Funding and policies supporting Three-Year-Old Kindergarten

Information on flexible hours and other policies for Three-Year-Old Kindergarten service providers.

Statewide flexible hours continue

In 2024, service providers can determine how many hours of funded Three-Year-Old Kindergarten they deliver per week, with a minimum of 5 hours and a maximum of 15 hours, within set parameters. This transitional arrangement will continue in 2024 and will be reviewed ahead of 2025 service delivery.

The priority is to give as many Victorian children access to funded Three-Year-Old Kindergarten as possible. Services will be funded pro rata for the program hours delivered.

Where places are limited, services should prioritise participation over the number of weekly program hours.

Services should not increase their Three Year Old Kindergarten program hours beyond what was offered in 2023 if this lowers the number of three-or four-year-old places offered in 2024.

Eligibility for an exception

Exceptions to the flexible hours approach can be granted subject to sufficient capacity to accommodate children being available in 2024 at other local services. The service also needs to have sufficient existing staff to deliver the planned programs.

If you are considering seeking an exception, you should discuss it with your local Early Childhood Improvement Branch as early as possible.

The Department will consider exceptions on a case‑by‑case basis.

As data on 2023 enrolments and 2024 intentions will become available in the coming months, final exception decisions will not be made until mid-year.

What this approach means for my service

Many services will not be affected by this requirement.

If offering more than your 2023 Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program hours does not reduce the number of enrolments in both your Three-Year-Old and Four-Year-Old Kinder programs, you do not need departmental approval to increase your hours.

You can use the following diagram to help understand whether an exception is required for your service or whether there are other options that would allow for places offered to be maintained while hours are increased.

Three-Year-Old Kindergarten flexible funding

  • Download' Three-Year-Old Kindergarten flexible funding'

Per capita funding

Funding for Three-Year-Old Kindergarten will match the rates of Four-Year-Old Kindergarten, with funding provided on a per rata basis.

Both sessional kindergarten services and long day care centres can be funded to deliver kindergarten programs for three-year-olds. Learn more about kindergarten funding rates.

Services delivering fewer than 15 hours will be funded for the hours they operate. For example, a kindergarten delivering a five-hour Three‑Year-Old Kindergarten program will receive one-third of the applicable rate of funding available.

The kindergarten fee subsidy will continue to be a part of all funded kindergarten programs for three and four-year-olds. The eligibility criteria will be the same as the current funded kindergarten programs as provided in the kindergarten funding guide.

Early Start Kindergarten

Early Start Kindergarten (ESK) will continue to be available to eligible children in 2024, providing 15 hours of kindergarten each week for two years before school.

To be eligible for ESK, children must be 3 years of age by April 30 in the year they start kindergarten and either:

  • identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
  • be from refugee or asylum seeker background
  • or be from a family that has had contact with Child Protection.

It is important that service providers ensure children eligible for ESK are enrolled for the full 15 hours of funded kindergarten as an ESK enrolment. Children accessing ESK can be enrolled in a three-year-old group, a four-year-old group, a mixed-age group, or a combination of groups to access 15 hours of kindergarten.

Enrolling children through ESK ensures these children have priority of access, and services can receive additional funding and support.

Service providers are expected to continue to provide the full 15 hours funded through ESK even where three-year-old groups are being offered fewer than 15 hours. Applications can be submitted through the Kindergarten Information Management (KIM) system.

Learn more about Early Start Kindergarten.

Support for children with disabilities or additional needs

Services will receive additional funding to ensure that three-year-old children with disabilities, developmental delays or additional needs can access and meaningfully participate in kindergarten programs. This includes through Kindergarten Inclusion Support and additional Pre-School Field Officers.

Pre-purchased places

Pre-purchased places are kindergarten places the Department funds for children experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage.

Eligible services providing Three-Year-Old Kindergarten can apply for pre‑purchased places.

School readiness funding

School Readiness Funding has been extended to support both three and four-year-old children enrolled in all funded kindergarten programs. Funding is allocated based on levels of educational disadvantage.

State-funded Three-Year-Old Kindergarten programs with eligible children can also access Kindergarten Inclusion Support and Pre-School Field Officer programs, in the same way as it occurs in Four-Year-Old Kindergarten.

Learn more about School readiness funding.

Base rural funding

All rural services will receive base funding if their total three and four-year-old enrolments are below 18 equivalent enrolments for 15 hours per week.

Services will receive child-level funding for every hour they deliver. For example, if three-year-old children are enrolled in a kindergarten program for 7.5 hours per week, two children will make up one equivalent enrolment.

If three-year-old children are enrolled for five hours of kindergarten per week, three children would make up one equivalent enrolment. Each enrolment over 18 equivalent enrolments will receive per capita funding at the rural rate.

For more information, refer to the Kindergarten funding guide.

Priority of access guidelines

Our Priority of access guidelines require funded kindergarten services to prioritise specified children where there is a higher demand than places available. This helps to ensure that children who are vulnerable, disadvantaged or who have a disability are supported to access a kindergarten place.

Services must first apply the Priority of Access (PoA) criteria. Then locally developed criteria can be applied.

In mixed-age groups, the PoA guidelines equally prioritise three- and four-year-old children considered vulnerable under the policy. Where programs for three- and four-year-olds are provided separately, PoA criteria are applied separately for each age group.

Eligible children residing within the early roll-out local government areas will be prioritised for access to Three-Year-Old Kindergarten in those areas. This means that these children must be allocated a kindergarten place before applications from families living outside the local government area are considered.

Children who are eligible for Early Start Kindergarten funding continue to have PoA to a place in a 15-hour week kindergarten program, regardless of where they live.

Children's starting ages

In line with the school starting age in Victoria, which stipulates children born between January and April can start school at four years of age, some children will be two years old when their Three-Year-Old Kindergarten year starts.

Under the National Quality Framework, the minimum educator to child ratio for children under three is 1:4, while for children three and older the ratio is 1:11.

For services that can cover the required ratios, eligible two-year-old children will be able to attend a program from the start of the year. For others they will be able to attend once they turn three. The Department will fund these children for the full duration of their enrolment, even before they are able to attend.

If a deposit is charged, it must be offset against fees once the child starts kindergarten. Service providers are strongly encouraged to waive any deposits for families experiencing vulnerability or hardship.

Every child's development is unique, and services should work with families to consider the best time for a child to start kindergarten. Families are encouraged to talk to their service's kindergarten teachers and other early childhood professionals, such as Maternal Child Health nurses to inform their decision.

Information to assist families to understand this policy:

Funding an additional year of kindergarten

Children in a Four-Year-Old Kindergarten program who have developmental delays in two or more key areas of development, and would benefit from an additional year of kindergarten, can access an additional year of funded kindergarten. This requires an assessment by an early childhood teacher.

To assist decisions regarding transitions to school being made as close as possible to school age, all children in Three-Year-Old Kindergarten will be expected to transition to Four-Year-Old Kindergarten in the following year. A funded additional year of kindergarten will only be available for children in the Four-Year-Old Kindergarten program who meet the criteria.

Early Childhood Improvement Branch contacts

Find your local Early Childhood Improvement Branch contact for specialist resources and tailored advice to support the roll-out of Three-Year-Old Kindergarten.