From the start of next year, 400 three-year-old children in the ACT who have been identified as being most in need will be given free early childhood education for 15 hours a week.
The initiative is the first step in the ACT Government’s plan to provide free early childhood education for all three-years-old in the ACT for 15 hours a week or 600 hours per year – with the timeline for the full rollout expected to be announced later this year.
It is part of a wider package of measures for 2020 which include a pilot program of after-hours care for pre-school students and expanding the hours of the existing Koori Preschool program.
Currently, only four-year-olds are offered free pre-school in the ACT, but research has pointed to the value of providing free childhood education for three-year-olds as well, particularly for disadvantaged children.
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“We know that children who start school behind often stay behind. It’s really hard for them to catch up,” said Early Childhood Australia CEO Sam Page who attended the launch of the initiative at the Southern Cross Early Childhood School in Scullin last Friday (June 21).
“We’ve got an increasing equity gap between children starting school ready for school and the children starting school behind their peers.
“Universal access for four-year-olds has made a big difference to that over the last decade and experts in the sector have been calling for that to be extended to three-year-old children for some time.
“The research evidence is really clear. If we can provide two years of a high-quality pre-school program to children, we can make a real difference to their long-time educational outcomes.”
ACT Minister for Early Childhood Development, Yvette Berry, said that from the beginning of 2020, 400 dedicated places will be provided for priority families in services co-located with Early Childhood Schools and other early childhood settings.
The eligible families will be those experiencing disadvantage and vulnerability and they will be contacted directly to be offered the opportunity to enrol their child.
“This initiative, funded in the 2019-20 ACT Budget, is the first step in rolling out this very significant reform to all Canberra families.
“It forms part of a $2.2 million package of investments aimed at improving equitable access to early childhood education in 2020.”
Ms Berry said that other parts of the package include expanding hours at the existing Koori Preschool program, expanding the ‘Prep for Pre Program’ across a range of early childhood settings, developing a pilot program of after-hours care for preschool students, and subsidising training for staff involved in supporting children with trauma.
Koori Preschool program
“From 2020, the ACT Government will expand the hours of the existing Koori Preschool program for three to five-year-old children to 15 hours per week, as well as deliver a co-design process to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children receive high quality, culturally appropriate early childhood education,” Ms Berry said.
“In other parts of Australia, this has led to outreach models like a mobile preschool.
“This investment will support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Early Years Engagement Officers who connect families with Koori Preschools, Child and Family Centres, and schools.”
Prep for Pre Program
Ms Berry said the ACT Government will be expanding the Prep for Pre program which provides children with a supporting experience of what preschool will be like to help manage their anxiety and build skills. The program also provides support for parents to be effective ‘first teachers’ and engage in their child’s early education.
“Importantly, the Prep for Pre Program provides opportunities for early intervention services to offer supported pathways and developmental assessments for vulnerable children prior to starting preschool,” Ms Berry said.
After-hours care for pre-schoolers
Ms Berry said the ACT Government is delivering on its election commitment to alleviate the burden on families by developing a pilot program of after-hours care for ACT Government pre-school students at up to four sites, as well as providing grants of up to $50,000 for each site.
Supporting children with trauma
Ms Berry said the Government will also subsidise training for non-government education and care staff in supporting children with trauma and early identification of families experiencing domestic violence.
“Early intervention and support can bring immediate improvements, reduce the lifelong impact of domestic violence and interrupt intergenerational patterns of violence,” Ms Berry said.
“This investment responds to a recommendation from the Domestic Violence Prevention Council’s Extraordinary Meeting Report.”