The federal budget that was delivered in May 2021 finally saw the announcement of ongoing funding for the federal government’s contribution to 15 hours of preschool for all four-year-olds. This was a welcome announcement after eight years of national campaigning by the AEU and early childhood members. However, there is still work to be done.
The AEU national campaign – Preschool Funding Now! – is focused on convincing the federal government to commit to two years of preschool for every child, delivered by a qualified teacher. Evidence shows that this sets children up to start school ready to learn, and with a strong foundation for their future beyond school.
Our campaign continues to pursue the ‘missing year’ for three-year-olds. Campaign activities have included lobbying and engagement in the ‘Thrive by Five’ campaign, with future actions to include lobbying state and federal politicians, capturing and promoting member stories about the importance of additional investment, and working with the IEU, UWU and ACTU.
Monitoring caveats on federal funding
In addition, the commitment to four-year-old funding came with a number of caveats that remain a concern, including measures on student attendance, and school readiness and performance. Federal education minister Alan Tudge has announced that the school readiness and performance component will be developed and trialled over a number of years, with implementation expected in 2025. The measure of attendance is due to be implemented in 2024.
Maximising the number of children who attend four-year-old preschool is an important goal. But there is concern that the federal government could take a more punitive approach to this measure, requiring states to meet targets to access funding, rather than using the measure as a means to encourage and increase attendance.
The concerns are the same for the school readiness and performance measure. The government has made it clear that with such a significant investment in funding for four-year-old preschool they want to be sure they are getting a return on that investment in terms of student outcomes.
Whilst the minister has indicated that there is funding to undertake research, and there will be consultation with stakeholders and academics, there are fears that the government could pursue a high-stakes testing regime.
Negotiations for the next national early childhood partnership agreement are underway between the state and federal governments. The role of the Victorian government will be crucial.
While no one has any significant argument about the focus on improving attendance levels and the quality of programs, we do not want to see the federal government using the agreement to introduce punitive measures and link them to the allocation of funding. Any such measures could undermine the important work teachers and educators do, and put funding allocations at risk.
The AEU has raised our concerns with the state government, and they have indicated that they have similar concerns. We will continue to monitor the negotiations as they progress.