Plan will mean free kinder for Victorians

Investment of $9 billion: Kindergarten will be made free following an announcement from the Victorian government. Photo by Megan Fisher

An ambitious $9 billion overhaul of early childhood education and care over the next decade will add a full year of Pre-Prep for four-year-olds and make kinder free for Victorians.

The plan outlined by the Andrews Government is designed to save families money and support women to return to the workforce.

NSW will mirror the plan in what Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews described as a joint commitment to “embark on the greatest transformation of early education in a generation”.

Three-year-old kinder is already rolling out across the state, expanding universal access to 15 hours of government-funded kinder every week, which will be free from next year.

Four-year-old kinder will also be free, liberating families from the costs of childcare and making it easier for parents to return to the workforce.

Mr Andrews said the childcare system had been set up to work against working families because subsidies went down as household income went up.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet also announced $5.8 billion to introduce a universal pre-kindergarten year by 2030.

“This is incredible reform that will change lives and deliver enormous educational benefits for children across the state, securing a brighter future for NSW families,” Mr Perrottet said.

“We’re ensuring our youngest learners thrive by introducing a full year of preschool education before kindergarten, as we know how important it is to have a strong educational foundation.”

NSW Education and Early Learning Minister Sarah Mitchell said the plan was based on similar models overseas.

“Universal pre-kindergarten is something I have been working hard to bring to NSW for a number of years, having seen the benefits of it for children and families in countries like Canada,” she said.

“Universal pre-kindergarten will give every child in NSW access to a specialised year of play-based learning, smoothing their transition to school and solidifying their path to a brighter future.”

Lack of access to childcare is estimated to keep more than 26,600 women entirely out of the workforce in Victoria, costing the economy $1.5 billion per year in lost earnings alone.

“These massive reforms are about setting our kids up for the future and investing in women, who for far too long have had to do far too much,” Mr Andrews said.

“These are big changes, but they just make sense — giving our kids the very best start in life and delivering early education and care that actually works for families.”

The announcement was welcomed by the Opposition, educators and the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS).

"This is a big, bold and transformational reform package," VCOSS chief executive Emma King said.

“This will save families money, make it easier for many women to re-engage in work and boost kids’ early development and wellbeing."

Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Meredith Peace described the changes as a fundamental improvement to Victoria’s public education system.

“The early years are the most important opportunity we have to set children up for life,” she said.

Fifty Victorian Government-owned and affordable integrated childcare centres will be established to deliver childcare, kinder and Pre-Prep, located in areas with the greatest unmet demand and informed by the ‘childcare deserts’ research from the Mitchell Institute.