Early Childhood Education & Care
WEL’s Policy Demands
- Free pre-kindergarten year for up to five days per week accessible to all children across NSW by 2027/8.
- NSW Government commit to advocating for degree qualified early education and care teachers to be paid the same as teachers in schools.
- A workforce plan developed and updated regularly, looking at skills, wages, standards and quality of training for early childhood educators and education and care sector workers.
- Dedicate funding from the 2022/2023 Budget’s 10 year $5bn ‘Affordable and Accessible Childcare and Economic Participation Fund’ to develop a robust network of public and community managed pre-schools and Early Education and Care Centres across NSW.
- Amend the Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund Act 2022 to exclude for-profit providers from tendering for funding support.
The NSW Government’s Women’s Opportunity Statement in the 2022 Budget acknowledges the benefits of affordable and accessible Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) for women’s workforce participation and for children’s success in school and lifelong education, social and economic development. Early education and care encompass pre-school, long day care, out of school hours care and family day care.
Universal (affordable and geographically accessible) pre-kindergarten is an urgent top priority equity measure for children. Two in five NSW children are already behind in their developmental outcomes when they start school and the 2021 Australian Early Development Census alarmingly finds that over 44% of Australian children are not developmentally on track when they start school (Early Years Commitment https://education.nsw.gov.au).
WEL acknowledges the NSW Government’s commitments in the 2022/3 budget to deliver universal pre-kindergarten services by 2030, and its commitment over 4 years for fee relief and trialling of funding support for long day care centres. The Government’s October 2022 Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund Act 2022 establishes a standing appropriation for 10 years for delivery of universal pre-kindergarten and sets some funds that can be paid out in this period, however we note that a budget appropriation such as this, extending beyond the four year estimate period, may be vulnerable to the policy and fiscal priorities of future governments.
Enhancing access to early childhood education and care services depends on the availability of a qualified workforce of educators and teachers. The overwhelming proportion of early childhood educators are women. There is consensus amongst advocates, researchers and most peak bodies that due to low wages, low levels of professional recognition, very limited career pathways and worsening conditions, including staff shortages and provider expectations for unpaid work, the sector is undergoing a worsening staffing crisis with low levels of recruitment and high turnover.
A recent workforce survey Big Steps by the United Workers Union found that 37% of educators did not intend to stay in the sector long-term and of this group 74% intend to leave within the next 3 years.
In 2021 the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission found that ‘the exercise of professional skills and judgement, the overall work value involved in early childhood teaching was the same as that of teachers in schools’. Yet early childhood teachers can be paid up to $20,000 less than their colleagues with the same qualifications in NSW schools.
The NSW Government needs to develop a workforce plan that enables improvements to the skills, wages, standards and quality of training for early childhood educators and education and care sector workers.
In contrast to the school system which excludes for-profit schools from government funding, 50% of ECEC providers are private for-profit, with around 35% private not-for-profits and the remainder a mix of state government schools, state or local government, and a few private and Catholic schools. Pre-school and long day care services overlap. Large ASX listed for-profit providers dominate the long day care sector, alongside small for-profit operators, large not-for-profits and some community providers.
New South Wales is the second worst performing state in Australia in terms of public provision, with only 5% of preschools operating within the public education system. Across 1,700 public primary school sites, there are only 100 public preschools.
The NSW Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund Act 2022 is aimed at giving incentives to providers to extend childcare services at lower prices. Amendment of the Act to exclude for-profit providers from being assisted by the fund would enable a priority focus on building a strong public and not-for-profit ECEC system in NSW.