Why Early Learning Matters this election

One in five (22%) Australian children start school developmentally vulnerable and two in five (42.3%) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children start school developmentally vulnerable according to the most recent Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) data. The data shows a “small but significant” increase in the proportion of Australian children who were ‘developmentally vulnerable’—what is worrying is that the “lost ground is most evident where there was existing developmental disadvantage”.

Early Childhood Australia (ECA) calls for urgent and ongoing government investment to re-imagine a fairer early childhood system for young children and deliver more accessible, affordable, inclusive and stable early childhood service systems to ensure that every young child is thriving and learning.

We advocate for a strong universal platform of early childhood education and care (ECEC) to support all children now and in the future.

Access to Early Learning Matters this election

Access to early learning is unequal in Australia. The Mitchell Institute’s Childcare Deserts and Oases report reveals that over a third of Australia’s children live in ‘childcare deserts’ (568,700 children aged 0 to 4 years, or 36.5%) – nine million Australians in total. ‘Childcare deserts’ are areas where there are more than three children for every ECEC centre-based place. While they are most likely to occur in regional and remote areas, ‘childcare deserts’ are in every part of Australia.

Universal access to high-quality, play-based early childhood education and care (ECEC) services delivers positive outcomes for children and families now and into the future. This access also provides greater opportunities to reach and support vulnerable children and families. These gains are amplified when coupled with structures such as paid parental leave that support women’s participation in the workforce and ensure economic security.

ECA supports a strong universal platform of early childhood education and care to provide a high-quality, play-based ECEC place for every child where and when they need it.

Affordability of Early Learning Matters this election

The recent review of the government’s Child Care Package[1] revealed the package has limited impact on improving affordability of ECEC and has “not been effective, to date, in reducing increases in child care fees”.

The report further notes that many families are accessing high levels of unsubsidised hours in ECEC. The package has concerningly had a disproportionate limiting impact for children and families experiencing disadvantage and vulnerability through reductions to the minimum hours of subsidised care (down from 24 hours a week to 12). The report notes in its concluding remark: “the real challenge is in developing a clearer vision of the role of early childhood education and care in Australia, and working towards this.”

Small changes to the way in which the Child Care Subsidy is administered—focusing on children’s eligibility to high-quality, play-based ECEC as a core deliverable rather than parent eligibility, would effectively re-orient the system to be child-facing while balancing the imperative of workforce participation for families. We urgently need a simplified subsidy system that delivers affordable and predictable ECEC.

Inclusion in Early Learning Matters this election

Early childhood education and care should be for every child, however, many children and families experience disproportionate exclusion from services. Inclusion support programs are struggling to keep pace with demand and targeted support for children and families is often fragmented and siloed. Funding and supports to access tailored professional learning have not kept pace with the demands and complexities facing the current workforce.

With adequate resources and partnerships, early learning settings can provide a unique opportunity to provide welcoming places for all children and families, while supporting specialist approaches and targeted interventions. They can also be sites for deeply listening to the voices of children and those who care for them to deliver trauma-informed, culturally safe and inclusive approaches that support all to thrive. We need well-resourced systems and practices that put early learning in reach for all children and families

Stability of Early Learning Matters this election

The early childhood education and care sector is facing unprecedented workforce challenges and shortages. While the sector is projected for growth, the profession is experiencing significant workforce shortages driven by declining enrolments in educator and teacher qualifications, high turnover, recruitment difficulties along with high vacancies ([2],[3],[4],[5]). Some services are reconfiguring or reducing provision to operate within staffing constraints. This is placing significant pressure on the workforce who are often working longer hours in more challenging conditions, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The sector needs significant investment in the longer-term strategies set out in Shaping Our Future strategy. There is also immediate investment required to improve the pay and conditions of the sector, for example. The benefits of early learning children, families and society rely on a strong and stable workforce. We need a well supported and professionally paid workforce that are thriving in their work.

[1]  Child Care Package Evaluation: Final Report

[2] Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). (2021). Shaping Our Future: A Ten-Year Strategy to Ensure a Sustainable, High-Quality Children’s Education and Care Workforce 2022–2031.

[3] Big Steps. (2021). Exhausted, undervalued and leaving: The crisis in early education. https://bigsteps.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Exhausted-undervalued-and-leaving.pdf

[4] HESTA. (2021). State of the sector 2021. https://www.hesta.com.au/ECECreport21

[5] Community Early Learning Australia, Early Learning Association Australia & Community Child Care Association. (2021). Investing in our future: Growing the education and care workforce. https://elaa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Investing-in-our-Future-25-Nov-2021.pdf

*Please note Early Learning Matters Week will go ahead later this year – Register for updates.