Equitable Access to High Quality Early Childhood Education

Year: 2019

Author: Skattebol, Jennifer, Blaxland, Megan, Adamson, Elizabeth

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

While, the benefits of high quality ECEC are both well documented and well understood, high quality provision does not reach all the children it should. Nearly 40% percent of Indigenous children and 35 percent of children living in low-income areas do not attend ECEC (O’Connor, 2016) and do not accrue the advantages that a high quality ECEC experience offers. The Council of Australian Government 2008 plan to ensure all children have access to 15 hours of preschool in the year before school has seen increasing numbers of children utilising Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services. The persistent minority of children who still do not access ECEC are likely to live in disadvantaged regional and urban contexts where there is little high quality ECEC provided. While we have some overarching understandings about how to structure ECEC services so they are easier to use for families facing adversities (Kellard and Paddon, 2016; Bowes et al, 2011), these understandings are either highly localised or abstract. We need to know more about the service offerings that can attract families who find services hard to use in the current policy climate.

This paper presents findings from a Delphi study with Australian ECEC policy makers and service providers. The Delphi technique attempts to address “what could or should be” in through an iterative communication process aimed at conducting detailed examinations and discussions of a specific issue, in this case, equitable access to high quality ECEC. This Delphi study involved 15-20 participants in an open-ended questionnaire about the policy and service elements that support families to use services. This was synthesised for a subsequent round of data collection aimed at building a consensus of ideas about productive directions in policy and practice. The Delphi method targeted experts with knowledge in delivering exceptional ECEC to communities that experience disadvantage. By investigating service delivery in communities where there are better than expected (‘off-diagonal’) patterns of service use, this project presents new evidence effective ECEC initiatives in different contexts of local area disadvantage. This evidence is crucial for building sector capacity to work with children from disadvantaged contexts and for developing new policies that better facilitate the participation of all children in ECEC.

This project was supported by the Gonksi Institute for Education, UNSW Australia, in partnership with Early Childhood Australia, Early Learning and Care Council of Australia, Front Project and KU Children’s services.