Budget 2017 has allocated additional money to cover the cost of increasing child participation in early childhood education, providing a further 31,000 places but this does little to address parent and teacher concerns for children.
ChildForum chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander says that continuing to make it hard for parents to have time available for their child and allocating funding for child participation in early childhood education without an emphasis on quality and safety does not give every young child the best early start they deserve.
A lack of childcare is no longer an issue. The number of sessional-licenced kindergartens has dropped from over 500 to just one, while nearly all childcare services including kindergarten now require children to attend 6 or more hours a day in accordance with government policy on participation.
“Young children are already being disadvantaged by policies and systems that have turned early childhood education into big competitive business rather than a quality and care focused sector and funding having been slashed in areas that were designed to maintain high standards.
The sector is now getting to the point of having an oversupply of childcare place and this is leading to local community services struggling to maintain numbers and stay afloat, good teachers are leaving the sector because of high stress and poor employment conditions, and parents have less certainty that their child’s needs will be adequately met,” says Dr Alexander.
“The very high rate of child participation means more children are at risk of learning problems, emotional and behavioural difficulties when the care is not of high quality,” she added.
This year’s Budget includes provision for extra specially-trained teachers to help some 3 and 4 year old children with pre-literacy skills. Vulnerable children will also benefit from other packages to support them from an earlier age.
Dr Alexander says funding to services needs to be based on ensuring standards are maintained and that all children benefit from quality care. A good start would be to reduce group sizes from the maximum of 150 children and lift the minimum requirement for trained staff from 50 to 100%.
“Social investment in children needs to be focused on quality of care” she says. “This is just as, if not more, important than funding early childhood education providers simply to provide more places and longer hours of childcare or giving tax breaks to working parents.”
“Focusing on our most vulnerable children is important,” she added. “But it is also important that parents have time to learn to parent and be involved in their child’s early learning and that all our children benefit from the great work that trained teachers can do”.