As part of its attacks on the NSW public sector, the O’Farrell Liberal government will begin charging parents up to $40 a day for each child they send to the once-free public preschools run by the Department of Education and Community Services (DEC). The fees will be introduced next year to the 100 DEC preschools across NSW.
These preschools were established to improve the educational opportunities for students in poor socio-economic areas, including communities that may be isolated, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
These schools are located in places such as Boggabilla, Claymore, Doonside and Walgett. Education research highlights that children with the opportunity to access preschool education have significant improvements in learning outcomes, including numeracy and literacy.
Most DEC preschools are attached to public schools, which receive substantial additional state and federal funding aimed at providing more support to overcome educational disadvantage in their communities. These attacks on public education could impact on enrolment numbers in the most disadvantaged communities.
On September 16, NSW Minister for Education Adrian Piccoli said the fees would not go back to preschools.
“The idea wasn’t to inject more funds back into the system, but to bring public preschool funding in line with community preschools.”
The government is justifying its measures on the grounds of “consistency across the early childhood and care sector”. However, salaries, teacher qualification and teacher to child ratios are superior in DEC preschools. Will they also be subject to the “consistency” test?
The DEC has issued a schedule of fees to groups of schools based on their Index of Community Socio-educational Advantage rating. Families will be charged fees ranging from $1 to $40 a child, depending on the socio-economic status and Aboriginality. Some may be exempt from any fee.
Schools will also be burdened with a huge administrative workload. Principals will be left open to complaints regarding the level of fees charged and exemptions.
In August, Piccoli acknowledged that NSW “lags behind other states and territories in both participation rates and affordability” in preschools. Introducing fees in DEC preschools will only widen this gap.
Public education must be free and accessible to all. The New South Wales Teachers Federation is encouraging members of the community to voice their opposition to fees by writing to the premier and Minister for Education.