Victorian chief lured to fill top job in SA’s Early Childhood office

Education Minister Blair Boyer has revealed who will lead the state’s new Office for Early Childhood Development, describing the appointment as a “coup”.

Sep 28, 2023, updated Sep 28, 2023
Evidence shows children raised in family-based care experience better life outcomes than those in residential care. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Evidence shows children raised in family-based care experience better life outcomes than those in residential care. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Victoria’s current deputy secretary for Early Childhood Education Kim Little will take on the top job in January next year after leading that state’s rollout of universal three-year-old kindergarten.

Boyer, who jets off to Sydney tomorrow for talks with federal Education Minister Jason Clare about securing more funds to provide 15 hours a week of three-year-old preschool for all SA children, said Little will oversee starting a similar program in SA.

“The appointment of Ms Little is a coup for the state with her experience in this field unmatched across Australia,” Boyer said.

Her first task will be mapping where there is most need to provide up to 30 hours a week of preschool for 1000 of the state’s most vulnerable three and four-year-old children.

This is a key recommendation adopted by the State Government in August from the Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education and Care report led by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Boyer flagged the task is likely see the State Government build or re-purpose some of its own centres in areas without adequate childcare or kindergartens already operating to manage adding three-year-old children to the mix.

“It will be challenging, it will be a new reform,” Boyer told InDaily today.

“The State Government will have to build centres in those areas to provide that or upgrade existing centres or both.”

Little has been appointed for a five-year term and held senior roles in higher education plus skills policy and education strategy before being appointed Victoria’s deputy secretary for its early childhood department.

She led the Victorian Government’s Education State kindergarten reforms, including the introduction of universal three-year-old kindergarten in preschools and long day care settings and equity funding to support educationally disadvantaged kindergarten children.

Dr Peta Smith has been appointed as acting chief executive of SA’s Early Childhood Development Office until Little arrives in SA during January next year and will focus on legislative reform and establishing the office.

Smith is currently executive director of strategic policy and external relations at the state’s Education Department.

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The State Government accepted 13 of the 43 recommendations handed down by Gillard following the Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education and Care.

This includes providing Out of School Hours Care in kindergartens, with the key commitment to start a rollout of universal three-year-old preschool across SA in 2026 to be completed by 2032.

An initial $50 million funding has been committed to infrastructure work, $20 million toward implementing report recommendations, and the full cost of the universal three-year-old preschool policy is expected to be $212 million a year once it is operating.

Boyer conceded a major challenge will be finding staff to run the programs.

Schools across the state are already reportedly struggling to fill teaching positions and his meeting with Clare and ACECQA in Sydney tomorrow will focus on winning more federal support for the programme.

“I’ll be talking about the royal commission but also about the workforce challenges that come as part of the three-year-old preschool commitment, it will be a challenge, but any new reform brings challenges,” he said.

Boyer, who this morning opened a new $1.77 million standalone preschool building at Paracombe Primary School to support early learning for up to 30 children, believed Little’s appointment to lead the work would help.

“The early focus for the office will be on workforce supply, the commissioning of integrated service hubs, and working closely with the Department for Education around legislative requirements,” Boyer said.

“There is an extensive body of work to be undertaken, starting with the initial planning and application of a dedicated $14 million workforce fund to ensure we have people attracted to the profession, and support for educators.”

Premier Peter Malinauskas said there was “no more highly qualified person in Australia to deliver this important program of work than Kim Little”.

An executive team is starting work on setting up the Office for Early Childhood Development and Little “will hit the ground running”, he said.

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