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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (22 September) . . Page.. 1970 ..

Report on Preschool Education

MS TUCKER (10.34): Pursuant to order, I present report No. 1 of the Standing Committee on Education, entitled "The future provision of preschool education", together with the minutes of proceedings. This report was circulated on Monday, 14 September 1998, pursuant to the resolution of the Assembly of 24 June 1998. I move:

That the report be noted.

Mr Speaker, this inquiry was the result of the Auditor-General's report on preschools, which found that while preschools are excellent some efficiencies could be found in building utilisation and staffing. As we are all well aware, a number of preschools were named in this report as being under-utilised in these areas, and the community was naturally concerned that this could mean sudden closures.

Mr Speaker, the Education Committee was pleased to be able to take on this issue for its first inquiry. Even though we had a very short timeframe in which to work, we were able to produce a thorough report. This was because the community were very quick to put in submissions. One hundred and nineteen submissions were received, and they were of a high quality. The department also was prompt in responding.

One thing that was very clear through the inquiry and through the submissions was that preschool is important to many in the Canberra community. It is important because of its educative function, but it is important also for broader social reasons. Preschool is a place where people meet and where friendships and support relationships can develop. Preschool facilities are also used by playgroups and for other community activities. Preschool is a place where community can develop. It is particularly valued because in many areas in Canberra other facilities where this could happen are few and far between. The ACT has one of the best preschool services in Australia. Accessibility and affordability are obviously important factors in determining the effectiveness of our service as well as the actual educational opportunities that are offered.

A very strong point made in many submissions was the unsuitability of the past and current practice of government where decisions about preschools are made on an annual basis. There is data available which forecasts broad demographic changes. It is not good management practice to make annual decisions without any long-term planning framework. It is stressful for the community and, I am sure, stressful for the department as well. It has become even more pressured with the new enrolment process, because this leaves even less time for community input into decisions. And of course the Government's decision to further pressure the system by funding according to enrolments has aggravated the situation more.

The committee has recommended that by the year 2000 the Government develop a long-term plan for the provision of government-funded preschool education within the context of early childhood services and that there be no major changes until this has happened. The plan must include a statement of purpose, strategies to maximise access, strategies to improve staff and building utilisation, a statement of different models of service delivery and, most importantly, ongoing mechanisms for community consultation.

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