2024 High Learning Support Needs Funding Guidelines

Key updates

  • Eligible providers may opt in for a provisional prepayment of Quarter 1 2024 High Learning Support Needs (HLSN) funding. Eligible providers can opt in for a provisional prepayment for children eligible for annual HLSN funding in Quarter 4 2023 and who are identified as returning to the service in 2024. Providers will still need to submit an individual application for 2024 HLSN funding for each child.
  • Simplified applications are now available for children who were assessed as eligible for annual HLSN funding in Quarters 1 to 4 2023. A simplified application can be submitted for children who were funded in Quarters 1 to 4 2023 and who continue to require constant and ongoing support to engage in the educational program on the same basis as their peers.
  • Applications for children enrolled up to the cut-off date for Quarter 4 HLSN funding applications must be submitted by this date for consideration for funding in 2024. Only certain types of variations (increase in hours, decrease in hours, extended absence and child has left) and applications for children enrolled after the Quarter 4 application cut-off date will be considered for a Final Adjustments payment.
  • The NSW Department of Education (the department) has developed a series of optional templates to assist community preschools to make observations. These templates were released on the department’s website in October 2022. Community preschools can continue to use the templates to support an application for HLSN funding. Use of the templates is optional and does not determine the application outcome nor eligibility for funding. View the templates.

1. Aim

This document provides an overview of the 2024 HLSN funding program (program guidelines). This document forms part of the 2024 Funding Agreement with approved funded providers (providers).

This document may be amended or replaced by the department from time to time. Providers are required to comply with the current program guidelines, available on the department’s website.

Funding for children with high learning support needs is provided for community preschools to develop and deliver the child’s individual learning plan (ILP). The ILP supports the child’s specific learning requirements to enable participation in an educational program on the same basis as their peers. See Section 10 for further information on ILPs.

2. Service eligibility criteria

This funding is available only for community preschools (including mobile preschools) who are currently in receipt of NSW Start Strong for Community Preschools funding.

3. Child eligibility criteria

To be eligible for this funding, the child must:

  • be at least 3 years old on or before 31 July in that preschool year and not in compulsory schooling; or
  • turn at least 3 years old after 31 July in that preschool year and demonstrate exceptional circumstances. Exceptional circumstances include, but are not limited to, any child or family that experiences of out-of-home or alternative care arrangements, isolation, violence, and trauma, mental health issues, environmental disasters or other crises.

The child must also have high learning support needs as defined in these program guidelines.

Children with high learning support needs:

  • have constant and ongoing support needs and require significant adjustments, or a temporary illness or injury that requires short term adjustment, to enable participation in the educational program on the same basis as their peers
  • require an ILP that identifies individual goals and the specific teaching strategies and adjustments required to achieve these
  • require consistent support and guidance to engage at the same level as their peers.

All applications will be considered by the department on a case by case basis.

4. Funding

4.1 Funding rate

Community preschools can apply for funding for a child with high learning support needs up to a total of $14,562 (ex GST) per child per year. This funding is provided at a rate of $24.27 (ex GST) per hour for the equivalent of up to 600 hours of support per child per year.

The department will make decisions on the application of indexation to funding rates on an annual basis. If indexation is applied, the department will be guided by NSW Treasury-determined rates. The department will communicate any changes to the funding rates arising from indexation via email to providers.

Enrolment decisions about individual children, including decisions about enrolment hours, are not determined by the department or this program. Enrolment decisions are the responsibility of the community preschool in consultation with families.

4.2 Provisional prepayment of Quarter 1 2024 HLSN funding

Eligible providers may opt in for a provisional prepayment of Quarter 1 2024 High Learning Support Needs (HLSN) funding. A provisional prepayment is available for children who were eligible for annual HLSN funding in Quarter 4 2023 and who are identified as returning to the service in 2024.

Please note: Providers will still need to submit an individual application for 2024 HLSN funding for attending children in Quarters 1 or 2 2024.

The department will contact eligible providers to notify them of the opportunity to opt in for a provisional prepayment. The opt in process is voluntary. The department will provide eligible providers with an opt-in form to confirm continuing children. Providers are required to submit their opt in form by 10 November 2023.

The provisional pre-payment will be calculated based on the number of support hours to be requested for continuing children for Quarter 1 2024. The provisional prepayment will be made outside of the regular quarterly payment schedule in December 2023. Subsequent payments/adjustments for these applications will then return to the normal 2024 quarterly payment schedule. See Section 6 for application cut-off and payment schedule.

To receive the provisional pre-payment, providers must also sign the 2024 Early Childhood Education Funding Agreement Terms and Conditions (Terms and Conditions) in Early Childhood Contract Management System (ECCMS).

Any provisional prepayments received in December 2023 will be offset against payments made for Quarters 1 to 3, 2024. Any provisional prepayment made for a child who does not return in 2024, or who is assessed as ineligible for 2024 HLSN funding, will be offset against HLSN funding for other children if applicable or will be required to be returned as part of Quarter 3 adjustments or refunds. The department will contact providers regarding any return of funding required.

5. How to apply

5.1 Applications

All applications and variations to applications are made on a per child basis in the Early Childhood Contract Management System (ECCMS).

Where a child attends more than one preschool, each preschool can apply for funding.

Information provided as part of funding applications may be used by the department for the purpose of assessing eligibility of a community preschool and/or child for HLSN funding in future years.

See ‘Section 11. Application support’ for information about how the Sector Capacity Building providers can help preschool staff apply for HLSN funding.

5.1.1 Newly enrolled/previously unfunded children

Applications should be made when the preschool has an understanding of:

  • the child’s educational needs
  • the adjustments required to support the child to participate in the preschool program on the same basis as their peers.
5.1.2 Simplified applications for continuing children

A simplified application is available for children who were assessed as eligible for annual HLSN funding in Quarters 1 to 4 2023 and who are returning to the service and continue to have high learning support needs in 2024. Simplified applications for eligible children will be found in ECCMS.

Applications should only be submitted for returning children with ongoing and constant high learning support needs. Simplified applications should be reviewed and updated to demonstrate the child’s current functioning within the preschool environment, reflecting any progress made, adjustments and supports required, to enable participation in the preschool program on the same basis as their peers. This information should not be copied and pasted from the child’s 2023 HLSN application. Applications for continuing children in 2024 will need to provide an update on the circumstances of the child in order to be eligible.

5.2 Consent

Under the Terms and Conditions, preschools are required to facilitate the signing of the two types of consent forms, one for each staff member and one for each child upon enrolment. This form consents to the use and disclosure of personal information that is used by the department for reporting and funding purposes.

You must seek a renewal of the consent form every year the child attends. A new form should be completed if any of the details in the original consent form require an update or adjustment.

Provided this form has been completed for each child, additional forms of parent/carer consent are not required for the Disability and Inclusion Program. However, preschools are strongly encouraged to maintain ongoing dialogue with families regarding the submission of HLSN funding applications and the development and adjustment needs of individual children.

Records of consent to share information with the department must be kept securely by the preschool, along with documentary evidence of the child’s disability and/or additional needs. It is not a requirement for consent forms to be uploaded with a child’s application in ECCMS.

5.3 Application requirements

HLSN applications require:

  • a written diagnosis or NDIS plan or preschool observations
  • details of how the child functions in the preschool environment. Consider the child’s strengths and needs in relation to the developmental domains and the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) outcomes
  • details of current and proposed adjustments that enable the child to participate in the educational program on the same basis as their peers. This may include adult guidance, teaching strategies, or environmental modifications
  • notification of the number of weeks the child is enrolled at the preschool, excluding the weeks the preschool is closed for school holidays.

5.4 Application types

There are three types of evidence that can be provided for HLSN applications:

  • written diagnosis
  • NDIS plan
  • preschool observations.

Only one type of evidence is required to support an application. Services can upload more than one type of evidence to support an application if desired.

5.4.1 Evidence requirements for a written diagnosis application
  • Documentation must confirm diagnosis of disability.
  • Documentation must be on letterhead and signed by the specialist and/or health professional who made the diagnosis.
  • Documentation must be from the specialist who made the diagnosis rather than an alternative specialist referring to the original specialist’s diagnosis.
  • Specialists may include an audiologist, registered psychologist, paediatrician, psychiatrist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, a professional qualified to administer psychometric assessments, or other relevant medical specialist.
  • Where a document refers to a speech and language delay/disorder only, a moderate to severe diagnosis must be demonstrated and made by a speech pathologist.
  • Documentation should be relevant, accurate, and as recent as possible.
5.4.2 Evidence requirements for a NDIS Plan application

An approved NDIS plan for the child must be uploaded with a NDIS plan application.

The uploaded NDIS plan must include:

  • the child’s name, and
  • the plan approval date, and
  • the plan start date.
5.4.3 Evidence requirements for a preschool observations application

In circumstances where a child has been identified by the preschool as having high learning support needs, and a written diagnosis or NDIS plan is not available or in place, services may submit an application supported by preschool observations.

Observations provide data about the child’s functioning in the preschool environment. Observations must be recorded by educators at the preschool and must be dated.

Observation can be recorded as:

  • running records
  • time samples
  • frequency tally
  • scatter plots
  • anecdotal observations
  • Antecedents, Behaviour, Consequences (ABC) recordings
  • language samples
  • learning stories or narratives of key events.

Observations must demonstrate high learning support needs and sufficiently demonstrate the frequency, intensity and duration of the concerns across the preschool routine. Observations should be taken over the course of at least a week and should be as recent as possible.

The dated observations must be a description of what is observed, and not contain personal opinions, analysis or evaluation.

Eligible documentation is not:

  • letters of support for funding from professionals, including therapists and Sector Capacity Building (SCB) providers
  • professional reports indicating concerns and the requirement for further investigation
  • screeners such as Ages and Stages
  • developmental summaries or developmental milestone checks written by preschool educators
  • Individual Behaviour Plans or Individual Learning Plans.

These documents can be provided as additional supporting evidence if available.

5.5 Payments associated with application types

Applications can be funded annually or quarterly. Eligible applications will attract annual funding, except where it is determined that adjustments may only be required on a temporary basis or where school exemption documentation is required (see section 4.7).

Applications that include observations taken by preschool educators that strongly indicate HLSN but do not provide sufficient evidence for annual funding may be considered for one quarter of funding.

Applications eligible for quarterly funding will require the submission of a variation to be considered for payment for another quarter.

5.6 Variations

Changes in a child’s circumstances as the year progresses should be indicated through an application for variation. Variations can be made to eligible applications in ECCMS.

To complete a variation, preschools select the pencil icon next to the child’s name in the list of child applications in ECCMS, select the reason for the variation and follow the prompts.

Preschools should select the reason for variation that best suits the child’s change in circumstances. Where a child’s circumstances have changed in several ways, more than one variation should be submitted.

Variations should be made as soon as possible where:

  • the child leaves the preschool
  • the child’s learning support needs change, and the preschool needs to request an increase in HLSN hours
  • the child’s learning support needs change, and the preschool needs to request a decrease in HLSN hours (including reducing HLSN hours to zero to inform the department that the child no longer requires HLSN funding)
  • school exemption documentation is obtained or a progress update about obtaining school exemption documentation is required
  • the child has returned from an absence of more than five weeks.

Variations may result in a change in a preschool’s funding allocation throughout the year. In such cases a funding adjustment will be applied to the preschool’s next payment.

5.7 School exemptions

The Education Act 1990 mandates that all children must be in compulsory schooling by six years of age. Where an eligible child is turning six before 1 October and is still attending preschool, a Certificate of Exemption must be included with the child’s application to receive annual funding if they will be enrolled at a Department of Education public school. For children who will be attending a non-government school, an exemption from enrolment may be issued by the principal of the non-government school.

Preschools that are in the process of obtaining a certificate will be funded for one quarter and must submit a variation to an eligible application for continued funding until a certificate of exemption is provided. Preschools can submit the variation to their eligible application – ‘provide school exemption documentation’ in ECCMS - to report progress towards obtaining a certificate, and/or to submit a certificate once obtained.

Information about transition to school for children with disability and additional needs can be found on the website. For further information on the school exemption process, please contact the child's local school or the local educational services team. Your local educational services team can be contacted on 131 536.

5.8 Corrections

Corrections to submitted applications can only be made when an application has been returned to draft by the department. Preschools wishing to make corrections or add information to their applications should contact the department.

Applications that have previously been assessed as ineligible cannot be edited and resubmitted in ECCMS. A new application should be submitted when new information becomes available.

6. Application and payment dates

Application cut-off dates for HLSN funding Notification of Outcome and Payment
Submitted by 5.00pm
Friday 8 December 2023
Quarter 1 - February 2024
(Funding is for January to March)
Submitted by 5.00pm
Friday 8 March 2024
Quarter 2 - May 2024
(Funding is for April to June)
Submitted by 5.00pm
Friday 24 May 2024
Quarter 3 - July 2024
(Funding is for July to September)
Submitted by 5.00pm
Friday 16 August 2024
Quarter 4 - October 2024
(Funding is for October to December)
Submitted by 5.00pm
Friday 11 October 2024
Final adjustments - December 2024*

*Only certain types of variations (increase in hours, decrease in hours, extended absence and child has left) and applications for children enrolled after the Quarter 4 application cut-off date will be considered for payment.

6.1 Backdating

The deadline for backdating for the period from 1 January 2024 to 30 June 2024 is Friday 30 June 2024.

Applications assessed as eligible for annual funding submitted up to and including 30 June 2024 will be backdated to the child’s enrolment start date for 2024.

Funding for eligible applications submitted on or after 1 July 2024 will be backdated to 1 July 2024, or the child’s enrolment start date for 2024, whichever is the most recent date.

Preschools that submit applications on or after 1 July 2024 to support a child with HLSN enrolled from 1 July 2024 can receive up to 300 hours of funding. This condition also applies if the child’s enrolment start date is after 1 July 2024 and the preschool submits the application prior to 1 July 2024. Under very limited and exceptional circumstances, applications that would otherwise be subject to this rule may be considered for more than 300 hours of funding. Exceptional circumstances include, but are not limited to, the preschool’s inability to submit the application earlier due to reasons such as an environmental disaster, long-term illness, or due to circumstances impacting the child and family which may include out of home care, violence or trauma.

Where a preschool believes that a child enrolled from 1 July 2024 requires adjustments supported by greater than 300 hours of funding, exceptional circumstances can be indicated in the application. All exceptional circumstances funding requests will be considered by the department on a case-by-case basis.

In the application please state:

  • a clear justification of how the circumstances are exceptional, i.e. what circumstances mean that more than 300 hours are required to implement the proposed adjustments for this child in the final six months of the year
  • how many hours above 300 are needed
  • a description of the proposed adjustments i.e. what adjustments will be provided using the 300 hours and what adjustments will be provided with the additional hours being requested.

Exceptional circumstances requests will not be considered where an application could have been submitted earlier, or to reverse the impact of the backdating rule on funding allocations. Funding adjustments for approved variations to increase or decrease hours submitted by 30 June 2024, will be backdated to the variation start date.

Funding adjustments for approved variations to increase hours submitted on or after 1 July 2024, will be backdated to 1 July 2024, or the variation start date, whichever is the most recent date.

Funding adjustments for approved variations where the child has left the preschool and to decrease hours will be calculated on a pro-rata basis, according to the variation start date (i.e. the date the child left the preschool).

6.2 Priority payments

A HLSN application can be considered for a priority payment where assessment determines that there is an urgent need to support and supervise the child due to:

  • significant safety concerns for the child and/or other children, and/or staff at the preschool,
  • the significant safety concerns box is selected in the child’s application in ECCMS, and
  • the application is submitted within the first four weeks of the Quarter 2, 3 or 4 application periods.

Examples of safety concerns may include, but are not limited to:

  • injuries to self and/or other children/staff
  • absconding from environments and/or the preschool premises
  • aggressive actions such as hitting, kicking, biting, spitting, climbing or throwing furniture
  • staff require additional resources to manage aspects of the child’s condition to support full enrolment.

A priority payment is made outside of the regular quarterly payment schedule. Subsequent payments for these applications will return to the normal quarterly payment schedule.

Priority payment is not available for children funded in previous years at the service.

7. Assessment and feedback

The department will individually assess all applications. Where required, the department may seek further information from preschools about their application.

Providers will be notified of assessment outcomes for each application, and their funding allocation via email. Providers will be informed that funding notifications have been sent to providers via the 'Early Childhood Education Weekly Update' email.

Applications are assessed for eligibility according to the HLSN funding guidelines. When an application has been assessed as ineligible, the individual spreadsheet provided to each provider at the time of notification will indicate the relevant section of the guidelines for reference as the reason for ineligibility.

Feedback on the outcome of a funding application can be sought from the assessment team by emailing ecec.funding@det.nsw.edu.au and providing the following information:

  • child’s application ID
  • preschool name
  • contact person at the preschool and contact phone number
  • the question/s you have about the child’s application.

Once you have provided this information, a member of the assessment team will contact you to discuss your application.

Note: please do not provide sensitive information (including diagnostic reports, developmental assessments, NDIS plans and observations) via email.

8. Spending rules

HLSN funding must be used to support the individual child.

Funding must be used to employ additional staff for either or both of the below:

  • Increase the adult to child ratio during identified periods of the child’s attendance, enabling the child to participate in the education program and achieve the outcomes documented in their ILP.
  • Complete other activities directly related to the development, delivery and review of the child’s ILP, including:
    • collaboration with specialist providers working with the child
    • engaging with educators through the Sector Capacity Building program on matters related to the child
    • attend professional development but only where this type of training cannot be provided free of charge by the preschool's Sector Capacity Building provider.

Staff support hours requested to increase the adult to child ratio should be reflected in the ECCMS funding application form in the table that indicates enrolment details and support hours being requested.

Staff support hours outside of increasing the adult to child ratio should be reflected in the 'other support hours' section in the ECCMS funding application.

Funding can also be used to offset the cost of professional development where this type of training cannot be provided free of charge by the preschool’s Sector Capacity Building provider.

The hours of funding required to offset professional development costs should be included in the 'other support hours' section in the ECCMS funding application.

Funding cannot be used for:

  • payment of fees
  • employment of therapists for children
  • assessments
  • specialist medical consultations (for example, paediatricians)
  • medical equipment
  • early intervention supports that are most appropriately provided through the NDIS
  • any other functional supports that are provided through the NDIS or other programs
  • to offset existing staff costs
  • paying for professional development (including course costs related to the inclusion of the child) where this type of training can be provided free of charge by the preschool’s Sector Capacity Building provider.

HLSN funding provided by the department is a contribution to the possible expenses associated with implementing adjustments to enable children with disability and additional needs to be included on the same basis as their peers.

The department encourages preschools to ensure that they are aware of their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. Further information on the Disability Discrimination Act is available from the ACECQA website. The department also encourages preschools to seek support from their Sector Capacity Building provider to explore how barriers to inclusion may be removed or adjusted without additional funding.

Approved HLSN funding cannot be transferred between preschools when a child withdraws and enrols in a new preschool. The funding must be returned if a child leaves the service. The new preschool will need to submit a new application.

HLSN funding allocations must be expended in the calendar year in which it was allocated to an individual child.

9. Financial accountabilities and funding compliance

In accordance with the Terms and Conditions, a provider must submit a financial accountability statement for each individual service which has received funding, to provide assurance that public funds have been expended for their intended purpose.

Financial accountability is completed through ECCMS and providers will be notified when this is due. Further information is available in the Financial Accountability Return Guide and on the Financial Accountability - Information for Services page.

Surplus and Refunds

Providers are required to expend all HLSN funding in accordance with the spending rules during the relevant program period. The department understands that some providers may have a surplus at the end of their reporting period which needs to be returned to the department according to the Terms and Conditions. The department will identify and validate surpluses through the annual financial accountability process.

The financial accountability process for any funding allocation will be undertaken in the following year after the reporting year is finished. The process involves completing a financial accountability statement to report to the department how funding has been spent in accordance with the spending rules of the program guidelines. Financial accountability statement is completed at service level and for any surplus funds an invoice may be raised by the department requesting repayment of funds.

Providers that have a surplus above $5,000 are required to return the surplus amount above the threshold.

The department will review these guidelines and surplus thresholds annually to ensure alignment with program funding objectives.

Record keeping

The department periodically conducts reviews of preschool services and funding distributed to providers. For this purpose, the department may request that providers supply supporting documentation to the department and its representatives.

Preschools may be audited to confirm the accuracy of data provided in their performance and financial accountability statements, which includes ensuring that the funding provided has been used to support the achievement of educational outcomes for children with disability in accordance with these guidelines.

Relevant records must be retained by providers for the purpose of the department undertaking funding compliance reviews. Examples of relevant records may include:

  • proof of expenditure in line with spending rules
  • parent/legal guardian declaration forms
  • enrolment and consent forms
  • documentary evidence of the child’s disability and/or additional needs
  • Individual Learning Plans (ILP) for children with disability or additional needs working towards 600 hours per year
  • Certificates of Exemption for any 6-year-old children enrolled in the service, if required.

10. Individual learning plan

An individual learning plan (ILP) must be developed for each child approved for High Learning Support Needs (HLSN) funding. It should have the following characteristics:

  • a written document that details what the preschool will do for the child
  • a working document to help the preschool record each child's developmental progress
  • developed in consultation and agreement with the child's parents/carers
  • does not need to be lengthy or complex
  • updated regularly and reviewed at least every six months
  • forms part of the planning/documentation of the child's educational program and progress as part of the National Quality Framework
  • must address the following:
    • assessment information reports
    • information about the child's disability
    • roles and responsibilities of team members and other services that may work with the child at the preschool (e.g. early childhood early intervention providers under the NDIS)
    • summary of the child's strengths, interests and needs
    • long term goals and outcomes
    • specific short term objectives
    • teaching strategies
    • ongoing evaluation
    • documentation of the transition process (either transition within the preschool or from preschool to school).

A preschool can use it to:

  • document consultation with the child's parents/carers and the reasonable systemic adjustments being made to support the child
  • complement the goals and aspirations expressed in the child's NDIS support plans, and the potential for integrated assessment and planning should be taken into account.

11. Application support

Under the Disability and Inclusion Program, Sector Capacity Building (SCB) providers are available to all community preschools to support the delivery of inclusive education practices and enhance inclusion readiness.

SCB providers can help preschool staff apply for HLSN funding. For example, a SCB provider can review reports to identify whether a diagnosis has been provided by a relevant specialist and can support preschool staff to take observations as evidence for HLSN funding applications.

Preschools are encouraged to contact their SCB provider for support or to contact the department if they do not have the contact details of their SCB provider. The contact details for SCB providers can also be found in the 2024 Sector Capacity Building program guidelines.

12. Further information

For further information about early childhood education programs, please contact the department by:

Category:

  • Early childhood education

Business Unit:

  • Early Childhood Outcomes
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