Fifteen hours makes a difference to children

Nicole Major

Productivity Commission: pre-school assists child development and a successful transition to school

In the lead-up to the Federal Budget in May it is critical that teachers campaign for the ongoing federal agreements and funding to provide 15 hours per week of pre-school education by a qualified early childhood teacher to all four-year-olds.

Pre-school education leads to better outcomes for all kids and has life-changing outcomes for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Research shows pre-school education has long-term benefits for children, families and society through increased participation, economic productivity and social inclusion.

The Productivity Commission report released last month found: “Participation in a pre-school program in the year before starting formal schooling provides benefits in terms of child development and a successful transition to school.”

The report recommended: “The Australian Government should continue to provide per child payments to the states and territories for universal access to a pre-school program of 15 hours per week for 40 weeks per year.”

The National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education that commenced in 2013 saw 15 hours of government-funded pre-school a week taught by university-trained early childhood teachers to all four-year-olds around the country.

The National Partnership was due to end in 2014, but significant member and community lobbying saw a last minute extension of the federal government funding to 2015.

The issue now is whether Social Services Minister Scott Morrison and the Abbott Government will listen to the overwhelming evidence and community support for the continuation of universal access to early childhood education. State and Territory ministers and premiers have been also been seeking assurances that funding continue for not only 2015 but beyond.

The loss of federal funding for the National Partnership Agreements for Universal Access will not only have significant detrimental effects of the educational outcomes for children, particularly our most disadvantaged children, but there are also concerns that a reduction in pre-school hours will lead to significant redundancies in the sector, greater pressure on childcare services and make some parents reassess whether to return to work.

We must ensure that universal access to pre-school education for our children is not tied to the whims of the politicians or dictated to by budgetary announcements driven by bottom-line profit motives.

Nicole Major is Federal Aboriginal Education Officer, Australian Education Union — Federal Office.