Greens call for a “radical rethink” with early learning to be built in schools

by Freya Lucas

March 14

The Australian Greens Party has called for a “radical rethink” of New South Wales preschool and early learning services, ahead of the state election, in a policy announcement that would bring three and four-year-old preschool into the state’s public education system.

 

The Greens’ plan includes a proposal to build early learning centres in all new public schools, and to retrofit existing schools over time, based on local need and space availability. This investment in public preschool facilities will help ensure access to free, universal preschool for all three and four year olds for up to 15 hours per week, Greens NSW spokesperson Justin Field said.

 

Mr Field said the move by the party was in recognition of the need to put children first, and demonstrate the value of quality early education and the work of educators in the sector. The plan will also commit to supporting “the many early learning services including out of school hours care, playgroups and other services relying on school and council-owned and managed facilities,” Mr Field said.

 

He noted the need for greater public investment in early learning, citing information showing that NSW has the lowest preschool access rates and the highest fees while also having the highest rates of for-profit operators. Mr Field said it was important for those conducting early childhood education and care (ECEC) services to have a “guaranteed tenure, ensuring facilities are appropriately maintained and upgraded” also calling for tighter regulations to ensure childcare and preschool facilities in NSW comply with outdoor space requirements.

 

“We need an immediate rethink about how we deliver these critical services – one that puts children first,” he said. Noting the Launch into Learning campaign, Mr Field said there was correlation between Launch into Learning and the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia’s (ELACCA’s) move to “demand the Government to support every single three and four year old to be able to access ‘high-quality, play-based early learning’, irrespective of if it’s long day care or preschool.”

“The Greens want to see a transition away from the provision of for-profit early learning to preschool being part of the free, universal public education system. This will continue to include collaborations between schools and the community and not-for-profit preschool services and where appropriate not-for-profit long day care services,” Mr Field said.

“Other countries have moved to deliver free preschool for three and four years olds because the benefits it delivers is significant, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. By bringing these services into the public education system, we can also start to address the significant issues with low pay in the sector which is having a significant impact on the gender pay gap,” he added.

 

Mr Field said the party saw benefit in using school grounds to construct these facilities, so that they can be “more easily leveraged to help deliver before and after school care, playgroup, mothers and fathers groups, and other wrap around services to support children and families including early intervention programs and postnatal and early years health services”.

 

“This is about building a supportive learning and care environment for families from the youngest years and changing the way we think and talk about early education and care,” Mr Field said.   

 

The Greens plan includes:

  • Transition to free, universal access to preschool for all children from the age of three for a minimum of 15 hours a week.

 

  • All new primary schools in NSW to include early learning centres and prioritise the construction of facilities into existing schools based on need and where space allows.

 

  • Review the rules and guidelines around facilities leasing for early learning services in schools and council facilities to ensure ongoing certainty of access.

 

  • Stricter enforcement of outdoor space requirements, with clear limits on exemptions.

 

  • A $20 million Outside School Hours Care and Playgroup Facilities Grant program.

 

Further information is available here.

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