Quality of childcare depends on where you live
Exclusive: Children born into privileged postcodes receive a better education and are safer in their centres compared to their poorer peers, according to a report the nation's childcare watchdog has quietly released.
The damning report from the Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) found there is a stark inequity across early childhood centres, depending on postcode, and the quality of services in the most affluent suburbs is significantly higher than centres in disadvantaged areas.
The report has been welcomed by the sector who are hoping it will galvanise governments into addressing the imbalance.
All Australian centres are governed by the same National Quality Framework (NQF) which covers seven areas across five ratings.
The report found poorer postcodes were far more likely to struggle to attain benchmarks in key areas of education, staffing and leadership but also dropped off in areas like children's health and safety and relationships with children.
Early Childhood Australia CEO Sam Page said it was clear disadvantaged areas found it harder to meet learning criteria and make sure all children received a quality education in the years before school.
She said state and federal governments need to lift the standards with target-based funding.
"This report shows we need a better approach to improving the quality in disadvantaged communities," Ms Page told News Corp Australia.
"It tells us that if you want to target disadvantaged communities it is quite possible to do that. So let's do that and start there and try and raise the quality of those services operating in those communities."
The report also found outside school services were far more available in wealthy - and more profitable areas - making it harder for parents to work once their kids hit school-age.
"It's a bit ridiculous that we don't have a planned approach to making sure that outside school hours is available everywhere," Ms Page said.
"I don't know how families who do need to work and can't access school hours get by."
Founding director of leading out of school hours care Team Kids, Sam Hoath, admitted providers tend to only operate in viable areas and said government support would help the largely privatised sector extend its reach.
According to the report almost a quarter of services in most disadvantaged postcodes had an overall rating of a "Working Towards" score - the second lowest standard - compared to less than a fifth of services in most advantaged suburbs.
There was also a dramatic difference in overall ratings between rich and poor suburbs in the proportion of services who rated well; with 36 per cent of services the most advantaged areas rated Exceeding, compared to 26 per cent in the most disadvantaged.
ACECQA general manager Michael Petrie said evidence showed children in disadvantaged areas receive the greatest benefits from attending high quality education services.
"Because of the increased benefit of high quality education and care for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the goal should be to not only eliminate the difference between the proportion of services rated Working Towards NQS, but also the difference between the proportion of services rated Exceeding NQS across socio-economic areas," he said.
Mother of three mum Kelly Henry's daughter Maggie, 5, goes to MindChamps Warriewood childcare, in an advantaged area of NSW, and said she felt fortunate her children had access to great quality early education options.
"I feel the government needs to be called to account a little bit more and should be responsible for ensuring equality in childcare, no matter the socio-economic status of the area. If early education centres don't get it right from the start, children will be starting their education on the backfoot."
MindChamps founder and CEO David Chiem said early childhood education is critical to set children up for success in school and beyond in life and that they have centres across different socio-economic areas.
"Quality early childhood education should not be restricted by postcode."
Originally published as Why quality of childcare depends on where you live