Access to early childhood education in Australia: Insights from a qualitative study
Based on interviews with 94 parents in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia, this report investigates parents' knowledge of and attitudes towards Early Childhood Education (ECE), how different delivery systems affect participation, the key factors that influence parents, the factors that may support parents' use of ECE, Indigenous families, and parents' views on overcoming barriers to access.
Most families in the study had used ECE and highly valued this service in preparing children for school and developing children's social skills and networks.
The study considered whether different models of delivery affected views of access. Where ECE was offered through schools, there was quite universal acceptance of ECE, which was seen as an essential transition experience for starting full-time school. Parents sometimes thought that ECE was compulsory since it was delivered through the school system.
Parents' preferred ECE services were not always available and not always suitable to working hours. The extent to which ECE hours fit with parents' work hours was a very significant factor in parents' decision making about which ECE service to use.
Other practical considerations concerned location and cost, and parents also expressed that they sought a high quality service that "felt right" and that met the specific needs of their child or children.
Most parents felt they were easily able to find information about ECE services, often through networks of family and friends. Parents who had moved location, especially interstate, expressed more difficulties in finding out about and being able to secure a place in ECE services at their destination prior to moving.
Authors and Acknowledgements
The authors are grateful to Jenny Dean and Ivan Pavkovic, and their colleagues from the Strategic Policy Coordination Branch of the then Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (now Department of Education) for their valuable contributions to this project. Also, we are immensely grateful for the work undertaken by our state contacts, who facilitated the recruitment of participants in their states. In particular, we would like to acknowledge the contributions of Michael Dempsey and Andrew Oakley (Department of Education, Tasmania), Rosemary Cahill and Jan Holland (Department of Education, Western Australia), Cynthia Kim and Rosie Pizzi (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Victoria), and Dean Sincock (Department for Education and Child Development, South Australia). We also wish to thank Simone Power and Bernie Nott from Early Childhood Management Services, and Holly Mason White and Emma Sydenham from the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, who all assisted the research team with the community consultations that were held in Victoria.
The authors would also like to thank the participants who made time to talk to us about their experiences of early childhood education in Australia.
Views expressed in this report are those of the individual authors and may not reflect the views of the Australian Government, including the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the Department of Education, and state and territory departments.
Hand, K., Baxter, J. A., Sweid, R., Bluett-Boyd, N., & Price-Robertson, R. (2014). Access to early childhood education in Australia: Insights from a qualitative study (Research Report No. 28). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
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