School start age back­flip wel­comed

The Gazette (Derwent Valley) - - NEWS - LORETTA LOHBERGER

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.

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