Evaluating Australia's ECEC Sector: Insights from the 2023 Productivity Commission's Government Services Report
The most recent data presented in the 2023 Productivity Commission's Government Services Report on Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) aligns closely with findings from previous reports, indicating a consistent trend in the sector's performance, challenges, and achievements. This continuity suggests that the sector's dynamics, including participation rates, funding patterns, compliance with standards, and overall service quality, are following an established trajectory. Such consistency underscores the importance of longitudinal analysis in understanding the impacts of policy decisions, funding adjustments, and service provision strategies on the ECEC landscape over time.
A summary of the key findings and statistics from the 2023 Productivity Commission's Government Services Report on Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) is provided below, offering a snapshot of the sector's current performance, funding dynamics, compliance trends, and its impact on child development in Australia.
The Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) section of the Productivity Commission's 2023 Government Services Report offers a comprehensive overview of the sector's performance, covering aspects such as participation rates, funding, costs, compliance, and more. This report serves as a crucial tool for evaluating the long-term trends in the ECEC sector, providing a high-level perspective on the effectiveness of government policies, funding, and service performance.
The report highlights both achievements and challenges within the sector, including significant increases in Child Care Subsidy (CCS) funding from federal and state/territory governments, a 7.75% reduction in federal funding for the Preschool Reform agreement, and varying attendance rates across different age groups. Specifically, there's been strong attendance growth among children under two, with 89.1% of children in their year before school participating in preschool programs. However, there's a noticeable decrease in enrollment among children from low-income families, alongside a 21% rise in confirmed breaches of the National Quality Framework (NQF) and a 15% increase in serious incidents.
Key financial insights include:
- A rise in total government funding for ECEC, with federal expenditure reaching $11.6 billion, marking an 8.9% increase, and state/territory funding up 17% to $3.2 billion.
- A decrease in Commonwealth funding under the Preschool Reform Agreement, falling by 7.75% to $455 million.
- An increase in government expenditure per child, with federal spending reaching $9,315 (up 3%) and a state/territory average of $9,467.
The report also notes a 3% increase in children using approved childcare services, setting a new record of 910,208 children, nearly half of all Australian children. Additionally, attendance by one-year-olds surged by 9%, driven by a post-COVID baby boom.
Enrollment in preschool programs before school rebounded to 89.1% across Australia in 2022, with significant improvements in NSW, VIC, and QLD. However, overall enrollment in preschool programs saw a decrease from the previous year, with variations across different types of programs and states.
The average hours of attendance at Long Day Care (LDC) reached a new high of 33 hours per week, with notable attendance in the Northern Territory and Queensland. Meanwhile, attendance in Family Day Care (FDC) and Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) showed slight variations.
The report also highlights a new record of 4.8% attendance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in ECEC services, though the proportion of children from low-income families has decreased.
Regarding staffing, there were 183,315 paid contact staff in ECEC services as of 2021, with changes in the qualifications of staff since 2016.
Confirmed breaches and serious incidents in NQF-approved ECEC services have seen significant increases, raising concerns about what is driving these trends.
The report concludes with the observation that children who have accessed some form of ECEC are less likely to be developmentally vulnerable compared to those who have not, highlighting the sector's impact on child development.
For further details, the full reports and data can be accessed through the provided link.