2024 Start Strong for Community Preschools program guidelines

An overview of the 2024 Start Strong for Community Preschools program and outlines the program’s activities, requirements, objectives, outcomes and evaluation approach.

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1. Purpose

This document provides an overview of the 2024 Start Strong for Community Preschools program and outlines the program’s activities, requirements, objectives, outcomes and evaluation approach.

The NSW Department of Education (the department) is the decision maker and primary agency responsible for administering the 2024 Start Strong for Community Preschools program.

This document forms part of the 2024 Funding Agreement with Approved Funded Providers (providers) and may be amended or replaced by the department from time to time. Approved Funded Providers must comply with the current version of the program guidelines, available on the department’s website.

2. Program description

The Start Strong for Community Preschools program provides funding to deliver affordable quality preschool education for 3 to 5 year old children enrolled in eligible community and mobile preschools in NSW.

The program’s funding (Program Payment) supports the operating costs of eligible early childhood education services and enrolment of at least 600 hours per year or 15 hours per week. Evidence shows that this level of participation in a quality early childhood education program in the two years before school is associated with better outcomes for children.

The program includes fee relief funding (Fee Relief Payment) which provides community and mobile preschools with sustainable long-term funding to deliver at least 600 hours of low, or no cost preschool to eligible children.

Start Strong promotes universal access and priority of access by providing:

  • higher program funding rates for preschools which operate within the lower range of Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) score of relative socio-economic disadvantage
  • additional funding for children aged 3 years and above from low income families, children with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background, and children with disability or additional needs
  • loadings for preschools that operate in outer regional, remote and very remote areas
  • further loadings and subsidies as outlined in Appendix 1: Calculation and payment of funding
  • up to $4,220 per year in fee relief for 3- to 5-year-old children enrolled in community and mobile preschools reducing the cost of early childhood education for families.

The 2024 Start Strong for Community Preschools program operates from 1 January 2024 to 31 December 2024.

3. Program eligibility

3.1 Service eligibility criteria

To be eligible for funding as a community or mobile preschool, providers must meet all of the following criteria:

  • be a not-for-profit, community-based preschool or mobile preschool service
  • be an approved early childhood education and care service under the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 (National Law) and Education and Care Services National Regulations
  • deliver a quality early childhood education program by a qualified early childhood teacher in accordance with the requirements under the National Quality Framework, including using the Early Years Learning Framework
  • comply with the Early Childhood Outcomes Commissioned Programs – Funding Agreement – Terms and Conditions – 1 January 2024 to 31 December 2024 (Terms and Conditions).

Services must take reasonable steps to deliver 600 hours of quality preschool to all children enrolled at the service.

The department will not provide funding for places in a service that are Child Care Subsidy approved.

Mobile preschool services

Mobile preschools regulated under the Children (Education and Care Services) Supplementary Provisions Act 2011 (NSW) and Children (Education and Care Services) Supplementary Provisions Regulation 2019 (NSW) can receive funding under the Start Strong for Community Preschools program, subject to Start Strong eligibility being met. Mobile preschools funded through the Mobile Preschool Funding program are not eligible for Start Strong funding.

Mobile preschools funded under the Mobile Preschool Funding program are eligible for fee relief payments. Please refer to the Mobile Preschool Funding program guidelines.

Applying for Start Strong for Community Preschools funding

Approved providers who are interested in applying for funding through Start Strong for Community Preschools should write to the department via email at ecec.funding@det.nsw.edu.au. The department accepts funding applications throughout the program year.

Interested organisations will need to demonstrate their eligibility for funding, analysis of local need and demand, proposed number of preschool places to be created and capability to deliver on the objectives and outcomes of Start Strong, including affordability for families.

While the department recognises that fee decisions are at the discretion of services, the department will consider affordability for families when reviewing applications for Start Strong funding. As such, new services are encouraged to make sure that fee structures do not impact negatively on preschool participation in their community.

The department seeks to finalise applications in a timely manner, and the process may take between 8 to 12 weeks from the date an approved provider submits the application. The length of time can depend on various factors, including the completeness and accuracy of information provided to the department which is used for application assessment and funding calculation purposes.

3.2. Child eligibility criteria

To be eligible for Program Payment and Fee Relief Payment funding under Start Strong in 2024, a child must:

  • be at least 3 years old on or before 31 July 2024 (the child must have a birthdate on, or before, 31 July 2021)
  • be attending an eligible early childhood education program
  • not be in compulsory schooling.

Although all children aged 3 years and above (age on or before the 31 July 2024) are eligible for funding, services need to consider priority of access guidelines when making enrolment decisions. See Section 3.3. Priority of access for further information.

Children who are 6 years old or above will be eligible for funding. Where required, a Certificate of Exemption as per the Exemption from School Procedures policy from compulsory schooling must be in place.

The department does not take citizenship and residency status into consideration to determine eligibility of children for funding under Start Strong for Community Preschools.

3.3. Priority of access

Services are required to give equal priority of access to:

  • children who are at least 4 years old on or before the 31 July in that preschool year and not enrolled or registered at a school
  • children who are at least 3 years old on or before 31 July in that preschool year and are:
    • children from low income families
    • children with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background
    • children with disability or additional needs
    • children with English language needs
  • children who are at risk of significant harm (from a child protection perspective).

There is no order of priority assigned to the list of points above. Services must give priority to the groups outlined above before any other groups, including 3-year-olds not eligible for equity loading.

Provisions relating to priority of access are intended to assist services with making enrolment decisions in a way that seeks to allocate places to those in the greatest need. However, the particular community needs of the preschool will also be relevant. The department encourages services to maximise the number of children enrolled for 600 hours. Services should therefore consider the hours children are enrolled at other funded services when making enrolment decisions.

Services should consider any adjustments to policies and procedures required to comply with regulatory requirements when obtaining and sharing personal information, including privacy laws.

The department will compare data collected through the 2024 Annual Preschool Census to the service’s reported enrolments in the 2023 Annual Preschool Census to review priority of access. The department periodically conducts reviews of preschool services and may request a funding compliance review in these or other circumstances.

4. Spending rules and activities

4.1. Funding streams

Start Strong for Community Preschools provides funding through 2 streams:

  1. Program Payment: to support the service with organisation and operational expenses.
  2. Fee Relief Payment: to reduce the cost of early childhood education and care to families in the form of fee pass-through.

For a funding overview and funding calculation details, please refer to Appendix 1: Calculation and payment of funding.

4.2. Program Payment spending rules

Start Strong Program Payment is to be used for operating expenses of the service, for example:

  • Salary and wages: This covers payments made to employees, including ongoing salaries and compensations for full-time, part-time, and casual staff.
  • Educational resources: These are materials that aid and help improve teaching and learning. They can be physical items, digital resources, videos, materials related to the preschool environment, or contributions from the community. This may also include training or special days dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural education.
  • Other operating costs: These are expenses that go beyond staff salaries and educational resources. They can include rental and license costs, maintenance, upgrades to and cleaning of the facility, utility expenses, professional development, language or cultural programs, technology or software costs, accounting and audit expenses, etc.

Providers need to expend funds during the 2024 calendar year, unless otherwise agreed to by the department.

4.3. Fee Relief Payment spending rules

The Fee Relief Payment aims to reduce the cost of early childhood education and care to families in the form of fee pass-through. The funding is provided for the purposes detailed below:

  1. Providers must reduce the daily fees as much as possible for 600 hours per year of enrolment for all eligible children accessing fee relief at the service (apportioned across the preschool year). Where there are fee relief funds remaining following the reduction of daily fees for 600 hours per year of preschool education to eligible children, these remaining funds are considered surplus fee relief funds.
  2. Providers must use surplus fee relief funds in the first instance to reduce the cost of additional charges to families accessing fee relief at the service. Additional charges may include, but are not limited to, charges for enrolment/administration, resources, excursions/incursions, building/garden maintenance.
  3. If any surplus fee relief funds remain after all fees and/or charges are reduced to zero for families accessing fee relief, providers may then choose to allocate any remaining surplus fee relief funding to:
    1. reduce the cost of enrolment above 600 hours per year (for instance 'third day' fees), or
    2. reduce the daily fee for 600 hours per year of enrolment for eligible children not accessing fee relief at the service, for example children of families with greatest need, or
    3. the operating expenses of the service per the Program Payment spending rules.

Providers must follow the above hierarchy and should apportion the Fee Relief Payments to families across the preschool year in line with funding payments or invoicing (e.g. quarterly, per term).

Documenting fee relief

Providers must demonstrate and communicate the fee reduction to families through regular invoices or statements, which attribute the fee relief to the NSW Government. Where no invoice or statement is issued, Providers or their services should provide fee reduction information through newsletters, website, or letters to families.

Providers must demonstrate the fee pass through as part of the annual reporting process.

Reserved Fee Relief funds

The department calculates Fee Relief Payment funding for each service based on enrolment data submitted in the Annual Preschool Census (Census). Where a service has fewer enrolments claiming fee relief (either from an overall reduction in total enrolments, or from enrolled children claiming fee relief elsewhere) compared to enrolments submitted in the Census, the provider must ‘reserve’ these fee relief funds. The provider must retain reserved fee relief funds and cannot use these until an additional eligible child nominates to receive fee relief from the service.

In accordance with the Terms and Conditions, providers who have reserved fee relief funds at the end of the program period are required to return these funds to the department. This will be facilitated in an adjustment to the provider’s fee relief funding in late 2025, offsetting any amount of reserved funds. This is for the benefit of the providers to reduce the amount of administrative burden, and for the benefit of the department to remove the need to facilitate refunds from the sector.

Changes in enrolments throughout the year

If an enrolment place is vacant, the fee relief for this place is considered reserved fee relief funding.

If an enrolment place is vacated partway through a term (for example, if a child leaves the service), the place’s fee relief for the remainder of the term is also considered reserved fee relief funds.

If the place remains vacant until the end of the term, the place’s reserved fee relief funds for the term are considered surplus funds and can be spent in line with section 4.3 Fee Relief Payment spending rules.

If a vacant enrolment place is filled partway through a term (for example, if an eligible child is enrolled from week 5 onwards), the fee relief for the weeks prior to the enrolment commencement in the term are considered surplus fee relief funds.

For example:

  • In Term 1, an enrolment place at a service is vacant. An eligible child arrives in week 5 and stays enrolled throughout the term.
    • Therefore, the fee relief from week 1 to week 4 is considered surplus fee relief funds and can be used as per the spending rules in section 4.3 Fee Relief Payment spending rules.
  • In Term 2, the enrolment place is still filled and stays filled for the whole term.
    • Therefore, the service provides fee relief to the enrolment accordingly based on hours of enrolment.
  • In Term 3, the child leaves partway through the term at the end of week 4. The enrolment place remains vacant for the rest of the term.
    • When the enrolment is vacated, the remaining fee relief in the term for the enrolment place is considered reserved fee relief funds (in case another eligible child is enrolled that wishes to claim fee relief).
    • At the end of the term, any reserved fee relief funds for the term are now considered surplus fee relief funds and can be used as per the spending rules in section 4.3 Fee Relief Payment spending rules.

Children enrolled at multiple services

If a child is enrolled in more than one service (e.g. at another preschool or long day care service), they can only access the Fee Relief Payment from one service at a time.

Where a service receives funding under Start Strong for Long Day Care and Start Strong for Community Preschools, children can only access the Fee Relief Payment from one funding program.

Families must complete a declaration form as outlined under Section 5.1. Declaration form to nominate which service they will access the fee relief from. For each additional service the child is enrolled at, families must complete an additional declaration form, stating that they are not claiming fee relief at that service (as they are claiming fee relief elsewhere).

The department will conduct compliance checks as part of its auditing process. Providers are required to retain declaration forms for this purpose as per Section 5.6. Financial accountabilities and funding compliance.

The provider of the nominated service must pass on the fee relief in the form of a regular reduction to fees in accordance with Section 4.3. Fee Relief Payment spending rules.

If a provider receives the Fee Relief Payment for a child whose family declares they will not claim fee relief from their service, the provider must retain the funding as reserved fee relief funds as outlined above.

4.4. Fee guidelines

Start Strong for Community Preschools provides additional funding to achieve equitable outcomes for priority cohorts of children. Accordingly, children from a priority cohort (i.e. children eligible for equity loading) must have access to lower daily fees than children who do not meet the target cohort criteria.

Table 1 below outlines the fee guidelines by cohort.

Table 1: Fee guidelines by cohort

Child cohort Fee guideline
Children eligible for equity loading
  • Fee must be lower than children not eligible for equity loading, irrespective of age.
Children in the year before school not eligible for equity loading
  • Fee must be the same as or lower than the fee for 3-year-old children not eligible for equity loading.
  • Fee must be higher than the fee for children eligible for equity loading.
3-year-old children not eligible for equity loading
  • Fee must be the same as or higher than the fee for children in year before school.
  • Fee must be higher than fee for children eligible for equity loading.

In line with the affordability objectives of the program:

  • Providers are not permitted to increase their service's fees to offset the benefit of the Fee Relief Payment.
  • Before fee relief is applied, the fee for children in the same cohort (for example 3-year-old children eligible for equity loading) must be the same irrespective of eligibility for fee relief at the service. For example, the fees for a 4-year-old child receiving fee relief must be the same as a 4-year-old child not receiving fee relief.

If a provider does either of the things listed in the two dot points above, this may be considered to be an Event of Default under the Terms and Conditions.

Providers are encouraged to consider the full cost of early childhood education delivery when setting fees for 2024 and beyond. The department expects fees to be maintained at fee levels of the previous years where fees were charged to families, adjusted for CPI across this time period. In circumstances where it is necessary to adjust fees above CPI, such as due to reasonable increases in operating costs, Providers must retain evidence to support the fee increase.

The department will be monitoring daily fees and additional charges, through the Annual Preschool Census, annual reporting, and compliance processes.

5. Reporting and Data Collection

5.1. Declaration form

Providers are required to collect a completed declaration form as well as a consent form (see Section 5.2.) for all enrolled children that are eligible for fee relief.

The declaration form is available for download. This form declares whether the child is enrolled at another service, and whether the family will be claiming fee relief from the service or stating that they are claiming fee relief from another community preschool or long day care service.

The department will conduct compliance checks as part of its auditing process. Providers are required to retain declaration forms for this purpose as per Section 5.6. Financial accountabilities and funding compliance.

The Provider of the nominated service must pass on the fee relief in the form of a regular reduction to fees in accordance with Section 4.3. Fee Relief Payment spending rules.

To assist services to communicate the declaration form to families, a template letter that services can download and place on their letterhead is available. This letter explains the process to access fee relief and how and why the declaration form must be filled out.

Fee relief cannot be provided to families of eligible children where:

  • consent has not been obtained through completed declaration and consent forms
  • the completed declaration form states that they are receiving fee relief at another service.

In the above circumstances, providers must retain the Fee Relief Payment for these children as reserved fee relief funds which will be returned to the department.

5.2. Completing consent forms

Community preschools and mobile preschools need to complete two types of consent forms, one for each staff member and one for each child upon commencement of enrolment.

It is good practice to seek a renewal of the consent form every year a child attends. Providers should ask families to complete a new form if any of the details in the original consent form require update or adjustment.

Each form consents to the use and disclosure of personal information by the department to allow funding and other support to be provided to deliver an early childhood education program, and for the exercise of the department’s governmental functions. Those functions may include monitoring the funding programs and reporting purposes.

Consent forms are available for download:

5.3. Data reporting, submission and Annual Preschool Census

The department undertakes data collections as part of the Start Strong program delivery. Data collections are typically used for reporting, funding calculation and/or compliance purposes.

Annual Preschool Census

All community preschools and mobile preschools funded by the department must complete the Early Childhood Education Annual Preschool Census (Census).

The purpose of the Census is to provide data for government reporting and to inform service’s funding levels for the next period. The Census is typically held in July and August each year and conducted via the Early Childhood Contract Management System (ECCMS).

The department calculates Program Payment and Fee Relief Payment amounts based on the data entered in the Census, including the number and hours of enrolment, and the number and characteristics of children enrolled. For this purpose, the data entered by providers via the preschool census is required to be correct, true and not misleading in any respect, and consent forms must be completed for each staff member and for each child enrolled. Refer to Section 5.2 Completing consent forms.

Total funding for the 2024 period is based on the 2023 Census. Funding for 2025 will be based on data entered into the 2024 Census.

The department submits data collected in the Annual Preschool Census to the Australian Bureau of Statistics for inclusion in the publication Preschool Education, Australia. The department may use de-identified data for research and evaluation purposes.

Fee relief data reporting

Providers will be required to complete a data collection to detail their fee relief spending from January 2024 to December 2024. The department will undertake the collection in early 2025 to allow Providers to outline the full calendar year of spending for 2024.

Providers that note an amount of reserved fee relief funds (see Section 4.3. Fee Relief Payment spending rules) in the fee relief data collection will have their reserved fee relief funds offset against a later fee relief payment in 2025.

Providers that note a deficit in the 2024 fee relief data collection may have their fee relief funding positively adjusted by a one-off top-up payment in late 2025.

The department will use data obtained from the fee relief data collection as well as the information submitted by the provider in the 2023 Census to improve accuracy of funding figures.

The department will provide further information to providers about the fee relief data collection closer to the release of the collection process.

5.4. Transition to School Statement

Completion of the Transition to School Statement is a mandatory requirement of the Start Strong program for children in the year before they commence Kindergarten.

The Transition to School Statement provides a snapshot of a child’s strengths, interests, needs and approaches to learning to support their effective transition to Kindergarten. A positive transition from early childhood education and care to Kindergarten helps improve children’s educational and social outcomes.

The child’s early childhood teacher or educator must complete the Transition to School Statement and provide it to the child’s parents/carers and new school before the commencement of the 2025 school year. This is to facilitate learning continuity and to help link the Early Years Learning Framework to the Early Stage 1 Syllabus.

Teachers or educators can complete the Transition to School Digital Statement via the department’s digital platform as the preferred method. Where access is not possible, the PDF version (PDF 434KB) can be completed. Copies of Transition to School Statements must be retained for auditing purposes.

More information on the importance of the Transition to School Statement and supporting resources are available on the Transition to School webpage.

5.5. Communication

The department may publicise and report on any funds awarded to the Provider.

In addition to documenting fee relief under Section 4.3. Fee Relief Payment spending rules, the provider is encouraged to publicly acknowledge the funding received through Start Strong and fee relief provided to the families of eligible children with the following statement:

“This service is a recipient of funding under the NSW Department of Education’s Start Strong for Community Preschools program and fee relief is available for families of eligible children.”

Such acknowledgement may be included in a regular newsletter or an annual report.

To receive all program related communication, the SP-Admin account holder must maintain up-to-date contact details in ECCMS. The changes can be completed in the Main Service Provider page. Providers should ensure service and other details are up to date, this includes details on the Main Details, Contacts and Address tabs.

5.6. Financial accountabilities and funding compliance

In accordance with the Terms and Conditions, a provider must submit a financial accountability 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.

Providers may complete their financial accountabilities either on a calendar or financial year basis. This is usually determined by the provider’s operating and reporting period.

Surplus and Refunds

Providers are required to expend all annual Start Strong funding in accordance with the spending rules (see Sections 4.2. and 4.3. for 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. Surpluses may include Program Payment and Fee Relief Payment funding. The department will identify and validate surpluses through the annual financial accountability process. Providers complete their reporting at service level and the department also reviews surpluses at service level.

There may be occasions when the provider wishes to present a case to retain surplus (unspent funds), and the department will consider submitted requests by providers.

As outlined in Table 2 below, providers can choose to retain surpluses of up to 10% or $30,000 (whichever is higher) of the service’s annual Start Strong for Community Preschools Program Payment funding. Providers can also choose to return their service’s surplus funds, however, are encouraged to expend all annual program funding in accordance with the spending rules.

Providers of services that have a surplus above 10% or $30,000 (whichever is higher) of the annual Start Strong Program Payment funding are required to return the surplus amount above the threshold. Providers that have an operational need to retain the surplus above the threshold can submit a form requesting to retain their surplus, outlining how they will spend the surplus in line with the program objectives and spending rules. The department will consider the request and advise the provider of the outcome.

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

Table 2: Surplus thresholds and options for providers

Surplus threshold Options for providers
Up to 10% or $30 000 of the annual Start Strong for Community Preschools Program Payment funding (whichever is higher) Providers can choose one of the following options:
  1. carry surplus over into the next reporting period for their service and expend the surplus in accordance with the spending rules outlined in Sections 4.2. and 4.3. Spending Rules, or
  2. return the surplus to the department.
Above 10% or $30 000 of the annual Start Strong for Community Preschools Program Payment funding (whichever is higher)

Providers are required to return the surplus amount above the threshold.

Services that have an operational need to retain the surplus amount above the threshold are required to submit a form outlining their need to retain the surplus. Providers can contact the department for the request form.

Providers can also choose to return all of their service’s surplus to the department if they wish to do so.

Returning surpluses

Services can choose one of the following options when returning their surplus:

  1. Refund through the department’s invoicing process with providers given 30 days to pay the refund (repayment plans may be available upon request).
  2. Offset the surplus amount against any potential future Program Payment funding.

The department may change options available based on sector feedback, administrative requirements or other reasons and will inform providers should this be the case.

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.

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
  • statements to families or other relevant documents demonstrating fee reduction and attributing fee relief to the NSW Government
  • evidence to support any fee increases or new/increased additional charges for children eligible for fee relief
  • parent/legal guardian declaration forms
  • enrolment and consent forms for data reporting
  • individual Learning Plans (ILP) for children with disability or additional needs working towards 600 hours per year
  • Transition to School Statements
  • Certificates of Exemption for any 6-year-old children enrolled in the service, if required
  • Data requested by the department that is relevant to meeting fee relief reporting requirements.

5.7. Service Changes

Requirements relating to the transfer or closure of a service are outlined in Appendix 2. Service Changes.

6. Program objectives and outcomes

6.1. Objectives and Program Logic

Start Strong for Community Preschools aims to:

  • improve the affordability of preschool education
  • support quality uplift in preschool education
  • drive improved outcomes for children
  • incentivise increased enrolment and attendance in quality preschool programs in the years before school.

The department has developed a Start Strong program logic to show the relationship between the program activities and intended outcomes and to support continuous quality improvement (see Appendix 3. Program logic).

Supporting quality

A key objective of Start Strong is to support quality and ensure children have access to high quality early childhood education programs that drive improved outcomes.

Over the course of the program, the department may work with providers of services rated as Working Towards NQS in Quality Area 1 – Educational Program and Practice. This may involve implementation support, mentoring, self-reflection resources or engagement in the department’s Quality Support Program.

6.2. Principles

The guiding principles that inform how Start Strong for Community Preschools is delivered are:

  • Accessible: Quality early childhood education is financially within reach for all families in NSW.
  • Equitable: All NSW children, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage, have access to at least 600 hours per year of a high-quality preschool program in the years before school, which is a recommended minimum level of participation for children.
  • Inclusive: All services provide learning environments and programs that meet the early learning needs of all children in their community, regardless of background, ability or socio-economic factors.
  • Proactive: Services will actively seek to improve enrolment and attendance for children using their service to meet the recommended level of at least 600 hours per year.
  • Outcomes-focused: Children are better supported to transition to school. Parents and carers have greater confidence that the quality of the preschool program meets their child’s developmental needs.
  • Evidence-based: The program is grounded in evidence that children who participate in a quality preschool 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.

6.3. Policy context

Start Strong for Community Preschools is a program through which the Preschool Reform Agreement and preschool fee-relief is delivered.

In December 2021, NSW became the first signatory to the National Preschool Reform Agreement (2022-2025) which commits Australian Government funding for early childhood education until the end of 2025. The Agreement is focused on children in the year before school, supporting universal access to early childhood education, regardless of service setting.

The Agreement is significant for NSW and the early childhood education sector, providing four years of funding certainty while supporting increased participation and quality.

The Agreement will also support important reforms for the preschool sector, including boosting enrolment, attendance and trialling new outcomes measures for preschool. The department will work closely with the sector and provide further information on this as it becomes available.

6.4. Target groups

The target group for the Start Strong for Community Preschools program funding and fee relief is all children who are at least 3 years old on, or before, 31 July 2024 and attending an early childhood education program in a community or mobile preschool.

The program includes loadings to support priority cohorts, such as the Equity loading and English language loading. The Start Strong for Community Preschools program also provides higher funding for services located in disadvantaged areas and loadings for services in outer regional or remote NSW. Providers are required to follow the priority of access guidelines as outlined Section 3.3. Priority of access.

Start Strong for Community Preschools is committed to supporting:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The department’s First Steps Strategy is a commitment to improving access to quality early childhood education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in NSW. Start Strong supports the goals of the First Steps Strategy by:
    • supporting the attendance and engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in early childhood education to enhance outcomes. This includes ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are fully supported to attend a minimum of 600 hours of early childhood education in the year before school in all service types
    • ensuring funding models in NSW are best placed to enable quality participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
    • supporting services to deliver a culturally appropriate transition into early childhood education and primary school programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
    • ensuring early childhood education services have strong relationships with their local communities.
  • Children from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Evidence shows children from CALD backgrounds, especially those who speak English as an additional language or dialect, as well as those from asylum seeker, refugee or refugee-like backgrounds, are less likely to participate in early education than their peers, and are more likely to start school experiencing developmental vulnerability.

The department is developing a strategy and programs to address barriers for families and children from CALD backgrounds accessing early childhood education. This will provide a foundation for the Start Strong programs to enhance support to children and their families in future years, increasing participation in early childhood education.

6.5. Locations and contracted providers

Start Strong for Community Preschools provides funding to providers across NSW. For service eligibility refer to Section 3.1. Service eligibility criteria.

7. Review and evaluation

These Guidelines may be updated or amended over the course of the annual program. This will be in response to continuous program improvement or where further clarity is required. Changes to the Guidelines may be made in consultation with the sector, but remain at the discretion of the department, and will be communicated to the sector.

Monitoring the overall performance of Start Strong determines whether the program is appropriately targeted and that program outputs and outcomes are being achieved.

The department may undertake an evaluation to understand the effectiveness of Start Strong. Providers may be required to participate in an evaluation of the program through the provision of data and participation in other evaluation activities as required.

The department will make sure that any work with providers to enhance early childhood education programs aligns with quality expectations outlined under the National Quality Framework.

Appendix 1. Calculations and payment of funding

Appendix 1.1: Funding overview

The department calculates Program Payment and Fee Relief Payment based on the data entered in the Annual Preschool Census (see Section 5.3. Data reporting, submission and Annual Preschool Census). Under certain circumstances, a provider may be able to request a funding review during the preschool year. For further details, categories and eligibility criteria, refer to the funding review guidelines.

The funding allocations are calculated on a per-child basis per service.

All funding rates in these guidelines are subject to change and are at the discretion of the department.

Program Payment

Program Payment funding includes the following elements:

  • Base funding rates: applied to all enrolments which is determined by the Socio Economic Index for Areas (SEIFA) decile of the service’s address (see further details on SEIFA below). These rates are scaled per annual hours of enrolment and by SEIFA deciles.
    • For enrolments of 4-year-old children and above the base rates range from $4,816 to $7,466 for 600 hour enrolments.
    • For enrolments of 3-year-old children the base rates range from $2,408 to $3,733 for 600 hour enrolments. This is 50% of the rate for 4-year-old children.

For a table outlining the funding rates by SEIFA deciles and annual hours of enrolment, refer to Tables 4 and 5 below.

  • Equity loadings: additional funding for children from targeted cohorts:
    • children with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background
    • children from low income families
    • children with disability or additional needs.

Equity loadings top up the base rate of these enrolments to the highest base rate ($7,466) regardless of the service’s SEIFA decile. Funding is scaled by annual hours of enrolment, although exceptions may apply for children with a disability or additional needs (see Table 6 for further information).

  • Regional loading: Services in outer regional, remote and very remote as per the ARIA+ (2011) Remoteness Classifications receive an additional loading per funded child.
  • English language loading: Children with English language needs will receive an additional language loading of $467 across all locations.
  • Higher Order Multiple base rates: The Higher Order Multiple base rate is $7,466 for each child from the third child in the multiple onwards (i.e. not for the first 2 children) and is not dependent on 600-hour enrolments or equity loading eligibility.
  • Service Safety Net: provides a Program Payment allocation of $149,320 per annum to services that meet all of the eligibility criteria outlined below.

Further details for each dot point above are outlined in Appendix 1.2: Program Payment and Appendix 1.4: Service Safety Net.

Fee Relief Payment

The department provides up to $4,220 in Fee Relief Payment for 3- to 5-year-old children enrolled at a community or mobile preschool. Funding available is calculated on the number of hours a child is enrolled at the service with 600 hours or more providing the highest rate of $4,220. For a table outlining the Fee Relief Payment funding rates by hours, refer to Table 7.

Appendix 1.2: Program Payment

Funding to services per child is calculated based on the following details and tables.

Scaling by hours of enrolment

Children enrolled for 600 hours or more will receive the maximum rate, with children enrolled for fewer hours attracting a pro-rata amount according to Table 3.

Table 3: Program Payment - calculation for hours of enrolment

Per child hours of enrolment offered per year Indicative average hours per week, based on a 40-week year Percentage of per child base rate received
600 hours or more 15 hours or more 100%
480 to less than 600 hours 12 to less than 15 hours 50%
400 to less than 480 hours 10 to less than 12 hours 35%
320 to less than 400 hours 8 to less than 10 hours 20%
Greater than 240 to less than 320 hours greater than 6 to less than 8 hours 5%
240 hours or fewer 6 hours or fewer Nil

SEIFA deciles

Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) is a measure derived from information provided in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census of population and housing. It consists of four indexes, each summarising different aspects of socio-economic conditions in an area. The department uses the 2021 SEIFA Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage (IRSD) to calculate and deliver funding to the community and mobile preschools sector in an equitable manner.

The service’s base funding rates are determined by the service’s 2021 SEIFA IRSD decile, based on Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2) ranked within NSW. Each service’s SEIFA decile is identified by:

  1. Identifying the corresponding geographic area (SA2) of the service’s address recorded in ECCMS from 2024.
    1. Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2) is used as this geographic area is representative of the surrounding community that interacts together socially and economically.
    2. The department will confirm the service address in ECCMS against the address recorded in NQA ITS and amend the ECCMS records accordingly where required.
  2. Using the ABS SA2 SEIFA lookup table to identify the service location’s corresponding 2021 SEIFA IRSD decile, as compared to geographies across NSW.

In 2024, transition arrangements will apply to SEIFA classifications to support Providers with the change from SEIFA bands, which applied under Start Strong prior to 2024, to the SEIFA deciles. For further information refer to Appendix 1.7: Transition arrangements for SEIFA classifications in 2024.

Table 4: Program Payment - calculation per SEIFA decile

2021 SEIFA IRSD decile (SA2, NSW ranking) 600 hours or more 480 to less than 600 hours 400 to less than 480 hours 320 to less than 400 hours Greater than 240 to less than 320 hours 240 hours or fewer

100% 50% 35% 20% 5% 0%
SEIFA decile 1 $7,466 $3,733 $2,614 $1,494 $374 $0
SEIFA decile 2 $7,466 $3,733 $2,614 $1,494 $374 $0
SEIFA decile 3 $6,720 $3,360 $2,352 $1,344 $336 $0
SEIFA decile 4 $6,608 $3,304 $2,313 $1,322 $331 $0
SEIFA decile 5 $6,309 $3,155 $2,209 $1,262 $316 $0
SEIFA decile 6 $6,011 $3,006 $2,104 $1,203 $301 $0
SEIFA decile 7 $5,712 $2,856 $2,000 $1,143 $286 $0
SEIFA decile 8 $5,413 $2,707 $1,895 $1,083 $271 $0
SEIFA decile 9 $5,115 $2,558 $1,791 $1,023 $256 $0
SEIFA decile 10 $4,816 $2,408 $1,686 $964 $241 $0

Subsidies for 3-year-old children who are not eligible for equity loadings are set at 50% of the equivalent year before school base rate. Funding to these enrolments is calculated based on the proportions of base rates.

Table 5: Funding calculation per SEIFA decile for 3-year-old children who are not eligible for equity loadings

2021 SEIFA IRSD decile (SA2, NSW ranking) 600 hours or more 480 to less than 600 hours 400 to less than 480 hours 320 to less than 400 hours Greater than 240 to less than 320 hours 240 hours or fewer

100% 50% 35% 20% 5% 0%
SEIFA decile 1 $3,733 $1,867 $1,307 $747 $187 $0
SEIFA decile 2 $3,733 $1,867 $1,307 $747 $187 $0
SEIFA decile 3 $3,360 $1,680 $1,176 $672 $168 $0
SEIFA decile 4 $3,304 $1,652 $1,157 $661 $166 $0
SEIFA decile 5 $3,155 $1,578 $1,105 $631 $158 $0
SEIFA decile 6 $3,006 $1,503 $1,052 $602 $151 $0
SEIFA decile 7 $2,856 $1,428 $1,000 $572 $143 $0
SEIFA decile 8 $2,707 $1,354 $948 $542 $136 $0
SEIFA decile 9 $2,558 $1,279 $896 $512 $128 $0
SEIFA decile 10 $2,408 $1,204 $843 $482 $121 $0

Equity loading

Start Strong for Community Preschools provides additional funding to achieve equitable outcomes for children in priority cohorts, including:

  • children with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background
  • children from low income families
  • children with disability or additional needs.

Children who meet more than one criterion of equity loading will only be eligible for one amount of equity loading per child.

Table 6 outlines the Program Payment per eligible child aged 3 and above in the listed priority cohorts, inclusive of the equity loading. Start Strong for Community Preschools equity loading is applied for children as per Table 6. Only children who meet the criteria of the target cohorts will be considered eligible for equity loading for the purposes of funding calculations. Funding for children in the priority cohorts is proportionate to hours of enrolment, as outlined in Table 3.

In recognition that 600 hours per year is not always possible for children with disability or additional needs, the maximum rate for the Program Payment and Fee Relief Payment will be made available to children with disability or additional needs who are enrolled for a minimum of 300 hours per year.

For this exception to be granted, the preschool must indicate that they will ensure the child’s Individual Learning Plan (ILP) includes a progressive plan to increase towards 600 hours per year prior to school commencement.

Table 6: Equity loading for priority cohorts

Priority cohorts eligible for equity loading Rate per child Detail
Children with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds $7,466

Children from Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds receive the highest base rate funding across all locations.

Services must record that the child identifies as being from an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background on the child’s enrolment form.

No other form of documentation is required. The information on the enrolment form may have been obtained verbally from the child’s parent or guardian.

Children from low income backgrounds $7,466

Children from a family holding a Health Care Card or Pensioner Concession Card (where the child is a named dependent on the card), or a Veteran Card, issued by the Australian Government receive the highest base rate funding across all locations. The Federal Government has confirmed that Health Care Cards issued in the child's name only are not means tested. Therefore, children with their own Health Care Card will not be eligible. This includes Foster Care Health Care Cards and Health Care Cards for children with disability.

Services must keep a copy of the relevant card to show proof that it was valid at the time of the preschool census, or for a prior period during that same preschool year, for example, at the time of enrolment.

Where the relevant card expired during the preschool year, the service should engage with the family to obtain a copy of the new card, if available.

Where the relevant card expired and has not been replaced, it is at the discretion of the service to determine the fee structure for families. The daily equity fee (see current fee guidelines below) must be charged where a child is recorded as low income in the census and therefore receives the highest base rate funding.

Children with disability or additional needs $7,466

Children with a disability or additional needs receive the highest base rate funding across all locations. At least one of the following must be kept on record as evidence of the child’s disability or additional needs:

  • the child’s NDIS reference number
  • a copy of the most recent and relevant report, assessment or letter that outlines the child’s disability or additional needs from a relevant professional. Documentation must be on letterhead and signed by the relevant professional (see additional notes below)
  • a High Learning Support Needs (HSLN) application number of an eligible HLSN funding application approved under the Disability and Inclusion Program in the current preschool year.

Services must keep a copy of this documentation on the child’s preschool file to show proof that they were valid at the time of the preschool census or for a prior period during that school year.

Relevant professionals are:

  • a General Practitioner (GP)
  • an early childhood teacher or primary teacher with an additional qualification in Special Education who is not employed by the preschool which the child attends
  • an audiologist, registered psychologist, paediatrician, psychiatrist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, a professional qualified to administer psychometric assessments, or other relevant medical specialist.

Regional loading

Services receive an additional loading per funded child based on the ARIA+ (2011) Remoteness Classifications. The loading is not dependent on 600-hour enrolments or equity loading eligibility. On top of the base rate funding:

  • Preschools in ARIA+ remote and very remote areas will receive an additional loading of $1,452 per eligible child per annum.
  • Preschools in ARIA+ outer regional areas will receive an additional loading of $987 per eligible child per annum.

English language loading

Children with English language needs will receive an additional language loading of $467 across all locations. The loading will apply when the service selects ‘English Language Assistance Required’ in the Annual Preschool Census, and is not dependent on 600-hour enrolments or eligibility for equity loading.

This loading is provided where a child requires assistance with English language needs. This includes where a child requires assistance with Braille or with sign language (e.g. Auslan).

The loading is not provided to children with a Language Background Other than English where this assistance is not required.

If a child requires assistance with English language needs, such as an interpreter or any other language resource, this information must be recorded and available on file for compliance purposes.

Higher Order Multiple base rates

The Higher Order Multiple base rate is $7,466 for each child from the third child in the multiple onwards (i.e. not for the first 2 children) and is not dependent on 600-hour enrolments or equity loading eligibility.

The department applies Higher Order Multiple funding under the following circumstances:

  • only for families with triplets or multiple children above triplets (i.e. quads, septuplets, etc) all enrolled at the same preschool
  • only for children eligible for funding as outlined in Section 3.2. Child eligibility criteria.

Evidence of applicability will be based on Annual Preschool Census data that shows for the siblings:

  • date of birth on the same day or sequential days (copy of Birth Certificate to be kept by the preschool Approved Provider enrolling the children)
  • same address
  • enrolled at the same preschool.

Appendix 1.3: Fee Relief Payment

Children enrolled for 600 hours or more will receive the full rate of fee relief, with children enrolled for fewer hours attracting a proportionate amount according to Table 7.

Table 7: Fee Relief Payment - calculation by hours of enrolment

Per child hours of enrolment per year Indicative average hours per week, based on a 40-week year Percentage of per child base rate received Per child funding rate
600 hours or more 15 hours or more 100% $4,220
480 to less than 600 hours 12 to less than 15 hours 80% $3,376
400 to less than 480 hours 10 to less than 12 hours 70% $2,954
320 to less than 400 hours 8 to less than 10 hours 60% $2,532
Greater than 240 to less than 320 hours greater than 6 to less than 8 hours 50% $2,110
240 hours or fewer 6 hours or fewer 40% $1,688

Appendix 1.4: Service Safety Net

The Service Safety Net is designed to assist Providers with the cost of delivering a preschool service in regional and remote areas, where enrolments may fluctuate year on year. The Service Safety Net tops up a service’s annual Program Payment funding to $149,320. Services must meet all eligibility criteria below to receive Service Safety Net funding. Eligibility is assessed annually through data captured via the Annual Preschool Census.

The service has:

  1. A license capacity of 20 or fewer children under the Children (Education and Care Services National Law Application) Act 2010. The department may consider exemptions for services operating a community preschool and long day care under one service approval.
  2. A minimum of 5 eligible funded children each enrolled for 600 hours or more per annum. If a service does not meet this criterion in a given program year, the service will be eligible to continue to receive Service Safety Net if the minimum enrolment criteria has been met over the immediately preceding 3 program years.
  3. A maximum of 20 children aged 4 and above in the year before school and 3-year-old children eligible for equity loading each enrolled for 600 hours or more per annum (enrolments of non-eligible children and 3-year-old children not eligible for equity loading are not counted for Service Safety Net purposes).
  4. An ARIA+ classification of Inner Regional, Outer Regional, Remote or Very Remote.
  5. Daily fees of less than $55 per day (prior to pass through of the Fee Relief Payment) for any eligible funded child attending the service (aged 4 and above in the year before school; and 3-year-old children eligible for equity loading).
  6. An annual Program Payment allocation without Service Safety Net of less than $149,320.

Appendix 1.5: Indexation

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 (e.g. via the funding notification letter).

Appendix 1.6: Funding payments

Providers must accept the Terms and Conditions in ECCMS prior to receipt of funding. These Terms and Conditions set out annual accountability and compliance requirements. Providers are required to certify that funds have been spent in accordance with the Terms and Conditions.

The department will pay funding under Start Strong quarterly in advance according to the schedule below (on calendar year basis from 2024):

  1. December (Quarter 1) for period January - March.
  2. April (Quarter 2) for period April – June.
  3. July (Quarter 3) for period July - September.
  4. October (Quarter 4) for period October - December.

Fee Relief Payments will follow Program Payments. Fee relief funding should be distributed as fee relief to families on a per term basis or in line with a service’s typical invoicing.

Payments of funding will be communicated to the provider of the eligible services by email.

Appendix 1.7: Transition arrangements for SEIFA classifications in 2024

In 2024, transition arrangements will apply to SEIFA classifications to support Providers with the change from SEIFA bands, which applied under Start Strong prior to 2024, to the SEIFA deciles.

New SEIFA classifications will be applied for services that would receive more funding when using new SEIFA classifications (see Appendix 1.2. Program Payment). 2023 SEIFA bands and their respective funding rates (see Table 8) will be maintained for all other services.

Table 8: 2023 SEIFA bands and their respective funding rates

2021 SEIFA IRSD decile (SA2, NSW ranking) 600 hours or more 480 to less than 600 hours 400 to less than 480 hours 320 to less than 400 hours Greater than 240 to less than 320 hours 240 hours or fewer

100% 50% 35% 20% 5% 0%
SEIFA bands 1 to 8 $7,466 $3,733 $2,614 $1,494 $374 $0
SEIFA band 9 $7,255 $3,628 $2,540 $1,451 $363 $0
SEIFA band 10 $6,746 $3,373 $2,362 $1,350 $338 $0
SEIFA band 11 $6,666 $3,333 $2,334 $1,334 $334 $0
SEIFA band 12 $6,444 $3,222 $2,256 $1,289 $323 $0
SEIFA band 13 $6,025 $3,013 $2,109 $1,205 $302 $0
SEIFA band 14 $5,671 $2,836 $1,985 $1,135 $284 $0
SEIFA band 15 $5,385 $2,693 $1,885 $1,077 $270 $0
SEIFA band 16 $5,075 $2,538 $1,777 $1,015 $254 $0
SEIFA band 17 $4,808 $2,404 $1,683 $962 $241 $0
SEIFA band 18 $4,808 $2,404 $1,683 $962 $241 $0

Appendix 2. Service changes

Appendix 2.1: Transferring service approval

Transferring Approved Provider

If a provider is transferring a community preschool service to another approved provider, then the transferring provider must do the following:

  • Contact the department at the contact details above prior to the transfer being initiated. This notice must be provided at least 42 days before the transfer is to occur. The department will advise on the steps required in addition to those listed below to conclude the provider’s responsibilities under Start Strong for Community Preschools.
  • Complete all outstanding financial accountabilities in ECCMS. The department will advise of any additional financial accountabilities that require completion by the transferring service for the period up to the transfer effective date. The financial accountability must be completed within 14 days of the date of the transfer of the service, unless otherwise agreed with the department.
  • Give written notice to the receiving approved provider of the amount of funds (1) expended and (2) unspent within 14 days of the date of the transfer of the service. The provider must also request that the receiving provider liaise with the department about this funding program.
  • If directed by the department, transfer any unspent funds to the receiving provider within 21 days of the date the transfer of the service occurs. This may only occur if at the time of the transfer of funds either the receiving provider has entered into the Terms and Conditions or has otherwise provided an undertaking to the department, in the form required by it, regarding the expenditure of the unspent funds. Otherwise, the transferring provider must return any unspent funds to the department within the timeframe advised by the department.
  • Cease expending funding from the transfer effective date unless otherwise agreed with the department.
  • Comply with any direction by the department under the Terms and Conditions, including seeking the department’s approval.

Receiving approved provider

If a provider is receiving a service from another provider, then the receiving provider must do the following to be considered eligible to receive funding:

  • liaise with the department about this funding program
  • enter into the Terms and Conditions with the department with the amount of funding to be determined by the department in its absolute discretion. There is no guarantee the receiving provider will receive further funding
  • if there are Unexpended Funds, in order to receive a transfer of those Unexpended Funds the receiving provider must confirm in writing to the department that the Unexpended Funds will be used in accordance with the Terms and Conditions.

Payment of department funds during transfer

The department may take actions, if a provider transfers a service to another provider, including:

  • withholding funding for the transferring service from the receiving provider of the service, until the transfer is effective
  • withholding funding for the transferred service from the transferring provider of the service, after the transfer is effective or when the department is notified of the transfer.

Note: Providers must follow steps to comply with regulatory requirements under the National Law and Regulations, including submitting an application for service transfer to the NSW Regulatory Authority. See the Approvals process webpage.

Appendix 2.2: Service ceasing to operate

If a service is to close/cease trading as a community preschool, prior to the date of closure, the provider must:

  • contact the department at the contact details above as soon as possible and prior to the surrender of service approval. The department will advise on the steps required to conclude the provider’s responsibilities under Start Strong for Community Preschools
  • log on to ECCMS and complete all outstanding financial accountabilities. The department will advise of any additional current year financial accountabilities that require completion by the closing service for the period up to the date of closure. The provider must complete the financial accountability within 30 days of the closure of the service, unless otherwise agreed with the department
  • cease expending all funds from the date of closure
  • return all unspent funds to the department by no later than 30 days of the date of the closure of the service
  • comply with any direction by the department under the Funding Agreement.

The department may take actions if a service has notified the department that it proposes to close/cease trading, including:

  • withholding funding for the service that is proposed to be closed/ceased trading from the provider, where that funding relates to a period after the proposed date of closure.

No funding will be provided by the department for a service that has closed/ceased trading, in relation to the period after the date of closure.

For temporary closures for 5 weeks or more, the department may seek information from funded services to confirm ongoing availability of funding.

Appendix 3. Program logic

Appendix 4. Glossary and definitions

Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia Plus (ARIA+)

Remoteness Areas are derived from the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia Plus (ARIA+) produced by the University of Adelaide.

Remoteness Areas divide Australia into five classes of remoteness on the basis of a measure of relative access to services. The five remoteness classes are:

  • Major Cities
  • Inner Regional
  • Outer Regional
  • Remote
  • Very Remote.

Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA)

Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) is a product that enables the assessment of the welfare of Australian communities. The indexes are produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

What are deciles?

Area-based deciles are calculated by dividing the areas, ordered by disadvantage, into 10 equally sized groups. Decile 1 contains the top 10% most disadvantaged areas. The department as elected to use deciles based on ranking of socio-economic disadvantage within NSW only. Area-based deciles are easy to interpret as SEIFA is designed and constructed as an area-based measure.

What are Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2s)?

The ABS developed the Main Structure of the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) which is used to release and analyse social, demographic and economic statistics within a functional geographic area.

The structure has seven hierarchical levels, one which includes ‘Statistical Areas Level 2’ (SA2s). Statistical Areas Level 2 (SA2s) are medium-sized areas that represent a community that interacts together socially and economically.

Changes to SEIFA from 2024

For the 2024 program the following changes have been made:

  • SEIFA of each service will be calculated using 2021 ABS data instead of 2011 ABS data
  • 10 SEIFA deciles will replace the 18 SEIFA bands.

In 2023 Start Strong for Community Preschools funding was subject to scaling based on SEIFA bands from 1-18. These bands were internally constructed using SEIFA Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage (IRSD) scores based on 2011 ABS data. For 2024, the department has updated to SEIFA IRSD deciles based on 2021 ABS data. 2021 SEIFA IRSD deciles 1-10 for SA2s ranked within NSW are provided by the ABS.

Updating funding to be based on 2021 ABS SEIFA IRSD deciles (SA2, ranked within NSW) was necessary as there has been significant socio-economic change in the last decade. This change aligns with publicly available data on socio-economic disadvantage, which providers can access using information on the ABS website. This change will also align the program with Start Strong for Long Day Care which currently uses 2021 SEIFA IRSD deciles (SA2, ranked within NSW).

Reserved fee relief funds

If a service has a lower number of enrolments claiming fee relief (i.e., due to a decrease in overall enrolments, or if the service has any enrolments claiming fee relief at another service) than they have been funded for, then the service may have an amount of fee relief funds that are not actively being utilised. In this instance, the fee relief funds not currently being used are referred to as ‘reserved fee relief funds’.

Reserved fee relief funds are separate to surplus fee relief funds. Reserved fee relief funds cannot be used (for example, like surplus fee relief funds), until an eligible child is enrolled at the service and wishes to claim fee relief.

At the end of a Start Strong for Community Preschools program period, a service is required to return any reserved fee relief funds to the department. At this time, the department will facilitate this process via an offset to the service’s future fee relief payment. Information on a service’s reserved fee relief funds will be obtained via a data collection process and cross-referenced with information obtained from the Annual Preschool Census.

If an enrolment is vacated partway through a term, any remaining fee relief funds from the vacated enrolment are considered reserved fee relief funds for the remainder of the term, or until an eligible child is enrolled and wishes to claim fee relief. At the end of the term, any reserved funds remaining from an enrolment place that was vacated partway through a term can be considered surplus fee relief funds.

For more information on reserved fee relief funds, please refer to section 4.3 Fee Relief Payment spending rules.

Surplus fee relief funds

Surplus funds are what remains of a child’s fee relief allocation after their daily fee (and all other fees/levies, or other charges, to the family/carer) are reduced to zero. 

  • For example, the fee relief allocation for a child enrolled in 2024 for 600 hours or more (on average 15 hours/2 days a week across a 40 week year) is $4,220.00, or $52.75 a week.
  • If the child is enrolled for two days a week, and the service charges $30 a day, then the child’s daily fee will be reduced to zero and will have $27.50 in surplus fee relief funds.
  • This surplus must be expended as specified in Section 4.3 Fee Relief Payment spending rules.

If a child is enrolled partway through a term, any fee relief that could be applied to the child in the weeks prior to their enrolment (in the same term) can be considered surplus fee relief and expended as specified in Section 4.3 Fee Relief Payment spending rules.

  • For example, if an enrolment is filled at the beginning of week 5 in Term 1 2024, any amount of fee relief from weeks 1 to 4 (in the same term) from the previously vacant enrolment can be considered surplus fee relief funds.

Surplus fee relief funds are separate to reserved fee relief funds and should be expended as outlined in Section 4.3 Fee Relief Payment spending rules.

Unexpended funds

Unexpected funds have the same meaning as contained in the Terms and Conditions.

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