Stronger early childhood

You are reading Chapter 6 of 'Delivering Fairness', 2019 VCOSS Budget Submission

A good start in life begins with a great education. High quality, affordable education from the early years through to adulthood means every Victorian can be creative, informed and primed for success.

Long before children begin school, inequities in their health, development, wellbeing and economic circumstances exist. Participating in high quality early years education helps overcome these barriers so children are ready for school.

To transform lives, schools need enough resources, funding and facilities for a world-class education. Without them, children miss out on school, sport and extra-curricular activities.

Investing in programs for young people facing disadvantage helps participation so everyone leaves school with the skills, knowledge and resilience to thrive.


 Give children bright futures with early learning

Invest in high quality early childhood education for all three- and four-year-olds

Up to 90 per cent of children’s brain development occurs in their first five years.[1] Participating in high quality early childhood education strengthens children’s cognitive, social and emotional development, laying foundations for success in education, work and life. Children who attend at least two years of preschool perform better than their peers at age 15.[2]

The Victorian Government has made life-changing commitments to roll out universal three-year-old preschool for 15 hours per week,[3] build 785 new kindergartens, expand 170 existing ones,[4] and co-locate kindergartens at new primary schools.[5] The Victorian Government’s commitment to make early childhood TAFE courses free and provide university scholarships for kindergarten teachers will help create a pipeline of skilled early childhood educators.[6]

In planning for this momentous reform, the Victorian Government will need to consider both infrastructure and workforce implications. On average, local councils’ early childhood facilities were built 70 years ago, with over $500 million needed for upgrade and replacements.[7] Successful delivery will require collaborative planning to expand and modernise facilities and ensure centres can find qualified staff, taking into account local differences between growth and established suburbs.

There are other measures the Government could take to make the reforms a success. By collaborating with key stakeholders, the Government can develop strategies to increase the engagement and participation of children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, remote communities, Aboriginal backgrounds, non-English speaking backgrounds, and those with a disability who are less likely to use early childhood services.[8]

Current Federal funding for four-year-old kindergarten ends in 2019, creating uncertainty and making service planning difficult. Victoria should continue advocating for long-term Federal four-year-old kindergarten funding, and to reinstate National Quality Framework funding.


 Make education affordable

Fund public schools better, and help families cover costs

Every child should be able to access and participate fully in a high quality education, regardless of how much their family can pay. Families’ average annual out-of-pocket costs in Melbourne are $3,841 for a primary school child, and $5,368 for secondary school.[1] Free education is enshrined in Victorian law,[2] but this only covers the ‘standard education curriculum.’ Schools can charge families for digital devices, school uniforms, textbooks, camps, excursions, elective subjects and speech or occupational therapy.[3] Some schools also impose ‘voluntary’ fees.

When families cannot afford essential items, children and young people risk being excluded from the standard school curriculum and activities, increasing their risk of disengagement, behavioural issues, bullying, and poorer learning outcomes.[4]

The Victorian Government can prevent this by fully funding schools to deliver the standard curriculum. Victoria’s real (in-school) expenditure per student in government schools is the lowest across the nation and substantially below the Australian average, by around $1,500.[5]

The Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund and State Schools’ Relief provide partial support for disadvantaged families. These programs can’t do everything but they do help: the Fund supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend educational activities, and State Schools’ Relief helps families pay for school uniforms, shoes, stationary and books, supporting over 56,000 students in the last year.[6] It recorded a 23 per cent increase in applications this financial year.[7]

Community sector organisations continue to be overwhelmed by requests for assistance with families’ educational and living costs, particularly at the start of the school year.[8] Funding for the Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund and State Schools’ Relief is due to end in 2019. It should be permanently extended.

The Department of Education and Training should also continue to monitor schools’ implementation of the Parent Payment Policy guidelines so they are consistently applied, and families and students are not excluded from full participation.


Source: State Schools’ Relief, 2018 Annual Report 

Source: State Schools’ Relief, 2018 Annual Report












Provide free school travel for struggling students

Provide free school transport passes for students from families facing disadvantage

A good education starts with getting to school. Some families cannot afford a myki,[1] let alone a lump-sum payment of $607 for a full-year student pass, which is currently the cheapest option.[2]

To rectify this, the Victorian Government can directly provide a free school transport pass to every school-aged child if their parent or guardian has a health care card.

Some students stay home and miss school because they cannot afford transport, while others travel without paying and get fined.[3] Fines cause children to worry about paying off debts. Students in this position have been thrown out of home, or ended up sleeping on friends’ couches to avoid trouble with their parents.[4]

In NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT, the government already provides free or substantially discounted school travel for students experiencing disadvantage.[5] A successful pilot Myki project in western Melbourne provides free public transport passes for disadvantaged students.[6] It has now been extended to 15 schools.[7]

Free travel passes could save low-income families over $600 for each child.[8] It would help support school attendance, reduce drop-outs and promote participation in after-school or social activities. Strong educational attachment promotes young people’s mental health, supports their emotional and social development and sense of belonging.[9]

Jake’s improvement in school attendance              

I was removed from my mum’s care and taken to my nan’s in Altona Meadows. My nan wasn’t able to afford to pay for a Myki or to get me to school. I asked the school and they were able to give me a Myki. In 2016, I didn’t go to school much because I couldn’t get there. Since I got a Myki my attendance has skyrocketed and I’m really thankful for that.

Jake is Year 9 student at Wyndham Central College

Help children join their friends in local sport and recreation

Introduce a sport and recreation subsidy scheme to help families experiencing disadvantage

Playing organised sport improves children’s physical activity, mental health and social skills.[1] Participation in music programs improves school attendance, academic achievement and social and emotional wellbeing,[2] with students facing disadvantage benefiting most.[3] But more than 40 per cent of children from disadvantaged backgrounds miss out on sport,[4] and are also left out of activities like drama, art and music, often due to high costs.[5]

Victoria is the only Australian state without a subsidy scheme to help. Every other state has one,[6] providing up to $200 each year for students experiencing disadvantage. The NSW scheme started last year, with families using nearly half a million vouchers,[7] including strong participation of Aboriginal students, those with disability, from CALD backgrounds,[8] and living in regional and remote communities.[9]

The Victorian Government can cut costs for vulnerable families, and deliver better education, health and social benefits for children by investing in a new sport and recreation subsidy scheme, reducing the barriers to participating in extracurricular activities.

Miranda’s escalating costs for under-9s football

Being a sole parent to two primary school boys, extracurricular sports and activities are important for our family. Apart from being beneficial for children’s development, physically, socially and emotionally in areas they are interested in, it also links us to other families within our community with children of the same ages and interests providing much needed social connections.

Unfortunately there are always costs involved, and being a sole parent family, money is already tight. These costs increase when a child goes from training in a sport to competition as I found when my child went from Auskick, costing approximately $95 a year, to play his first season in football competition for under 9s.

I now have to cover the costs of uniform, mouth guard, membership, club group photos, rewards and trophy night and, as I found at the end of the season, buying the coaches thank you gifts and putting in extra for your child to receive an extra reward. All up for my child to play football for under 9s for the season everything cost just under a $1,000.

A subsidy scheme would make a big difference to my family as it would help reduce the costs and ensure that my kids do not miss out.


Stop students dropping out of school

Scale up effective programs to keep children engaged in education and extend support to those at risk of disengaging

Around 10,000 Victorian students disengage from education each year, and around 10 per cent of young Victorians are not in education, training or employment.[1] Year 12 completion rates have barely budged in the last decade.[2] Leaving school early is often a precursor to poor life outcomes and long-term unemployment.[3]

Helping young people stay engaged helps them improve their educational outcomes and job prospects. But this requires a suite of evidence-informed programs focussing on early intervention and re-engagement. By facilitating greater coordination and referrals between schools, education and training providers, the Victorian Government can ensure children and young people get support in time and don’t fall through the cracks.

The Government can instigate robust evaluations and scale up effective programs and initiatives including LOOKOUT,[4] Springboard,[5] Navigator,[6] Local Learning and Employment Networks,[7] School Focused Youth Services,[8] the Education Justice Initiative,[9] and Hands on Learning.[10]

While the Victorian Government expanded the Navigator program in the 2018 Budget to reach every community, existing services still have unmet demand. Service providers report long waiting lists and restrictive eligibility rules[11] mean many miss out.


 Support the learning needs of children with disability

Fully roll out a new Program for Students with Disability based on strengths-based functional needs assessment

The Victorian Government can give children with disability the best start in life by matching their learning needs with tailored funding.

Currently about 15 per cent of Victorian students require reasonable adjustments at school to participate on the same basis as their peers.[1] However, under the current guidelines for the Program for Students with Disability (PSD), only four per cent of students qualify for specialist funding support.[2] This means about 60,000 students are missing out on targeted funding that could maximise their learning.

Targeted funding means students with disability can access extra teaching supports, more tailored learning programs and specialised therapists and integration aides to support their learning and development.

A comprehensive 2016 review of the PSD recommended developing a new funding model based on a strengths-based functional needs assessment.[3] In response, the Victorian Government announced a six-month pilot to develop a new strengths-based functional needs assessment to better understand the educational support needs of students with disability.[4]

The Victorian Department of Education and Training has been trialling the new assessment in 100 primary, secondary, combined and specialist schools since June 2018. Based on these results, the Victorian Government can develop a new funding model to be rolled out to every school.


 Invest in schools as community hubs

Support schools to be central community hubs by becoming service delivery sites and expanding community access

Schools and preschools can be more accessible, available and embedded in communities by becoming community hubs. This enhances children and young people’s education and wellbeing and better meets the needs of their families and communities.

The Victorian Government has already committed to build a preschool in all new primary schools and is partnering to establish 10 ‘Our Place’ sites across Victoria.[5] The Government can build on this by expanding community engagement and partnerships across the school system to make schools central hubs for communities.

Partnering with community organisations and local government to deliver services on school sites can help schools engage more holistically with children and their families. Many families have difficulty negotiating the service system, being unaware of available support or lacking the confidence to seek help. Schools as community hubs can provide easier service access pathways, a non-stigmatising environment, and extra support for vulnerable families.

Fostering an inclusive space where everyone in the community is welcome helps create pride in school and reduce vandalism. Use of community facilities outside school hours[6] can include developing agreements with local sporting, music or cultural clubs to provide local opportunities for children and young people. Schools can also leave grounds available on weekends to encourage families to use playgrounds, basketball courts and school ovals.

Making schools into community hubs helps promote a sense of belonging, greater connections within families, increased safety, and stronger relationships with staff.

Our Place

Our Place is a network of 10 schools that are open to the whole community, with each school providing: 

-high quality early years learning, health and development

-high quality schooling

-out-of-school-hours enrichment activities for children and families

-wrap-around health and wellbeing services

-adult engagement, volunteering, education and employment support.

Building on the successful Doveton College model, Our Place seeks to create places for children, families and communities to flourish. It is an initiative of the Colman Foundation, in partnership with the Victorian Department of Education and Training.[7]


 Further strategies

Give secondary students access to life skills

Many students feel underprepared for ‘real’ life after school, and want help with basic living skills,[8] including understanding finances, taxes, voting, citizenship, undertaking self-care, maintaining mental health, healthy lifestyles and knowing their rights at work.[9] The Victorian Government can work with students, teachers and schools to create more ‘life skills’ learning opportunities.[10]

Strengthen ‘middle years’ engagement

Policy, service provision and support often misses students in the ‘middle years’ from Grades Five to Eight.[11]  The Victorian Government can develop a strong middle years transition framework, outlining strategies to engage families, improve primary to secondary transitions, respond to early school disengagement, and support students with extra learning needs.

Support quality flexible learning options

Flexible learning options can help address the root causes of young people’s educational disengagement in complex cases by providing flexible, person-centred and practical approaches to teaching and learning.[12] Funding high quality flexible learning options can help more young people remain in school and re-engage early school leavers, particularly in rural Victoria.

Support lawyers in schools program

Secondary school students are increasingly facing legal problems, such as accumulated transport fines, fair pay, and family violence. By building on WEstJustice’s innovative school lawyer program,[13] the Victorian Government can embed a community lawyer in schools’ wellbeing teams to better support at-risk or vulnerable young people.

Improve students’ mental health and wellbeing

One in seven school-aged children experience a mental health condition,[14] but they are less likely than adults to seek professional help.[15] Embedding 190 mental health professionals in secondary schools helps ensure young people can access support.[16] Given half of all mental health conditions begin before age 14, the Victorian Government can expand this initiative to primary schools, focussing on children who have experienced trauma.[17]

Reform careers education

Understanding different career options and navigating post-school pathways can be challenging for many young people. While community services careers are booming, career counsellors are often unaware of the opportunities and training pathways. Ensuring that all career counsellors have up-to-date information about this sector helps promote this option to young people.[18]



[1] Victorian Government, Education State, Review of the program for students with disabilities, p. 30.

[2] Ibid., p. 61.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Victorian Minister for Education Media Release, World-Leading pilot for students with disabilities, 4 August 2018.

[5] Our Place.

[6] 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 Children’s Research Institute, 2012.

[7] Our Place.

[8] Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC), VicSRC response to proposed VCE review.

[9] Young Workers Centre, Annual Report 2017/2018.

[10] J Douglas, ‘Disengaged students learn life skills as they navigate through school’, ABC News, December 2017.

[11] Hume Whittlesea LLEN, Middle Years Matter in Hume, August 2018.

[12] Mission Australia, Flexible learning options program holds key to brighter futures for disengaged SA students, April 2018.

[13] WEstjustice, School Lawyer Program.

[14] D Lawrence, S Johnson, J Hafekost, K Boterhoven De Haan, M Sawyer, J Ainley and SR Zubrick, The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Canberra: Department of Health, 2015.

[15] T Slade, A Johnston, M Teesson, H Whiteford, P Burgess, J Pirkis and S Saw, The Mental Health of Australians 2: Report on the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing, 2009.

[16] Victorian Minister for Education, Media Release, Expanding Mental Health Support to Victorian Students, 25 October 2018.

[17] Lawrence, op. cit.

[18] Parliament of Victoria, Economic, Education, Jobs and Skills Committee, Inquiry into career advice activities in Victorian schools, August 2018, p.80.



[1] Victorian Government, Education State: Schools, September 2015, p. 10.

[2] Victorian Government, Department of Education and Training, Summary Statistics for Victorian Schools, July 2018.

[3] KJ Hancock and SR Zubrick, Children and young people at risk of disengagement from school, University of Western Australia, June 2015 (Updated October 2015), p. 5.

[4] Victorian Government, Lookout Education Support Centres.

[5] Victorian Government, Springboard.

[6] Victorian Government, Navigator Pilot – Evaluation Snapshot, June 2018.

[7] Victorian Government, Local Learning and Employment Networks.

[8] Victorian Government, School Focused Youth Service.

[9] K te Riele and K Rosauer, Education at the Heart of the Children’s Court: Evaluation of the Education Justice Initiative Final Report, The Victoria Institute, December 2015.

[10] Hands on Learning; Deloitte Access Economics, The socio-economic benefits of investing in the prevention of early school leaving, September 2012.

[11] Navigator is available to young people who are aged between 12 and 17 years of age and have attended less than 30% of the previous school term (if enrolled in a school).





[1] RM Eime, JA Young, JT Harvey, MJ Charity and WR Payne, ‘A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents: informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport’, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Vol. 10, 2013, p. 98.

[2] The Song Room, Bridging the gap in school achievement through the arts: summary report, 2011; ABC, Don’t Stop the Music, 2018.

[3] A Collins and M Adoniou, ‘Learning music early can make your child a better reader’, The Conversation, 8 November 2018.

[4] Australian Government, Australian Sports Commission, AusPlay Focus – Children’s Participation in

Organised Physical Activity Outside of School Hours, April 2018.

[5] Parliament of Victoria, Education and Training Committee, Inquiry into the extent, benefits and potential of music education in Victorian schools, November 2013, p. 67.

[6] Queensland Government, Get Started sport and recreation vouchers for children; Government of Western Australia, Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, KidSport; Tasmania Liberals, Ticket to Play; NSW Government, Office of Sport, Active Kids; Government of South Australia, Sports Voucher.

[7] NSW Government, Active Kids, Office of Sport – Update 15 October 2018.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.



[1] S Robertson, Fair Go: Myki, Transport Poverty and Access to Education in Melbourne’s West, WEstJustice, March 2016.

[2] Public Transport Victoria, Metropolitan myki fares, 2019.

[3] Robertson, op. cit.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Transport for NSW, About the School Student Transport Scheme; Queensland Government, School Transport Assistance Scheme, 2019; Tasmanian Government Department of State Growth, Free Bus Travel Pass; ACT Government Access Canberra, Student Transport Program: Who is eligible?

[6] WEstjustice, School-myki Pilot Project Report: Key Findings and Recommendations, 2018.

[7] Treasurer of Victorian, Helping Kids in Melbourne’s West get to school, Media Release, 29 October 2018.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Victorian Government, Department of Education and Training, Promote mental health.



[1] ASG, ASG’s Education Costs Estimates – Metropolitan Victoria: Estimated schooling costs in 2019.

[2] Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic).

[3] Victorian Government, Department of Education and Training, Schools Policy: Parent Payments.

[4] The Smith Family, Education costs ‘unaffordable’ for Australians new survey, 15 January 2019.

[5] Victorian Government, Department of Education and Training, Summary Statistics for Victorian Schools, July 2018.

[6] States Schools’ Relief, 2018 Annual Report.

[7] Ibid.

[8] CISVic, Children suffer as families unable to pay school costs, Media Release, 12 February 2019.

[1] S Pascoe and D Brennan, Lifting our game: Report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools through early childhood interventions, 2017, p. 15.

[2] OECD, Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators, p. 261.

[3] Premier Daniel Andrews Media Release, Ready for school: kinder for every three-year-old, 4 October 2018.

[4] Premier Daniel Andrews Media Release, Huge new kinder build ahead of 3 year old kinder rollout, 9 October 2018.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Jenny Mikakos, Free TAFE for early childhood educators, 22 November 2018.

[7] Municipal Association of Victoria, Early Years infrastructure planning and funding, 2018.

[8] Carly Molloy et al, Restacking the odds, Early Childhood Education and Care: An evidence-based review of the measures to assess quality, quantity and participation (unpublished), Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Social Ventures Australia, Bain & Company; The Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV), Child and Family Welfare Services in Multicultural Victoria, ECCV Policy Position Paper, June 2018.


Artwork by artist Jacob Komesaroff. Follow on Instagram @jkomments