Wyndham kinders fall behind national benchmark

CHILDREN enrolled at Wyndham’s council-run kindergartens are falling behind a new national benchmark of 15 hours of preschool each week.

Three months out from a June deadline, when Victorian kinders must provide 15-hour programs for all four-year-olds, figures show fewer than a third of children at Wyndham Council’s kinders are attending more than 10.75 hours a week.

Council chief executive Kerry Thompson said 676 out of 2157 preschoolers were enrolled in 15-hour programs. She said the financial pressure of coping with the region’s rapidly growing population was the main reason for the low rate.

“Despite receiving some funding from developers and the state government for community infrastructure, council contributes the majority of the cost, often several million dollars, towards the construction of every new kindergarten within the municipality.”

She expected the council would be able to offer 15 hours of kindergarten at all council-run kinder groups by next year.

This comes after new Australian Bureau of Statistics data revealed Victoria had the lowest proportion of children enrolled for 15 hours or more, at 33.5 per cent, of every other state and territory.

In NSW, 60 per cent of preschoolers were enrolled for 15 hours or more, 91 per cent in Tasmania and 84 per cent in South Australia.

The Municipal Association of Victoria last year said Wyndham would be among the most disadvantaged under the new federal benchmark because of a lack of state funding to build more rooms and employ more staff.

Point Cook mum Kylie Kennett, whose son attended Featherbrook kindergarten 12 hours a week last year, questioned the need to increase hours for four-year-olds.

“For a child who’s four it tends to get a bit late if they finished at 5pm, and it makes it harder for parents in the morning, especially if they have another child to drop off at school,” she said.

“I’m more focused on the quality of time they spend there rather than the length of time.”

The federal government has committed $210 million to help Victorian kindergartens provide extra hours. Despite the low provision of 15-hour programs, Early Childhood Development Minister Wendy Lovell said Productivity Commission figures showed Victoria had the highest kinder enrolment rate in Australia.

She said the government had been working to ensure 90 per cent of kinders could deliver 15 hours by next year.

Kindergarten Parents Victoria said strong three-year-old kinder programs and high attendance rates meant staff and infrastructure was under more strain than other states.