Five years of preschool funding at heart of Universal Access Partnership review recommendations

Five years of preschool funding at heart of Universal Access Partnership review recommendations

by Jason Roberts

May 26, 2020

Continued rounds of short term renewals of the National Partnership on preschool funding have adversely affected the “otherwise successful” premise of Universal Access, a review commissioned by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has reportedly found. 

 

Fergus Hunter, education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) penned a piece this morning which confirms that a key recommendation of the review is that funding should be provided under a five year partnership model as opposed to recent experiences of one to two year renewal cycles.  

 

While the report is not yet publicly available, Mr Hunter’s coverage is based on early access to the document provided to The Sydney Morning Herald and provides the first insights into the long awaited review endorsed by the Education Council in June 2019, and initially expected to be tabled at the March meeting of Education ministers. 

 

Mr Hunter commented on the report findings in relation to funding certainty, a key focus area as defined by the terms of reference, by saying “Short-term renewals of a national partnership on preschool funding every year or second year have “adversely” affected the otherwise successful strategy” and that “funding uncertainty in the partnership – renewed six times since 2014 – had hindered preschools’ ability to plan and invest effectively.”

 

A consequence of this ‘short term thinking’, Mr Hunter notes, is that staff retention is problematic due to an inability to assure staff of their long term job security, resulting in higher turnover and associated administrative burdens, as well as impacting on the quality of provision in some programs.

 

In light of the conclusions reached, he continued, the report is said to recommend a new five year partnership starting in 2021 with a stronger national agreement, potentially underpinned by legislation, to be introduced in 2026 for a further five years as a means to mitigate the challenges posed by the current system. 

 

The potential value of extending universal access to include three year olds, as is the case in Victoria, is also allegedly highlighted in the report, which is said to refer to the “looming challenge” of a qualified early childhood teacher shortage as well as challenges around the two tiered pay and conditions system whereby centre based ECT’s are significantly worse off than their school based  peers. 

 

That being said, Mr Hunter notes that the report does conclude positively on the outcomes and outputs of the National Partnership which has “ushered in remarkable advancements, with enrolment in 600 hours of preschool in the year before school climbing from 12 per cent of children in 2008 to 95 per cent in 2018.”

 

It is expected that the final report will be retabled at the Education Council’s next meeting on 12 June 2020 for consideration by COAG Education Ministers afterwich formal comment will be provided with policy indications in the post meeting communiqué.

 

To read the original coverage of this story, as written by Mr Hunter for the SMH please click here

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