce in particular ECT’s:

 

“There is a looming shortage nationally of early childhood teachers. Our universities are pumping out a fraction of the teachers we will need to fulfil the requirements of the early childhood sector including the additional 2020 NQF requirement, the potential expansion to preschool and also the early years in the schooling system.”

 

“Working in our sector needs to become more attractive by valuing the professionalism and contribution of the ECEC workforce, so we can attract more quality candidates into our university and TAFE ECEC courses.”

 

On the ALP promise to address wage differences of the ECEC workforce:

 

The ALP has been speaking a lot about the importance of equal pay for female dominated professions, and they’ve particularly singled out early childhood as one of the areas where something needs to be done. It is a big complicated area of policy, and so we look forward to seeing what they come up with.”

 

On the activity test and whether the ALP, if elected, will seek to make changes to it:

 

“The ALP has committed to extending the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) activity test exemption for 4 year olds to attend preschool programs to three-year-olds, so, we’re certainly hoping that we’ll see a bit more from both Labor and the Government before the election.”

On how easy it is – from a process perspective – to make policy changes:

 

Universal access doesn’t require legislation but does require funding for the commitment from both the Federal and State governments.”

 

“Changes to the CCS activity test beyond the preschool exemption would require changes in the legislation and that would generally go through both Houses of Parliament.”

 

On Victorian Labor’s recent commitment to the ECEC sector:

 

The Victorian Government are leading the way on early childhood policy with a $5 billion commitment over 10 years offering two years of early learning for all children in Victoria.. It’s a big commitment and a huge reform and the Government has has committed to working with the sector to make sure it’s implemented in a way that supports all families. We look forward to being part of that.”

 

On whether their commitment will be replicated in other states:

 

Victoria currently has one of the lowest participation rates for three-year-olds accessing early learning and engagement with families about  early learning in all settings being good for children and trying to get that happening for three-year-olds needs to be part of the plan.”

 

“But they are doing it in a measured, phased, consultative way, planning it to roll it out over a 10-year period. Done well it could be a  real game changer.”

 

On what other states are currently doing in this space:

 

“The Tasmanian Government is piloting extension of three year old preschool to children from low income families with a view to a roll out from 2020.”

 

“From this month, New South Wales has extended access for 3 year olds to attend community preschools beyond low income families, which is a $200 million commitment. That is great news, although it doesn’t pick up the 85% of 3 year olds attending preschool in long day care programs.”

 

“South Australia has been expanding the criteria for certain 3 year olds to access the State preschool system, although the numbers remain small.”

 

“The Queensland Government is actively investigating  opportunities to expand access to kindergarten for three year olds.”

 

“So, the States are quite active in this space already, with a solid base of work and evidence to build on for a broader national partnership agreement on two years of preschool for all children.”

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