Early Childhood Pushing back against Morrison’s punitive agenda for preschool

Photo: Meredith O'Shea

We need the federal government to understand the importance of two years of preschool education and to stop fixating on punitive ‘reform’ programs.

Our early childhood members have a deep understanding that children who have access to two years of high-quality preschool delivered by a qualified teacher start school ready to learn and have a stronger foundation for their future.

Unfortunately, the Morrison government does not share this understanding and currently provides no funding for three-year-old preschool. In fact, it is only in this year’s budget that the Morrison government finally committed to ongoing funding for four-year-old preschool, after many years of campaigning by AEU members.

AEU presidents from every state and territory met recently to discuss the preschool bilateral funding agreements, which are due to be renewed soon. These are the agreements signed by each state and territory with the federal government to secure funding for early childhood education.

At these meetings, we discussed the need to push back against the ‘reform agenda’ posed by the Morrison government, including a new Preschool Performance Framework for four-year-old preschool and linking funding to attendance requirements. We also discussed our ongoing campaign to secure funding for two years of high-quality preschool for every child.

The Federal AEU, as part of the national campaign work, wrote to the National Cabinet in August regarding the federal government’s intentions to vary the policy settings that govern the existing Universal Access National Partnership agreements. The aim of the letter was to seek governmental assurances that the condition that funding will follow the child would be abolished. It also called for a national plan for three-year-old preschool.

It was agreed that presidents would write to or meet with their relevant state and territory ministers regarding the bilateral agreement negotiations. Cara Nightingale and I met with Minister for Early Childhood Ingrid Stitt in October. During a robust and informative discussion, Minister Stitt reiterated her commitment to ensure the funding agreement delivered funding certainty for four-year-old preschool despite the federal government’s reform agenda.

You know how to send a message about the important work you do, how it benefits children, and how it benefits society more broadly.

The AEU remains concerned that there will be pressure from the federal government to use these funding negotiations to introduce targets for attendance that could be used punitively rather than as a way to encourage and build preschool attendance.

We are also concerned about the other major reform, which relates to performance, and an expert panel has been set up to look into this issue further.

We know that we’re going to have a federal election in the next six months (May at the latest), but the exact date is yet to be announced.  That is at the discretion of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. As we move closer to the election, there will be many campaign activities to put pressure on members of parliament, senators and candidates to ensure preschool is a priority.

Our preschool members are always active campaigners. You know how to send a message about the important work you do, how it benefits children, and how it benefits society more broadly.

Our campaign will also focus on the wider community, calling on Australians to recognise the importance of early preschool education and have this in mind as they cast their vote. We are also working with the Thrive by Five campaign.

We look forward to advocating with you on this important issue, so keep a look out for ways to get involved in the national campaign.
For more information visit: www.aeufederal.org.au/Preschool-Funding-Now

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