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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2016 Week 01 Hansard (Thursday, 15 December 2016) . . Page.. 287 ..

Education, Employment and Youth Affairs—Standing Committee


MR STEEL (Murrumbidgee) (3.54): I move:

That this Assembly:

(1) notes the Mitchell Institute Report Preschool—Two Years are Better Than One—Developing a universal preschool program for Australian 3 year olds—evidence, policy and implementation; and

(2) resolves that the Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Youth Affairs conducts an inquiry into the value of universal access to early childhood education, including evidence around the benefits to children of starting preschool at age three.

Members will already know that I have a particular interest in the first five years of children’s lives because of the lifelong impact during that particularly important and sensitive period of brain development. That is why today I am moving to refer, in the motion circulated, those issues to the standing committee on education.

In 2009 the federal Labor government provided top-up funding under the national partnership agreement for early childhood education to provide universal access to 15 hours of preschool delivered by a degree-qualified teacher in the year before formal schooling. This saw enrolment in preschool by children the year before school increase from 70 per cent in 2008 to 98 per cent in 2013 nationally and 100 per cent here in the ACT.

Ireland actually introduced universal access to preschool for children in the year before school at around the same time as Australia, but this year they took the additional step of extending access to three-year-olds. This brings Ireland into line with many OECD countries, including England, which for some time has offered 15 hours per week free preschool for all children aged three to four and 40 per cent of two-year-olds. The conservative government there is now extending access to 30 hours free per week for these age cohorts.

The reason they are doing this is because of the compelling research showing that, for the years before full-time schooling, the duration attended by children is related to better intellectual outcomes. The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare found that all children benefit from attending an early learning program from age three if it is a quality program. The effective provision of preschool, primary and secondary education study looked at the school results of children aged 16, finding that the positive associations of early learning from age three lasted well into high school. Importantly, children who attended quality early learning for two to three years had much better results than average.

We have seen the results released from the program for international student assessment, or PISA, over the past few weeks. An analysis by PISA also shows the

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