Stronger early childhood education and schools Analysis

Stronger early childhood education and schools

Significant initiatives

Additional support for early years management
$7m in 2021-22 ($31.2m/4 yrs) to increase support for early years management services that deliver kindergarten programs in over 950 kinders across the state. Community-based kindergartens are a vital part of the early learning eco-system. Additional funding will support management of community-based kindergartens, improve service viability, access and quality, and meet projected demand for kindergarten services to access these arrangements.

Ready for school: Kinder for every three-year-old
$21.3m in 2021-22 ($167.2/4 yrs) will provide additional funding to continue the Australia-leading initiative of universal access to three-year-old kindergarten. Funding will also expand workforce attraction and retention activities ($32.4 million) and will support the continued expansion of kindergarten infrastructure ($44.8 million). This investment builds on the $346.4 million over four years allocated in the 2020-21 Victorian Budget.

Maintaining universal access to 15 hours of four-year-old kindergarten
$8.1m in 2021-22 ($16.2m/2 yrs) to maintain access to kindergarten for children in the year before school. This is in addition to $16.6 million over two years allocated in the previous budget.

Giving vulnerable and disadvantaged kids the best start in life
$8.6m in 2021-22 ($33.8m/4 yrs) to deliver tailored support for vulnerable and disadvantaged children to participate in early childhood education and care. This includes funding to expand early intervention and outreach support through the Access to Early Learning Program and trialing new intensive early education supports for vulnerable children affected by complex trauma. Funding will also continue the Kindergarten Improvement Advisers initiative and expand kindergarten programs at the Royal Children’s Hospital Education Institute.

Mental health reform in education: setting up children and young people to thrive
$9.5m in 2021-22 ($217.8m/4 yrs). Funding is provided to establish a School Mental Health Fund, enabling schools to select and implement mental health and wellbeing initiatives that best suit their students’ needs from an evidence-based menu. The initiative will be rolled out to regional and rural government schools from Term 3 2022, before roll-out to all government schools by 2024.

This initiative also includes the expansion of the Mental Health in Primary Schools pilot to include 90 government schools and 10 non-government schools in 2022, up from 26 schools. Government has already committed to fund a mental health practitioner in every government secondary and specialist school by the end of 2021.

Marrung (Koorie Initiatives Package)
$8.7m in 2021-22 ($39.3m/4 yrs). Funding will continue the Koorie Literacy and Numeracy Program, expand the Koorie Pre-School Assistants program to four new locations, and continue the Koorie Families as First Educators and Koorie Engagement Support Officer programs. Funding will also support the introduction of a two-year statewide consultation and co-design process, to progress Aboriginal self-determination in education.

Marrung: Aboriginal Education Plan 2016-2026 is a strategy to improve educational outcomes for Koorie Victorians to ensure Koorie Victorians achieve their learning aspirations. The strategy was co-developed with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.

Doctors in Secondary Schools
$5.9m in 2021-22 ($43.4m/4 yrs) for students in participating secondary schools to have access to primary health care in schools through the continuation of funding for the Doctors in Secondary Schools program. This doesn’t look to be an expansion of the program to enable more secondary school students to access doctors in school.

Enhancing secondary vocational pathways
$0 in 2021-22 ($8.8m/2 yrs). Funding will continue to support secondary students to access high-quality VET offerings for the second half of 2022. The Head Start Apprenticeship and Traineeship program will also continue, giving students the opportunity to undertake a traineeship or apprenticeship while completing their senior secondary certificate.

Addressing the cost of delivering education
$6.1m in 2021-22 ($41.7m/4 yrs) provides additional funding to schools for transport costs associated with swimming and water safety education, and for essential materials for students undertaking vocational education and training (VET) subjects as part of senior secondary schooling.

Increasing access to Tech Schools
$2.3m in 2021-22 ($20.5m/4 yrs). Funding will expand on-site and virtual delivery capabilities of existing Tech Schools and a pilot mobile Tech School delivery model for students in remote areas of Gippsland. Tech Schools help build students’ science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills and connect them to jobs of the future.

Student health and wellbeing
$2.1m in 2021-22 ($12.5m/4 yrs). Funding is provided to continue implementation of the school-wide positive behaviour support (SWPBS) framework. Implementation in schools will be supported by 17 specialist SWPBS coaches, working with schools to improve teachers’ capability.

Supporting students with disabilities
Initiatives include:

  • $4.8m in 2021-22 ($19.6m/3 yrs) to support students with disabilities and additional needs through continued funding for a pilot in outside-school-hours care and school holiday programs across six government school sites
  • $25.2m in 2021-22 for the Students with Disabilities Transport Program
  • $10m in 2021-22 ($15m/2 yrs) for the Accessible Building Program
  • $1m in 2021-22 ($10m/2 yrs) to deliver Round Six of the Inclusive Schools Fund.

$1.6b/4 yrs on infrastructure projects including:

  • the construction of 13 new schools
  • upgrades to 52 schools (35 in metro areas and 17 regional schools)
  • essential maintenance.

Analysis

Early childhood education
Two years of high-quality early learning in the years before school supports children’s cognitive, social and emotional development. The Victorian Government continues to lead the way in early childhood education through continuing universal access to four-year-old kindergarten and boosted investment for the roll-out of three-year-old kindergarten. Once the roll-out of three-year-old kindergarten is complete across the state, Victoria will be providing universal access to the recommended two years of early learning in the years before school.

The Budget makes a welcome investment in additional funding to support early years management services to remain viable. This funding will ensure early years management services can continue playing an important role as the Victorian Government rolls out universal access to two years of early learning.

Early childhood education investment includes funding to attract and upskill the workforce, which will need to see an additional 6,000 teachers and educators join the sector. This investment is one of many initiatives the Victorian Government has explored and is seeking feedback on to inform the Victorian Early Childhood Workforce Strategy.

Government could extend on significant investment in early childhood education by agreeing to fund the newly negotiated enterprise agreement until 2024 to support improved pay and conditions for the early childhood workforce, and continuing conversations with sector peaks to develop a long-term vision and plan for a robust not-for-profit early learning sector.

School
The 2021-22 Budget confirms the Government’s continued commitment to make Victoria the Education State through significant investment in early childhood education, school infrastructure, and exciting investment to develop and implement a School Mental Health Fund to provide schools with a suite of evidence-informed initiatives to improve the mental health and wellbeing of students.

The School Mental Health Fund will address Recommendation 17 from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. A similar model is due to finish rolling out in kindergartens across Victoria through School Readiness Funding by the end of 2021, to give services access to a menu of initiatives to build the capacity of services, educators and families to support children’s learning and development outcomes.

Rural and regional government schools will begin to see funding for this initiative from Term 3 2022, while all metropolitan schools will gain access to the Fund by the end of 2024. Access to appropriate mental health and wellbeing services for young people in rural and regional Victoria has been an ongoing identified gap and we hope schools gaining access to the initiative as soon as possible. The consequences of remote and flexible learning and stay-at-home measures during 2020 have exacerbated pre-existing issues for school students across the state, and seen new issues emerge. Many students need additional support. Once the menu has been developed, Government should explore options to speed up the roll-out of the Fund to all government schools.

The Budget promotes some positive early intervention initiatives. It continues investment in the School-Wide Positive Behaviour Support Framework, provides support to schools and early childhood services impacted by the 2019-20 Victorian bushfires, and makes investment to embed family services in universal settings such as school sites and early years services to divert more families from involvement in the children and families system and statutory interventions.

The next step in the Government’s commitment to early intervention and investment in wellbeing is to take full advantage of the protective factors schools can provide for students by investing in school lawyer programs, youth workers and mental health peer support training.

In addition, to make sure no student misses out on a high-quality education the Government should address the costs of school. Schools and families need additional support to cover the full costs of education. The ‘addressing the cost of delivering education’ initiative will help address some school cost concerns, but does not go far enough.

If Victoria is to meet its goal of being the Education State we should fully fund public schools to cover the costs of delivering the standard curriculum, including through closing the digital divide and ensuring all students have access to the internet and a device. Government could also help children get to school by providing free public transport to those who need it.

Students with disability
This Budget commits $70 million of funding over three years to continue existing infrastructure and school transport programs, as well as a pilot program to improve outside-school-hours care and school holiday programs for students with disability across a small number of sites.

The 2020-21 Victorian Budget’s Disability Inclusion Package provided almost $1.6 billion to improve outcomes for students with disability by redesigning the Program for Students with Disabilities to implement a new funding model that includes a strengths-based functional needs assessment. This package will double the number of students with disability in government schools who will receive extra supports in the classroom and delivers new resources to build the skills and knowledge of school staff. The catch is that it will take five years to fully roll out by geographic region. Government should speed up the roll-out so no student with disability misses out on the support they need to get a high-quality education and make a successful post-school transition. Student voice must be at the centre of this landmark reform, at a systemic level and individual level.