Government announce inquiry into evidence base for early childhood and school

More than two years since its large-scale look into the structure and implementation of early childhood education and care funding, the Productivity Commission will be dipping its toe back into the sector. Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced on Friday that:

Starting today, the inquiry will examine the current information available in early childhood education and schooling and make recommendations about how to improve the evidence on which future government action is based.

The announcement was somewhat out of left field, and beyond the usual statements around the importance of data and research it’s unclear exactly why this inquiry has been commissioned.

The focus on ECEC is welcome though, and somewhat at odds with a Government that has consistently rolled back language to more old-school terms like childcare.

The Terms of Reference are up on the Productivity Commission website, and state that:

Improved access and greater ability to link and analyse national data could enhance the quality and scope of national education evidence that can be used to monitor educational outcomes and inform policy development and evaluation.

The scope of the Inquiry seems to be focused on how data can be better collected and then shared between Government agencies. Data collection in ECEC is fairly patchy, and not really focused on learning outcomes. It will be interesting to see what the Commission recommends in this area.

The inquiry is due to report back by December – after the next election. Consultation processes are yet to be announced.

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Greens to push for new inquiry into ECEC

Ms Hanson-Young said the government could no longer ignore child care, which is shaping up to become a key election issue.

”The Labor government can’t continue to pretend that nothing needs to be done,” she said. ”The sector needs proper funding reform if it is to lift quality standards and meet the needs of families.”

A national survey of 230 child-care centres conducted by the Greens in January found that fees were increasing while availability was declining in a number of areas.

Rachel Browne, SMH (12/3/2013)

An inquiry into the funding of ECEC could potentially be very positive for the sector and for children. The current funding model is heavily weighted in favour of profiteering private operators and makes raising quality standards very difficult.

But history tells us that the inquiry would likely focus on waiting lists, fees and workforce participation rather than the best interests of children.