The new Action Register highlights Minister’s focus on fees and fraud, not education

Framework analysis of Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s media releases and statements has revealed an overwhelming focus on affordability of services and examples of fraud instead of high-quality education.

Since his appointment as Minister for Education and Training (including responsibility for NQF services) in September 2015, Birmingham has demonstrated a strong focus on passing the Government’s Jobs for Families Package reforms, and cracking down on “dodgy childcare operators”.

As part of this crusade against fraud in NQF services, the Department of Education has released the Child Care Enforcement Action Register which publicly lists services and operators have been found to have committed fraud or exhibited non-compliance with the national tax law.

The Register has made a big splash in the mainstream media, even making the front page of The Canberra Times. There’s been lots of words like “dodgy” and “rorting” thrown around.

It’s worth remembering however that the 141 centres that are highlighted on the Register make up just 0.91% of Australia’s 15,574 NQF services.

It also highlights a worrying aspect of the Education Minister’s focus in his role, and how he views services that work under the NQF.

The Framework undertook an analysis of the media statements that are available on Birmingham’s website. Since September 2015, 62 statements have been released that relate to early childhood education and other aspects of the NQF. Of those statements:

  • 22 (or 35%) are directly related to child care fees and affordability.
  • 12 (or 19%) are attacks on Labor’s policies around the NQF
  • 10 (or 16%) could be seen to be just about positive aspects of early education
  • 9 (or 14%) are about fraud and non-compliance.

These figures reveal an Education Minister, and a Government, that does not have lot to say about the educational importance of services under the National Quality Framework. It is worth pointing out that the majority of the “positive” statements concern a new languages app and a STEM program (6 out of 11). The remaining 5 primarily related to preschool attendance.

In all 62 releases, The Framework could not identify a single media release that simply highlighted a positive story to do with an early childhood education and care service, family day care or school-age care service. This was in stark contrast to the schools and university sector which had several positive stories highlighting achievements and benefits of those sectors.

The Coalition Government has had a rocky history with the NQF. They were not supportive of it when it was first introduced, and once they achieved Government in 2013 the then-responsible Minister Sussan Ley actively sought to roll it back. While Minister Birmingham has been less hostile to the NQF, his public positions on the importance of the role education plays in what he sees as “childcare” have not been positive.

Internationally, the evidence is mounting that early childhood education from birth is critical to future success. Policy makers and political leaders overseas are starting to listen. It is of great concern that in Australia, we have an Education Minister who has more to say about the tiny percentage of fraud in the sector rather than the benefits of high-quality early education for children and the community.

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