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All Victorian children and young people have the right to a quality education.
Education is a strong foundation for children’s learning and development, their future employment and life opportunities. It is an empowering path from poverty and disadvantage.
However, too many children and young people miss out on full access to a quality education due to disadvantage. They face participation barriers to early years services and school, and sometimes leave education altogether.
Developmental gaps between children from socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds often emerge in early childhood and widen over time. By the first year of school, children from the most disadvantaged areas are twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable as those from the most advantaged areas. Without effective intervention, these gaps can place children on a poor trajectory during schooling.
About 10,000 Victorian students disengage from school each year. Early school leavers are at greater risk of financial hardship, physical and mental health problems, drug and alcohol misuse, homelessness, and justice system involvement. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are overrepresented among early school leavers.
The government can build on past budget investments to create a fully inclusive and accessible universal education system empowering every child and young person.
This requires services to embrace diversity and be respectful, tolerant, culturally safe and inclusive of all children and young people, including children with disability, same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse young people, children experiencing poverty, children in out-of-home care, Aboriginal children and children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Early childhood education and care services, schools, training providers, health and community services, and families, can work together to maximise every child and young person’s learning, development and wellbeing, and give them a positive start in life.
The Victorian government can empower students with additional health and development needs to succeed at school by reforming the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD) funding model.
Children and young people with disability have the right to a quality, inclusive education that maximises their academic and social development. But they are hampered by funding limitations, lack of specialist support, inadequately trained teachers, and discriminatory attitudes. Students with disability are less likely to complete Year 12, and those from families facing disadvantage are even less likely to achieve in education than their peers. Providing effective early support through the PSD can improve their educational and life trajectories.
Figure 3: Conceptual model of the relationship between special healthcare needs and
children’s school progress
Source: M O’Connor, S Howell-Meurs, A Kvalsvig and S Goldfeld, ‘Understanding the impact of special health care needs on early school functioning, a conceptual model’, Child: Care, Health and Development, May 2014.
PSD funding supports about 4 per cent of Victorian students. However, about 7 per cent of Australian children aged up to 14 face disability, and about 20 per cent have additional health and development needs that require extra support if they are to fulfil their educational potential. This leaves a significant gap.
PSD funding eligibility is based on rigid diagnostic categories, excluding many students and putting families in the situation of having to ‘paint the worst case scenario’ of their children’s future to obtain funding. It also causes funding uncertainty for families and schools.
Adopting a functional needs-based funding approach would shift the system to better respond to and maximise these students’ learning and development.
Both the Victorian Government Schools Funding Review and the Review of the PSD recommended redesigning the PSD on a strengths-based functional needs approach. However, these recommendations remain ‘under consideration’.
Reforming the PSD funding model as recommended by these reviews will deliver a more inclusive education system, optimising the educational, social and wellbeing outcomes for every child and young person with disability or additional health and development needs.
The Victorian government can give children the best start in life by extending the availability of high quality early learning services, from birth to when they start school.
Families facing disadvantage cannot afford to enrol their children in high quality early childhood education and care (ECEC). The Victorian government can help by securing funding for 15 hours per week of four-year-old kindergarten, providing universal access to at least five hours of three-year-old kindergarten, and more early learning hours and stronger participation strategies for children facing disadvantage.
Children benefit from high quality early learning, particularly those facing disadvantage. One or more years of kindergarten participation produces higher development, learning, cognitive and social-emotional outcomes. It can counter the effects of disadvantage and supports children’s success at school. Children enrolled in a high-quality early learning program perform better academically in grade 3, and achieve higher results at age 15 on the OECD Program for International Student Assessment.
Investing in high quality universal early education, with extra support for children facing disadvantage, gives every child a strong learning foundation, improves their life chances, and helps break the poverty cycle. It delivers clear economic value. If every child experiencing disadvantage participated in ECEC services, the Australian economy would benefit by $13.3 billion dollars by 2050.
The length of time children spend in quality early learning environments also matters. Children who spend more time in kindergarten have better cognitive development, independence, concentration and sociability, and achieve better final school results. The effects are magnified for children who spend two years in a quality early learning program.
Commonwealth and state governments have only secured funding for 15 hours of four-year-old kindergarten until 2017. The Victorian government can work with the Commonwealth government to secure ongoing funding, providing certainty for families and improving children’s chance for school success. Extending four-year-old kindergarten access for children facing disadvantage to three days per week can improve their learning and development.
Most European countries provide every child with at least two years of free, publicly funded early education, and New Zealand funds 20 early childhood education hours for every three- and four-year-old child. The United Kingdom provides three- and four-year-old children with 15 free ECEC hours each week, extended to vulnerable two-year-olds, including those from families on low incomes, asylum seekers, children in out-of-home care and children with disability and special education needs.
The Victorian government can improve children’s learning and development by funding at least five hours of universal three-year-old kindergarten, and funding 15 hours of three-year-old kindergarten programs for every child facing disadvantage. The government can consider extending access to 15 hours of early learning for two-year-old-children facing disadvantage.
Children from families facing disadvantage are most likely to miss ECEC opportunities, including those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and non-English speaking backgrounds. In particular, many eligible children do not receive Early Start Kindergarten, which provides 15 free or low-cost hours of three-year-old kindergarten for Aboriginal children and those known to child protection.
The Victorian government can develop an early learning participation strategy for children facing disadvantage, particularly those eligible for Early Start Kindergarten. This can include:
The Victorian government can improve children and young peoples learning, development and wellbeing, particularly for those facing disadvantage, by investing in integrated service models.
Integrated services, such as child and family centres, and schools as community hubs, provide welcoming and safe places for family-centred engagement. They usually combine universal education and health services such as school, kindergarten, playgroup and Maternal and Child Health Services, with other specialised community and health services.
Integrated models go beyond co-locating services: they coordinate a holistic service delivery approach. This supports children, young people and families facing multiple and complex needs that a single organisation is unable to meet. Funded coordinators can facilitate service collaboration and engage in community development and outreach work.
Integrated services promote early intervention by linking children and their families with targeted services when problems first arise. They deliver positive educational and wellbeing outcomes, including better attendance, educational attainment, wellbeing, social development and behaviours, more engaged learning, and greater family engagement in school.
School costs can prevent children and young people facing disadvantage from participating fully in education. Families face rising education costs, including for digital devices, school uniforms, clothing and equipment, textbooks, elective subjects, sports activities, camps and excursions. There are also indirect costs, such as travelling to and from school, and requiring internet access for homework.
If families cannot afford these, their children risk missing opportunities and being socially excluded. While the Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund responds positively to the Education Maintenance Allowance loss, VCOSS members advise it does not cover all rising school costs being borne by families. The Victorian government can provide more resources so children and young people do not miss out. The Department of Education and Training can also regularly monitor the new Parent Payment Policy to ensure schools understand and comply.
The Victorian government can help more young people reengage in education by funding a statewide, targeted, intensive, case-managed support service for young people disengaging early, or who are at risk of disengaging from school. The Navigator pilot program currently operates in only eight of the 17 Department of Education and Training areas, leaving many young people without specialised support. The program is only funded for two years.
Program expansion can be informed by a comprehensive evaluation of the Navigator pilot program, alongside evaluations of other programs, including the new Lookout Education Centres and reshaped School Focused Youth Services. Evaluation can find gaps and identify the most effective practices. Long-term effort and adequate resources can deliver a suite of effective support. Funding uncertainty and frequent program changes undermine efforts to build effective relationships between schools, families, community sector organisations, other education providers and the local community. The disengaged student register could promptly identify students needing more support.
The Victorian government can help universal early years services to identify, respond to and support children with disability and developmental delays by investing in professional development, including for maternal and child health, and early childhood education and care services.
This includes providing relevant undergraduate and postgraduate course content, continuing professional development and mentoring, widespread use of evidence-based approaches, and supporting referral pathways into early childhood intervention services.
Increasing funding to expand Kindergarten Inclusion Support (KIS) packages and the Preschool Field Officer (PSFO) programs helps more children with disability access and participate in kindergarten programs.
The Victorian government can build families’ knowledge and skills about their child’s disability or developmental delay by expanding family support programs. These programs help families to self-advocate, share strategies, inform, train and connect them to other services, and provide engagement opportunities with families in similar situations. Demand for programs such as the Strengthening Parent Support Program has grown substantially, but funding has not risen in more than a
decade. The NDIS rollout is likely to increase demand. Family support programs help families access and understand the NDIS, particularly in rural areas with fewer locally-based services.
The Victorian government can help families support their children to successfully transition from secondary school to further education and employment, by developing tailored resources and a trial transition program. The government resources children with disability for other transitions, but not for the transition after secondary school, which causes family anxiety and can limit life possibilities for young people with disability.
The Victorian government can help break the link between students facing disadvantage and poor educational achievement by maintaining a needs-based school funding model, including substantial equity funds targeted at the most disadvantaged students and schools.
Children’s school success should not be determined by their parents’ wealth. Equity funds allow schools to provide extra assistance to students. The Victorian government can strongly advocate for the Commonwealth government to meet its Gonski Agreement funding share to 2020.
The Victorian government can make schools more accountable for their use of equity funds to ensure it supports the learning, development and wellbeing of students facing disadvantage.
The Victorian government can help children in the middle years stay engaged in school by investing in age-appropriate services and programs, and developing a comprehensive framework so children transition smoothly from primary to secondary school.
Children in the middle years, between Grade 5 and Year 8, are entering adolescence and undergoing significant physical, socioemotional and developmental change. Children can experience difficulties transitioning from primary to secondary school, with many experiencing educational achievement falls and school disengagement afterwards, particularly those facing disadvantage. About a quarter of children in middle years do not meet educational milestones. If ignored, the effects can accumulate, leading to poor educational attainment and possible disengagement from school.
The Victorian government has no comprehensive, consistent strategy for successful transitions to secondary school and few policies and services targeted to children during the middle years. Middle years children are presenting at youth services at increasingly younger ages, often with complex problems.
The Victorian government can fund organisations to assist middle years children, in a similar model to the Empower Youth Grants, helping plug the support gap. This can identify and respond to children showing signs of early disengagement.
The Victorian government can help more young people remain at school by funding high quality flexible learning options across Victoria, in schools, or community settings well connected to schools.
Flexible learning options can help students with complex needs requiring more intensive assistance. They are most effective if they offer meaningful qualifications, provide wraparound services, are based on best-practice evidence, and adopt a quality standards framework, such as the Framework of Quality Flexible Learning Programs.
Government investment can increase the coverage of high quality flexible learning programs across the state, particularly in rural Victoria. Modifying the Student Resource Package portability rules so equity funding follows students moving to alternative settings can provide a funding source, as recommended by the Bracks Review.
The Victorian government can improve the learning and wellbeing of children and young people who have experienced trauma by supporting schools to provide schoolwide trauma-informed practice. Trauma exposure in childhood is relatively widespread and every class in every school can benefit from having staff skilled in understanding and assisting students who have experienced trauma. In particular this helps children in out-of-home care, those who have been exposed to family violence, refugees and asylum seekers.
Trauma can affect children’s cognitive, emotional and social competencies, affecting their ability to learn and function effectively at school, and placing them at greater risk of poor educational achievement and disengagement from school. Effective training helps teachers understand the effects of trauma on children’s development and behaviour, and ways to help them in the classroom.
This can be supported by building schools’ ability to better understand and nurture students’ holistic development, including their mental health and wellbeing, and providing schools with greater numbers of qualified wellbeing staff.
Berry Street Education Model
The Berry Street Education Model equips schools with knowledge and skills to promote positive cognitive and behavioural change, particularly for students who have experienced trauma or chronic stress.
The model applies a therapeutic, strengths-based approach to teacher practice and classroom management. It integrates clinical, educational and welfare approaches, drawing on Berry Street’s approaches to trauma-informed learning and neuroscience.
The model started in 2014 as a pilot with two state schools and has since been rolled out to 40 schools across Victoria and interstate. A pilot evaluation found the model had positive impacts on student engagement, wellbeing, behaviour and academic achievement. The model works best when a whole-of-school approach is taken, so it is consistently applied across the school and incorporated into every classroom routine. Ideally, every staff member is trained, including teachers, leadership and administrative staff.
The Victorian government can plan for growth in early childhood services, by considering infrastructure requirements, particularly in growth corridors and rural areas, and training of sufficient qualified early years workers.
Services accessibility can be improved by working to converge long-daycare and kindergarten models. Families are confused by the myriad of options, such as sessional kindergarten, long-daycare and integrated session kindergarten, and different funding streams hinder families’ efforts to navigate services.
 T Moore, Understanding the nature and significance of early childhood: New evidence and its implications, Presentation at Centre for Community Child Health seminar Investing in Early Childhood—the future of early childhood education and care in Australia, Centre for Community Child Health, The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, 2014, p. 11.
 Department of Education and Training, Australian Early Development Census National Report 2015, Canberra, 2016, p. 31.
 Australian Early Development Census, Research Snapshot: The impact of socioeconomics and school readiness for life course educational trajectories, ED14-0193, 2014.
 S Bracks, Greater Returns on Investment in Education: Government Schools Funding Review, Victorian Government, December 2015, p. 52.
 Deloitte Access Economics, The socio-economic benefits of investing in the prevention of early school leaving, prepared for Hands On Learning Australia, 2012.
 Ibid, p. 9.
 Students with additional health and development needs (AHDN) are those who have or are at increased risk of a chronic physical, developmental, behavioural or emotional condition and require health and related services of a type or level beyond that required by children generally.
 United Nations, Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability, Article 24, 2006.
 Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Held Back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools, Carlton, 2012, p. 10.
 D Gonski, K Boston, K Greiner, C Lawrence, B Scales and P Tannock, Review of funding for schooling: Final report, Canberra, December 2011.
 Australian Early Development Census, Research Snapshot: Shaping learning trajectories for children with additional health and developmental needs, 2014, p. 1.
 PSD Review Team, Program for Students with Disabilities Review: In-person Targeted Stakeholder discussions, 2015, p. 3.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, A picture of Australia’s children 2012, 2012, p. 26.
 S Goldfeld, M O’Connor, M Sayers, T Moore, F Oberklaid, ‘Prevalence and correlates of special health care needs in a population cohort of Australian children at school entry’, Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 2012, 33(4), pp. 319–327.
 S Bracks, Greater Returns on Investment in Education: Government Schools Funding Review, Department of Education and Training, December 2015, p. 22.
 Department of Education and Training, The Education State: Review of the Program for Students with Disabilities, April 2016,
 K Sylva, E Melhuish, P Sammons, I Siraj and B Taggart, Students’ educational and developmental outcomes at age 16: Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE 3-16) Project Research Report, September 2014, Institute of Education, University of London, 2014, p. 18.
 C Gong, J McNamara and R Cassells, AMP.NATSEM Income and Wealth Report: Issue 28 – Little Australians: Differences in early childhood development, Sydney, AMP.NATSEM, April 2011, p. 10.
 D Warren and J P Haisken-DeNew, Early Bird Catches the Worm: The Causal Impact of Pre-School Participation and Teacher Qualifications on Year 3 National Naplan Cognitive Tests, Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 34/13 , October 2013.
 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Education at a Glance 2016: OECD Indicators, OECD publishing, Paris, 2016.
 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Putting a value on early childhood education and care in Australia, PwC, 2014, p. 4.
 K Sylva, E Melhuish, P Sammons, I Siraj and B Taggart, Students’ educational and developmental outcomes at age 16: Effective Preschool, Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE 3-16) Project Research Report, September 2014, Institute of Education, University of London, 2014, p. 18 and 65.
 S Fox and M Geddes, Preschool – Two years are better than one: Developing a preschool program for Australian 2 year olds – Evidence, policy and implementation, Mitchell Institute Policy Paper No. 03/2016, Mitchell Institute, Melbourne, 2016.
 Department of Education and Training, Preschool funding certainty delivered for Australian families, Media Release, 12 May 2015.
 J Baxter and K Hand, Access to early childhood education in Australia, Research Report No. 24, Australian Institute of Familiy Studies,
 Victorian Child and Adolescent Monitoring System, VACAMS Indicators: Indicator 31.1c Number of Children in Early Start Kindergarten, 2014.
 M McDonald, T Moore and R Robinson, Policy Brief No. 26: The future of early childhood education and care services in Australia, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Centre for Community Child Health, 2014.
 S Sanjeevan, M McDonald and T Moore, Primary schools as community hubs: A review of the literature, The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne, July 2012, p. 10.
 Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, Victorian Auditor-General’s Report: Additional School Costs for Families, 2015.
 Early Childhood Intervention Australia (Victorian Chapter), 2016-17 State Budget Submission: Making Victorian the Education State and NDIS Ready, 2016.
 Association for Children with Disability, Victorian Budget Submission 2016–2017, p. 7.
 Victorian Council of Social Service, Schools Funding Review: VCOSS Submission, July 2015.
 Victorian Council of Social Service and Youth Affairs Council of Victoria, Building the Scaffolding: strengthening support for young people in Victoria, Melbourne, 2013.
 Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, Education Transitions, Op. Cit.
 S Lamb, J Jackson, A Walstab and S Huo, Educational opportunity in Australia 2015: Who succeeds and who misses out, October 2015.
 Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, Education Transitions, Op. Cit.
 M McGuire, One Foot in Each World: Challenges and Opportunities for Children and Young People in the Middle Years, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, April 2016.
 See Youth Central, Empower Youth, accessed November 2016.
 K te Riele, Putting the jigsaw together: Flexible Learning programs in Australia: Final Report, The Victoria Institute, 2014.
 S Bracks, Greater Returns on Investment in Education: Government Schools Funding Review, Victorian Government, December 2015, p. 231.
 M Tobin, Childhood trauma: Developmental pathways and implications for the classroom, Australian Council for Educational Research, 2016.
 Berry Street Childhood Institute, Berry Street Education Model, accessed May 2016.
 H Stokes and M Turnbull, Evaluation of the Berry Street Education Model: trauma informed positive education enacted in mainstream schools, University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education, Youth Research Centre, Melbourne, 2016.