Dear Ms Berry,
(Minister for Education and Early Childhood Development)
I was pleased to hear your announcement committing to the introduction of universal access to 2 years of free preschool for three-year-old children in the ACT. This announcement puts the ACT in a good place to respond effectively to the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools through Early Childhood Interventions: Lifting Our Game March 2018. I agree that equitable access to early childhood development is crucial to each child’s future development.
I live in North Ainslie. When my daughter was ready to attend preschool, there were no places available at the preschools in Ainslie. At the time, she was attending long day care to allow me to return to work. I decided that it was important for her to meet children with whom she would attend Primary School and to experience the Public School system before attending Primary School. She gained a place at the Reid preschool and the experience was to benefit her greatly. She inevitably attended Ainslie Primary, rather than North Ainslie, because of the connections we both made during her time at Reid preschool. I remain regretful that she was not able to attend a local preschool and connect with families that were closer to our home to build relationships that may have been more enduring.
I was interested to read several important findings in the ACT Government’s Early Childhood Strategy Consultation Sessions: Final Report May 2019, including that:
The early years of schooling is when parents can make connections within their communities. When children are engaged in free early education, it enables their family and carers to also engage in the community and seek support.
In smaller schools there is a sense of community and being looked after.
There needs to be ethical provision and strong links between these three-year-old facilities and four-year-old government preschools, because the transition from one to the other is incredibly important. Continuity of care is important to children who establish relationships with staff and management.
It will be challenging to add an additional year group into the existing school structure because of infrastructure and space limitations. Further, that existing four-year-old programs could not simply absorb the three-year-old program given the significant differences in the developmental stages and needs of these two age groups.
Given the above, I would like to make you aware of a situation of concern to many Ainslie residents. The YWCA is proposing to demolish the original North Ainslie preschool (in Bill Pye Park) and build 10 units; misleadingly claiming community consultation has taken place. This site remains largely as built in the 1950’s and as such is an important heritage site representing the design and social history of Canberra. These photos show the beauty of this wonderful historic site.
North Ainslie preschool 1959 (top), 1950s (bottom)
It does not make any sense to me that this beautiful and restful site should be demolished, particularly at a time when the ACT Government will need viable preschool sites to meet the need for an increase in the capacity of preschool places. I am advised that both North Ainslie Primary School (NAPS) and Majura Primary School are already experiencing overcrowding issues which will only worsen with the introduction of preschool for three-year-olds. I understand that the NAPS Parent’s and Carer’s Committee has made representations to ACT Ministers to raise concerns about existing overcrowding issues and to ask that the North Ainslie preschool site be returned to pre-schoolers. Ainslie residents support this idea.
Returning North Ainslie preschool to its original use will bring many benefits, including:
As a small preschool North Ainslie would provide a sense of community and being looked after.
Facilitation of connections within the Ainslie community enabling each child and their family/carers to also engage in the community and seek support as needed.
An improved opportunity to provide ethical and strong links between this facility and the nearby NAPS enabling a smooth transition for children and families from one to the other as the child grows.
Provide continuity of care for children within the NAPS community.
Increase infrastructure and space to ease existing overcrowding pressures at NAPS and Majura Primary.
Provide a beautiful purpose-designed preschool site that would increase capacity for the additional three-year-old age group.
I would be very grateful if you could investigate and implement a way to save this beautiful, historic and important site. It has been suggested that it may be possible to provide the YWCA with an alternative site that would allow them to build their 10 units closer to community links and reliable public transport while also saving the North Ainslie preschool for use by the growing NAPS community.
I am hopeful that a positive outcome is achievable.
Many thanks and best regards