Government set to introduce universal pre-Kindergarten

Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell and Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke during a visit to Gundagai Preschool.

The NSW Government will launch one of the biggest education reforms in a generation, starting with the introduction of a universal pre-Kindergarten year of education. 

The 2022/23 NSW Budget, set to be handed down today, will set aside more than $5.8 billion over 10 years to introduce universal pre-Kindergarten for all children in NSW by 2030.  

Premier Dominic Perrottet said the investment in families was on a scale never seen before in Australia. 

“This is incredible reform that will change lives and deliver enormous educational benefits for children across the state, securing a brighter future for NSW families,” Mr Perrottet said. 

“We’re ensuring our youngest learners thrive by introducing a full year of preschool education before Kindergarten, as we know how important it is to have a strong educational foundation.” 

NSW Treasurer Matt Kean said that children who receive quality early childhood education are more likely to get better results at school and earn more across their lifetime.  

“This Budget is all about investing in a better future, and setting our kids up for success is priceless,” Mr Kean said. 

“This reform will deliver intergenerational results for our kids and our economy.”  

The government will consult with families, peak bodies and service providers to create the best model for the new, universal pre-Kindergarten year for all children in NSW. 

Gundagai Preschool Director Stacey Smith said the announcement comes at a perfect time for the preschool, with a contract set to be signed in the coming weeks and the new preschool expansion build to start soon after.

Mrs Smith said while the government’s announcement is exciting for the sector, she will be eager to read the new reform model when it is released in 2023, before drawing any concrete conclusions on the reform. 

“This is certainly the biggest education reform I have seen in my 24 years in the early childhood education sector. I do, however, have some unanswered questions,” she said.

“The government has made a commitment to participate in robust consultation with families, peak bodies, and service providers. Will this consultation highlight the importance of a high-quality service delivery and child developmental outcomes over economic outcomes? 

“Experts from around the world highlight the importance of a high-quality early education system in ensuring good overall outcomes from preschool education, not least to distinguish it from childcare. I appreciate families need to have care for children to return to work, however, as an early childhood teacher, I am yet to pass judgment on the reform until the model is released.”

Mrs Smith said she would expect the reform investment to align with some of the world’s best preschool education systems by raising the bar for preschool teachers and educators. 

“Finland, for example, has systematically developed teaching as a professional career,” she said.

“Teachers must attain high university qualifications, and all have a three or four-year bachelor’s degree in education. This is often backed up with commensurate wages, as well as low student teacher ratios. Teachers are regarded with the same respect as other professionals, such as lawyers, with comparable working conditions.” 

To provide the best preschool education, as Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell has stated, an investment must be made in producing the best teachers and educators, Mrs Smith said. 

“Right now, on the floor in real time, teachers and educators are leaving the sector in droves,” she said. 

“The workload, lack of professional recognition, and pitiful remuneration is driving this mass exit, and turning others away from joining the profession.”

Mrs Smith said if Premier Perrottet truly believes in what he is saying, that, ‘preschool education is vitally important for strong educational foundations’, he must start by fixing the staffing crisis. 

“For the reform to truly provide quality outcomes, teachers must be afforded strong institutional trust,” she said.

“This reform needs to take a light touch when it comes to testing and monitoring. Teachers who are highly qualified need the backing of the government. Quality is vital and is built from a foundation of highly qualified professionals.

“I will hold off until the model is fully released in 2023 before making a judgment on the reform just yet. The devil is always in the detail. In the meantime, the staffing crisis remains. Attracting and retaining qualified teachers and educators needs to be addressed now, not in five to 10 years.

“It is, however, refreshing and positive to see preschool education in the spotlight. The commitment for all children the year before kindergarten to have access to a preschool education is one of many the sector has been advocating for many years. This is certainly a positive step, and Gundagai Preschool looks forward to this reform model to continue to ensure all children in Gundagai have access to a preschool education the year before school.”

Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke said the landmark investment for NSW families is on a scale that has not been seen before in the southern hemisphere.  

“We are helping our youngest of learners to thrive, taking pressure off parents and boosting family budgets by introducing a year of free education before kindergarten,” Ms Cooke said. 

“This NSW Government will introduce this incredible reform that will deliver educational benefits for our children and ensure they can have brighter futures. 

“This investment is delivering the foundations for a long term, early learning revolution that will make NSW one of the best places in the world to live, work and raise a family.” 

Minister Mitchell said universal pre-Kindergarten is something that she has been working to bring to NSW for a number of years, having seen the benefits of it for children and families in countries like Canada. 

“It is so exciting to know that in NSW we will soon be unleashing the power of universal pre-Kindergarten,” she said. 

“This transformational new year of preschool education will not just build on the other commitments of this budget but will also change and improve, with the help of parents, educators, services and stakeholders, how children enter and prepare for school.”

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