15-hour rule puts pressure on Ballarat's pre-schools

EVERYONE agrees that four-year-old kindergarten forms a crucial part of early-childhood learning.

Where consenus falls apart, however, is over how the federal government 15-hour mandate has rolled out across the nation this year.

Ballarat kindergartens have scrambled to offer 15-hour classes for four-year-olds, with programs starting this month.

Some are still unable to meet the federal government’s requirements, or do so at the expense of three-year-old kinder classes.

New buildings and extensions to accommodate extra class time at Miners Rest, Midlands, Linda Brown, Delacombe and Sebastopol West pre-school providers are scheduled. These are not built yet. The projects are based on state and council funding.

More remote kindergartens in western Victoria, particularly those that share a full-time teacher, are in danger of closing unless they can find part-time teachers to offer the extra hours, including their preparation time.

Finding enough teachers and places for children in Ballarat has been a squeeze.

As children start new programs this month, initially with shorter introductory hours, Eureka Community Kindergarten Association cluster manager Joanne Geurts said it was too early to tell how well everything was fitting into place.

Ms Geurts said a lot of time and resources had gone into preparing and juggling programs to help ensure no children would miss out on access to kindergartens.

“We’re tackling it all positively,” Ms Guerts said. “It’s been a lot of pressure on staff and services but all our kinders are offering 15 hours (for four-year-olds) this year.”

Methods used to help kinders offer children 15-hour weeks include increasing group sizes, adding groups and trimming three-year-old kinder hours.

Independent kinder St Alipius has opted to stick with a 12-hour program for its four-year-olds this year.

St Alipius is not constrained by building, class size or teacher hours –  it runs one four-year-old class and one three-year-old class.

St Alipius Kindergarten committee president Annette Hirth said there should be more flexibility and options for kinders and parents.

“We don’t feel our children’s needs and families’ needs are at the crux of this 15-hour philosophy,” Ms Hirth said. “We looked to our 2012 cohorts, and 12 hours is a massive jump up for those children, let alone 15 hours.”

Liberal member for Wannon, in the state’s west, Dan Tehan, said the federal government failed to listen to regional kindergartens in logistical issues about 15-hour weeks.

But Ballarat MP Catherine King said more than 7300 children in the Ballarat region were receiving better child care since the introduction of the national quality framework for early childhood education.

melanie.whelan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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