National

Childcare inquiry - why Canberra parents pay more for less

The ACT's new Education Minister Shane Rattenbury has launched an internal review into childcare costs and staff qualifications in light of disturbing trends in the ACT .

Mr Rattenbury announced on Thursday that he had established an internal review team within the Education Directorate to assess issues arising from the most recent Report on Government Services  "in relation to costs, service spread and qualifications within ACT Early Childhood Education providers".

Speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly Shane Rattenbury.
Speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly Shane Rattenbury.  Photo: Ray Vance

"It is really important for parents to have confidence that the people looking after their children have the appropriate skills and qualifications," Mr Rattenbury told the Legislative Assembly.

The Report on Government Services, issued earlier this month, showed Canberrans paid the highest costs in the country for long-day childcare last year while the staff caring for children were the least qualified.

The Productivity Commission's costings found  Canberra families paid an average of $493 a week for long-day care in 2015, compared with a national average of $400.

And while ACT families paid more than 20 per cent above the average costs, the report found the ACT had the lowest proportion of qualified staff. 

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Just 50.6 per cent of primary contact staff employed by approved childcare providers had the relevant national qualifications at or above Certificate III in 2015.

This is substantially lower than the national average of 74.1 per cent of staff reaching minimum standard, including 79.8 per cent of Victorian staff, 76.5 per cent of Queensland staff and 75.4 per cent of Tasmania staff.

Moreover, less than half of all ACT childcare centres met the National Quality Standard at June 20, 2015 - at 46.9 per cent. This compared with a national average of 66.5 per cent.

Mr Rattenbury said "The early years of life are the most formative and having access to high quality affordable childcare is really important to ensure our children get a good start in life.  The ACT does have excellent childcare providers and we are growing the sector - both in terms of the number of spaces and through enhanced qualification requirements".

He suggested part of the reason the data looked so negative for the ACT was that it had been collected in 2013, only one year after the National Quality Framework had been introduced.

The framework required for the first time that carers reach a certain level of qualification as well as the introduction of teacher/child ratios. Mr Rattenbury said the ACT's reported results were lagging behind actual achievement.

"While we know that qualification levels have risen substantially since the data in the report was collected, I think it is really important that we are collecting and reviewing the data on a more regular basis to ensure our providers are continuing to keep up to standard on their qualifications. 

"The Education Directorate has established a review team that will determine how we can better capture existing data on staff qualifications in order to better track improvements and identify any possible shortcomings in this area.

"I have also asked the review team to consider what roles and levers the government might have to support the provision of childcare centres in areas of need. 

Mr Rattenbury said anecdotal evidence indicated some areas of Canberra were well serviced compared with others, and the city needed a more strategic and co-ordinated approach.

He noted the data also confirmed the ACT continued to have among the highest childcare costs in the country.

"It is my hope that through the exploration of service provisions we can better support affordable childcare across the territory and ensure services are spread appropriately across the city.

 "I will use this information from this internal review to guide further conversations across government about the best way to achieve better outcomes for early childcare services."