Improved access to quality services that support early childhood learning and care for children through a national quality framework, agreed national standards, investment in infrastructure, and support for parents, carers, services and the workforce.
During 2013–14, the Department of Education continued to invest significantly in early childhood development and education and child care assistance, to deliver better access to affordable and high-quality early childhood education and care for Australian families.
Early childhood is a critical stage of development that forms the foundation for children’s future wellbeing and learning. The skills and abilities acquired in early childhood years are fundamental to a person’s success and wellbeing later in life.
A highly skilled and professional workforce is instrumental in ensuring high-quality child care and early learning experiences. On 5 May 2014, the Hon Sussan Ley MP, Assistant Minister for Education, released the guidelines for the new Long Day Care Professional Development Programme ( LDCPDP). The programme will assist all educators in long day care centres to meet the National Quality Framework ( NQF) qualification requirements and improve quality outcomes for children. The LDCPDP complements the Inclusion and Professional Support Programme, which provides subsidised professional development and inclusion support for carers and educators and $200 million will be provided over three years.
All children, regardless of location, should have access to quality child care and early learning experiences. The department is committed to lifting the quality of centre-based Budget Based Funded ( BBF) early childhood services. The department funds BBF early childhood education and care and school-age care services in approved locations where the market would not normally allow services to operate. These services predominantly operate in rural, remote and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. A review of arrangements for BBF services was undertaken in 2013 and the outcomes of the report are being used to inform future policy to ensure that the services are well targeted to contemporary needs.
Support for children’s early literacy and numeracy development will be improved with the continued expansion of the Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters ( HIPPY) to a total of 100 locations by 2015. HIPPY is a two-year, home-based parenting and early childhood enrichment programme targeted at disadvantaged communities.
During 2013–14, the department undertook work to reduce the red tape and regulatory burden experienced by individuals, businesses and community organisations. Consistent with this, the department is working closely with state and territory governments and with the child care and early childhood learning sector to find practical ways to improve the implementation of the NQF without compromising the quality of education and care that is provided.
The department worked with a number of early childhood and early education peak bodies to test a range of flexible child care models across the long day care, family day care and outside school hours care sectors. These trials will be independently evaluated by the Australian Institute of Family Studies; however, the uptake by parents of some of the flexible arrangements on offer has not been as high as initially anticipated.
A focus for 2013–14 has been the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC)—formerly known as the Australian Early Development Index—which was launched on 1 July 2014 through a new website at www.aedc.gov.au. The department has committed to the third national collection of the AEDC data; this will occur in mid 2015.
The AEDC is a population measure of children’s development before their first year of full-time school. The AEDC will help governments at all levels, as well as community organisations and early childhood services, to monitor progress, consider emerging trends and inform early childhood policy and planning across education, health and community services.
The department contributed to the development of improved early childhood learning and care policies and programmes in various ways—for example, it provided a formal submission, detailed data and programme information to the Productivity Commission’s ongoing Inquiry into Child Care and Early Childhood Learning.