Three-year-old preschool was one of the centrepiece announcements in this year’s Victorian state budget. Treasurer Tim Pallas highlighted the historic investment of $882 million, describing it as a commitment that ensures children are “ready for school and set for life”.
Never before have we seen such focus and financial investment in the early childhood sector. It’s because of concentrated effort by the AEU and our members that three-year-old preschool is now a reality, rolling out in six local government areas from next year and delivering at least five hours of preschool per week for every three-year-old by 2022.
This means children will now be better prepared to transition into primary school, having received the best possible start to their education. The DET recently wrote to service providers, addressing some common questions about the rollout.
Yes, 30 April remains the cut-off point for school entry. Therefore, it is possible for younger children to attend three-year-old preschool provided they turn three by 30 April that year. Where two-year-olds are enrolled, the minimum educator to child ratio of 1:4 must be applied. The capacity to employ more staff and meet the 1:4 ratio will be a decision for each provider to make.
A reform of this size will take time to implement. Over the next decade, the workforce needs to double and 1,000 new centres have to be built. We also know that there are pockets of disadvantage in rural areas, so providing access for these children in the early stages is an important part of the policy.
It isthe case that 15 hours of three or four-year-old preschool does not fit neatly into our current industrial entitlements, which provide a maximum of 25.5 hours teaching time. The neat and tidy solution would be for teachers and educators to teach for 30 hours.
However, the AEU will never agree to diminishing entitlements and increasing workload pressure on staff, so we need to look at what is possible under the current rules. These matters will form part of our negotiations for the next VECTEA and EEEA, and have been firmly placed on the minister’s and the department’s radar.