We'd be "crazy" not to make three-year-old preschool free.

A development expert from Oxford University has urged the government to extend their free early learning access to three-year-olds.

Speaking at a Goodstart Early Learning event, Edward Melhuish said it was an easy and obvious policy to implement.

“The 600 hours a year that you are currently proving for four-year-olds, automatically extend it to three-year-olds,” he said.

“You’ve got the infrastructure for doing that immediately.”

Australia currently provides early childhood education for all children in the year before full-time school – often referred to as preschool or kindergarten.

It is delivered by a qualified early childhood teacher for 15 hours per week and has a focus on participation from Indigenous children, vulnerable and disadvantaged children, according to The Department of Education and Training.

“Research shows that participating in a quality early childhood education programme can significantly increase positive educational and life outcomes for children, especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds,” states the department’s website.

NSW Minister for Early Education, Leslie Williams MP, has outlined the State Government’s current commitment to continue the universal access for the next few years, but it’s unclear what will happen post 2017.


Economists say the benefits "far outweigh the costs of the pre-school provision". Image via iStock.

Professor Edward Melhuish said it was “crazy” not to adjust the early access age to three year olds.

"If you want to prepare your children for the future, provide high quality early learning for them, certainly from three years onwards and possibly even younger," he said.

The Oxford Professor says early childhood learning and care is a very important area for state investment.

"What we see across the board is this pattern of evidence that there are gains from early childhood education," said Professor Melhuish.

His research has found quality early childhood education improved academic achievement, social education while grade repetition, behaviour problems, delinquency and crime were reduced.

His work and collaborative research has helped shaped the UK's political policies on early childhood care, reaching across competing party agendas.

In the UK in 2004, the British Labour government introduced 15 hours of free nursery a week to all children from their third birthday.  Then a Conservative-led government rolled out free part-time early education to all of the 40% most disadvantaged children from the age of two upwards.


The Conservatives have now pledged to double the UK’s current free nursery entitlement to 30 hours a week.

Early learning is part of state responsibility says Economist Professor Steve Barnett. Image via iStock.

The investment and value in early learning and care isn’t limited to western countries.

"Almost every three-year-old in China is getting access to early learning," said Professor Melhuish.


“They have a highly developed curriculum for those three-year-olds and a highly developed training program for the staff who are going to work with those children,” he said.

Research has shown the quality and quantity of care impact on children’s development.

"When we look at children's development whether it be literacy, numeracy, sociability or pro-social behaviour and so on, we find that quality of the early learning experience matter and duration of that early learning both matter," said Professor Melhuish.

American Economist, Professor Steve Barnett, says quality services make a big difference.

“High quality at its core is about good teaching. It’s about teachers who deliver intentional well planned education individualised to children, one on one, in small groups,” said Professor Barnett.

The economist believes that providing quality early learning and care is a "achievable on a large scale" and pays off with a decrease in inequality and increase in economic growth.

“The roots of inequality and economic growth are in the first five years – the foundation for success and failure is set before children walk through the kindergarten door,” he said.

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