Australia should look overseas for ECEC solutions, new report recommends
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Australia should look overseas for ECEC solutions, new report recommends

by Freya Lucas

August 02, 2022

Australia should look at successful overseas policy options to deliver affordable, quality early childhood education and care (ECEC), a new report from the Australia Institute’s Nordic Policy Centre has recommended. 

 

New research has recommended the terms of reference for the federal review include childcare price caps, reduced reliance on subsidised for-profit providers, and targeted salary measures to attract and retain quality staff.

 

“The early childhood education and care workforce is currently in crisis following the former national government’s failure for five years to plan for it,” said Andrew Scott, Convenor of the Australia Institute’s Nordic Policy Centre. 

 

“Australian families pay more for childcare than most OECD countries, yet we receive a worse service with lower enrolments, poorly paid staff, and a lack of availability.” 

 

Key findings from the report include:

 

  • Australian families currently spend 20 per cent of household income on childcare, far more than in most OECD nations.
  • Swedish households spend just 5 per cent of household income on childcare, Norway spends 8 per cent, and Denmark 10 per cent.
  • Australia has the third highest proportion of private childcare providers receiving government subsidies: 77 per cent compared to 13 per cent in Iceland, 17 per cent in Sweden and Denmark.
  • Australia’s pre-primary education enrolment rate for under four-year-olds lags at 15 per cent compared to 69 per cent across the OECD, 84 per cent in Britain, 87 per cent New Zealand, 91 per cent in Denmark, 93 per cent in Sweden, and 95 per cent in Norway

 

Key report recommendations are as follows:

 

  • Childcare price caps as a proportion of family income, similar to Nordic countries, should be considered
  • Rebalancing the proportion of private providers who receive subsidies via investment in government and not-for-profit services
  • Targeted salary support similar to Sweden’s ‘Teacher Salary Boost’ to attract and retain staff.

 

“Children’s education and care cannot become an essential service like Medicare unless it is now delivered nationally, more on a basis of public need than private profit. We need all credible options on the table for the Government’s forthcoming review,” Mr Scott added. 

 

“Subsidies to for-profit operators evaporate into the wealth of commercial beneficiaries, instead of sufficiently supporting wages and conditions for quality early childhood educators and carers. Australia needs to look at how Nordic countries cap childcare fees and curtail the presence of for-profit providers, so as to keep services affordable for parents.”

 

Citing Sweden’s ‘Teacher Salary Boost’ programme, Mr Scott said a modest portion of new money already announced should be brought forward early to attract the staff we need as the system expands. 

 

“These measures will encourage the other states and territories to join NSW and Victoria in a new national cabinet partnership to invest in achieving greater provision of high-quality, early years learning, for all Australian children,” he added. 

 

The report Securing Children’s Future: Nordic-style investment needed in early years learning is published by Professor Andrew Scott of Deakin University, Convenor of the Australia Institute’s Nordic Policy Centre.

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