Examines how well the department targets early childhood education funding towards achieving the NSW Government’s universal access objective and performance benchmarks.
The NSW Government wants all children to have access to quality early childhood education in their year before school.
Access to early childhood education has been increasing in New South Wales. In 2015, 99 per cent of children in the year before school were enrolled in an education program compared to 82 per cent in 2013. The number of disadvantaged children enrolled in early childhood education also increased from 18,125 in 2013 to 24,214 in 2015.
The government has adopted a benchmark of 95 per cent of children in the year before school being enrolled in quality early childhood education programs for at least 600 hours. Only 77 per cent of children in the year before school were enrolled for at least 600 hours in 2015. New South Wales lags behind other States and Territories on this benchmark. Fees for families in New South Wales are higher, and the NSW Government’s contribution per child lower, than in most other States and Territories.
Early childhood education is delivered through three main service types: government preschools, community preschools and long day care centres. In 2015, 62 per cent of early childhood education enrolments in New South Wales were in long day care services.
Historically, State and Territory governments have been responsible for early childhood education policy and funding, with the Australian Government funding childcare to promote increased workforce participation. Essentially, States and Territories funded preschools and the Australian Government funded long day care and other forms of childcare.
Increasingly, the demarcation between early childhood education and childcare has become blurred, as services integrate education and care. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to a nationally consistent policy framework for early childhood education and care services. Since 2008, the Australian Government has provided some funding to the States and Territories to support the provision and regulation of early childhood education through National Partnership Agreements. This is in addition to the funding it provides for childcare through subsidies and rebates to families and providers.
The NSW Government determines how to use this money and subsidises a range of service types. The amount of money the NSW Government receives depends on performance against National Partnership Agreement benchmarks. The Department of Education (the Department) administers early childhood education in New South Wales. This includes subsidising service providers (from both New South Wales and Australian Government sources) and regulating them under the National Quality Framework.
This audit assessed how well the Department targets early childhood education funding towards achieving the NSW Government’s universal access objective and performance benchmarks, and whether the Department regulates the operation of early childhood education efficiently.