Stronger early childhood education, schools and skills


This is a long-form analysis of the Victorian Government’s investments in early childhood education, schools and skills. For a quick summary of specific Budget program expenditure in this space click here.

Early childhood education

This Budget continues to embed nation-leading early childhood education reforms. It includes continuing funding for existing programs, such as the roll-out of universal access to three-year-old kindergarten – a life-changing investment for Victorian children.

This investment is complemented by continued investment in state-wide delivery of four-year-old kindergarten.  

The 2022 Budget provides clearer line of sight to a number of cohort-specific initiatives – for example, this year’s budget itemises investments to improve outcomes for children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, expand the Kindergarten Fee Subsidy, and continue programs like Access to Early Learning. (These items were previously captured under broader headlines.)

While this Government has a clear commitment to early learning, there is more work to be done to improve participation and outcomes for children with disability. VCOSS members consistently highlight barriers to early childhood education for this cohort, and the flow-on effects of this inequity across the life course.

For example, while this Budget provides funding of $4 million per year over four years for the Kindergarten Inclusion Support program (offered in both three- and four-year-old kindergarten), the papers show it will only support 600 children in the 2022-23 financial year. That’s less than 1 per cent of the number of children anticipated to attend four-year-old kindergarten alone.

We acknowledge that some children will receive support from the Commonwealth’s Inclusion Support Program and that other significant state reforms like School Readiness Funding also benefit children with developmental delay and disability. However, given recent data from the Australian Early Development Census (which found that the number of children with disability rose from 4.6 per cent in 2018 to 5.2 per cent in 2021, and that teachers reported that children needing further assessment rose from a whopping 13.3 per cent to 16.3 per cent across the same period), we are concerned that the current level of investment in early childhood education inclusion programs may not be enough to meet hidden demand.

VCOSS members are also pointing to new and emerging issues, such as an increase in the number of children presenting in early childhood education with complex behaviours related to their experiences of COVID-19. 

This national data, paired with local insights from Victorian community sector organisations, indicates that additional resources are required to support the full participation of all children with disability in two years of high-quality early learning before school. 

As we look ahead to the state election, we are keen to explore other measures to increase the take-up of kindergarten amongst all children and opportunities to reinvigorate playgroups.


Two main themes emerged from this year’s schools’ budget – investment in a high-quality teaching workforce and significant senior secondary reform that will create a VCE Vocational Major stream and Victorian Pathways Certificate in place of VCAL.

Government’s hope is that these major reforms will change the lay of the land for senior secondary school students, driving up engagement and school completion by removing the stigma of vocational and applied learning, ensuring a minimum offering of core VET subjects and enabling students to pursue whatever combination of subjects reflects their interests and meets their needs. These investments are welcome and include the state-wide roll-out of Head Start, which will give all government secondary students the opportunity to complete an apprenticeship or traineeship while completing school.

Interestingly, Government has packaged a number of initiatives under its Early Intervention Investment Framework that we think are great, but could be even better if they intervened even earlier. Government can ramp up or build on current initiatives by:

  • Increasing Navigator funding to support students before they’ve missed more than 70 per cent of school. 
    Funding in this Budget will significantly increase the number of students receiving Navigator support to reengage in school. It also funds a pilot program for students as young as 10 or 11 – a welcome response to years of advocacy from VCOSS and the sector. But we know we can achieve even greater impact by supporting students sooner with additional resources.
  • Formally declaring digital devices, school uniforms and other hidden costs as an essential part of the standard curriculum and funding schools to provide these items to all students.
    The Victorian community sector’s research and advocacy has consistently highlighted school costs as a major barrier to student participation and learning. Key investments in this year’s Budget are a great start – VCOSS particularly welcomes funding to cover the cost of essential learning materials in VET studies, the introduction of a 30-day travel pass for students in crisis, and the International Student Travel pass. But what better way to celebrate 150 years of free, public education than by removing hidden school costs and preventing students from being excluded or risking disengaging because they can’t afford to fully participate in school life.
  • Speeding up the roll-out of the Disability Inclusion Package.
    This significant reform will give students with disability access to a high-quality education. The only catch is that the roll-out is five years, meaning many current students will finish school without the benefit of those supports, impacting their post-school pathways.
  • Starting the Middle Years Literacy and Numeracy Strategy earlier – at the end of primary school or start of secondary school – so students don’t have to wait until Year 9 to access the individual supports they need to boost their literacy and numeracy skills.

Training and skills

In recent years the Victorian Government has invested significant funding to bolster Victoria’s vocational education and training system, placing TAFE as the centrepiece in government reform. To support the continuing revitalisation of the system, this Budget invests $83 million in strategic initiatives that will drive greater coordination and efficiency across the network. Government’s agenda also emphasises TAFE network collaboration.  

To build on these initiatives and give Victorians the best chance at finding the right training pathway, Government should also strengthen the relationship between the TAFE network and the state’s Learn Local sector. Learn Locals deliver adult and community education that engages disadvantaged learners and sets them up for later success in TAFE. However, the sector is constrained by inadequate funding. Looking ahead, the Government should introduce a sustainable funding model for Learn Local providers.

This Budget invests $10.4 million to strengthen the community services workforce. A component of this funding is for scholarships to increase education and training pathways for under-employed cohorts and those with lived experience who have interacted with social services. This is a valuable contribution to building the lived experience workforce. Additionally, this kind of support is a tangible example of how government can help to remove or reduce peripheral costs associated with study that might otherwise be a barrier to study for students on low incomes. VCOSS welcomes this investment. Down the track, we would like to see more scholarships for other groups of disadvantaged learners. Additional investment in the TAFE system to deliver more wrap-around support to students at risk of disengagement, including literacy and numeracy support, would also boost completion rates and support Government’s significant investment in the Free TAFE initiative.

Following the Parliamentary Inquiry into access to TAFE for learners with disability, this Budget makes a welcome first step by investing in an audit of all TAFE campuses to ensure people with disability can access training and skills. We hope to see the recommendations from this inquiry fully funded and implemented as Government considers its response to the report. In particular, we would like to see a dedicated funding stream to meet the needs of learners with disability and resourcing to strengthen the transition process into TAFE.

More analysis

The decision to make a universal Power Saving Bonus the headline Budget initiative on cost-of-living issues is an important recognition that times are tough for many Victorian households.
Read more

While some funding toward emergency resilience has been provided in the Budget, it doesn’t go far enough in the current environment.
Read more

The funding allocated in this Budget is not sufficient to fully cover the increasing financial pressures facing the community sector.
Read more