New modelling shows local early years facilities will struggle to meet demand as kindergarten services expand in response to Victorian Government reforms.
The introduction of funded three-year old kindergarten from next year will give families access to an additional year of play-based learning before school, which will have great benefits for children’s social and cognitive development. However, it also creates significant challenges in ensuring there are enough classrooms and facilities to accommodate all children into a local service.
For decades, Council has owned and managed the majority of local buildings used for kindergarten and other early years services such as Maternal and Child Health and community playgroups.
As three-year old sessions increase from five hours a week in 2022 to 15 hours in 2029, one of Council’s key focuses is ensuring there is enough physical space to meet growing demand across both council-run and independent kindergarten services.
Mayor Cr Lisa Cooper said significant investment will be required from the Victorian Government to make this a reality and partner with Council to make sure our children get the best start in life.
“Projections of the growing demand for kindergarten show that by 2028, we will run out of classrooms and facilities to continue providing access to kindergarten for both three- and four-year-old children at the same levels we do now,” said Cr Cooper.
“By 2029, modelling shows a total of 359 kindergarten places cannot be accommodated in our buildings. This is even more apparent in certain suburbs, with Bayswater, Boronia, Scoresby/Knoxfield and Wantirna expected to reach capacity even sooner or see larger gaps between demand and availability of places.
“Continuing to provide families with a choice of kindergarten provider is important as we know this is something the community values and Council cannot meet this demand alone,” she said.
Most council kindergartens are 50-70 years old, and Council spends at least $1.1 million each year maintaining its 33 buildings to remain safe and fit-for-purpose. This is in addition to the significant cost of staffing and supporting high quality services in 30 kindergartens.
Locally, a major challenge is the lack of vacant land to build new facilities, placing more pressure on existing buildings to accommodate as many places as possible. Council is working hard to unlock unused capacity in our existing buildings and classrooms but even with this approach, the shortage of places for eligible children in some suburbs will still exist by 2028.
Part of using buildings as efficiently as possible involves looking at the way services operate and making changes such as running additional programs, using different timetables including running longer days, mixed-age groups, or offering kindergarten programs conducted by degree-qualified teachers in long day care settings. Council can also support other kindergarten providers operating in its facilities to consider these changes too. The Department of Education and Training has also committed to supporting other kindergarten providers outside Council buildings to work to maximise their own services.
Demand for kindergarten services and capacity to meet this through council services and facilities is projected in Council’s new Kindergarten Infrastructure Service Plan, developed in partnership with the Victorian Department of Education and Training.