A dynamic, long-term strategy for early childhood infrastructure

Overview

Building Blocks: The Victorian Government’s Best Start, Best Life Kindergarten Infrastructure Strategy comprises a suite of new and expanded grants, programs, and policy initiatives. It is designed to support the substantial growth of the Victorian early childhood education and care sector needed to implement the Best Start, Best Life reforms. The reforms, in turn, will support the best possible outcomes for children, families and communities.

This strategy builds on the first Building Blocks infrastructure strategy, developed in 2020, which was designed to support the roll-out of Three-Year-Old Kindergarten.

The previous strategy has been a success. The Victorian Government and sector partners have collaborated in many ways – including on service provision planning, design, and building works – to support the delivery of sufficient infrastructure for Victorian children enrolling in a kindergarten program.

This strategy retains and expands the key elements underpinning the previous strategy, but with substantial new investment to drive the growth of the sector required to implement the Best Start, Best Life reforms.

Notably, the Victorian Government will be making more direct investment and, as a start, will build around 180 kindergartens on school sites where possible (the exact number will depend on size and configuration, according to community). The 50 government-owned and operated ELCCs will also help meet the demand for Three-Year-Old Kindergarten and Pre-Prep, in addition to providing childcare services in the areas of greatest need. This investment will help to address demand and make our state fairer. Joint planning and co-investment with the sector will remain key to ensuring children are able to access services. It will also help ensure that infrastructure investment reflects the needs of each community and the diversity of Victoria’s kindergarten sector is maintained.

Collaboration and engagement

For the past 5 years, the Victorian Government has been working in close partnership with the sector.

This collaboration has supported the successful roll-out of Three-Year-Old Kindergarten, and will continue as other Best Start, Best Life reform initiatives progress.

Over recent months, the Department of Education has undertaken a significant consultation and engagement process to seek feedback, advice, and ideas on the $14 billion Best Start, Best Life reforms, which were announced in mid-2022.

Key components of the reforms are:

  • Free Kinder: Free Kinder is now available for Victorian 3 and 4-year-old children at participating services in standalone (also called sessional) kindergartens and long day care settings – a saving of up to $ 2,500 per child, every year.
  • Pre-Prep: Over the next decade, Four-Year-Old Kindergarten will gradually transition to ‘Pre-Prep’ – increasing to a universal 30-hour-a-week program of play-based learning for 4-year-old children in Victoria by 2032.
  • Three-Year-Old Kindergarten: The roll-out of Three-Year-Old Kindergarten continues, with programs increasing to 15 hours a week across the state by 2029, providing Victorian children with 2 years of a quality kindergarten program before school.
  • Early Learning and Childcare Centres (ELCCs): We are establishing 50 Victorian government-owned and operated ELCCs. These centres will be built in areas with the greatest need and will make it easier for families to access childcare. The first centres will be open in 2025.

Key focus areas

This strategy responds to feedback from relevant groups, including local governments and service providers, about the anticipated infrastructure needs, opportunities and challenges stemming from these reforms.

The key focus areas where the Victorian Government is delivering more support are:

Infrastructure planning

We are working with our partners to ensure more up-to-date information on kindergarten demand is publicly available.

We are also offering more funding support to partners to undertake detailed planning and pre-construction work for projects that will deliver new or expanded infrastructure where and when it is needed.

Delivering infrastructure capacity

In direct acknowledgement of the scale of the reform, the critical importance of our partners and the rising costs of delivering infrastructure, we have significantly increased infrastructure grant rates. We expect these will fully fund construction costs in many instances.

Our modular facilities, which for standard builds are fully funded and delivered by the department, also remain available.

We are going to deliver more government-owned kinders, with a commitment to deliver 180 additional facilities for the first phase of the Pre-Prep reform. Wherever possible, these will be on school sites to support children’s transition to school and make drop-off easier on families.

We are working with more of our partners - local governments and large not-for-profit providers - to develop Building Blocks Partnerships (BBPs), in addition to expanding and updating the BBPs already agreed. BBPs allow us to work with the sector to deliver a pipeline of projects over multiple years to support local communities to have access to the high-quality facilities they need. BBPs also offer increased funding flexibility to support solutions for more complex projects.

Retaining, maintaining, and improving existing infrastructure capacity

We’re working to make operating from a government-owned kinder attractive to sector partners.

To support partners who have existing infrastructure in need of an upgrade, we’re continuing to offer infrastructure improvement grants and have increased the rates for these as well.

A dynamic, responsive approach

The specific programs for each focus area will be reviewed and adapted over the life of the reform to ensure there is sufficient infrastructure for Victorian children to benefit from the Best Start, Best Life reforms.

Wherever possible we will aim to enhance the overall sustainability of early childhood education services, providing choice for families and supporting the sector to respond to changes in their local communities.

Our approach will continue to adapt as new services come online and new data becomes available.

Strength in service diversity

To get the best outcomes for children, families, and communities, we know we need to offer a mix of service types.

More kindergartens on school sites, delivered by the Victorian Government, will support the transition to school and provide a great option for many families. However, we know we also need to support kindergartens on non-government schools. Local governments have a deep understanding of the types of services their communities need, as do not-for-profit and for-profit providers, many of which have a long history of providing early learning.

We will also be consulting with Aboriginal communities to ensure the Best Start, Best Life reforms support inclusion and cultural safety.

Victorian families value all these types of services and that’s why we’ve increased support for our sector partners. Updated Kindergarten Infrastructure Service Plans (KISPs) will support our partners to plan new facilities where they’re needed and increased grants will facilitate delivery. Through BBPs, the government can provide more certainty and workshop more complex projects.

We know that working with our partners will be critical to delivering the reforms in ways that meet the needs of all Victorians.

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