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Speech at the C&K National Conference, Brisbane.

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The Hon Maxine McKew MP

Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Child Care 30 May, 2009


C&K National Conference, Brisbane Convention Centre 30 May 2009

C&K National Conference

Brisbane Convention Centre 8.30am, Saturday 30 May 2009


• I would like to acknowledge the Jagera and Tooroobul people as the traditional owners of the land and Aunty Carol Currie of the Yugambeh people for doing the acknowledgement.

• Dr Mary Mahoney - President C&K Association • Barrie Elvish - CEO of C&K Association

Thank you Barrie for your kind introduction.


It’s an honour for me to be here this morning to open this conference.

C&K has been and continues to be an outstanding leader in the Australian child care sector.

You’re pioneers who’ve been playing your unique role here in Queensland for more than a century.

From little things big things grow… as more than one million Queensland children know only too well.

You’re also early adopters - embracing the modern methods Australian children and their parents need to get the best start to life they possibly can.

You’ve developed your own early childhood curriculum framework, Building Waterfalls centred on play-based learning with parental engagement - areas that the Government will consolidate in our National Quality Agenda over the coming months.

So thank you for your leadership, and the real difference you’ve made - both individually and as an organisation - to the lives of children.

An Exciting Time in Child Care

We live in exciting times for early childhood services in Australia. In the Rudd Government we understand the importance of the first five years of a child’s life in setting them up for future success.

That’s why we’re investing more than $3.6 billion a year in early childhood education and care between now and 2013 to a total spend of over $15 billion.

We’re also moving, surely and steadily, towards a National Quality Agenda with our partners in the states and territories.

Just last week at the Family Day Care Association’s conference in Hobart, I announced that, subject to COAG agreement, the first part of the Agenda - the Early Years Learning Framework - would be in place in July.

We will continue to consult with you over the national quality standards, the quality ratings system, and the streamlined regulatory arrangements with a view to a phased implementation. It’s an important journey and we will be taking parents, carers and service operators along with us, because we want to make sure we get it right.

From the feedback we’ve got so far there is widespread support for our reforms and excitement about being genuinely consulted by government.

From my perspective, the reactions from service operators have been a bit like children at the school gate on their first day of school.

The Federal Government along with our COAG partners are there holding the gate open for them.

Some operators like C & K have bolted through the gate and are already playing on the swings. Well done - you’re leading the way for the others.

Some operators are still a bit shy… We’re going to hold their hands as they walk through that gate.

Others though are still sulking in the car, pretending it’s all going to go away, hoping they’ll be allowed to go back to their rooms and keep playing the way they always have up until now…..

Well that’s just not an option.

We’re going to get through that gate together, even if it involves some kicking and screaming.

The State of Education

As you all know our understanding of how children learn has come a long way in the last 30 years.

It’s time for us to focus everyone’s attention on getting anyone who works with children in the early years to reflect that learning in their work.

The reasons we need to do this will be familiar to all of you.

I know many parents and teachers were unpleasantly surprised at Queensland’s results in the NAPLAN 1 tests last year and at the results of the 2007 TIMSS tests on maths and science. 2

I know Anna Bligh and Geoff Wilson were alarmed. They commissioned Professor Geoff Masters to review the state’s education performance.

His findings make sobering reading.

What resonated very strongly with me was the gap that opens up between the top and bottom performers at school.

Professor Masters found that by Year 5 the gap between the top and bottom 20 per cent of students grows to roughly two-and-a-half years of schooling…

The gap is even larger between the top and bottom five percent at about 5 years of schooling.

Five years of school and already some students are five years behind their peers.

This trend continues in later testing, with the gaps even wider for students in remote or Indigenous communities.

These figures lead Professor Masters to suggest Australian students who slip behind in their literacy and numeracy never catch up.

I know that Premier Anna Bligh understands the importance of the early years in turning this situation around.

She has committed her government to providing all Queensland children with access to a high quality early education service before they start school.

I commend her for this because clearly we need to do better for all children in Queensland.

As the Professor notes in his report there is very significant variability in literacy and numeracy levels throughout Australia.

At an international level we need to do better too.

The OECD’s PISA surveys over the last decade show other countries are catching up and overtaking us in achieving both excellence and equity in education.

Poland is now level with us in reading performance. South Korea, who we were equal with, is now significantly ahead of us. It has the highest retention rate to the end of secondary school

in the OECD.

From July, 14,000 Australian 15 year-olds will take part in the latest triennial PISA survey, with particular emphasis on indigenous students and the smaller states and territories.3

I’m sure there will be more lessons for us when the survey’s findings are released in December next year.

Vision for Early Childhood Education

The overwhelming message from these kind of studies is that we must work together on a way forward in schools and in the early years.

The Australian Government’s vision for the early years is simple: We want every child to start school as a happy confident learner.

It’s as simple—and as challenging—as that.

Babies’ Brain Development

The research into the way human brains develop in the first few years of life is unequivocal.

Learning doesn’t start when children arrive on the first day of school. Learning begins at birth.

By the time a baby is nine months old their synapses are at their peak when it comes to being receptive to language. That means parents and carers need to talk to babies!

Now we know that even the way babies crawl is important. Because if they’re encouraged to cross their midline in both directions, to the left and right, it will help develop both sides of their brain and better prepare them for reading.

The Social Dividend of Quality Early Learning

We know that it costs less to invest in the early years than it does to fix a child’s difficulties at school.

We cannot ignore the research: if you give a child the right sort of support before they get to the school gate they have a better chance of growing up to enjoy a good life and healthy relationships.

This was brought home to me again last week by Dr Joe Sparling who spoke to the Australia and New Zealand School of Government about the Abecedarian studies. As many of you know these are a series of longitudinal studies surveying vulnerable children in the United States.

It followed their response to a system of child care that focuses on play-based learning with parental engagement.

Dr Sparling spoke of the long-term social and health benefits:

• that children who attended these programs had a reduced likelihood of risky behaviours; • were less likely to be a teenage parent or marijuana user at the age of 21; • and were less likely to suffer depression.

He also says the differences between children who underwent the Abecedarian program and the control group were statistically significant by the time children were one-and-a-half years old.

Similarly randomised controlled trials like the Perry Program in the US show that children who’ve undergone intensive preschool programs:

- Attained higher levels of education - Required less special education - Earned higher wages - Were more likely to own a home - Were less likely to be on welfare or have spent time in jail

That’s why early childhood education is the foundation of the Government’s Education Revolution.

It’s abundantly clear when you do the required reading that the nation’s prosperity and capacity for social inclusion relies on a professional child care system of the highest quality.

I’ve spoken to audiences large and small over the last few months about the developmental and social benefits of a professional child care system that engages parents.

So I have to say it’s a little exasperating when I hear comments by the Federal Opposition’s spokeswoman on early childhood education saying she thinks the emphasis on formal qualifications is “a little misguided” and that children “don’t need theory or curriculum.” I suppose it’s her job to oppose.

But having taken the time to talk with experts, parents and service operators and got across the facts - I know we have no time to waste.

No child will be better off because of some phoney political argument that tries to make out the Government is somehow putting itself between parents and their children.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As a matter of fact, I can’t imagine anything more empowering for a parent than giving their child the best possible start in life through the sort of quality early education the Rudd Government is working to deliver.

We are absolutely committed to an evidence-based approach to early childhood education.

This was on display on Thursday when the Government via the Australian Research Council granted $2.2 million to the University of Melbourne to assess the effectiveness of early childhood programs.

The study will look at the difference programs make to children’s attainment levels, at school entry through to the first national test at 8.

It will measure the effect in a diverse range of Australian communities.

So let me spell it out.

Our policy is and will continue to be based on evidence, what is practical, and what works for children and parents.

Early childhood education growth

Here in Queensland there’s been a lively debate about who does what and who can do it best.

Without getting into any of that detail I do think the reforms here are raising the standard of quality.

The Prep year of schooling introduced since 2007 means that 97 per cent of eligible children are now enrolled and enjoying the benefits of Prep.

Queensland’s formal education system is now in step with the rest of the country. It was a huge task and I applaud the government for this major achievement.

Of course massively expanding the state’s pre-prep to give every eligible child access to a pre-prep program is another challenge.

Universal Access: A national partnership

The Australian and Queensland governments will shortly strike an agreement as part of the National Partnership on Early Childhood Education.

It will give us a blueprint for Universal Access to pre-prep in Queensland.

The Australian Government is investing $252 million to towards reaching that goal in this state over the next four years.

Our commitment is specific:

By 2013, all children in the year before school will have access to quality early childhood education programs, for 15 hours a week, 40 weeks a year.

The programs will be delivered by university-qualified teachers.

Children in a range of settings, including stand-alone pre-prep centres as well as in child care centres will benefit.

Barriers to participation—such as cost, location, or cultural barriers—will need to be addressed.

Universal Access is going to be a challenge for the nation, particularly here in Queensland.

The Australian and Queensland governments are working together to make it happen.

At the moment in Queensland only 29 per cent of three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half-year-olds go to pre-prep.

That’s well behind the rest of the country where 85 per cent of eligible children are enrolled.

They’re in government kindergartens, community kindergartens, and long day care centres.

Many of you work in rural and remote parts of the state. Clearly Governments need to be innovative in the way we are getting these children into pre-prep.

I understand the Queensland Government’s trial project ‘Piloting Pre-Prep Mobile Delivery Strategies’ has highlighted the challenges we face in achieving Universal Access in remote locations. I’m sure Suzie Woods, C&K’s Universal Access Project coordinator, will explain just how successful this has been later today.

I’d like to emphasise here that the Government’s reforms are not about creating a one-size-fits-all system.

That would only limit choice and flexibility.

But when it comes to quality, accessibility and affordability, we want consistency throughout the country.

Quality counts

The Australian Government has shifted the early childhood debate from one cost to one about quality and affordability.

As you all well know, qualifications, ratios, group size, and the number of hours a child spends at pre-prep all matter.

Whether a child lives in Normanton, Birdsville or in the Ipswich corridor, that child needs a calm, secure and stimulating early childhood environment. The Bligh Government is showing great drive and commitment by joining us in embracing the challenge of reforming early childhood education.

Establishing 240 new pre-prep services is a tough challenge, and one that I understand C&K is intimately involved in.

We in the Rudd Government are also playing our part.

On top of the Universal Access money I mentioned earlier, we have committed funding to six Early Learning and Care Centres, and nine Children and Family Centres.

Getting the right workforce

Of course, infrastructure is only one aspect of creating a quality environment for a young child. What makes the really big difference is human capital: skills, knowledge, experience and leadership.

At age 5, once those children go through the school gate every one of them across the country has a qualified teacher. Yet at zero, one, two, three, and four, for some reason it’s not considered an essential requirement… Queensland is ahead of the pack when it comes to qualifications and ratios as all child care workers here must have a Cert III or IV or above to get a job working with young children.

However across Australia, the highest level of formal qualification for 30 per cent of staff looking after children is a high school leaving certificate.

Only 8 per cent have teaching qualifications.

I’m afraid this just isn’t compatible with our National Quality Agenda for the sector.

Our plans to build a professional workforce are already well-underway.

We have abolished TAFE fees for anyone studying a diploma or advanced diploma in child care.

We expect this to generate about 8000 child care workers each year over 4 years.

Already TAFEs are reporting strong enrolments, and some report an increase in Cert III training from students keen to advance to the diploma level.

Here in Queensland Bremer TAFE has even offered an accelerated Diploma course, with extra classes on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings to meet demand.

They have also re-commenced the Advanced Diploma course, with 40 students in the course.

Our child care cavalry is on its way!

This year we created an extra 500 university places for early childhood education. Of these places 75 went to Queensland universities.

By 2011 there will be 1500 places nationally.

Early reports reveal strong demand.

The Brisbane campus of the Australian Catholic University gained extra places and enrolled 80 students…. A great result, given that it was the first time the course had been offered at that campus.

And from July eligible early childhood teachers working in areas of high need can now apply to the ATO to halve their HECS-HELP debt payments. These areas of high need include Indigenous communities, regional and remote areas and areas of high socio-economic disadvantage.

So that’s what we’re doing.

I strongly suggest that every Australian Government approved child care service takes this opportunity to professionalise its workforce to deliver high-quality care.

Services will also need to engage a mix of diploma-qualified support staff.

When I meet professionals like yourselves I’m always encouraged by your passion for your work. Your motto is “Children Come First.”

I know that delivering 15 hours of pre-prep a week is an issue for many teachers and administrators.

I would suggest to you that a terrific way to put your motto into action would be to work together to make the 15 hour commitment a reality.

Towards a national quality standard

We have other changes in the pipeline that will see professional carers looking after fewer children in smaller groups.

The centres they work in will be judged by a clearly defined national standard.

Long day care, family day care, and outside school hours care services will all have to meet the same quality standards.

Proud parents will soon be able to boast:

“I send my child to a centre that meets or exceeds the national standard.”

Engaging Indigenous families and communities

We know that Indigenous children, on average, are not performing as well as non-Indigenous children in literacy and numeracy. The 2008 NAPLAN results highlight this. In the area of reading, the results show that 68.3% of Indigenous children in Year 3 are performing at or above the national minimum standard, while the result for non-Indigenous students is 93.5%.

Ensuring Indigenous children have access to quality early childhood education programs will assist in closing the gap in literacy and numeracy.

But how do achieve this? Again the research is clear: high levels of parental and community involvement improve student outcomes.

The Indigenous Early Childhood Development National Partnership provides a unique opportunity for Queensland in this respect.

The partnership will help to address the needs of disadvantaged and Indigenous children in their early years.

Paid Parental Leave

I can’t leave you today without mentioning the Government’s historic decision to introduce a paid parental leave scheme.

Parents who have a child or adopt a child, from January 2011 will get paid leave.

The Chief Executive Officer of Early Childhood Australia, Pam Cahir, said it’s the most robust commitment to children’s early development that this country has ever seen.

For the first time in Australia’s history women in the workforce will be paid to stay home and care for their baby in those vital first few weeks.

It shows that we are moving at every level to support infants, mums, dads and other carers.

This will provide income certainty for families.

After some quality time at home, there’ll be a quality early years education waiting for that first generation of maternity leave babies.


I want to conclude by thanking Mary and Barrie and everyone involved with C&K for the work you do. C&K can rightly feel proud of its community pre-prep and childcare services.

The management and staff have shown great commitment to quality, training and an evidence-based curriculum.

More children than ever before are in care and we cannot wait any longer to raise the standard of quality in our early childhood settings.

You are all engaged in work that creates a thriving community and a thriving nation, both now and in the future.

It’s going to be a great conference. Thank you.


1 2nd last in reading with 87.1% at or above the national minimum standard. 2nd last in writing with 92.4% at or above the national minimum standard. 2nd last in spelling with 87.4% at or above the national minimum standard. 2nd last in grammar and punctuation with 86.5% at or above the national minimum standard.

2 Queensland’s mean score in mathematics at Year 4 was only higher than that of the NT. Queensland’s mean score in science at Year 4 was the lowest of all the States and Territories.

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