The NSW Government is committed to ensuring that all children in New South Wales can participate in 600 hours of quality preschool education in the year before school, no matter where they live or what their circumstances are.
Value of Start Strong
600 hours of quality early childhood education
Research shows that children who participate in a quality early childhood education program for at least 600 hours in the year before school are more likely to arrive at school equipped with the social, cognitive and emotional skills they need to engage in learning.
The benefits endure well beyond primary school. Higher levels of educational attainment, economic participation and family well being have all been linked to moderate levels of participation in early childhood education.
Making early childhood education more affordable
To ensure that affordability is not a barrier for families with young children, in 2016 the NSW Government allocated an initial $115 million in funding for Start Strong.
In the 2017-18 NSW budget, the investment in Start Strong was extended through to 2021, with an additional $217 million committed over four years to strengthen the State’s ability to ensure universal access to an early childhood education program for 600 hours in the year before school.
This funding adds to the $150 million that was already allocated under the previous Preschool Funding Model, and is designed to significantly reduce preschool fees, making 600 hours of early childhood education more affordable for all families.
Preschool providers are required to pass on 75% of the additional funding to families through fee reductions.
Parents and carers should check with their preschool provider regarding their child’s fees as each preschool sets its own fee levels.
A new funding model
Beginning on 1 January 2017, funding under Start Strong for preschools is based on 600 hour enrolments.
Funding for enrolments of less than 600 hours is capped at 50% of the increased base funding rates, with pro-rata funding decreases depending on hours enrolled.
Start Strong for preschools
Services are required to pass through at least 75% of the increased government funding to families through lower fees.
Most preschool providers only need to make minor adjustments to their service provision in order to be able to take full advantage of the funding model.
Base rate funding for Aboriginal children and children from disadvantaged backgrounds increased in 2017 to $6,600 per child per annum at community preschools, which is the full cost of service delivery. Equity base rate funding was increased to $6,732 from 1 January 2019 to reflect a 2.0 per cent adjustment made to current funding rates under Start Strong.
The NSW Government's initial $115 million funding for Start Strong also included $30 million targeted to Aboriginal children and children from disadvantaged backgrounds at long day care centres, supporting parental choice and reducing fees for families who need it most.
Operating Hours are determined by the hours each day which meet the following criteria:
- Service meets all of its obligations under the National Law and Regulations including compliance with staff child ratios for total enrolled preschool children during the operating hours.
- Service fee covers the total hours children are eligible to attend.
- All children enrolled in the service on that day are able to attend for the full duration of the operating hours.
Clarification of Terminology
Operating hours of services are not to be confused with the following terms:
- Opening hours: staff may be employed outside operating hours for set up, pack up, training or staff meetings but children are not present. These hours should not be included as part of preschool operating hours.
- Session hours or program hours: may include limited hours where a specific program is delivered during the day. This may be part of the preschool operating hours.
- Before and after care hours: may include additional hours outside operating hours. This should not be included as part of preschool operating hours as additional fees are usually charged.
A Start Strong funding calculator (XLSX 2968.67KB) for community preschools is available to assist services to estimate their Start Strong funding for 2019-20 financial year.
Services can use information contained in their August 2019 Preschool Census Summary Report to estimate their funding.
The funding calculator runs in Microsoft Excel 2010 and later. Users with earlier versions of Microsoft Excel may need to update Microsoft Office to avoid compatibility issues.
Please note: the amounts generated by the calculator are an estimate only and not a guarantee of funding.
Start Strong for Long Day Care
Under the Start Strong Long Day Care (LDC) program, long day care services have received additional funding to support children aged four to five.
The funding is being continued in 2019 - 2020 to help increase access to early childhood education in the year before entering school.
Long day care services that are listed on the Australian Government's Child Care Subsidy System (CCSS) and regulated under the National Quality Framework are eligible to receive Start Strong LDC funding.
If long day care services are receiving funding under the NSW State Government Early Childhood Education Long Day Care Grants Program, they are not eligible for Start Strong LDC funding.
To be considered eligible under the Start Strong LDC program, the Approved Provider’s service must:
- Have service approval to operate as a centre based service under the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 and have checked the long day care Nature of Care field under Service Details on the National Quality Agenda IT System (NQAITS)
- Deliver an early childhood education program to children four and five years old, in their year before school, for 600 hours, that is:
- Taught by teachers holding an approved early childhood teaching qualification
- Using the Early Years Learning Framework
- Be operating and reporting through CCSS between August 2018 and May 2019; and
- Complete the preschool indicator of the CCSS between August 2018 and May 2019 for the ABS ‘National Early Childhood Education and Care Collection’. Long day care services are required to report against preschool programs. The ‘preschool indicator’ of the CCSS applies to long day care services.
Funding is calculated based on the NSW enrolment data from the representative week of 30 July to 5 August 2018.
To be considered eligible under Start Strong LDC, children must be:
- Listed on CCSS
- At least four years old on, or before, 1 July 2018
- Attending an early childhood education program
- Not yet in compulsory schooling.
Funding for additional equity enrolments will be calculated based on the increase in enrolment numbers, by comparing the August 2018 collection period to the May 2019 collection period. The August 2018 enrolment data cannot be changed in CCSS.
Payments are made to Approved Providers according to the enrolment table below:
Non-Equity enrolments for 4 and 5 year olds (amount per child)
Children enrolled for 600 hours or more
Children enrolled for less than 600 hours
Top-up amount paid for each additional child enrolled for 600 hours or more at May 2019, when compared to August 2018 data
* Under Start Strong, children will be classified as equity enrolments if they are from a low income or Aboriginal family. Low income status is determined by the SEIFA band of the service.
Details of funding will be communicated to the Approved Provider. The entire amount for the Approved Provider will be paid as one upfront payment, even if there are multiple services.
Initial payments will be made from June 2019 and payments for each additional equity enrolment will be made from October 2019.
The Approved Provider must spend the funds allocated to each service to:
- purchase resources
- develop an early childhood education program based on the Early Years Learning Framework, or
- develop staff, including upgrading qualifications from a diploma to a four year degree.
The full quantum of funding should be expended for those purposes, and should primarily aim to benefit children in the year before school.
The funds need to be expended during the 2019/2020 financial year.
If an Approved Provider is transferring a service to another approved provider, then the Approved Provider must do the following:
- complete and return to the Department all acquittal documentation for the transferring service for the period up to the date of transfer. This must be completed within 30 days of the transfer of the service, unless otherwise agreed with the Department. Instructions on how to acquit are at the section below on “Completing the financial accountability in ECCMS”.
- give written notice to the new approved provider of the amount of funds (1) expended and (2) unspent. The Approved Provider must also request that the new approved provider liaise with the Department about this funding program.
- return all unspent funds to the Department by no later than 30 days of the date of the transfer of the service.
If a service is to close/cease trading, prior to the date of closure, Approved Providers must:
- complete and return to the Department all acquittal documentation for the closing service for the period up to the date of closure. This must be completed within 30 days of the closure of the service, unless otherwise agreed with the Department. Instructions on how to acquit are at the section below on “Completing the financial accountability in ECCMS”.
- return all unspent funds to the Department by no later than 30 days of the date of the closure of the service.
Department of Education may publicise and report on any funds awarded to the Approved Provider.
The Approved Provider is encouraged to publicly acknowledge this funding received through the National Partnership for Universal Access to Early Childhood Education which is a joint initiative of the NSW Government and the Australian Government. Such acknowledgement may be by way of (for example) an announcement in a regular newsletter or an annual report.
All eligible Approved Providers will receive communication from the department. The Approved Provider needs to:
- Ensure the service information in CCSS is correct.
- Nominate a person in authority at the Approved Provider who will be the SP-Admin Account holder in ECCMS. The SP-Admin Account holder is the only person who can accept the Terms and Conditions to generate payments. Only one person per provider can be nominated as SP-Admin.
- The nominated person needs to obtain an AUSkey from the Australian Taxation Office to enable access to the funding agreement in ECCMS (the Early Childhood Contract Management System).
- Email the AUSkey details to the department at firstname.lastname@example.org, so that the ECCMS account can be created. The ABN for the AUSkey must be identical to the ABN that will be linked to the service account in ECCMS to allow you to log in. The department will email the Approved Provider once the ECCMS account is set up.
- Ensure that the ECCMS SP–Admin account holder can log into ECCMS successfully.
- First login to ECCMS, you must use the ECCMS registration key emailed to the SP-Admin account holder.
- Subsequent login to ECCMS can be done through the link on the department’s website
- Select the link “Click here to Login to ECCMS”
- Select the user name in the list, enter the password (which has been issued by the Australian Business Register during the AUSkey application process), and then click ‘Continue’.
- The SP-Admin account holder must review and/or update details in ECCMS:
- the Main Service Provider page – ensure that service details and contacts are up to date on the Main Details tab, Contacts and Address tabs
- Each Funding Specification page – ensure that details and contacts are up to date on the Main, Contacts and Address tabs
- Accept the Terms and Conditions in ECCMS. The Approved Provider will not be paid unless the Terms and Conditions are accepted in ECCMS.
In accordance with the Terms and Conditions, Approved Providers must submit a statement of expenditure 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. To access ECCMS, you will need an AUSkey. Please click here for step by step instructions on how to set this up.
Completing the financial accountability in ECCMS
- On the ECCMS menu, click Funding Specification.
- Locate and click the Funding Specification with the Statement of Expenditure that corresponds with the funding you have received
- Click the Accountability tab.
- Locate the correct Financial Year, and then under Accountability Statement, click the Financial hyperlink.
- The Start Strong Long Day Care Statement of Expenditure opens in a new window and displays the annual funding amount in Total Funding to Acquit (as per funding specification).
(Please note: When a Statement of Expenditure is added to a funding specification’s Accountability tab in ECCMS, it has a Status of Draft. After the statement is submitted, its Status changes to Submitted.)
- In the Expenditure field, type the total amount spent during the year against Start Strong Long Day Care grant funding. Amounts are to be reported as GST exclusive.
- Surplus: ECCMS will automatically report any unexpended funds as a surplus. If you have any surplus ECE grant funds, these must be returned to the department.
- Additional Information : Providers may add any supporting information to how funds were spent in the Additional Information section. This field is limited to 200 characters maximum.
- Once all information is completed Click Save. (You have saved your Statement of Expenditure. The Statement of Expenditure’s Status remains as Draft.)
- Click Preview. (You can download your Statement of Expenditure in PDF Format. The Statement of Expenditure’s Status remains as Draft.)
- Submitting the Final Accountability Statement When you are sure all numbers are correct, you can then review the statement of acknowledgement and select the Accept check box. Click Submit. (A confirmation and information message displays.)
- Click OK. (The Statement of Expenditure’s Status changes to Submitted.)
Notes regarding fields
The Income field refers to the funding received. This is pre-populated by ECCMS. The Process Date is the date the department has made the payment to the Service Provider’s nominated bank account. The Amount stipulated against the Total Funding to Acquit (as per funding specification) is GST exclusive.
View the submitted statement
- On the ECCMS menu, click Funding Specification.
- Locate and click the funding specification with the submitted statement that you want to view.
- Click the Accountability tab.
- Locate the correct Financial Year, and then under Accountability Statement, click the Financial hyperlink. The ‘open or save’ message displays.
- Click Open. In Windows Explorer, ECCMS opens a folder (e.g. FinancialAcountability-2016-Kindy House) that contains a PDF file of the Statement of Expenditure.
- Save the PDF file to your computer or computer network. If you want to access it outside of ECCMS
- To print the PDF file:
- Double-click the file to open it.
- On the File menu, click Print.
- Make any necessary selections in the Print dialog box.
- Click Print.
(To close a PDF file, click the close button on the top right corner of each window).
Management of surplus funds
Recovery of Funds
Under the Terms and Conditions of funding service providers may be required to return any unexpended funds to the department. Unexpended funds arise when the ECE grant has not been fully spent.
Offsets against Future Payments
Start Strong Long Day Care Service Providers cannot offset any unexpended funds against any future payments. Unexpended funds must be returned to the department.
Start Strong Long Day Care funding must be acquitted through this program.
Requirements relating to the transfer of a service are outlined in the section on Transferring service approval or Service ceasing to operate and in the Terms and Conditions.
Upon receipt of your acquittal, the following will be undertaken:
- Your acquittal will be reviewed by the department.
- Where there is a surplus of funds, an invoice will be raised by the department requesting repayment of the unexpended funds.
- Where there is a nil balance or deficit reported no further action is required.
The department may undertake an audit of the service in relation to these funds, and request that supporting documentation be provided by the service.
More information on getting an AUSkey is available on the ATO website: https://www.ato.gov.au/Business/Business-Portal/Getting-started/Getting-an-AUSkey/
All AUSkey enquiries need to be directed to the Australian Business Register (ABR): https://abr.gov.au/AUSkey/
You can also check for solutions at the online AUSkey Help and Support page: https://abr.gov.au/AUSkey/Help-and-support/ or contact AUSkey by phone on 1300 AUSKEY (1300 287 539).
Having trouble with your AUSkey?
All AUSkey enquiries need to be directed to the Australian Business Register (ABR) as they administer this process. You can check for solutions at the online AUSkey help and support webpage or contact AUSkey by phone on 1300 AUSKEY (1300 287 539).
Early Childhood Education Directorate
Information and Enquiries: 1300 755 426
Information and resources
Early Childhood Education
Information and Enquiries
1300 755 426
- Start Strong and PFM comparison table for community preschools (PDF 117.85KB)
- Start Strong program guidelines for community preschools
A package of business supports is also being developed to help services make the transition and is being delivered by peak organisations Community Early Learning Australia and Community Connections Solutions Australia.