Early Start Kindergarten (ESK) provides eligible children with 15 hours of free or low-cost kindergarten each week led by a qualified Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) registered teacher.
Children with birthdays between 1 January and 30 April
ESK is available to children who are at least three years old by 30 April in the year they are enrolled to attend the program and are:
- from a refugee or asylum seeker background, or
- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, or
- known to child protection.
These children can also access free or low-cost year-before-school kindergarten through the ESK Extension Grant regardless of whether they have accessed ESK in the previous year.
Children whose birthdays fall between 1 January and 30 April have the choice of the year they will start school. Parents and carers need to be consulted about the intended year children will start school before determining which year they access ESK.
Refugee and asylum seeker children
A child from a refugee or asylum seeker background is eligible for ESK or the ESK Extension Grant if the child holds or has a parent or guardian who holds one of the following:
- Refugee visa (subclass 200)
- In-country Special Humanitarian visa (subclass 201)
- Global Special Humanitarian visa (subclass 202)
- Emergency Rescue Visa (subclass 203)
- A woman at Risk visa (subclass 204)
- Humanitarian Stay visa (subclass 449)
- Temporary Protection visa (subclass 785)
- Temporary (Humanitarian Concern) visa (subclass 786)
- Safe Haven Enterprise visa (subclass 790)
- Protection visa (subclass 866)
- A Bridging visa, and is in the process of applying for one of the above Refugee or Humanitarian visas.
- Current or expired ImmiCard
- An approved exemption from the department
If an exemption is required or there’s any uncertainty around eligible visas, contact your local office.
Exemptions will be considered by the department where a child, their family or guardian does not hold, or is not in the process of applying for a refugee or humanitarian visa, but has been impacted by a refugee or asylum seeker experience or an experience similar to a refugee and asylum seeker.
Eligibility requirements for ESK align with the Kindergarten Fee Subsidy (KFS) for refugee and asylum seeker children.
Children in Out-of-Home Care
All children in Out-of-Home Care who are three by 30 April in the year they start kindergarten are eligible for Early Start Kindergarten. Ensuring more children in Out-of-Home Care participate in Early Start Kindergarten is a commitment under the .
Make a referral
All professionals can advise kindergarten services of a child's eligibility for ESK.
Professionals working with families can refer all eligible ESK enrolments by confirming children’s eligibility directly with the relevant early childhood service provider. Parents can also notify early childhood services about their eligibility.
Notification of eligibility can be provided in writing or verbally from a parent, or based on the knowledge you have of the family’s background.
No other action or information is required to determine eligibility for children known to Child Protection, or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children.
We do not require proof of visa for ESK for refugee and asylum seeker children, however, a service provider may choose to ask for proof of visa for their own records. It's important to ensure that proof of visa is not a barrier to a child’s participation in ESK.
Early Start Kindergarten Extension Grants
The ESK Extension Grant provides a free or low-cost year-before-school kindergarten program for children:
- not eligible for the Kindergarten Fee Subsidy (KFS)
- from a refugee or asylum seeker background, or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, or known to child protection. A child is not required to access ESK in the previous year to access the ESK extension grant.
ESK enrolments need to be placed in a group where they can receive 15 hours per week of high-quality education, preferably delivered by the same teacher. All groups, including year-before-school, multi-age and three-year-old groups, should be made available to all ESK enrolments.
Early Start Kindergarten, Free Kinder and Three-Year-Old Kindergarten
ESK continues to be available for eligible children, providing 15 hours of kindergarten each week for 2 years before school. Eligible children should be enrolled in ESK, even if Free Kindergarten or 15 hours per week of funded Three-Year-Old Kindergarten is available at the service.
Enrolling children through ESK ensures they have priority of access to kindergarten. It also means services can receive additional funding and support. For instance:
- The number of ESK enrolments at your service contributes to how much School Readiness Funding (SRF) your service receives.
- Your service will receive a full year’s ESK funding upfront regardless of when a child starts or leaves the service. This supports you to plan for their access and inclusion.
- Long day care services receive at least $500 in extra funding for each child enrolled in ESK.
Services are encouraged to discuss eligibility for ESK with families and referrers directly, in addition to the information collected in enrolment forms.
Long Day Care and Early Start Kindergarten
ESK and the ESK Extension Grant can be used in combination with the Australian Government’s Child Care Subsidy (CCS) and the Additional Child Care Subsidy (ACCS).
The ESK or ESK Extension Grant must be used by a Long Day Care service so that eligible ESK enrolments can attend the kindergarten program for 15 hours per week for 40 weeks, at no cost to the family.
Long Day Care services may collaborate with the family or carer to determine how best to spend the money to support the child’s needs. The service may consider how this may affect their Quality Improvement Plan.
The grant can be put towards:
- gap fees not covered by CCS or ACCS
- financial expenses whilst accessing ACCS
- resources for children with high, complex needs or those experiencing disadvantage
- employment of a kindergarten teacher
- out-of-pocket expenses such as excursions/incursions
- professional development for staff about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
Immunisation status for Early Start Kindergarten enrolments
No Jab No Play
A 16 week grace period from the date children first attend the service allows the family to continue to access kindergarten while they obtain an Immunisation History Statement. The service should assist the family as much as possible through this process.
If the grace period has expired and the service has not received appropriate documentation (including a 'catch up schedule'), the child can continue to attend kindergarten, except in the circumstance of an outbreak of an infectious disease.
The service should continue to work with the carer to address this issue. The grace period intends to support and encourage immunisation, not prevent attendance.
No Jab No Pay
There is a 63 day grace period to meet requirements, otherwise Australian Government financial assistance will cease to be paid and full fees will be charged.
Information for Maternal and Child Health professionals
Information for Child Protection professionals
Other early intervention programs and funding
The program provides a more intensive early intervention than ESK. Through AEL, a facilitator supports vulnerable three-year-olds from families with multiple and complex needs, assisting them to access universal kindergarten programs.
AEL is for families that have a range of barriers to children's kindergarten participation. It is unlike ESK, which predominately addresses financial barriers.
AEL facilitators undertake in-home visits and work with families to build their child’s engagement with formal learning. They also work to strengthen the home learning environment. Facilitators collaborate with educators and other services to support the family and child.
Find out more, get support and resources
Evidence base - why participation matters
Participation in quality kindergarten for supporting children’s long term development and health, particularly those who are vulnerable, is important for success at school and beyond.
The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project found that high-quality programs had a significantly stronger impact on children’s literacy, academic outcomes, self-regulation, and pro-social capabilities than that of low or medium quality kindergarten programs (Sylva et al, 2010).
Hours matter because they provide the necessary time to create a substantial impact on a child’s cognitive outcomes (Fox and Geddes, 2016). Children experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage benefit the most from two years of kindergarten compared with one year, with 15 hours a week the minimum amount required for most children.
Early Childhood services can support access for children from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds and help culturally and linguistically diverse families understand more about ESK or kindergarten by using .
Information for parents
Social media tiles
15 Hours of kindergarten
No child left behind
Why ESK? (support)
Translated brochures and social media tiles
Reviewed 11 July 2023