Two Years in Prep

The Sunday Age this morning ran a piece on a school that set up a program for kids who are not quite ready for the first year of school. I have actually thought before that this would be a good option to add to the mix – not at every school, but here and there. According to the article, this school has been told by the Education Department that they are not allowed to continue the program.

There are some illogicalities in the story. We are told, for example, that people want this option because childcare and kindergarten cost too much, but also that this will push families into private schooling. That can’t be right. Private school fees cost about the same as childcare, and kindergarten is considerably less*.

Our system of early childhood and care has evolved over time, with various levels of government and other organizations involved. It is crusty and barnacled. Parents have to negotiate a foolishly complex set of institutions and processes.

I can see why we would not want a sudden rush of younger kids into primary schools. A huge effort is being made to properly equip all early childhood settings with well educated staff and the best approach to early childhood learning we know how to give.

I can see why we would not want that undermined by a rush of early enrolments at school. But the kids in this program are technically old enough for school, and have had their preschool year.  I might prefer other ways to address this problem – like a Prep program that has the flexibility to cater to a wider range of learners, or play-based learning across the whole Prep. But that is not what this school offers in Prep, at the moment.

If the school judges some of their students need an extra year of play-based learning, where is the harm?

This looks a bit like a demarcation dispute. Is this really how we manage child-centred education?

*  Costs of young children’s education and care in Victoria
(From memory  – haven’t checked these facts recently)

Sessional kindergarten (preschool)
About $1200 per year, in four instalments, for 10.75 hours, usually in 2-3 sessions. Free for health care card holders. The cost in sessional kindergarten lies in the difficulty of juggling working full-time, not the fees per se.

Creche/childcare
(ie long day care intended to free parents up for the working day)
Around $70 per day, but subsidized through the tax system, so the amount you pay depends on household income. Creches are usually open 5 days per week, but many children attend part-time.

Early Learning Centre is the name generally given to a kindergarten attached to a private school.  They typically run 4-5 days per week, and full attendance is expected during school hours (ie about 9.00- 3.00).  Fees are set at a similar level to crèche.

Family Day Care and a private nanny are other models, but I don’t know how much they cost.

Primary school
State primary school
Technically free. Schools issue fees – in the order of a few hundred dollars at the beginning of the year – but they are voluntary. There are no penalties for non-payment. Subsidised families get an Education Maintenance Allowance, part of which is paid direct to the school.

Private primary school
Last I heard they were around $5,000 for the early years.  Fees rise as the children get older. Some schools catering to particular tight-knit communities are considerably cheaper.

School starting age

Children in Victoria can start primary school at 4 years and 9 months – ie the rule is that they must turn 5 by 30 April.  They must start primary school by the time they turn 6, unless an exemption is granted.

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