Unpacking the South Australian Royal Commission Final Report into ECEC
The Honourable Julia Gillard AC has handed down the final report covering the Commission’s inquiry into the South Australian early childhood education and care system marking the end of a ten month process that commenced with the release of terms of reference in October 2022.
The report’s 43 recommendations address each of the core areas highlighted in the terms of reference with the completion and release of the report delivering on a major pre-election commitment made by SA Premier Peter Malinauskas to instruct a Royal Commission to look into how three year old kindergarten could be introduced across the State.
As momentum continues to build across other states and territories to implement universal access to three and four year old kindergarten the findings of the Commission’s inquiry will be closely watched for clues as to how the actual roll out of policy may look in other states, and how it may impact other settings such as long day care.
This article aims to explore the recommendations made by the inquiry through the lens of a long day care (LDC) provider offering a kindergarten program and how the recommendations to foster broader preschool participation in SA may impact them.
It focuses on matters related to funding, universal access implementation and workforce. It does not focus on matters of quality, teacher qualifications and outside school hours care recommendations all of which are included in the report but for reasons of brevity could not be included in this analysis.
Specifically, this piece examines nine of the most relevant recommendations of interest to LDC providers wishing to offer a kindergarten program. It is important to recognise that the report contains another thirty four recommendations each of which is important within its own right but which will not be covered in this piece.
Recommendation 3 – A new national settlement of roles and responsibilities in ECEC
That the State Government seeks a national settlement of roles and responsibilities in relation to early childhood education and care (ECEC), noting that the Commission’s preferred national settlement would see:
- State and territories responsible for ensuring quality across ECEC settings
- State and territories responsible for enabling families to be connected to the information and supports they need
- The Commonwealth responsible for ensuring long day care, preschool for three and four year olds and outside school hours care is accessible and affordable
- The Commonwealth responsible for providing inclusion support for ECEC settings
Comment: This is an interesting recommendation as it essentially will see pre-school funding, now a state and territory obligation, transitioned up to the Commonwealth and in turn lead to a streamlining of funding sources. For LDC services this will simplify admin and pricing processes.
Recommendation 5 – Actions for the Commonwealth Government
The report recommends a range of actions for the Commonwealth Government including but not limited to:
- extending changes to the Child Care Subsidy to enable all families to access up to three days a week of care without the need to meet any activity test
- Consideration of adopting a needs-based funding model for ECEC, in recognition of the additional costs of effective inclusion of disadvantaged cohorts
- Considering the introduction of differential pricing in the Child Care Subsidy for younger children with higher educator-to-child ratios
- supporting an increase in the pay of ECEC educators.
Comment: The key recommendations in this area focus on improving accessibility (via activity test adjustments and needs based funding), optimising subsidy amounts (via introducing different tiers for different ages) and supporting educator wage improvements ( presumably via participating in the Fair Work commission bargaining process and funding increases). All services would likely benefit from these recommendations.
Recommendation 15 – Implementing universal three year old preschool
The report recommends three year old preschool be delivered through the following mix from 2026:
- Three-year-olds already in LDC settings receive their preschool through their existing setting.
- Three-year-olds who are not in LDC settings, or who are in an LDC service that is not offering a preschool program, are able to access preschool in government preschool.
- In areas of high developmental vulnerability, there is place-based commissioning of integrated service hubs.
Comment: State and territory Governments are becoming increasingly committed to the notion that LDC services must be an integral part of the roll out of preschool programs to three and four year olds largely because of the numbers of children involved and the lack of sessional and stand alone preschool facilities in existence to cater for them. This should be taken as a positive development by the LDC community.
Recommendation 16 – Implementing three year old preschool – implementation teams
Delivery of universal three-year-old preschool should be through locally based implementation teams that will amongst other things work with LDC and government preschools to ensure cost-efficient creation of new spaces in areas of undersupply (for example, through minor capital works) and work with LDC and government preschools to consider local workforce solutions.
Comment: Importantly the long day care community is seen as part of the overall solution.
Recommendation 19 – A new State Government funding model for preschool and integrated early years service delivery
The report recommends that a new state funding model for preschool be introduced that focuses not on accessibility and affordability, which would be the Commonwealth’s preserve, but instead on three areas:
- funding that is sufficient to meet professional learning and release time requirements for early childhood teachers
- loadings (or equivalent service provision) for the provision of layered supports to children in the service who are likely to be developmentally vulnerable and/ or need additional support
- support for outreach and indirect cost reduction in areas of high vulnerability
Comment: A defined funding stream that focuses on creating better conditions for the delivery of quality early learning, higher degrees of inclusion support and accessibility improvement for the most vulnerable children should be welcomed and would support all setting types.
Recommendation 22 – Establishing an Early Childhood Workforce Fund
The report recommends that the State Government commits $14 million per year to an Early Childhood Workforce Fund designed to support the increase in the supply of the ECEC workforce, with a particular priority on ensuring sufficient workforce for the delivery of universal three-year-old preschool.
Comment: A valuable initiative that allocates responsibility and accountability to the stewards of the fund which will benefit all setting types.
Recommendation 31 – Implementing universal three and four-year-old preschool—the role of diploma qualified educators
Recognising that teacher supply to meet three year old kindergarten demands is likely to remain constrained in the short term the report recommends that the State Government trial different configurations of early learning programs delivered by diploma qualified educators (for example, with practice supervision, additional professional learning, different ratios, coaching), reviews the quality of practice and rigorously assesses the different outcomes.
Comment: These trials will only be taking place in services that have not been able to find an ECT but regardless it makes good sense to explore this avenue, as long as evaluation is rigorous, given how constrained the ECT supply space remains and is likely to remain going forward.
To access the findings of the Royal Commission in full please see here.
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