Access to early childhood education in Australia

Research Report No. 24 – April 2013

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3. Methodology and data

In order to address the objectives outlined in Section 1, this project used a range of methodologies:

  • consultating with key stakeholders, including state and territory government departments responsible for implementing the COAG agreement, as well as other stakeholders with interests in the wellbeing of young children;
  • undertaking a comprehensive review of international and Australian literature; and
  • analysing a range of Australian datasets.

Results from each approach have been integrated throughout the report. A description of the first two of these methodologies is provided below, with more detail about the data analyses provided in Appendix B.

3.1 Consultations with stakeholders

A key component of the project was consulting with state and territory government departments that have responsibility for early childhood education. These consultations were particularly important in addressing questions around how access to early childhood education was conceptualised within each of the different states and territories, issues around measuring access, and the factors affecting participation in ECE and the various groups that may not be accessing ECE within the different jurisdictions.

Consultations with government stakeholders mainly took place with departmental officers involved in the implementation of the NP ECE. Participation from each of the jurisdictions was sought via the ECDSG, with members from each of the states and territories agreeing to be the initial contact points for arranging discussions.

Discussions took place with departmental officers from each of the states and territories from July through to September 2011. Most discussions involved groups of between two and eight participants and generally took between one and two hours. With the participants' consent, the discussions were audio-recorded and then transcribed to ensure that the content of the discussions was accurately documented and to allow a detailed review of the discussions to be undertaken.

Discussions usually commenced with some background information about how early childhood education was being delivered within the jurisdiction and any significant changes that had taken place in its delivery since the signing of the COAG agreement. The discussion then focused on the three broad areas of the Access to Early Childhood Education Project. These involved asking participants about the following areas:

  • Defining and conceptualising access to early childhood education services:
  • How is "access" defined or conceptualised in the jurisdiction?
  • Factors affecting access to early childhood education services:
  • Within the jurisdiction, what different delivery systems exist (i.e., school-based, community-based, long-day-care-based, integrated and specialised/targeted services)? To what extent do these different systems affect participation?
  • What are the factors that participants have observed that influence a family's decision about whether or not to access early childhood education services for their children?
  • Are there different access issues for different cohorts of the population in the jurisdiction (e.g., low socio-economic status; Indigenous, remote or other disadvantaged groups) and if so, how may these be addressed?
  • Measuring access to early childhood education services:
  • How do departments in the jurisdiction measure access to early childhood education services?
  • What issues has the jurisdiction encountered in measuring access?

AIFS also consulted with a range of other stakeholders in order to gain a broader range of perspectives on what constitutes access, what critical issues affect access. and the difficulties that early childhood education services face in providing accurate and consistent data to allow state and territory departments to measure access. These stakeholders included children's commissions, and organisations representing service providers, early childhood teachers and other agencies with interests in the wellbeing of young children. These stakeholders were approached in a variety of ways. In some cases, the different jurisdictions organised for these stakeholders to take part; either in the same discussion as the departmental stakeholders or in a separate meeting. Other jurisdictions provided a list of stakeholders, which were then contacted by the research team. Two of the stakeholders provided written submissions rather than participating in a discussion. In total, 40 different other stakeholders took part in the consultations.

The discussions focused on the same broad themes as those with the government stakeholders and the same questions were used as the starting point. While some of the stakeholders were happy to be identified and have their comments attributed to them, most were not.

With the agreement of those who contributed to the project, the information provided from these discussions has been reported confidentially. Any information that may have identified an individual has been removed throughout the report.

3.2 Literature review

To inform and supplement the consultations and data analyses, AIFS undertook a systematic literature review on the topic of early childhood education.

The focus of the search was the factors parents take into account when deciding whether or not their children will participate in early childhood education, as well as the structural factors that may support or inhibit the participation of children in these services. In addition, the search considered particular groups that may be less likely to participate in early childhood education, such as children with disabilities, or those from low-income, culturally and linguistically diverse or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background to explore potential barriers to their participation.

The Institute also commissioned Professor Peter Moss (Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London) to provide an international perspective on the issues encompassed by this research project. This international context helps explain the conceptualisation of "access" and the measurement of participation in ECE in an international context. The report by Professor Moss is included in Appendix A and the results from the literature review have been integrated throughout the report.

3.3 Data analyses

Analyses of existing datasets were undertaken to explore factors related to access to early childhood education services and to explore parental decision-making. The datasets primarily used were:

  • the National Survey of Parents' Child Care Choices (NSPCCC), 2009;
  • the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), 2008;
  • the Australian Early Development Index (AEDI), 2009; and
  • the Childhood Education and Care Survey (CEaCS), 2008.3

The main uses of each dataset are summarised in Table 4.

Table 4: Summary of datasets used
Data source Uses
National Survey of Parents' Child Care Choices (2009) Children who were likely to be in the year before full-time schooling were identified and the analyses focused on these children. These data were then used to analyse:
  • parent responses regarding choices of early education; and
  • child, family and regional differences in participation in ECE, overall, and by type of ECE.
Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (2008) The B cohort at Wave 3 was used, when children were aged 4-5 years (in 2008). Of these children, those identified by parents as being in the year before full-time schooling were the focus of the analyses. These data were then used to analyse:
  • parent responses regarding choices of ECE; and
  • child, family and regional differences in participation in ECE, overall, and by type of ECE.
Australian Early Development Index (2009) From this source, data are available from almost all children across Australia in their first year of full-time schooling in 2009, on their enrolment in care or early education before starting school. This information was used to analyse:
  • child and regional differences in participation in ECE, overall, and by type of ECE; and
  • state/territory differences in how these factors relate to differences in ECE participation.
Childhood Education and Care Survey (2008) This survey was used to analyse parental decision-making and barriers regarding participation in ECE, and in different types of ECE.

Each of these data sources had some limitations in being able to fully explore children's access to ECE. Difficulties in measuring ECE, as encountered in these analyses, are described in subsection 4.3. Appendix B includes details of how each dataset was used, and associated issues related to scope and definition.

Table 5 presents a summary of the estimates of participation in ECE - derived from NSPCCC, LSAC and AEDI - for children in the year before full-time school. NSPCCC provides estimates for 2009, while LSAC and AEDI refer to participation in 2008. The AEDI data were collected retrospectively in 2009. The different timing of these collections may contribute to the variation across data sources in estimates of participation in ECE. Note that there are some differences in the data items and classifications used in each survey, because of differences in the availability of ECE information.

Table 5: Estimates of participation in early childhood education in the year before full-time school
  NSPCCC LSAC AEDI
Participation rates
  • 18% no preschool or LDC
  • 7% LDC without preschool program
  • 24% LDC with preschool program
  • 8% LDC (with or without preschool program) and standalone preschool
  • 42% standalone preschool only
  • 7% no preschool or LDC
  • 12% LDC (did not select "LDC with a preschool program")
  • 17% LDC with preschool program
  • 10% LDC (with or without preschool program) and standalone preschool
  • 55% standalone preschool only
  • 11% no preschool or LDC
  • 25% LDC, with or without preschool program
  • 10% LDC (with or without preschool program) and standalone preschool
  • 54% standalone preschool only
Period of data collection As at time of collection in May 2009. As at time of collection. Most interviews held between April and October 2008. Collected in 2009, in regard to ECE in 2008.
Methodology Sample survey. Includes children estimated to be in year before full-time school, based on exact age of child and state of residence. Sample survey. Includes children aged 4-5 years who were in year before full-time school, as determined by parents' reports of expected school attendance in the following year. Population-based collection. Completed by teachers, using school enrolment details. Covers most children in first year of full-time school.
No. of observations N = 1,637 N = 3,005 N = 236,251

Note: The different classifications used in each collection reflect differences in the underlying ECE data available from each source. The main differences relate to children in LDC, and being able to accurately identify those children who attended a preschool program in the LDC. This was captured well in NSPCCC. While LSAC allowed children to be classified to "LDC with a preschool program", some of those who were instead classified as "LDC" may have received a preschool program. In AEDI, a high proportion of teachers could not differentiate between LDC with or without a preschool program, and so this distinction was not used and, instead, if children attended an LDC this was classified as "LDC with or without a preschool program". See Appendix B for more detailed information.

In each dataset, children in the year before full-time school were identified. Of these children, those participating in preschool or long day care were considered to be in ECE. Overall, in NSPCCC, 82% of children were in ECE in the year before full-time school, in LSAC 93% and in AEDI 89%. State-level estimates are shown in Table 6, with more detail, including the classifications shown in Table 5, presented in Appendix C.

Table 6: Estimates of participation in early childhood education in the year before full-time school, and comparison to 2010 NP ECE annual reports
  NSW (%) Vic. (%) Qld (%) SA (%) WA (%) Tas. (%) NT (%) ACT (%) Aus. (%)
Children in ECE
NSPCCC (2009) 84.9 84.6 77.4 73.7 79.8 85.6 77.8 88.9 82.1
LSAC (2008) 89.8 98.7 81.0 99.6 99.7 100.0 100.0 100.0 92.9
AEDI (2009) 88.4 94.1 83.1 94.1 88.2 93.8 88.5 94.5 89.2
Children enrolled in ECE in 2010
2010 annual reports 86.2 99.9 40 87.7 97.5 97.0 88.4 95.4 n.a.

Note: The discrepancy between survey estimates and official enrolment figures for Queensland relate to the different treatment of LDC in each source. All children participating in LDC are included in the participation rates in the survey data; however, in the official estimates, LDC is only included as ECE in particular situations.

Source: AEDI (2009), NSPCCC (2009), LSAC (2008) and COAG (2008) (see Table 3).

There is some variation in national and state/territory estimates, depending upon which source is used. These estimates also differ from the official estimates presented in Section 2. These differences reflect that each data source varies in scope, timing and the definitions of ECE used, as well as the underlying data collection methodology. We do not attempt to explain these differences in detail, but instead will be using these data to explore how participation rates (and types of ECE) vary within data sources according to different child, family and regional characteristics. We also do not consider one dataset to be superior to the others overall, as each has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, NSPCCC is useful because of the detailed questions concerning different types of ECE participation. LSAC is useful because of the large range of child, family and regional characteristics that can be related to ECE participation, in addition to the quite large sample size. The strength of the AEDI lies in the very large number of observations, with ECE information being available for all children in the dataset.

The focus throughout the data analyses is on overall levels of participation in and types of ECE. These analyses do not consider the hours of ECE received, nor workforce issues such as the educational attainment of early education workers.

Other datasets were considered when scoping this report. One potential data source was the Australian Census of Population and Housing. However, concerns about the data being able to identify children receiving early childhood education, as well as being able to identify those who were eligible, led to our decision to not include this data source. Data from the Australian Government Census of Child Care Services, the National Preschool Census and the National Early Childhood Education and Care Workforce Census were also not used in this report. There may be value in examining the potential for analysing early childhood education with these datasets in the future.4

Footnotes

3 See Acknowledgement and Appendix B for details of the organisations that fund and administer these projects.

4 To examine issues specific to Indigenous children, we also considered using the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey and the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC). These surveys offer the potential to analyse some of the detail of Indigenous children's participation in ECE (e.g., number of days or hours of ECE), but are less useful for measuring access in the same way as has been done with the other datasets. Also, participation in ECE by Indigenous children has already been analysed using LSIC data by Hewitt and Walter (2011).