Preschools struggle on

Adelong Preschool Director Rachael Hassett said she’s concerned that preschoolers are missing out on important social experiences before heading off to school in 2022.

Early education centres were one of the central talking topics during the first NSW Covid lockdown in 2020, but little has been said about the status of early education this time around.

Adelong Preschool Director Rachael Hassett said they’ve received little information or financial support from the state government, despite being required to remain open for any child in need of care.

“We haven’t received anything,” said Mrs Hassett.

“The department’s making sure we have to actually remain open and remain open to children, but there’s no funding to help us.”

Typically, the preschool sees 22 children per day. Currently, they’re down to half a dozen. Those students include the children of essential workers or those who need to be at preschool because they are considered “high risk.” Mrs Hassett explained that for some children, “preschool is the safest space for them.”

Mrs Hassett said the preschool is still receiving regular funding for the ‘free preschool’ program which covers two days of preschool per week per child, plus regular preschool funding for staff wages, but they haven’t been able to conduct their typical fundraising activities, which play a large part in the preschool’s budget.

“We have a pretty high fundraising budget each year and we haven’t been able to do any of that,” she said.

“That makes it very hard to sustain staff. Some of that fundraising goes towards our staff wages.”

They’ve already received little support – or even information – about mandatory vaccinations for staff.

Mrs Hassett said early education workers are required to get vaccinated against Covid-19 under the same rules that apply to teachers at primary and secondary schools.

“We found out from the media,” she said. 

“They didn’t send us an email or anything until after it’d been released to the media.

“That’s how the department operates with us, we’re probably the last to know.”

Despite the lack of communication, Mrs Hassett said the staff haven’t had any trouble with getting vaccinated in time for the November deadline.

“Currently I’m the only one that hasn’t been vaccinated out of all my staff and I’m booked in,” she said.

“It was just trying to get in was the biggest problem.”

While the current lockdown has been shorter than the lockdown of 2020, Mrs Hassett said it’s been difficult for staff and for children. 

One administrative staff member is working from home, two are working with children ‘on the floor’ and two are deep cleaning or helping with office work while numbers are down.

Mrs Hassett’s major concern is for the students.

“I’m concerned that we’ve got children that are heading off to school next year that are missing out on lots of social interaction and preschool education, which is important,” she said.

“I’d like to see all the children back at preschool and thriving and being ready to take the next step to school.”