I thank Minister Burch very much for introducing this important motion today and in particular for the fantastic announcement this morning of the full 15 hours of preschool education in our public schools for 2016; I will return in a moment to some discussion about that particular announcement this morning.
As a mum of three young children, I know just how important it is for government to support our early childhood sector and make it easier for parents to access high quality early childhood education and care. Affordable, quality child care has become an integral part of our modern economy and our everyday lives, and family day care in particular has an important place in our community. It offers families a flexible childcare option in the home and gives children a wonderful opportunity to socialise, learn and grow in a family home environment.
As we have heard from Minister Burch, thousands of families use family day care every day in this city. It is a vital part of our early childhood education and care sector, and perhaps most importantly, unlike nannies, it is regulated and supported through the essential national quality framework. This framework guarantees the qualifications and quality of early childhood educators. Research shows higher qualified educators improve outcomes for children. A highly qualified early childhood education and care workforce is essential for providing a strong foundation for the health and educational development of Canberra’s children.
It is therefore a real shame that the federal government seems to think that cutting family day care is a good idea, although it really should not be a surprise when you consider how terrible the then Abbott government’s first budget was. Remember that one, Madam Deputy Speaker? It was a doozy and it was probably the beginning of the end really—so no surprise that amongst many cuts it included cuts to child care and family day care.
The peak body, Family Day Care Australia, said at the time that the cuts would impact more than 80 per cent of family day care services. Under the changes in that budget, the department of education would terminate all community support program contracts for family day care approved services, as the minister has noted. So how did that support families here in Canberra? It did not. Instead, it causes fees to rise and makes finding appropriate care for children even more difficult. From 1 July this year, existing family day care services are being forced to meet a new set of eligibility criteria, meaning many lose a chunk of funding.
The new eligibility criteria restrict eligibility for CSP funding to family day care services that are the sole provider of family day care in the surrounding area, with weighting towards services that provide care in regional, remote or disadvantaged areas. Naturally, there will be a detrimental impact on Canberra by such changes. So, instead of all the promises from the former Prime Minister, what the federal government has actually done is make it more difficult for mothers and for families to plan to get access to affordable, quality child care and, particularly, for mothers to return to work.
The changes have also been very confusing for the sector with these cuts to family day carers, people who open their homes to other families and become an important part of family life and offer flexible care for those who might not easily have access to other forms of child care, as the minister noted.
This morning the ACT government, through Minister Burch, announced the full funding of 15 hours of public preschool. This government clearly recognises the importance of early childhood education and care for our community. The ACT government is committed to ensuring families can access affordable, high quality preschool education. The government acknowledges that lifelong learning is the foundation for Canberra’s ongoing prosperity and wants every child to have the opportunity to thrive.
I understand that over 4,000 children and their families will benefit as a result of today’s announcement. It is also excellent to see that the national quality framework has increased service provision quality in the ACT, with 42 ACT public preschools having now been assessed against the national quality standards and 31 receiving a rating of exceeding national quality standards.
The ACT will continue to be one of the only jurisdictions to offer free public preschool for 15 hours per week to all four-year-old children in the year before their formal schooling starts. This significant investment reflects our belief in the essential value of a quality early childhood education system to positively impact on a child’s development.
As the minister has noted, I was alarmed to hear the shadow minister refer to the lack of progress by the ACT government when in fact I had also been approached by a number of families asking the same question and, as a mum who has had three children through preschool, I also sought advice directly from the minister’s office. It was very clearly and very quickly cleared up for me that what the ACT government was waiting for was confirmation from the commonwealth to fund this essential program. I was able to tell the constituents that and to give them some certainty that the ACT government remained committed to this but was waiting for and working hard to get confirmation from the commonwealth.
The ACT government and the minister understand how important it is to plan for childcare arrangements around preschool hours, to plan for your other children’s schooling and childcare needs. So I was a bit alarmed to hear the shadow minister for education not appearing to understand what the arrangements are for preschool and non-government schools. I am sure he will seek some further advice from Minister Burch after this debate today and be able to get back to all his constituents and explain why the delay was necessary and why today the ACT government has confirmed that it will certainly fund this very important initiative.
The ACT government continues to significantly invest in growing and upskilling the education and care workforce. To achieve this, the government has ensured a range of vocational education and training programs are available that meet the needs of educators and employers. For example, traineeships funded through the ACT’s Australian apprenticeships program have grown strongly in the early childhood education and care sector since 2010. In 2014, 312 trainees completed a formal qualification approved by the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority. Thirty participants completed a certificate III in early childhood education and care. Another 46 completed a relevant skill set, preparing them for further study towards a full qualification. And in 2015 the ACT’s new training initiative, skilled capital, will contribute well over $2 million towards at least 570 training places in a wide range of approved early childhood education and care qualifications.
Additionally, the early childhood scholarships program established in 2012 to assist the sector to meet new minimum qualification requirements continues, with a new round of places offered just last month. The scholarship covers full course fees for a certificate III qualification, a start-up and completion incentive, and funding to release working educators to study or attend classes. Including this year’s allocation, the program has provided 145 places. A further 30 places will be offered in 2016.
Fifty-seven students from the first round of funding have now achieved a certificate III in early childhood education and care. This qualification develops educators’ skills in developing respectful relationships with children, supporting their development and using the early years learning framework to guide their practice. It also supports educators to work with children and families in culturally appropriate ways.
Under the national quality framework, all early childhood educators counted in educator to child ratios are now required to be working towards this qualification.
This gives us confidence and our families confidence that our young children are being educated by professionals with appropriate skills and knowledge to work in partnership with families to maximise children’s potential.
I want to close by thanking the minister for moving this motion today and putting on record the ACT government’s strong commitment to family day care, to the national quality framework and to ensuring that every ACT family has access to affordable and high quality childcare, and I congratulate her on her announcement this morning about 15 hours of preschool.