NSW Coalition pledges to start building 500 new preschools by end of the year

Perrottet government to bring forward $1bn in construction work and legislate right to universal pre-kindergarten if re-elected

Five hundred new preschools will be built throughout New South Wales within the next four years under an election pledge by the Coalition to bring forward $1bn in construction work and have shovels in the ground by the end of the year.

The government will on Tuesday promise to bring forward its $5.8bn universal pre-kindergarten plan to give every child in the state access to a year of free “play-based” learning the year before school by 2030. Victoria made a similar pledge in a joint announcement last year.

Under the new pledge, 131 centres will be built in Sydney, including 97 in the western suburbs. Almost 70 centres will be built around the Hunter and Central Coast, while another 58 are slated for New England and the state’s north-west.

Dominic Perrottet also plans to legislate the right to universal pre-kindergarten in the next term of government if the Coalition wins the 25 March election.

“NSW is leading the nation with our universal pre-kindergarten program, which will give every single child access to free, high-quality learning in the year before they start school,” the premier said.

“The benefits of this are huge. Not only are we giving our kids a head start in life by kickstarting their education earlier, we’re giving more time back to busy parents.”

He said more than a third of communities across NSW were struggling with an undersupply of childcare.

“That is why we will accelerate the program and get shovels in the ground this year to deliver the first 500 new preschools within four years, cutting childcare waiting lists and getting our kids learning sooner,” he said.

An already-announced pilot program will kick off later this month at 71 preschools.

Experts will assess the experiences of children at the centres to fine-tune the program, including attendance levels, longer operating hours and transition into schooling.

The deputy premier and minister for regional NSW, Paul Toole, said students in regions would benefit from the commitment.

“The bush is leading the charge on this major education reform, with 34 of the universal pre-kindergarten pilot sites and more than half of the first 500 universal pre-kindergarten schools being in regional communities – helping kids from Kempsey to Coonamble take the first steps to a brighter future,” Toole said.

About 9 million Australians are living in childcare “deserts”, where available places outnumber children under five by at least three to one, according to research by the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University.

Researchers found 35.2% of the Australian population lived in one of these “deserts”, with a distinct correlation between wealth and childcare availability and cost.

Last year the NSW government also announced $5bn to create 47,000 extra childcare spots and eventually drive $17bn in economic activity a year.

NSW would spend an initial $775m over four years, and up to $5bn over a decade, to encourage childcare centres to expand into childcare “deserts”, like western Sydney.


Tamsin Rose

The GuardianTramp

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