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Closure shock for Maffra families

Queen Street Uniting Early Learning Centre in Maffra will permanently close its doors after 60 years of providing care and education to children in the Wellington Shire region.

On Monday, August 15, families attending Queen Street Kindergarten received an email from Uniting Victoria Tasmania’s Gippsland Early Years Admin reading:

Dear Parent/Guardians,

Please find attached, important communication in relation to kindergarten service delivery in Maffra for 2023.

Following an extensive review process, a decision has been made to consolidate our two Maffra Early Learning Services, Queen Street Uniting Early Learning and Glassford Street Kindergarten, to the Glassford Street site.

Uniting is committed to exploring and assessing the Queen Street site for future Early Learning redevelopment opportunities.

The unexpected announcement has sent local families into a spiral, leaving parents apprehensive, frustrated, confused and others scrambling with the nearly impossible task of finding alternative kindergarten arrangements for 2023.

When approached about the closure of Maffra’s long-standing Queen Street Kindergarten, Uniting Victoria Tasmania ensured that all children enrolled at Queen Street Kindergarten for the coming year would be transferred to Glassford Street Kindergarten.

“Following an extensive review, we have made the decision to consolidate our two Maffra early learning services from January 2023, which includes closing Queen Street Kindergarten,” executive officer Early Learning Uniting Victoria Tasmania, Fiona Balsillie, said.

“All children enrolled at Queen Street Kindergarten for next year will be transferred to our Glassford Street Kindergarten, which is just 1.5 kilometres away.

“As well as being a newer facility, our Glassford Street service provides a range of other benefits for children and families, including two large program rooms and a bigger playground.”

Ms Balsillie confirmed that all staff from Queen Street Kindergarten are included in the amalgamation and would move across to Glassford Street.

“There are no waiting lists for either the Queen Street or Glassford Street kindergartens, and all families that have expressed an interest in attending next year will be offered a place,” said Ms Balsillie.

Consolidating the two facilities renders changes to the program and models offered for 2023, as all sessions become multi-aged.

This means all Glassford Street sessions will have a mixture of children aged three to five year olds.

On the second page of the Maffra ELC consolidation letter, Uniting Victoria Tasmania requested that all families from both services reselect their 2023 preferences by 9am, Monday, August 22 2022.

That left just a week’s notice before the reselection process began, with families receiving offers from Thursday, August 25.

A Queen Street parent, who has requested anonymity, shared myriad concerns sparked by the sudden closure of the centre, emphasising the lack of communication between Uniting and affected families.

With an education background and a thorough understanding of different developmental stages, the changes to the program and models, combining children for multi-aged sessions was a particular concern for the Queen Street parent.

“The whole amalgamation of it all, consolidating the years, to me, that was a big concern,” the Queen Street parent said.

“There are so many kids that are at my eldest’s level and compared to my youngest, there is quite a big gap there.

“There are so many different developmental stages and I am worried that the needs of the younger students may not be met, and vice versa, that the needs of the older ones might not be met,” they said.

“My youngest will be one of the young ones in the group, having only just turned three, and I am just concerned that they may slip under the radar with a few developmental things.

“I am comforted that my youngest will be around my eldest, but if we weren’t in that situation, in particular, I would be very, very concerned as a parent having the one child going in as a three-year-old with threes, fours, almost five-year-olds.”

Having had their eldest child attend Glassford Kindergarten this year, the Queen Street parent has no concerns about the teacher’s abilities; quite the contrary, praising the Glassford Early Learning teachers.

“The experience we have had at Glassford this year has been phenomenal, they’re amazing teachers, so I’m not worried about that,” said the parent.

What does worry the parent of two is Uniting’s lack of communication.


“That is where I am thinking, from that developmental side of things wanting to make sure they reach those milestones.

“They’re all at such different stages and different abilities, even just language and comprehension; I mean at fours kindy, it’s so much more structured because they are preparing kids to go into Prep, whereas threes kinder is much more about socialisation and getting them used to routines.

“So how will they implement distinctive learning objectives if they’ve got threes and fours in the same room as opposed to a threes room and a fours room?

“I am sure there are heaps of benefits, but again they haven’t been communicated to the families, and I am sure there is an uproar amongst the parents being like, ‘why are they doing this?’

“The ‘why’ has not been communicated. And also, why is Queen Street occasional care closing? Everyone is just speculating about it because nothing has been communicated.”

The Queen Street parent gave Queen Street Uniting Early Learning Centre occasional care rave reviews, saying the service was particularly significant for the younger children not ready for kinder and in light of the current childcare crisis.

“Having the occasional care there was great because whilst it was more of childcare-based type care, it being a kinder the education officers are kinder-trained, so it was a bit of a mix of everything,” the parent said.

“It was fantastic; I am quite upset that they’ve canned it all and are moving it all together.

“Having that service, along with Glassford and the relationship that Queen Street has with Glassford, sort of working together, like the kids that go to occasional care mostly go to Glassford, and it just worked really well,” they said.

“I can’t imagine for those parents who have two-year-olds and also have kindy kids, like what are they going to do with their two-year-olds, they are going to have to source occasional care or childcare for them now, I just feel so bad for them.”

To further highlight Uniting’s lack of communication with families, it wasn’t until the Queen Street parents spoke with the Gippsland Times that they became aware that the Queen Street facility was completely shutting its doors.

“Today was the day we found out my kids had a spot next year,” the parent told the Times.

“It all got sent out this morning, what groups, what times, what days and what educators, so I know for a fact the educators that are at Glassford will be having the same kids, but I am not sure if that means my kids will be at Glassford or at Queen Street like I’m not sure what facility it becomes now?”

The Queen Street parent was shocked by the discovery of the Early Learning Centre’s planned closure.

“What, woah! I had no idea,” said the parent.


“That is so devastating, oh my gosh.”

For many parents in the region, the uncertainty of a place in kindergarten next year adds myriad pressures, from concerns about their child’s developmental needs to whether they will be able to continue working.

While these strains are induced by a larger, fundamental issue rooted deep within the early childhood education system, the closure of Queen Street Uniting Early Learning Centre, in conjunction with Uniting’s poorly-handled execution of the closure, has left many young families bewildered.

The unanswered question on everyone’s mind is: Why?

The announcement of Queen Street Early Learning Centre’s closure came just weeks after the state government announced the $9-billion Early Childhood Education and its Care (ECEC) reform program.

As of next year, the ECEC reform program entitles all Victorians to two years of free kindergarten programs; a 15-hour per week program will be available to four-year-old children; and a five-to-15-hour program will be available to three-year-old children per week.

Currently, there are 50,400 early childhood teachers nationwide, and recent figures from Labour Market Insights project a 21.6 per cent increase in demand by 2026; that is an additional 10,600 early childhood teachers.

More than 10,000 additional early childhood teachers are needed for the government to deliver its $9 billion ECEC reform program in the next decade, entitling all four-year-old Victorians to a free 30-hour-a-week program by 2032.

The National Skills Commission has identified a nationwide shortage of early childhood educators, with the federal education department data revealing a 39-per-cent decline in Bachelor of Early Childhood Teaching enrolments between 2016 and 2020.

The data also shows a 24-per-cent decline in early childhood education and Care Diploma completion, suggesting employers’ continued difficulty recruiting pre-primary school teachers.

Gippsland locals are being hit hard.

In the Sale-Maffra region, there are only a handful of kindergartens without waiting lists for kindergarten positions in 2023. Hundreds of local families are well versed in childcare and early learning inaccessibility.

The fundamental issues within the childcare system were highlighted earlier this year with the transition back to in-office work.

In January, Gumnuts Education director Brandon Ronan told the Gippsland Times that the demand for their service had grown exponentially.

“The demand for our service has grown enormously over the past four years. Every year the demand has got higher for the community wanting to engage our services for the care and education of our children,” Mr Ronan said.

“It has been an ongoing growth with our waiting list, but last year it grew at an exceptionally fast rate, with 20, sometimes 30, places a month being added to the list.”

The scarcity of available ECH positions in Wellington Shire comes as no surprise considering the data from the Department of Education’s 2020 Victorian Teacher Supply and Demand Report which revealed Gippsland has the second-lowest proportion of early childhood teachers in the state with just 350.

The Department of Education’s 2020 Victorian Teacher Supply and Demand Report also showed that Gippsland was granted the highest number of waivers exempting early childhood care providers of EC teacher requirements in the state, totalling 13 waivers.

More recently, a study by Dr Peter Hurley from the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University found that parents in regional Australia have the most developmentally vulnerable children but the poorest access to childcare.

Dr Hurley’s analysis revealed there are 3.49 children for every one early childhood education position in Gippsland, equating to 59.6 per cent of Gippsland families in a ‘childcare desert’.

A ‘childcare desert’ is a scenario in which more than three children aged four and under are vying for each childcare spot within a 20-minute drive.

Despite a planned early learning educators and teacher strike on Wednesday, September 7 in a United Workers Union campaign for better pay and conditions, in conjunction with the plethora of additional issues, the Government confirmed the ECEC reform program.

With the multibillion-dollar reshaping of preschool learning by the state government, increased demand for early childhood teachers and educators, free-falling numbers of early childhood teaching enrolments and completions, and lack of available services in the region, the closure of Queen Street Uniting Early Learning Centre is another massive blow to families in the Wellington Shire.

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