Sunday, September 19, 2010

meeting kinder commitments

report from the roundtable – 14 sep

At this week's council meeting councillors had to consider the findings of a report into our shire's preschool sector to deliver the 15 hours minimum preschool commitment, COAG's Universal Access to Early Childhood Education which is due to commence in 2013. This is a long report from the roundtable, it's because Early Childhood Education is something that is very important to me.

Here I am with the Len Jeffery Preschoolers, these children are getting a great start in life. Len Jeffery Preschool in Belgrave South was the first preschool in the Shire to be awarded with the Kids Go for Your Life award, which recognises healthy eating and exercise programs for children.

Back in 2008 state governments committed to a policy of a minimum of 15 hours preschool for all children (taught by a 4 year degree qualified teacher) in the year before school by 2013. Yarra Ranges owns over 80% of the buildings used to deliver kindergarten programs, we also employ preschool advisory staff. Council also plays a strategic role through the Municipal Early Years Plan.

A number of key issues have been identified as part of the capacity assessment planning for the new minimum kinder standards.

Firstly the effect on other programs, particularly 3 year old Kinder programs. The 3 year old program is quite popular in Yarra Ranges with 46% of children accessing 4 year old kinder doing a 3 year old program first. Given that 3 year old kinder is unfunded and therefore more expensive for families the participation rate shows it is highly valued by families. The introduction of the 15 hour minimum means significant changes to timetabling which has a knock on effect to 3 year old programs in the order of between one third to one half of all 3 year old places.

The next issue identified is management and governance arrangements of our preschools. Many of our Kinders are run by independent committees of management, many of these committees are finding the ongoing burden and changes onerous, whilst others thrive on the challenges. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) are encouraging a cluster management framework, but many of our kinder committees are reluctant to give up their local independence and ownership.

With such a wholesale change of the preschool sector and a requirement that kindergarten programs must be delivered by 4 year qualified teachers, there is concern that there will be insufficient teaching capacity available. There is also the added pressure to access a pool of qualified teachers as Long Day Care will also need to employ qualified teachers due to changes to childcare regulations.

A real concern is the potential effect on the most vulnerable families, particularly kinder enrolments and affordability. At the moment families generally pay 40% of the costs through kinder fees, the average fee is around $185 per term, which has consequences for families with low and/or intermittent incomes who aren't eligible for a full fee subsidy (holding a health care card). Yarra Ranges found that cost was the most significant barrier to participation in kindergarten and as a result set up the
Kik Start Program in conjunction with Anglicare to provide grants to families struggling to find the money to pay kinder fees.

There hasn't been any confirmation by DEECD about funding arrangements that apply after 2013, but if we saw the same ratios that currently apply parents could expect an increase in fees of up to 50%, this is a real concern as it will impact greatly on participation.

The importance of Early Childhood Education cannot be underestimated and council is committed to children and support to the preschool sector as it goes through these changes.

We have an important role to play in advocating for better support for Kinders and ensuring that government continues to make sure that kindergarten is affordable for families in Yarra Ranges. We want our kids to have the best start in life and good quality early childhood education is a great start.

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