Lifting our game

Lifting Our Game, a report by Susan Pascoe AM and Professor Deborah Brennan, provides governments with a blueprint for the future direction of early education and care, Journalist Sue Osborne writes.

The report was jointly commissioned by all state and territory governments who wanted research carried out into early childhood education to match the Gonski Review into school education.

“It’s unusual for all states and territories to collectively commission a piece of work, so that’s important to note,” Brennan said.

“The states and territories wanted research that would review evidence about the impact of the early years on school education and also on outcomes later in life, like employment and health,” she said.

“The report makes the case that the international evidence that education begins at birth is so compelling Australia needs to ‘lift its game’.

“If we want to improve school outcomes we have to begin with the early years.”

The states and territories asked for the report to examine the most effective things Australia could do to improve education in the early years or educational outcomes in the early years, to improve school readiness and other outcomes. There is a focus in the report on disadvantaged and vulnerable children, and what needs to be done at the foundation levels for those children, although the report is not just about that group. It also looks at the return on investment.

If we want to get the return on investment that is possible from early childhood education than we need to treat teachers fairly and lift the quality of staff and the pay levels.

Return on investment

“Some reports say the return on investment from early education is incredibly high, $17 for every $1 spent, while others estimate a more modest $2-3 for every dollar spent. We were hesitant about that high end investment return, and we pointed out there is a range of research and a lot more work needs to be done,” Brennan said.

“We had to write our report very quickly. But all the research suggested a positive return on investment, because of things like a reduced need for remedial education, children being less likely to repeat a grade and improved school readiness.

“For children from disadvantaged backgrounds they were more likely to stay to Year 12 with better employment and training outcomes.”

Brennan said she was impressed by the enthusiasm for early childhood from all the states and territories.

“Many are doing innovative things in terms of delivering services in their jurisdictions and some have shown great enthusiasm for delivering professional development to teachers.

“But it’s variable across Australia. While the states and territories seem to get this issue about early childhood, we need the Commonwealth to come on board because Australia is slipping behind and not heeding the evidence. The country is not investing in early childhood as it should.”

The report came up with 17 recommendations. They are too extensive to canvass in this article, but Brennan said it is worth focusing on two areas.

Embedding foundations

Embedding the Foundations for Reform states the sector need a commitment for ongoing adequate funding for universal access for all children in the year before school and for the National Quality Framework.

“Stop start funding is what we get at the moment, with the Commonwealth reviewing it every couple of years, and keeping the sector waiting until the last minute before giving a commitment for one year’s funding. This creates uncertainty.

“We argue that funding needs to be put on a secure footing and we argue that universal access should be expanded to all three year olds because the evidence is so compelling.

“Australia is falling behind the rest of the OECD countries, which mostly provide two years of early childhood education.”

Brennan said the Quality in the Workforce recommendation states there is no point just “throwing money” at early education and treating it as a childcare service.

“If we want to get the return on investment that is possible from early childhood education then we need to treat teachers fairly and lift the quality of staff and the pay levels.

“We need to give really serious attention to workforce issues. We argue for a new national early childhood workforce strategy which covers education, support, recruitment, retention and a more professional workforce.

“Evidence shows the training and quality of teachers and educators, their access to professional development, mentoring and good leadership are vital to create the good outcomes we’re looking for.

“If we don’t pay attention to those things then it doesn’t make sense to be spending $10 billion a year on early childhood education.”

Government meeting

The Council of Australian Government (COAG) which includes all levels of government, is due to meet later this year. Lifting Our Game authors Susan Pascoe and Deborah Brennan have been invited to present their findings at this meeting.

Brennan said she would really like to see recognition by all governments that Australia has an enormous amount to gain from adequate and well targeted investment in the early years.

A group of peak bodies, including the IEUA, has issue a statement backing the report and calling for action.

“It’s very heartening to see the statement and great that the sector is getting behind the report,” Brennan said.

“It addresses key issues and contains critical recommendations about the funding, workforce situation, transparency and support for children who need it the most.

“If the sector is enthusiastic about these directions we can have some solidarity and it gives us the best chance of a new way forward.”


Following a meeting on 8 February 2018, we the undersigned, call on federal, state and territory governments to accept and implement the recommendations of the Lifting Our Game report to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools through increased participation in quality early childhood education.

We acknowledge the progress made towards 600 hours of universal access to high quality early childhood education delivered by a degree qualified early childhood teacher, for children in the year before school (typically this is when children are four years of age).

Sustainable investment and improved performance measures are needed to ensure that participation continues to increase in those jurisdictions that have not yet reached COAG benchmarks, also to ensure that children are attending the quality preschool programs that they are enrolled in.

At the same time the evidence is compelling that we will not reduce the achievement gap for children who have experienced disadvantage in the early years without extending early learning participation for at least two years.

Extending access to quality early learning for all three year old children is a key recommendation of the Lifting Our Game report that we endorse. The opportunity presents itself now, with support of jurisdictions and the sector, to place greater importance on every Australian child’s early education.

Secure, long term investment in two years of high quality early childhood education for every child is the wisest decision any government could make. Achieving this objective must be underpinned by sound investment in the early childhood workforce, and an acknowledgment of the continuing and significant contribution that educators at all qualification levels make. To value every child, we need to value every educator.

A strong, prosperous society is underpinned by the accessibility and quality of our education system, beginning in the earliest years. Investing in early childhood education is a mechanism towards all children achieving their potential. It sets them up for a successful transition into school plus academic, health and social success long into the future. The benefits for children experiencing disadvantage and vulnerability are particularly amplified.

We call on all levels of government to share this vision for every Australian child with evidence based policy and sustainable investment. We want to see Australia ‘lift our game’ internationally to bring us up to par or ahead of our international counterparts. Every Australian child deserves nothing less.

We look forward to working with politicians, policy makers, families, community, providers and the profession to take the next steps towards achieving our shared objective of an early childhood education and care system that truly delivers for every child and their family, now and into the future.

As individual organisations, and as a collective, we will take the actions necessary to ensure every Australian child has the best possible start in life.

Signatories include:


Early Childhood Australia

The Parenthood

United Voice

Australian Education Union

Early Learning and Care Council

Australian Community Children’s Services

To read the full report:

Susan Pascoe will be a keynote speaker at this year’s IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Early Childhood Conference.