Start Strong overview

When children participate in structured, play-based learning before they start school, they build key social, emotional and cognitive skills necessary to support lifelong learning. This is especially important for children experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage, who benefit the most from preschool.

We know that sustained investment in the early years leads to better economic and social outcomes; and that a strong, stable early childhood education sector will ensure all children make the best possible start in life and learning.

The Start Strong Program for both Community Preschools and Long Day Care is the key way in which the NSW Government supports preschool education for all children. It is also the program through which the Preschool Reform Agreement and the Affordable Preschool initiative will be 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.

Starting in 2023, the NSW Government is making a landmark investment of $1.3 billion over 4 years to provide fee-relief for families with children in preschool.

This initiative will replace the 2022 Start Strong Free Preschool program to continue fee relief for children aged 3-5 years old in community or mobile preschools. It will also provide fee relief for children aged 4-5 years old in long day care services for the first time. This will be in addition to the Australian Government’s Child Care Subsidy (CCS).

Further information on Affordable Preschool is available on the Early Years Commitment webpage.

Department of Education preschools will receive funding to provide the equivalent of 5 days a fortnight of affordable preschool for all children.

There will be no preschool fees charged in Department Preschools in 2023.

Program objectives

Start Strong program objectives are to:

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

These objectives are informed by evidence that tells us:

  • 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.
  • participation in preschool reduces a child’s developmental vulnerabilities.
  • children who experience vulnerability and disadvantage benefit the most from preschool.
  • a successful transition to school helps improve children’s educational and social outcomes.
  • improving access to preschool boosts parent’s workforce participation which supports economic growth.
  • a strong early childhood education sector will help ensure all children make the best possible start in life and learning.
  • higher levels of educational attainment, economic participation and family well-being have all been linked to participation in early childhood education.

Visit the Benefits of Early Childhood Education webpage for further information.

Program principles

Start Strong operates under the principles that:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • all services provide learning environments and programs that meet the early learning needs of all children in their community.
  • parents and carers have greater confidence that the quality of the preschool program meets their child’s developmental needs.
  • quality early childhood education is financially within reach for all families in NSW.
  • children are better supported to transition to school.

Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

The Department of Education’s First Steps Strategy is a commitment to improving access to quality early childhood education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in NSW. The Strategy’s vision is that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in NSW can access quality early childhood education and are supported to embrace their culture and identity for a strong start to lifelong learning. As part of the Strategy, the department is also driving work on a Cultural Safety Framework to create culturally safe environments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families.

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, and
  • ensuring early childhood education services have strong relationships with their local communities.

Supporting children who are from multicultural backgrounds

Children from multicultural 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 to address barriers for families and children from multicultural 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.

Program outcomes

The Start Strong program incorporates an outcomes-focused approach, building on the previous focus of measuring outputs to now also measuring outcomes for children.

Through improved program design and delivery, a strong focus on outcomes can build a link between evidence, the program and performance, and influence more effective outcomes for children.

The department has developed defined, measurable and attributable outcomes measures linked to the program objectives. These will be outlined in more detail in a program logic focusing on quality, enrolment, affordability and participation and an outcomes framework. The program logic and outcomes framework will be available in early 2023.

Start Strong Program for Community Preschools and Long Day Care

Select an option below for further information and program guidelines for the Start Strong Program for Community Preschools, and Long Day Care.

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