Following on from its election commitment to ensure preschool access for four-year-old children, the Australian Government is proceeding with its plans to provide access to ‘universal’ preschool education. This commitment is supported by an overwhelming body of evidence attesting to the efficacy of early childhood education for school and later life outcomes, as well as a growing economic argument for greater investment on the basis of productivity gains. Further, Australia’s expenditure on early childhood education has compared poorly with other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries – in 2004 Australia’s expenditure on pre-primary education amounted to 0.1 per cent of GDP, compared to the OECD average of 0.5 per cent of GDP.
For various reasons not all Australian four-year-olds attend preschool or are accounted for in the available preschool attendance data. In 2006–07, 248,172 children attended state and territory government funded and/or provided preschool services in Australia. There is also considerable variation in the provision of these services–creating some confusion about the state of the preschool education sector (including what constitutes preschool education) – variability in program structure and inequities in access and participation.
The purpose of this background note is to present some of the key research in the area of early childhood intervention and education that has informed Australian policy making. It also provides an overview of current preschool education provision in Australia and recent policy developments.