These guidelines provide an overview of the Early Childhood Education and Care Flexible Initiatives Trial and detail the program’s objectives, activities, expected outcomes, and reporting and evaluation approaches.
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Early Childhood Education and Care Flexible Initiatives Trial
The broad objective of the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) Flexible Initiatives Trial (the program) is to increase families' economic, educational, and societal participation through improved access to ECEC services, by supporting services to trial new or adapted flexible operating models. The program also aims to ensure that the ECEC workforce is supported to deliver flexible models of ECEC.
The program is to be delivered from the Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund. The Program is designed as a 2-year test and trial program (2023-2025) with a total grant value of $20 million.
These guidelines are an integral part of any ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial funding agreement with successful approved providers, and may be amended or replaced. Contracted providers should comply with the version of the guidelines on this website.
The Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund seeks to address the challenges related to access and affordability of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services for NSW families.
For some families, limited availability of flexible services options poses a barrier to accessing both ECEC and work/study. The ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial aims to mitigate this barrier by providing support that enables providers to extend their services to reach more families.
The objectives of the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial are centred on enhancing the accessibility and adaptability of early childhood education and care services for families across New South Wales. The program seeks to address the challenges families face in accessing ECEC by promoting increased flexibility in how services are provided.
‘Flexibility’ in this program refers to any modification to core ECEC business operations that promotes accessibility for families. This could involve extending service operating hours, offering flexible attendance patterns, implementing casual care day booking systems, providing wraparound care, or other initiatives that increase the availability of early childhood education and care
The key objectives of the program are to:
- increase accessibility of ECEC for families who need more flexible options, including an increase in the number of available places
- increase participation, particularly of women, in work and/or study, which is enabled by increased access to ECEC services
- increase service providers’ knowledge of local flexibility needs and their capacity to meet those needs
- provide appropriate support and working conditions for educators delivering flexible models
- develop an evidence base for successful flexible models to inform future program development.
The ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial operates based on a set of principles that guide its approach to supporting early childhood education and care services. These principles are fundamental in shaping the trial's strategies and activities, ensuring that children and families receive the support they need in a culturally safe, inclusive, and outcomes-focused environment.
The trial's operations are guided by the following principles:
- Child and family focus – activities are built around the child’s needs and circumstances of children and families.
- Cultural safety – activities are culturally appropriate and safe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families, and staff.
- Inclusivity – activities are accessible and meet the needs of all children and families.
- Responsiveness – activities are tailored to meet an identified local need for flexibility.
- Focus on outcomes – quality of education and care is maintained, and outcomes are measured.
To illustrate the relationship between program activities and intended outcomes, an ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial logic has been developed.
The ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial will support ECEC services to trial new or adapted flexible operating models that meet the local needs of children and families, thereby increasing accessibility to available ECEC places.
The Program will be delivered by ECEC Approved Providers operating in NSW, contracted under the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial. Contracted providers will receive funding to deliver program activities in line with their individual Funding Agreement (which includes these Program guidelines).
The Program operates under 2 streams:
Stream 1: Flexible service delivery
- trialling delivery of smaller-scale operating model changes within one provider and service type
- establishing new family day care services by existing service providers in outer regional, remote and very remote areas (according to ARIA+ classification).
Stream 2: Blended service delivery
- trialling delivery of larger-scale innovative operating models through collaboration between a maximum of 2 service types.
Providers may apply for funds to deliver program activities in one or both streams. Successful applicants will deliver activities according to their local need and as specified in their individual Funding Agreement. As the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial is a test and trial program, successful applicants will be funded to deliver activities for a maximum 12 month period, or as otherwise specified in individual Funding Agreements.
Find out more detailed information about what can and can’t be funded.
To be eligible for the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial, an applicant must meet all of the following criteria:
- Be an approved early childhood education and care service provider under the Children (Education and Care Services) National Law (NSW) and Children (Education and Care Services) Supplementary Provisions Regulation 2012, excluding Department of Education preschools, operating in NSW. That is, one of the following eligible service types:
- community preschool (centre-based)
- mobile preschool
- long day care
- family day care
- occasional care
- before and after school care
- primarily provide care for 0–6-year-old children or
- indicate that proposed activities supported by the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial be to provide care to children within the range of 0-6 years-old.
- Be registered, or be willing to register, with the Department of Education’s Early Childhood Contract Management System (ECCMS).
- Agree to comply with the funding agreement terms and conditions of the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial.
- Describe, and intend to provide, a discrete and defined activity beyond the service’s normal, core, existing or ongoing activities, to be delivered under the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial
- Hold a quality rating and compliance history for the relevant ECEC service of Meeting, Exceeding or Excellent against the National Standard. In limited circumstances, applications from services who are rated Working Towards or are awaiting assessment and rating will be considered. Approved providers seeking to establish a new family day care service in outer regional, remote and very remote areas must already be operating at least one service in NSW which has been assessed and rated.
Application and assessment
The ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial has a competitive assessment process. To be considered, applicants need to meet specific requirements and provide a comprehensive application that covers all the evaluation criteria detailed in the assessment criteria section below. These criteria will be used to evaluate applications for final funding approval.
The program will have two rounds of funding, and minor adjustments may be made to the program guidelines between round 1 and round 2. If any changes are made, these will be reflected in the updated published guidelines.
Eligible applications will be evaluated by the assessment panel against the following weighted criteria:
- Provision of quantitative and/or qualitative evidence of a local need for more flexible ECEC, and a clear explanation of how the proposed activities will meet this need.
- Demonstration that the needs of the child, maintenance of quality care and staff wellbeing have been considered in delivery of proposed activities.
- The extent to which the application demonstrates that the proposed activities will be accessible to all children and families of the service’s local community.
- Clear explanation of how services will evaluate or determine the success of their trial program.
- Clear explanation as to how services intend to sustain or cease their program activities beyond the funded period, with consideration to participating children and families.
- Alignment with one or more objectives of the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial.
Applicants with services in the following categories will receive additional weighting towards their application in the assessment process:
- Services located in a geographic area (Statistical Area Level 1-2) with SEIFA Decile of 1 and 2 (ranking within NSW) on the Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage 2021.
- Services operating in outer regional, remote, and very remote areas according to ARIA+ classification.
- Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Services, Aboriginal Controlled Children’s Services, and Aboriginal Child and Family Centres operating a service listed in eligibility criteria.
Information will also be collected from services regarding intended fees for service/s. The assessment process will consider whether the intended service provision represents value for money. Allowances will be made for the greater costs incurred by services located in rural and remote areas.
The assessment panel, on behalf of the Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund Board, reserves the right to adjust how these criteria are weighted in between funding rounds.
The assessment panel, on behalf of the Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund Board, reserves the right to adjust how these criteria are weighted in between funding rounds.
Key dates for the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial are:
|Grant activity||Round 1||Round 2|
|Applications open||28 September 2023||1 March 2024|
|Online information sessions||12pm 12 October 2023
12pm 24 October 2023
|Applications close||5pm 1 December 2023||5pm 1 May 2024|
|Applications assessed||31 December 2023||31 May 2024|
|Board approval||29 February 2024||30 June 2024|
|Notification of outcome||30 March 2024||31 July 2024|
|Grant delivery||From April 2024 (12 months)||From July 2024 (12 months)|
|Evaluation commences||June 2024||December 2024|
|End of grant funding||March 2025||June 2025|
Applications must be submitted via the SmartyGrants website by an authorised officer from the applicant organisation, who confirms the accuracy of the application’s content.
Applications will be reviewed to ensure they meet eligibility criteria and comply with the program guidelines.
Eligible and compliant applications will then proceed to evaluation by an assessment panel. Applications will be evaluated on their comparative merits against the program’s criteria. The assessment panel will recommend suitable applications for funding to the Board based on their comparative merit. The Board is the final decision-maker, and, in all circumstances, the Board’s decision is final.
Information on applications that might require amendment or approval from the regulatory authority can be found in Fees payable to the regulatory authority or local council.
During the assessment process, additional information may be requested from applicants. Consideration may also be given to information gathered through regular operations, including publicly available regulatory performance and compliance history.
Additionally, the Board, or its nominated delegate/s may, at their discretion, request information from other NSW Government agencies or other third parties, such as probity advisors, to assist in assessing applications.
It is important to note that submitting an application does not guarantee funding.
What can and can't be funded
What can be funded
Eligible activities under Stream 1 are smaller-scale adjustments to an existing service’s operating model such as:
- extending service operating hours or days beyond current standard operating hours
- providing flexible sessions of care aligned with Child Care Subsidy provisions (for example, casual enrolment, sessional care)
- allowing flexibility in enrolment (for example, flexible bookings)
- the establishment of new family day care services in outer regional, remote or very remote areas, facilitated by a qualified educator under an existing approved provider.
Examples of what may be funded under Stream 1 include:
- staffing and recruitment costs for activities directly related to the program (educator and/or administrative and program-related; new or existing staff)
- operating expenses directly related to the program initiative (for example, additional rent for opening longer hours as required in some commercial contracts)
- some fees payable to the regulatory authority (see Fees payable to the regulatory authority or local council)
- resources, equipment, or operating costs directly related to the initiative (for example, costs associated purchasing or updating of digital software to manage enrolments or rostering)
- staff learning and development costs directly related to the initiative (for example, to train staff in the use of digital software to manage enrolments or rostering).
Family day care establishment
Stream 1 also provides for the establishment of new family day care services in outer regional, remote or very remote areas, facilitated by a qualified educator under an existing provider. For these applicants, funding may be provided for:
- staffing and recruitment costs for activities directly related to the program (1 educator for the establishment of the trial program and/or administrative and program-related)
- transportation costs (driver, additional educator for supervision)
- minor capital works associated with the establishment of new family day care service (see family day care minor capital works for further information)
- some fees payable to the regulatory authority or local council (see Fees payable to the regulatory authority or local council for further information).
Eligible activities under stream 2 are larger-scale innovative operating models created by a partnership between two established approved services of differing service types working together to implement or extend flexible practices or models. An example may be an existing local family day care service providing wraparound hours care for children enrolled in a community preschool.
Examples of what may be funded under stream 2 include:
- staffing and recruitment costs for activities directly related to the program (educator and/or administrative and program-related – new or existing staff).
- some fees payable to the regulatory authority (see Fees payable to the regulatory authority or local council for further information)
- transportation (for children attending multiple care types under a blended model of ECEC).
What cannot be funded
ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial funding cannot be used for:
- staff costs and operating expenses (for example, insurances, maintenance) not directly related to the program initiative (that is, costs relating to core service delivery)
- services located outside NSW
- activities that do not align with the program objectives
- activities that do not meet the requirements outlined in these guidelines
- activities that do not meet the assessment criteria
- initiatives that have, at the time of assessment of the application, been completed (that is, retrospective funding)
- activities already funded through another source (that is, where another grant is funding the same element(s)
- any activities in contravention of the funding agreement, which will be signed by successful services.
Note: providers may apply for funds to deliver program activities in one or both streams. Contracted providers will deliver activities according to their local need and as specified in their individual funding agreement.
Fees payable to the regulatory authority or local council
Applicants will be required to certify in their application that they have the necessary regulatory approvals to give effect to their proposed activity, or to outline the specific approvals they will endeavour to obtain before commencing the funded activity.
Some activities proposed in applications may require providers to obtain additional approvals from the service’s local council under the relevant Development Control Plan (DCP), and/or to make an application or notification to the NSW Regulatory Authority (which, under the Education and Care Services National Law Act and Regulations, is the NSW Department of Education). In these cases, eligible applicants may submit an application or notification to the Regulatory Authority or local council.
Applicants who choose to apply to the regulatory authority before being notified of the outcome of their application will not be reimbursed if their application is unsuccessful. Associated regulatory or administrative fees will only be funded for successful applicants where these are included in their application (including the relevant supporting evidence) and expressly accounted for in their executed funding agreement with the Board.
If the proposed activity will require approval from the regulatory authority before commencement, services will be required to obtain necessary approvals as the first project milestone. Application fees will only be funded for successful applicants where:
- the fees are evidenced in the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial application
- in the case of family day care applications, the applicant certifies they have not previously sought this approval
- in the case of family day care applications, the applicant certifies they have not previously delivered the proposed activity at the nominated service location and
- the fees are specifically included in the applicant’s approved funding agreement.
Being successful in an application to the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial does not guarantee any outcome regarding an application to the regulatory authority or local council. If services are unable to obtain necessary approvals by the time specified in their individual funding agreement, the Board may terminate the funding agreement.
For applications to establish a new family day care service only, necessary development application fees payable to a local council may also attract funding, subject to conditions outlined above and in individual funding agreements.
Family day care minor capital works
The ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial funding for minor capital works is restricted to the establishment of new family day care services in outer regional, remote and very remote areas, under an existing approved provider.
Funding may be used for initial recruitment, staffing and mentoring costs; administration; and transport, for activities directly related to the establishment of a new service.
Funding for minor capital works is limited to essential infrastructure and facility improvements aimed at:
- ensuring compliance with regulatory standards when establishing a new service
- the enhancement of quality of service provision
- ensuring a safe and conducive learning environment for children.
What can be funded for minor capital works
Essential repairs and maintenance
Funding may be allocated for essential repairs and maintenance to existing infrastructure must be carried out by a qualified, licenced repairer, including but not limited to:
- minor structural repairs and fixing safety hazards to comply with regulatory standards
- fixing plumbing and electrical issues to comply with regulatory standards.
- repairing or replacing unsafe playground equipment to comply with regulatory standards.
Minor capital works may encompass safety enhancements to the premises and facilities, such as:
- installation or repair of security systems
- upgrading fire safety equipment and measures to comply with NSW fire safety standards
- childproofing and safety improvements, including the provision of adequate and up to date first aid supplies and equipment.
Funding can be provided for upgrading essential equipment and resources required for the delivery of high-quality ECEC services, including:
- purchasing new educational materials and resources
- upgrading furniture and fixtures for children's comfort and safety, where these items are not currently available at the service
- acquiring age-appropriate play equipment, where these items are not currently available at the service
Funding may be allocated to improve accessibility for children and families with additional requirements, such as:
- repairing, upgrading, or installing ramps and handrails for accessibility
- making necessary modifications to accommodate children with disabilities.
What cannot be funded for minor capital works
The following items and activities are excluded from the minor capital works funding under the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial:
- major construction or extensive renovations that substantially change the residential structure
- landscaping projects unrelated to safety or accessibility improvements
- non-essential decorative enhancements and aesthetic improvements to the premises or property
- routine maintenance, day-to-day operating expenses, utility bills and consumable supplies
- expenses related to the purchase of land or property, including rent for private properties.
- In limited circumstances, consideration may be given to the use of public properties, such as vacant halls, for family day care services in outer regional, remote or very remote areas
- items with high risk, such as trampolines.
Note: Any proposed minor capital works must align with the overall objectives of the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial and contribute to the establishment and enhancement of family day care services' quality and accessibility. Funding applications will be subject to careful evaluation and must adhere to the specified guidelines. Applicants will need to provide a budget breakdown listing items, resources and/or activities to support their application. Applicants are encouraged to provide relevant quotes and/or invoices where appropriate to support any request for funding.
Funding amounts and conditions
The amount of funding provided to applicants will be based on the assessment of amount requested and the information provided in the application.
Where applicable, all projects involving minor capital works must adhere to relevant building codes, guidelines and regulations and have subsequent regulatory approvals.
Applicants that receive a grant of funding must:
- Agree to the requirements outlined in these guidelines.
- Failure to do so may result in funding being withheld or an offer of funding being withdrawn
- Enter into a funding agreement.
- Funding agreements must be signed by an authorised officer of the applicant no later than 4 weeks after receipt or within a timeframe agreed with the department
- Submit progress reports and required supporting evidence for approval upon completion of agreed milestones and completion of the project, in accordance with the funding agreement terms and conditions.
- Acknowledge that no additional state or federal funding will be allocated to the proposed funded project.
Funding must not be sought for elements funded elsewhere. Applicants must not engage in a contract or commence any works proposed in an application until a funding agreement has been executed. Applicants who are offered a grant of funding that proceed with works prior to executing the funding agreement do so at their own risk. This program will not fund projects that are commenced before the funding agreement has been executed and will not fund completed projects.
For all grants provided under the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial, the appropriate regulatory approval will need to be obtained for any new service approvals or changes to existing service or provider approval (for example, increasing approved/licensed places) prior to discharge of funds where applicable.
Contracted providers are required to be familiar with and comply with both the terms and conditions of their funding agreement and these ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial guidelines.
Specific payment timings and milestones will be defined in an individual funding agreement. Payments will be subject to meeting all conditions outlined in the individual funding agreement and these program guidelines.
The grants will be paid to successful applicants through the Early Childhood Contract Management System (ECCMS). Grant payments will only be progressed for applicants that are registered in ECCMS.
Payments will be made in accordance with the milestones specified in individual funding agreements.
Payments to successful Approved Providers will be subject to meeting the requirements of all reporting and evaluation milestones as outlined in individual agreements. This will include providing a full account and acquittal for how awarded money has been spent.
The overall program management function for the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial will be performed on behalf of the Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund by the Commissioned Programs directorate in the department’s Early Childhood Outcomes division. Reporting will be provided on a quarterly basis or at any time as requested.
The NSW Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund Act 2022 includes the creation of a statutory entity – the Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund Board. The Board is the decision-maker for the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial, providing final approval of all grant payments.
All funded projects must be delivered according to legal and regulatory requirements as specified in individual funding agreements, including the terms and conditions and guidelines.
The program aligns with the objectives of the Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund Act 2022. The source agency and decision maker for the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial is the Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund Board. The Board may delegate any of its functions in relation to the administration of the program to the staff of the Department of Education.
Conflicts of interest
All providers are required to disclose any actual, potential, or perceived conflicts of interest in their application which relate to their intended program, if funded. A conflict of interest must also be disclosed during the implementation of a program if it arises. Conflicts of interest may relate to partnerships, third party service provisions, contractors, staff employed as a direct result of the funded program or other aspects. Further detail about how to disclose a conflict of interest can be provided on request.
Reporting and data collection provide information required to ensure ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial funds are used to deliver the program’s activities, and measure if the program is achieving its intended outcomes. Any personal information will be held and managed by the NSW Department of Education in accordance with the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1988 (NSW). Services may be required to obtain consent from participating families to collect and use personal information.
Feedback and complaints
We like to hear when things have gone well so we can continue to provide more positive experiences. Services and providers can provide suggestions, concerns or feedback about us to the regulatory authority, including complaints about the conduct of our staff, by following one of the steps below:
Reporting and data collection
ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial contracted providers are required to comply with all financial and data collection, reporting and acquittal requirements as specified in individual funding agreements. Contracted providers must have systems in place to allow them to meet these obligations.
A formal acquittal process must be undertaken within one year of the end of the spending period. This will consist of a statement of expenditure and a performance report. Successful applicants may also be audited as part of the program’s assurance activities.
Data collection and reporting will occur throughout the program's implementation, following specific milestones, as outlined in individual funding agreements. Data required will depend on funded activities but may include progress updates using quantitative data (for example, service utilisation rates, child and family demographics) and/or qualitative data (for example, feedback from participating families).
Contracted providers may also be required to provide a risk assessment regarding program delivery as outlined in individual funding agreements.
Contracted providers are required to participate in the evaluation of the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial by collecting and providing requested data and participating in evaluation activities. Findings from the evaluation may be used to inform future programs under the Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund.
Providers may be required to obtain consent from participating families to share relevant data with the Board, department and/or program evaluation team. If necessary, services will be provided with appropriate consent forms and disclosure information. Contracted providers must ensure consent forms are completed prior to collecting and recording personal information.
Further detail about the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial monitoring and evaluation activities, including requirements to obtain consent, will be included in individual funding agreements.
Links to other programs
The NSW Department of Education has a range of ECEC grants and funded programs to improve early childhood education outcomes. These include (but are not limited to) the Start Strong program for both community preschools and long day care. Start Strong supports preschool education for all children in NSW and is the program through which the Preschool Reform Agreement and preschool fee-relief is delivered.
The Australian Government’s Community Child Care Fund grants help services address barriers to childcare participation, particularly for disadvantaged, regional and remote communities, and Indigenous communities. This includes the recent Establishing Child Care in Limited Supply Areas grant for new centre-based day care and family day care services in disadvantaged regional and remote areas of Australia where these types of services are absent or in limited supply.
How to apply
Read these program guidelines together with the example scenarios.
Check the eligibility conditions.
- Is your organisation eligible?
- Are your proposed activities suitable for this program?
Decide which stream you wish to apply under and consider the timing for each funding round.
Applications for either stream 1 - flexible service or stream 2 - blended service can be submitted during both rounds.
You may submit multiple applications but approved providers submitting more than 5 applications must contact the department prior to submitting their application/s. (A separate application must be submitted for each individual service.)
Prepare your application.
Applications must be submitted thorough SmartyGrants where you can access an application form.
You will need to register to use the SmartyGrants application system. Registration is a free and straightforward process.
You are strongly encouraged to download the sample application form from SmartyGrants.
Use this checklist to help make sure you have covered all the critical information required:
- Evidence that you meet the eligibility criteria.
- A description of how your proposed activity aligns with one or more of the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial program objectives.
- A description and qualitative and/or quantitative evidence of the local need for more flexible ECEC in your area which has been identified, and how the activities will meet this need.
- A project description, including evidence that the activities go beyond the services’ normal, core, existing or ongoing activities.
- An itemised project budget, including any additional sources of funding (if any), and relevant quotes and/or invoices to support the application for funding.
- A description and evidence that the needs of the child, how quality care will be maintained, and staff wellbeing have been considered in delivery of proposed activities.
- A description and evidence to which the application demonstrates the proposed activities will be accessible to all children and families of the service’s local community.
- If approvals are to be sought from the regulatory authority and/or local council, evidence of the application fees for any such applications, and a declaration that those approvals have not previously been sought by the applicant if payment of the fees is included in the application.
- A description of how the service intends to sustain or exit the program offering beyond the funded period, with consideration to participating children and families.
- Baseline data relevant to the proposed activity (may include enrolment numbers, session times, operating hours, fees charged)
All sections must be completed, and the online application form submitted to be considered for funding.
Changes can be made to an application any time until it is submitted.
Get help or advice
For questions about:
- how to apply for the ECEC Flexible Initiatives Trial
- any of the eligibility criteria and/or what can and can’t be funded
- funding intersections and whether your service is eligible
- service ratings, regulatory enquiries and/or compliance
Applicants intending to submit more than 5 applications must contact the department prior to submitting their applications.
For assistance with the online application system, please contact: