Calls for three-year-olds to get 15 hours a week free preschool, long term investment in federal budget

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Fresh calls have been made for the federal government to back children’s early education and commit to a long-term investment that provides for 15 hours a week of free preschool.

Australian Education Union president Correna Haythorpe said the 2021-22 federal budget, which will be handed down in about two weeks, must “be one for the future” as the sector recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.

She recommended funding continue through the government’s Universal Access program to ensure 15 hours per week was available for four-year-old preschoolers.

She also said the investment should be extended to pay for 15 hours per week for three-year-olds.

Ms Haythorpe wrote a letter to all members of the House of Representatives and Senate to support her calls for long-term investment in preschool.

In a statement, she said if it was not made, it would mean a “budget that fails the future”.

“Children’s brains grow and develop at an enormous rate in the years zero to five. What happens in those years has a lifelong impact,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Over and over again, people who have had access to a high quality early learning experience are shown to be more likely to perform better at school, to stay in school for longer and to go on to higher education and vocational education and training.

“Later in life, they are more likely to be employed and less likely to have entered the criminal justice system.”

She said early education played an important role in the nation’s economy but annual funding arrangements caused ongoing uncertainty for early childhood and preschool teachers.

“Parents, preschool organisations, teachers and most importantly our youngest Australians deserve the security of long-term investment for preschool delivered by a fully qualified teacher.”

The Universal Access program aims to ensure all young children can participate in preschool for 600 hours a year — which equates to 15 hours per week — before attending school.

In May last year, the federal government committed $452.3m to extend the program until the end of 2021, benefiting 350,000 children who participate in more than 11,000 preschool services.

Education Minister Alan Tudge has been contacted for comment.