School start age backflip welcomed
A BRIDGEWATER child care centre that was facing closure if the Government brought in its plan to lower the state’s school starting age is now pushing ahead with expansion plans.
Discovery’s Gunn Street Early Learning Centre director Kellie Bruce said she was pleased Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff had scrapped plans to introduce a lower voluntary school starting age of 4½ for Prep and for children aged 3½ to start Kindergarten.
The Government will instead spend $10.5 million a year to fund access to preschool programs at early childhood education and care centres for eligible three-yearolds from 2020.
“Our service was one that was earmarked to be closed [if the school starting age was lowered],” Miss Bruce said.
For the past four years the Bridgewater centre had plans to build a new service in the community, doubling its capacity and workforce.
Miss Bruce said these plans had been put on hold because of the centre’s uncertain future if the school starting age was lowered.
“Now we will be able to go ahead and build our new service,” Miss Bruce said.
She said the Government’s Working Together for 3 Year Olds plan, which will give three-year-olds access to 10 hours a week, or 400 hours a year, of early learning through an accredited services, was good news for families in the Bridgewater community.
The Gunn St centre’s clients are a mix of working and studying families, families who want their children to gain social skills, and at-risk families.
Miss Bruce hopes the new program will give more children access to early learning.
“It will mean so much for our community being low socio-economic,” she said.
“It will mean that for our vulnerable children and our atrisk children they will have a break from their home environment.”
The lower school starting age proposal was scrapped last week after Education Department secretary Jenny Gale recommended the Government not continue with the plan, first announced in 2014.
The childcare sector fought against the proposal, arguing it would threaten the viability of childcare centres, particularly those in regional areas.
Some parents had concerns about whether children would be ready to start school at the younger age.
It was part of the revamped Education Act but to allay MLCs’ concerns about the provision, Mr Rockliff last year said the lower school starting age would be subject to further consultation before it returned to Parliament for a final sign-off.
In her report to the Minister, Ms Gale said the early childhood education and care sector operated in a volatile environment and many Tasmanian services were already vulnerable with a large number operating at a loss.
“The ECEC sector provides a valuable service for the Tasmanian community to enable workforce participation by parents and early learning for a large number of Tasmanian children, and a viable sector must be sustained,” she said.
“The impacts of the proposed change to the voluntary earlier school starting age are confounded by significant existing uncertainty about the viability of many services in the sector.”
Ms Gale recommended the Working Together for 3 Year Olds program.