Letter to Simon Birmingham

14 May 2018

The Hon. Senator Simon Birmingham

Minister for Education and Training

PO Box 6022

Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Minister Birmingham,

Early Childhood Australia (ECA) is writing to express deep concern about changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) for early childhood education and care (ECEC) arising from this year’s Federal Budget.

We were concerned to note that the funding to support the National Partnership on the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care has been discontinued—to be replaced by direct funding of Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) of $14.5 million over two years. The implication of this, which has since been affirmed in conversations with state officials, is that the Federal Government is withdrawing from the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) under which the NQF was commenced and progressed nearly ten years ago.

While we appreciate that the direct funding of ACECQA is intended to continue supporting a quality agenda for early education and care in Australia, the loss of the national governance framework through the National Partnership Agreement is significant and is likely to impact poorly on outcomes for children. The cessation of funding to states and territories puts the unified national approach to quality regulation at risk and seriously jeopardises the achievement of the NPA objectives (attached).

There is strong, irrefutable evidence that early childhood development has a lasting impact across a lifespan. Young children who experience nurturing care and high-quality early learning are more likely to make a smooth transition to school, stay engaged with education and experience social and emotional wellbeing through their adult life. The first five years are when children develop important skills for lifelong learning, including the underlying cognitive skills required for later literacy and numeracy development, as well as social and emotional skills, such as participating in groups, cooperating and negotiating, and regulating emotions.

In addition to the benefits to children, quality early education can bring economic and social benefits by supporting families to engage or re-engage with the workforce.

Investment in quality assessment and ratings will yield dividends in the future. The net estimated benefit to the Australian economy by 20501 of children participating in quality education and care— defined through attending a service rated as ‘Meeting’ or ‘Exceeding’ the National Quality Standard—is $10.3 billion to 2050.

The quality of early education and care is crucial in terms of ensuring the best outcomes for young children. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identifies that children who attend high-quality ECEC have better outcomes later in life, and that disadvantaged children can benefit the most from attending quality care.2 Importantly, while research has identified the benefits of participation in early education as being higher in disadvantaged populations, the quality of early education services tends to be lower in disadvantaged communities across Australia.

Australia’s NQF provides a uniform national system by which Australian ECEC services are measured against standards, so as to ensure children’s safety, health and wellbeing, and deliver educational and developmental benefits for children. The NQF is consistently supported by the sector and service providers. In surveys completed by service providers, ACECQA reports that the support of the sector for the National Quality Framework has remained consistently high (97% in the 2017 survey). It has delivered benefits to families and children through improved educator–child ratios, improved educator skills and qualifications, better support for learning through approved learning frameworks, and providing consistent and transparent information about service providers. From the commencement of the NQF in January 2012 through the end of March this year, 14 691 services had been assessed and 93% of all services had a quality rating. At this time, 77% of services have been rated as ‘meeting’ or ‘exceeding the standard’ 3.

However, this means that 23% of services are not meeting the standard and are either rated ‘working towards’ or even lower. This reinforces the need for an ongoing system that drives ongoing improvement. Quality will never be ‘done’. For the sake of children who will come into the ECEC system in the years ahead, and for those who are already participating in services that aren’t meeting the standard, we cannot afford to reduce support for a strong, single national quality agenda.

The National Quality Framework must be maintained as the primary mechanism for ensuring the social, emotional, physical and developmental wellbeing of young children in ECEC settings. ECA does not support any reduction of regulation that would compromise the quality of services provided to children. For Government, the independent assessment and ratings process is an important assurance that children are in a safe environment, with programs that support children’s learning and development outcomes. The independent process ensures that taxpayers are getting a return on investment in terms of a minimum quality standard for all children attending approved care, no matter where they live.

At a time when the sector requires increased investment through the National Partnership on the National Quality Agenda for Early Education and Care to enable assessments and reviews to be undertaken in a timely way that offers confidence to Australian families, we are deeply concerned that investment is dropping.

We are concerned that without a National Partnership Agreement:

·         there will be no shared agenda across jurisdictions that will underpin the NQF

·         that states and territories may reduce their commitment to the NQF over time, thereby imposing separate systems of quality standards onto the ECEC sector

·         that the independence of ACECQA will be undermined through a lack of state/territory funding through cost recovery

·         that there will be implications for the ECEC workforce, professional development and teacher registration standards

·         that children will be negatively affected by different systems and standards, with children in disadvantaged areas most at risk

·         that the national quality system will become less transparent and accountable to Australian families.

We urge the Federal Government to reinstate its commitment to the National Partnership Agreement, including financial support to state and territories to undertake activities under the agreement that protect the safety and wellbeing of young children attending early education and care. We would like to request that you meet with ECA President Ros Cornish to discuss this issue further. Please contact Neng Purnamawati on (02) 6242 1800 to arrange a suitable time.

Yours sincerely,

Samantha Page, CEO                                                       Ros Cornish, President

Early Childhood Australia                                              Early Childhood Australia

CC. Ms Jackie Wilson, Deputy Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Care, Department of Education and Training

1. PwC. (2014). Putting a value on early childhood education and care in Australia. Retrieved from www.pwc.com.au.

2. OECD. (2017). Starting Strong: Key OECD Indicators on Early Childhood Education and Care, at 146.

3. NQF Snapshot Q4. (2017). A quarterly report from the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority. Retrieved from www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-02/NQFSnapshotQ4_2017.PDF.

Attachment: The Objectives of the Quality Reform Agenda NPA are to:

(a)  deliver an integrated and unified national system for education and care services, which is jointly governed and which drives continuous improvement in the quality of services;

(b)  ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of children attending education and care services;

(c)  improve educational and developmental outcomes for children attending education and care services under the NQF;

(d)  foster a joint system of governance to allow the perspective of all jurisdictions to be taken into account in the operation of the NQF where there is shared responsibility for the regulation of quality in education and care services;

(e)  improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the regulation of education and care services;

(f)  reduce regulatory burden for education and care service providers;

(g)  improve public knowledge about and access to information about the quality of education and care services for parents, carers and the general public to help inform their choices about the quality of education and care provided to their children; and

(h)  build a highly skilled workforce.