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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 2198 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

Preschool arrangements for next year have been made using a set of factors that were agreed following community consultation in 1997. This is also the usual process of adjustment recommended by the standing committee. Those factors recognise six issues that need to be taken into account: Socioeconomic areas; clusters of rental housing; location of existing early learning units; minimum size to ensure a viable group; viability numbers of 17 registrations for a part-time preschool and 34 for a full-time preschool; location of the preschool to maintain support to staff and the community.

For 1999 three preschools will increase by half a unit; 10 will be reduced by half a unit; three will be reduced by one unit; four single-unit preschools will become part time; and two preschools do not have viable registrations for 1999. It is important to note that three preschools whose registrations have actually dropped below 17 - Deakin, the Causeway and Rivett - will not close due to factors other than purely enrolment. A part-time unit will be added to Charnwood to deliver a language enrichment program for residents of that area. This is consistent with the Auditor-General's recommendation for the introduction of innovative programs and is also linked with the toying with their talking concept being promoted as a strong early childhood literacy strategy, similar to what is already occurring at the Narrabundah Preschool.

I am relieved finally to be able to announce decisions on preschool arrangements for 1999. It is obviously very important to let preschool parents and staff know exactly what those arrangements will be. Parents need to be able to make informed decisions about their children's preschool enrolment and staff, of course, need to know whether changes will take place in where they will be working next year.

I welcome the standing committee's call for a statement of purpose for providing early childhood services. Such a statement is completely in line with our strategy for early childhood services and it provides a chance, in further consultation with the community, to articulate a vision for early childhood services in the ACT. In connection with this, I will also be pleased to pick up on Ms Tucker's call for coordination of other early childhood services, such as day care centres with preschool services.

Mr Speaker, in summary, despite the fact that we have 350 fewer ACT registrations for next year, compared with the number in the system at present, only one preschool will close. This outcome has been achieved in accordance with the recommendation in the report of the Standing Committee on Education which called for the usual processes to be maintained for 1999 and no major changes for next year.

MS TUCKER, by leave: I appreciate the fact that the Government, or the Minister, has basically supported the thrust of the report on preschool services. Minister, I am obviously disappointed that you have chosen to suspend Downer Preschool which had only 14 enrolments. Further enrolments were not out of the question. There could have been more enrolments by next year which would have made that a viable unit. But that is the decision that you have taken. I have had an assurance from your officers, and from you as well, that you will work with the community affected to ensure that all those children will be able to access an alternative preschool. However, I would like it to be placed on the record that I am not quite sure why the decision was taken, particularly as it is September and we know very well that other enrolments could occur between now and February.

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