Landmark study to revolutionise education for three to eight-year-olds

3 July 2009

One of the largest education research projects ever seen in Australia is set to address the nation’s poor performance in early childhood education and care (ECEC).

Access by Australian children to ECEC programs varies widely, ranging from about 30% of three-year-olds to 80% of four-year-olds in most States, compared to 80% - 100% of three and four-year-olds in other developed nations.

As governments address this issue, the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne is leading a five year, international study to independently assess what constitutes quality in an Australian early childhood education and care program. The results will inform the $3.3bn invested annually in early childhood education and care.

The study is, in part, funded by a $2.2m Linkage Grant from the Australian Research Council (ARC), the largest ARC grant ever awarded to an education study.

The project is being led by Prof. Collette Tayler, Chair of Early Childhood Education and Care at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education and co-author of a 2006 OECD study into ECEC in 20 developed nations. She believes Australia must improve the quality of its early childhood education and care programs.

“We know from studies in North America and the UK in particular that quality early childhood education and care programs increase children’s attainment levels throughout their education and into adulthood. Lack of a quality program can predict poor progress.

“Australian children’s experiences within current programs vary widely and this impacts on their educational and social outcomes.

“This project is the first Australian study to link the non-compulsory education of three-year-olds to national test data collected when children are eight. By spending five years working with around 3,000 children in a diverse range of communities, we will be able to determine what elements of early childhood education and care programs make a significant impact on a child’s learning and development.

“Our study will enable educators and policy-makers to make evidence-based decisions, to ensure positive life journeys for many more Australian children.”

Led by the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, the study will draw on expertise from the Institute of Education, London, the University of Toronto and the Queensland University of technology as well as the Victorian and Queensland Governments.

The study will analyse a typical suite of early childhood education and care programs in diverse Australian communities, classified as: remote, regional, urban, disadvantaged and wealthy. Researchers will also consider outcomes for children who do not access ECEC programs.

For more information on Melbourne Graduate School of Education please visit www.education.unimelb.edu.au. - ENDS – For more information please contact Catriona May: email: catriona.may@unimelb.edu.au, tel: (03) 8344 3357 Or Katherine Smith: email: k.smith@unimelb.edu.au, tel: (03) 8344 38454l mobile: 0402 460 147 For interview please contact Professor Collette Tayler: email: collette.tayler@unimelb.edu.au; tel: (03) 8344 0992

Notes to Editors:

The research team includes:

  • Prof Collette Tayler (University of Melbourne)
  • Prof Karen Thorpe (QUT)
  • Prof Patrick Griffin (University of Melbourne)
  • Prof Ray Adams (University of Melbourne)
  • Prof Iram Siraj-Blatchford (University of London, UK)
  • Prof Elizabeth Waters (University of Melbourne)
  • Dr Gordon Cleveland (University of Toronto, Canada)
  • Dr Karin Ishimine (University of Sydney)
  • Dr Timothy Gilley (Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development)
  • Prof Frank Oberklaid (Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne)
  • Prof Ann Sanson, (University of Melbourne)
  • Ms Carol Markie-Dadds (Queensland Department of Education and Training)

The project is also resourced by

  • Australian Research Council Linkage Grant ($2.2m)
  • The Universities (the University of Melbourne, QUT Brisbane, the Institute of Education, London, the University of Toronto at Scarborough, Canada)
  • DEECD Victorian Government
  • OECEC Queensland Government