Start Strong guidelines for community preschools

This page describes the objectives, funding information and provider requirements of the Start Strong for Community Preschools program.

 

1. Purpose

Start Strong funding for community preschools provides funding for the provision of quality preschool education delivered to 3, 4 and 5 year old children enrolled in community preschools in NSW. The funding supports at least 600 hours per year or 15 hours per week of quality preschool education. This is the recommended level of participation in a quality early childhood education program in the two years before school.

Funding is targeted to 3, 4 and 5-year-old children in the year(s) before school, children aged 3 and above from low income families, children from First Nations families, and children with disability or additional needs.

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

  • higher base funding rates based on Socio-Economic Index for Areas (SEIFA) score of disadvantage
  • additional equity funding for children aged 3 years and above from low income families, children from First Nations families, and children with disability or additional needs
  • loadings for outer regional, remote and very remote services
  • loadings for English language needs
  • subsidies for non-equity 3-year-old children

2. Eligibility criteria

2.1 Service eligibility criteria

To be eligible for funding under this program as a centre-based or mobile preschool, service 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 National Law and Regulations
  • deliver an early childhood education program designed by a degree qualified early childhood teacher in accordance with The Early Years Learning Framework
  • comply with the Early Childhood Education Grants Programs Terms and Conditions.

2.2 Mobile preschools

Mobile preschools 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 (or on a fixed term mobile contract) are not eligible for Start Strong funding.

2.3 Child eligibility criteria

To be eligible for funding under Start Strong, a child will need to be:

  • At least 3 years old on or before 31 July in that preschool year and not in compulsory schooling; and
  • Attending an early childhood education program.

Funding under this program will not be provided for places that are Child Care Subsidy approved.

Citizenship and residency status are not taken into consideration for child eligibility for funding under Start Strong.

3. Funding

3.1 Calculation of funding

Start Strong Preschool funding is calculated based on the data entered in the preschool census, including the number and hours of enrolment, and the number and characteristics of children enrolled. For this purpose, the data entered by preschools 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. Start Strong for Community Preschool funding allocations for the 2021-22 financial year will not be adjusted based on enrolment information submitted in the March 2022 preschool census.

Preschools may be audited to confirm consent has been received to enter personal information and the accuracy of data entered in the preschool census or any other data collection.

Community preschools including mobile preschools need to complete two types of consent forms, one for each staff member and one for each child upon enrolment and prior to completing the Annual Preschool Census. Refer to section ‘Completing consent forms’ for further information.

Children enrolled for 600 hours or more will receive the maximum rate of funding, with children enrolled for fewer hours attracting a pro-rata amount according to Table 1.

The rate of base funding per child reflects the average income of families with children aged 0-5 years in the service’s Socio-Economic Index for Areas (SEIFA).

Children from low income families, children from First Nations families and children with disability or additional needs are regarded as Equity children and receive extra funding to achieve equitable outcomes. Equity funding is applied for children as per Table 5. Any children who do not fit the equity criteria will be considered ‘non-equity children’ for the purposes of funding calculations.

Funding allocation is calculated on a per-child basis and a percentage of the applicable base rate is awarded depending on hours of enrolment:

Table 1: Funding calculation

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

Funding to services per child is calculated based on the following table:

Table 2: Funding calculation per SEIFA band

SEIFA Funding Band 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 band 1

$7,076

$3,538

$2,477

$1,416

$354

$0

SEIFA band 2

$7,076

$3,538

$2,477

$1,416

$354

$0

SEIFA band 3

$7,076

$3,538

$2,477

$1,416

$354

$0

SEIFA band 4

$7,076

$3,538

$2,477

$1,416

$354

$0

SEIFA band 5

$7,076

$3,538

$2,477

$1,416

$354

$0

SEIFA band 6

$7,076

$3,538

$2,477

$1,416

$354

$0

SEIFA band 7

$7,076

$3,538

$2,477

$1,416

$354

$0

SEIFA band 8

$7,076

$3,538

$2,477

$1,416

$354

$0

SEIFA band 9

$6,876

$3,438

$2,407

$1,376

$344

$0

SEIFA band 10

$6,394

$3,197

$2,238

$1,279

$320

$0

SEIFA band 11

$6,318

$3,159

$2,212

$1,264

$316

$0

SEIFA band 12

$6,108

$3,054

$2,138

$1,222

$306

$0

SEIFA band 13

$5,710

$2,855

$1,999

$1,142

$286

$0

SEIFA band 14

$5,375

$2,688

$1,882

$1,075

$269

$0

SEIFA band 15

$5,104

$2,552

$1,787

$1,021

$256

$0

SEIFA band 16

$4,810

$2,405

$1,684

$962

$241

$0

SEIFA band 17

$4,557

$2,279

$1,595

$912

$228

$0

SEIFA band 18

$4,557

$2,279

$1,595

$912

$228

$0


Subsidies for non-equity 3-year-olds are set at a proportion of the equivalent year before school base rate. This proportion is being implemented over a 4-year period. Funding to non-equity 3-year-olds is calculated based on the following proportions of base rates:

Table 3: Non-equity 3 year old funding proportions (2019 onwards)

Year Percentage of base rate from table 2 received

2019

25%

2020

30%

2021

40%

2022 (and ongoing)

50%

Table 4: Funding calculation per SEIFA band for non-equity 3-year-olds (50% of equivalent year before school base rate, in 2022)

SEIFA Funding Band 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 band 1

$3,538

$1,769

$1,239

$708

$177

$0

SEIFA band 2

$3,538

$1,769

$1,239

$708

$177

$0

SEIFA band 3

$3,538

$1,769

$1,239

$708

$177

$0

SEIFA band 4

$3,538

$1,769

$1,239

$708

$177

$0

SEIFA band 5

$3,538

$1,769

$1,239

$708

$177

$0

SEIFA band 6

$3,538

$1,769

$1,239

$708

$177

$0

SEIFA band 7

$3,538

$1,769

$1,239

$708

$177

$0

SEIFA band 8

$3,538

$1,769

$1,239

$708

$177

$0

SEIFA band 9

$3,438

$1,719

$1,204

$688

$172

$0

SEIFA band 10

$3,197

$1,599

$1,119

$640

$160

$0

SEIFA band 11

$3,159

$1,580

$1,106

$632

$158

$0

SEIFA band 12

$3,054

$1,527

$1,069

$611

$153

$0

SEIFA band 13

$2,855

$1,428

$1,000

$571

$143

$0

SEIFA band 14

$2,688

$1,344

$941

$538

$135

$0

SEIFA band 15

$2,552

$1,276

$894

$511

$128

$0

SEIFA band 16

$2,405

$1,203

$842

$481

$121

$0

SEIFA band 17

$2,279

$1,140

$798

$456

$114

$0

SEIFA band 18

$2,279

$1,140

$798

$456

$114

$0

The above rates are subject to change, and are at the discretion of the department. Funding will not be provided for places that are Child Care Subsidy approved. Table 4 shows the funding calculations for non-equity 3-year-olds for 2022, where 50% of the equivalent year before school base rate will be funded.

Equity funding

Table 5: Equity funding rates

Identified targeted group Rate per child Detail

First Nations Children (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children)

$7,076

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

Services must record Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status 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

$7,076

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 and additional needs

$7,076

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.
  • 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.

Children who are part of multiple equity groups will only be eligible for one amount of equity loading per child.

Equity funded children enrolled for fewer than 600 hours will attract a percentage of the funding rate calculated according to their hours of enrolment, as shown in Table 1.

*In recognition of the fact that 600 hours per year is not always possible for children with disability and additional needs, an exception can be granted to children with disability 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 to 600 hours per year prior to school commencement. The department may monitor this through reporting requirements and the annual audit program. Funding to children enrolled for a minimum of 300 hours per year will be provided at the full Start Strong equity rate.

Regional Loading

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

  • Preschools in ARIA+ remote and very remote areas will receive an additional loading of $1,376 per eligible child per annum.
  • Preschools in ARIA+ outer regional areas will receive an additional loading of $935 per eligible child per annum.

The full loading will also apply for all non-equity 3-year-old enrolments.

English Language Loading

Children with English language needs will receive an additional language loading of $442 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.

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 all children with a Language Background Other than English where this assistance is not required.

The full loading will also apply for all non-equity 3-year-old enrolments.

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.

Higher Order Multiple base rates

The Higher Order Multiple base rate is $7,076 for each child from the third child in the multiple onwards (i.e. not for the first 2 children) regardless of hours enrolled across all locations.

Higher Order Multiple funding will be applied under the following circumstances:

  • Only for families with triplets or multiple children above triplets, i.e. quads, septuplets etc.
  • Only for 3, 4 and 5-year-old children.

The non-equity 3-year-old funding scale will be applied to the Higher Order Multiple base rate for eligible non-equity 3-year-old children.

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

  1. Same date of birth (copy of Birth Certificate to be kept by the preschool service provider enrolling the children)
  2. Same address
  3. Enrolled at the same preschool.

3.2 Service Safety Net

The Service Safety Net will provide an allocation of $141,520 per annum to services that meet all of the following eligibility criteria:

  1. has a licensed capacity of 20 or fewer children under the Children (Education and Care Services National Law Application) Act 2010
  2. has a minimum of 5 eligible funded children (aged 4 and above in the year before school; and 3-year-old equity children) each enrolled for 600 hours or more per annum*
  3. has a maximum of 20 children aged 4 and above in the year before school and 3-year-old equity children each enrolled for 600 hours or more per annum (enrolments of non-eligible children are not counted for Service Safety Net purposes)
  4. has an ARIA+ classification of Inner Regional, Outer Regional, Remote or Very Remote
  5. has daily fees less than $55 per day for any eligible funded child attending the service (aged 4 and above in the year before school; and 3-year-old equity children)

Services receiving the Service Safety Net will not be required to follow fee pass through requirements for non-equity 3-year-old children.

* A service may still qualify for the Service Safety Net if, over the last 3 years, it meets the minimum enrolment criteria.

3.3 Indexation

Decisions regarding the application of indexation under Start Strong are made annually by the department. If indexation is applied, the department will be guided by a NSW Treasury-mandated percentage applicable to all Government agencies.

3.4 Funding payments

Funding is based on information provided by services in the Annual Preschool Census. The Early Childhood Education Grants Programs Terms and Conditions must be accepted in the Early Childhood Contract Management System (ECCMS) prior to receipt of funding. These Terms and Conditions set out annual accountability and compliance requirements. Service providers are required to certify that funds have been spent in accordance with the Funding Agreement of the Early Childhood Education Grants Program. Performance and financial accountabilities may be done either on a calendar or financial year basis.

Typically funding under Start Strong is paid quarterly in advance according to the schedule below:

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

4. Program requirements

4.1 Spending rules

Start Strong funding is to be used for the purposes detailed below:

  • Fee pass through (criteria detailed below)
  • Operating expenses of the service, for example:
    • Salary and wages
    • Educational resources
    • Other operating costs

The funds need to be expended in line with the individual services reporting period (calendar or financial year).

Under the Grants Programs Funding Agreement (Terms and Conditions), service providers are required to return unspent funds as well as maintaining financial viability. The department is currently exploring options to provide further clarity on this matter. In the interim, service providers are encouraged to use funds based on the spending rules of the program and if applicable, refer to guidance provided by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission for the retention of appropriate level of reserve.

Interaction of fees with Start Strong Free Preschool

Services who have opted in to the Start Strong Free Preschool program are required to provide 600 hours per year of free preschool to eligible children as per the Start Strong Free Preschool program guidelines.

The information below relates to fee structure requirements for services receiving Start Strong for Community Preschools funding only.

Current fee guidelines

The department is focused on supporting participation for key equity/priority of access groups. Accordingly, children from First Nations families, children with disability and additional needs and children from low income families must have access to lower daily fees than for non-equity children.

The fee for non-equity 3-year-olds must not be lower than the fee for non-equity children in the year before school.

The department recognises that preschool enrolments may go up or down in subsequent years and that preschools may need to review fees occasionally. However, it is expected that equity fees and fees for children in the year before school remain low and as close as possible to the reduced 2017 fees.

The department periodically conducts reviews of preschool services and may request a funding compliance review in these or other circumstances.

Fee pass-through criteria for non-equity 3-year-olds

Services that have opted into Start Strong Free Preschool in 2022 are required to provide at least 600 hours of free preschool to eligible children, including to non-equity 3-year-old children.

Services that have not opted in to Start Strong Free Preschool for 2022, are required to pass through at least 50 percent of the base rate funding for these children.

Fee pass-through may be measured using the fee data collected through the August 2022 Preschool Census and comparing it to a service’s reported fees in the August 2021 Preschool Census.

Services will receive 50% of Start Strong base rates for this new cohort of 3-year-old children from 2022.

Where services have a higher fee for non-equity 3-year-old children than non-equity children in the year before school, it will be expected that the fee reduction first be applied to lowering fees for non-equity 3-year-old children. Fees for non-equity 3-year-olds should not be lower than non-equity children in the year before school.

If fees for non-equity 3-year-old children and non-equity children in the year before school are the same, it will be expected that the fee reduction be applied to lowering fees for all children. This includes ensuring that equity fees for all children remain below non-equity fees, and that fees for non-equity 3-year-olds not be lower than fees for children in the year before school.

4.2 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 from First Nations families
    • children with disability and/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. Priority must be given to the groups outlined above before any other groups, including non-equity 3-year-olds.

The guidelines 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. Services may consider the hours children are enrolled at other funded services when making enrolment decisions.

The department will compare data collected through the August 2022 Preschool Census to the service’s reported enrolment in the August 2021 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.

4.3 Completing consent forms

Community preschools including mobile preschools need to complete two types of consent forms, one for each staff member and one for each child upon enrolment. This means on first enrolling. It is good practice to seek a renewal of the consent form every year a child attends. A new form should be completed 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 receive funding and other support to deliver an early childhood education program, and for the exercise of the department’s governmental functions. This may include monitoring the funding programs and reporting purposes.

Data collected in the Annual Preschool Census is submitted to the Australian Bureau of Statistics for inclusion in the publication Preschool Education, Australia. De-identified data may be used for research and evaluation purposes.

4.4 Completing financial accountabilities

In accordance with the Early Childhood Education Grants Programs Terms and Conditions, an Approved 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. Further information is available in the Financial Accountability Return Guide.

5. Service changes

5.1 Transferring service approval

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

  • contact the department at the contact details below prior to the transfer being initiated. The department will advise on the steps required to conclude the Approved 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 30 days of the transfer of the service, unless otherwise agreed with the department.
  • 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.
  • transfer all unspent funds to the new Approved Provider within 30 days of the date that the service is transferred, provided the department has agreed to the transfer of funding.

If a service is transferred to a new provider, funding may be withheld until the transfer has been completed and approved through department processes.

5.2 Service ceasing to operate

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

  • contact the department at the contact details below as soon as possible and prior to the surrender of service approval. The department will advise on the steps required to conclude the Approved 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 financial accountability must be completed within 30 days of the closure of the service, unless otherwise agreed with the department.
  • return all unspent funds to the department by no later than 30 days of the date of the closure of the service.

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

6. Contact details

To speak to someone about Start Strong for Community Preschools, please contact the department by:

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