The ins and outs of preschool

Library Home  >  Preschool & Kindergarten
  Published on Wednesday, 15 July 2020

The ins and outs of preschool

Library Home  >  Preschool & Kindergarten
  Published on Wednesday, 15 July 2020
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Preschool is a place for young children to gain knowledge, learn skills, make friends and prepare for the big transition to school. 

Here we look at the different programs, costs and attendance rates found in preschools around the country.

How does preschool work?

Children usually go to preschool in the year of their fourth birthday, but there are preschool programs all over Australia and some states and territories provide preschool for three-year-olds too. 

Preschools can also be known as kindergartens, and depending on where you live, they may be government-owned, community-run or managed by independent schools or private companies. 

All preschool programs are delivered by qualified early childhood teachers, and there are part-day and full-day dedicated preschools; preschool programs offered at child care centres and long day care services; preschools underpinned by particular early learning philosophies (e.g. Steiner, Montessori and Reggio Emilia) and even mobile or online preschools in remote areas. 

When it comes to cost, the Australian Government recognises the importance of preschool for children’s learning and development, and provides ‘top-up’ funding to the states and territories to ensure that a quality preschool program is available to all children in the year before they start school.

The National Partnership on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education,  ‘Aims to ensure that every child can participate in a quality preschool program for 600 hours in the year before school’ (that’s 15 hours per week) in ‘a form that meets the needs of children, parents and community, and at a cost that does not present a barrier to participation.’ 

This federal funding has been guaranteed until the end of 2021, and although it provides national consistency around hours, costs do vary between states and territories. Some preschools are free to attend, others charge fees, and some ask for a voluntary contribution from parents. 

Raising Children Australia summarises the preschool approaches of different states and territories here, and to get a national perspective, let’s look at some preschool data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

What are the latest facts and figures around preschool?

The ABS has recently updated its 2019 statistics for Australian preschools, and here are some of the key takeaways from its data collection:

Participation in preschool has risen since 2018

  • There was a small 0.7 per cent increase in the number of four- or five-year-olds enrolled in a preschool program last year (taking the figure up to 335,804), but a 9.5 per cent increase, year-on-year, in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children enrolled in preschool (with 19,577 attending).

There was a fairly even split between centre-based care and dedicated preschools, and a leaning towards non-government preschools

  • Fifty per cent of all children were enrolled only in preschool programs in centre-based care services, 40 per cent went to dedicated preschools, and 10 per cent were enrolled in programs offered by more than one provider type.
  • In dedicated preschools, 39 per cent of children went to government preschools, 59 per cent went to non-government preschools and the last one per cent were enrolled in more than one preschool.
  • Queensland (68 per cent), New South Wales (66 per cent) and Victoria (46 per cent) had the highest proportion of children enrolled in preschool programs in centre-based day care services.

The majority of children were paying less than $4 per hour for preschool

  • Last year, 254,075 children enrolled in preschool programs paid $4 or less per hour, after subsidies were taken out. 73,729 of these children paid no fees at all.  
  • In percentage terms, 76 per cent of children paid $4 or less an hour and 24 per cent paid $5 or more per hour for their preschool program. 
  • At dedicated preschools, 45 per cent of all children paid no fees, 37 per cent paid $1 to $4 an hour and 18 per cent paid $5 or more an hour. 
  • At centre-based day care services, 7 per cent of all children enrolled in preschool programs paid no fees, 63 per cent paid $1 to $4 an hour and 30 per cent paid $5 or more an hour.

More preschool programs were being delivered at centre-based care services than at dedicated preschools

  • Nationally, 64 per cent of preschool program providers were centre-based day care services, and the remaining 36 per cent were dedicated preschools. 
  • The majority of preschool programs in New South Wales (79 per cent) and Queensland (72 per cent) were delivered by centre-based services, while dedicated preschools were more common in Tasmania (63 per cent), the Northern Territory (61 per cent) and Western Australia (59 per cent).  

In summary, it’s good to see that so many Australian children are benefitting from a preschool education, and that a large number of them are paying low or no fees.  

Data from the Australian Early Development Census indicates that, ‘Children who attend preschool are less likely to be developmentally vulnerable across all five developmental domains’ when they start school. 

These domains relate to:

  • Physical health and wellbeing; 
  • Social competence; 
  • Emotional maturity; 
  • Language and cognitive skills; and 
  • Communication and general knowledge

So, it’s important that all preschoolers can launch into a quality preschool program in the year before school, regardless of where they live or how much their family earns. 

Further reading 

Raising Children Australia

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Wednesday, 11 November 2020

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