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Quality early education isn’t available for all: report

One-third of children nationwide don’t attend enough preschool, leaving one-fifth of children, many from the poorest backgrounds, developmentally unprepared for school – a new report has identified.

Quality Early Education for All: Fostering creative, entrepreneurial, resilient and capable learners by the Mitchell Institute’s Megan O’Connell, Stacey Fox, Dr Bronwyn Hinz and Hannah Cole, pinpointed these figures and warned this could undermine Australia’s future prosperity.

It also warned the children who do get enough preschool – the federal government’s recommended 15 hours a week – are mostly from wealthier backgrounds. These children also get better quality childcare. This is an achievement gap, as the Grattan Institute recently identified, that persists through school. 

“Access and quality are still skewed by socioeconomic status, meaning we are missing opportunities to extend access to quality early education to the children who stand to benefit most,” the report read. “Each year, 15 per cent of the children from the lowest socioeconomic quintile and around 60,000 children in total enter school developmentally vulnerable. Quality early educational opportunities are a vital strategy for reducing these numbers.”

The report also identified that one-third of childcare centres are not meeting minimum national quality standards. A quarter are yet to be assessed. The facilities that haven’t met the standards generally cater for the poorer kids, it stated.

The report’s recommendations include establishing free, universal access to preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and setting up targeted federal support for the most disadvantaged children in early learning. Other recommendations include requiring all centres to meet the national standards by mid-2017, and an awareness campaign by government to promote the importance of early learning.

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