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20 Free Hours – in a Humpty Dumpty Sort of Way

2 July 2007

20 Free Hours – in a Humpty Dumpty Sort of Way

‘When I use a word’, Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone’, it means just
what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less’.

Today’s announcement of a 62% opt-in rate for the government’s 20 free hours early childhood education (ECE) scheme is illusory, according to Education Forum policy advisor Norman LaRocque.

Evidence from the ECE sector is clear that this opt-in rate has been achieved only because centres have compensated for the policy’s poor design by:

- introducing ‘optional charges’ for 3 and 4 year-olds;

- increasing fees for hours above the 20 free hours covered under the policy;

- increasing fees for children aged 0-2 who are not covered by the policy;

- reducing spending on centre resources and reducing services offered to children in care; and

- reducing sessional services, so they can recoup the shortfall from the 20 free hours, by charging more for non-free hours.

“Only Humpty Dumpty could argue that the Government’s 20 free hours policy delivers ‘free’ ECE to some parents. It clearly does not”, said Mr LaRocque.

“The introduction of the 20 free hours policy has exposed its serious flaws. Critics’ concerns – that it was unsustainable, that it would reduce quality and that it would limit choice and diversity in the ECE sector – have been shown to be valid. While the Government will try to lay the blame for the policy’s botched introduction on others, it has only itself to blame for pushing an unworkable and poorly designed scheme on the ECE sector.

“The policy can be easily fixed by allowing ECE centres to charge ‘top-up’ fees for the so-called 20 free hours – just as doctors do for patient visits”, concluded Mr LaRocque.


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