Submission to the Productivity Commission inquiry into early childhood education and care



A man with two children smiling - productivity commission submission header

Our Early Childhood Development Program recently made a submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into early childhood education and care (ECEC)

The submission articulates the need for a high-quality universal early childhood education and care system and recommends a shift for governments, moving from their current roles and approaches to being stewards of the system.

The shift would give every child an entitlement to access an ECEC service, making it a central part of Australia’s social contract, much like schooling and healthcare.

The submission identifies that the current system is not fit for purpose or achieving the outcomes we need it to, and is in need of reform.

The reasons for this are interconnected and persistent, including issues related to governance, quality, access, affordability, data, and workforce.

Download the Productivity Commission submissions

The submission calls for system reform to achieve universal high-quality ECEC.

This reform can ensure that children, families and communities are given the best opportunities to thrive.

The submission recommends a number of reforms to governance, funding, and delivery, which need to be considered in the context of a connected, holistic early childhood development system. While designing and implementing this system will be complex, Australia does have a solid base from which to build a universal ECEC system that delivers better for children, families, governments and communities.

It argues that universal ECEC would act as the backbone connecting other system elements. A joint state-federal vision, stewardship, and accountability are critical, ensuring that public investments yield returns for children, families, and the nation at large.

Workforce support is noted as a critical enabler for the quality, operation, and reform of the system. This support would involve a comprehensive, whole-of-career approach. It includes higher wages and a system of support that spans the entire career pathway, starting from attracting people into training to supporting upskilling and leadership development.

The submission also highlights the need to redesign the funding system. This would ensure the delivery of quality services, improve equity and provide simplicity for families. An example of a successful model mentioned in the submission is Quebec’s universal, fixed fee system. Initially priced at $5 per day, now $8.85, it has become incredibly popular with families due to its simplicity, reliability, and guaranteed price.

Additionally, the submission calls for extra support in thin markets to bolster service viability. This could include capital investment. It further suggests that services be part of place-based initiatives that address wider child, family, and community needs.

The submission envisions a long-term aim of a universal ECEC system. This system would provide guaranteed, high-quality ECEC at free or low costs to children and families. It would also act as an entry point to the broader early childhood service system, bringing tangible benefits to all Australian families.

The ECEC system in Australia has some strengths – the National Quality Framework provides a strong foundation for quality and quality improvement, cooperative work between governments on universal access to preschool has shown strong results, and there are many high-quality services providing education and care to children. However, overall, the current ECEC system is not fit for purpose and is in need of reform

The Submission at a glance

A universal approach to ECEC will realise governments' ambitions

There is increasing recognition that quality ECEC is important for all children to thrive, for parents and carers to balance work and raising a family, and for the functioning, growth and wellbeing of society (including for those without children).

It is in everyone’s interest for children to be educated, safely cared for, and for any vulnerabilities to be identified and addressed early, and doing so has major social and economic benefits, both in the short and long term.

The ECEC system is currently not fit for purpose

Governments have made a number of reforms to the ECEC system over many years, and there are important foundations in place.

However, the current system is fragmented, expensive, confusing for families to navigate and failing to deliver the desired outcomes. It is more of a collection of services than an ‘ECEC system’ since the parts rarely connect well.

ECEC governance, funding and delivery must be revisited to create a universal ECEC system

In order to achieve the dual outcomes society wants for the ECEC system – children’s developmental outcomes and parental workforce participation – and prevent adverse or perverse outcomes, governments need to take greater responsibility for the system and the outcomes it achieves – to be system stewards.

A phased implementation approach is needed, as reform is a long-term effort

Building and transitioning to a new universal ECEC system will take time, but previous Australian early childhood reforms, such as the National Quality Framework and universal access to preschool, demonstrate that it can be done, and is best achieved through a phased approach.

Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Early Childhood Education and Care in the media

The AERO report comes as NSW and Victorian governments are ramping up investment in preschool education, while the Productivity Commission is due to release a draft report into early childhood education and care in November.
The Australian government is currently looking at how to improve the country’s childcare system, and there are two broad reviews of the existing system being undertaken by the Productivity Commission and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission