Interview on FIVEaa mornings with Leon Byner
Topics: Pre-school attendance rates

Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning Leon. This is a concern. There’s Australian Bureau of Statistics data around pre-school education which shows that South Australia has amongst the worst attendance rates in the country in terms of children actually accessing pre-school. Now, for many years the Federal Government has provided millions of dollars to state governments to underpin and support access to 600 hours a year of pre-school services and the states have variously been reporting back to us, saying they have nearly every child enrolled. In fact, South Australia’s data suggests it has 94.2 per cent enrolled under some calculations. But when you then have a look at this ABS data about whether those children are actually attending, you get quite a different story suggesting that only 59 per cent are attending for the 600 hours a year but that drops off even more as you look at vulnerable and disadvantaged children to 54 per cent, or even further still, if you look at Indigenous children, to 41 per cent. And, of course, these are the children who stand to gain the most from actually attending pre-school.

Leon Byner: So, who’s responsibility do you think it is to ensure these kids go to pre-school?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we simply provide a funding stream to the states and territories and ultimately, the states and territories run the pre-school services, decide how they distribute this funding and so, they have the core responsibility there for delivery of pre-school services. They provide, in fact, core funding themselves into those services and it would be a real worry to many South Australians to think that the money is there and the money is being spent, but the children aren’t turning up.

Leon Byner: So what is it you think the states should do?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I believe that the state really needs to put priority over the next two years in terms of getting those individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend pre-school, to reach out to not-for-profit service providers, to reach out to other agencies of government who would have levels of engagement with disadvantaged families, to make sure they’re pulling all stops to actually get the kids along to pre-school; not just keep saying: oh, we’ve got basically 100 per cent enrolment. Enrolment’s fine, attendance is where the children will get real benefit.

Leon Byner: So, it’s really up to the State Government to seek out the eligible so that they do and take advantage of the service. That’s what you’re saying.

Simon Birmingham: Well, exactly, Leon. And, frankly, we’ve seen Jay Weatherill out there talking about the benefits of pre-school being extended to three-year-old’s – now, I too have acknowledged the benefits of pre-school being extended to three-year-old’s and I welcome that where it occurs, but there’s no point saying: let’s go and spend a whole lot more money in one space when you’re not actually achieving the benefits already in relation to four-year-old attendance because they’re not actually attending.

Leon Byner: Alright. That’s Simon Birmingham.