Access to early childhood education in Australia

Access to early childhood education in Australia

Jennifer Baxter and Kelly Hand

Research Report No. 24 — April 2013
Access to early childhood education in Australia

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Key messages

"Access" to early childhood education (ECE) in Australia is considered to be more than just "participation" in ECE. It should, for example, also cover elements of quality, relevance to children. However, data are not available that would allow measurement against such a broadly defined concept of "access".

There are difficulties and limitations in using existing survey and administrative data to measure "access" by "participation" in ECE. Nevertheless these data provide broad indications of ECE participation. Participation rates have the advantage of being easily understood and easily compared over jurisdictions and time.

The complexity and variation in how ECE is delivered in Australia has implications for the measurement of access. This is related to different nomenclature used, and varied ages at which children are eligible to attend ECE. The different models of delivery of ECE also complicate the measurement issues, with long day care a widespread provider of ECE in some states/territories, but not others.

Given there are difficulties in measuring access, this research used a number of datasets, to provide a fuller understanding of access across Australia.

The analyses showed that children missing out on ECE were more often represented among disadvantaged families, and whose children are perhaps in greatest need of ECE to achieve school-readiness. The groups of children who stood out in these analyses as being less likely to be participating in ECE were Indigenous children and children from NESB backgrounds.

This report presents AIFS research undertaken to identify gaps in access to and participation in preschool programs by Australian children in the year before full-time school. This research had the following objectives:

  • review how "access" to preschool services is conceptualised and defined;
  • identify the issues and factors that affect access to preschool services; and
  • document and provide recommendations on how access to preschool services can be measured beyond broad performance indicators.

To meet these objectives, the publication includes a review of Australian and international literature; results of consultations across Australia; and analyses of participation of children in early childhood education using a number of Australian datasets.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Dr Jennifer Baxter and Kelly Hand are both at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The research on which this report is based was commissioned by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) on behalf of the Early Childhood Data Sub Group (ECDSG). The ECDSG is made up of representatives of all state and territory governments, as well as DEEWR, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the Productivity Commission and the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA) Secretariat.

The authors are grateful to Jenny Dean, Arpan Chakravarti, Tania Keys, John Stoney and their colleagues from the Early Childhood Learning and Information Branch for their valuable comments on the report. The authors would also like to acknowledge the contributions of their colleagues Ben Edwards and Michael Alexander in the development of this work, and the important contribution made by Emeritus Professor Peter Moss, Institute of Education, University of London, who undertook the international overview of early childhood education and care services. Professor Moss' overview is included in Appendix A of this report.

Finally, the authors would like to thank the many stakeholders who participated in the discussions and made submissions for their time and valuable insights.

This paper uses unit record data from a number of sources. These are:

  • Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children - The study is conducted in a partnership between the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
  • The National Survey of Parents' Child Care Choices (2009) - This survey was commissioned by DEEWR, and conducted by the Social Research Centre.
  • Australian Early Development Index (AEDI; 2009) - The AEDI is a population measure of children's development as they enter school. The collection is conducted by DEEWR, in partnership with state and territory governments, the Centre for Community Child Health (at The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne and a key research centre of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute) and the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Perth.
  • The Childhood Education and Care Survey (2008) - This is an ABS survey, conducted in June 2008 as a supplement to the ABS monthly Labour Force Survey.

The findings and the interpretation of them as reported in this paper are those of the authors and should not be attributed to DEEWR, FaHCSIA, AIFS or the ABS.


The Australian Institute of Family Studies is committed to the creation and dissemination of research-based information on family functioning and wellbeing. Views expressed in its publications are those of individual authors and may not reflect those of the Australian Institute of Family Studies or the Australian Government.

Publication details

Research Report
No. 24
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, April 2013.
90 pp.
Suggested citation:

Baxter, J., & Hand K. (2013). Access to early childhood education in Australia (Research Report No. 24). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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