Benalla's five year olds are better prepared to start school thanks to the Benalla Early Years Network.

Benalla’s five year olds are better prepared to start school thanks to the Benalla Early Years Network.

The release of the 2015 Australian Early Year Development Census (AEDC) data contained great news for Benalla, showing positive improvement in school readiness for local five year olds starting school.

The Census has been conducted every three years since 2009 and covers more than 300,000 children at 7,510 schools throughout Australia. It assesses children’s development across five ‘domains’ or key areas: physical health and wellbeing; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive skills; communication skills and general knowledge.

Between 2009 and 2012, AEDC results for Benalla children worsened dramatically with the number of children vulnerable on at least one area of development increasing from 22% to 31% (2012 Australian average 22%) and children vulnerable in two or more areas of development increasing from 10% to 21% (2012 Australian average 11%).

The good news is that between 2012 and 2015, the trend has improved and Benalla has recorded positive change in a number of areas. There has been an increase in the number of children who are regarded as “on track”.. There has also been significant progress in two areas – language and cognitive skills; and communication skills and general knowledge.

Executive Officer of Tomorrow Today, Pat Claridge attributes the improvement to the strong collaboration between members of the Benalla Early Years Network. “The Benalla community has had a very proactive approach to early years intervention,” Ms Claridge said. “Since 2012 the Network has developed a plan specifically focussed on improving domains measured by the AEDC.”

Actions in Benalla’s Early Years plan are designed to increase opportunities for young children to develop early literacy and numeracy, improve parent-child attachment, connect families and children to the services they need, encourage breastfeeding and healthy eating, upskill parents to help their children learn, and improve social connection of families.

Many of these actions have been realised through the introduction of the PEEP (Parents Early Education Partnership) program brought to Benalla through the combined efforts of Benalla Rural City Council, Department of Education and Training, Advancing Country Towns initiative and Tomorrow Today Foundation.

PEEP is a UK program that has been shown to be particularly successful in improving literacy and numeracy in disadvantaged areas.

PEEP is delivered in Benalla by Tomorrow Today Foundation, supported by Benalla Health staff who help deliver two sessions per week, and Benalla Rural City Maternal Child Health who attend weekly to chat with parents and give them help and advice. A number of other agencies and businesses provide free professional support as well as a wonderful group of volunteers who assist with the program.

Tomorrow Today first offered PEEP in 2012 running two sessions a week involving 17 families and 23 children. At the end of 2015 over 200 families with 250 children had attended sessions during the year. Attendance at PEEP has grown so much that in 2016 there are 12 PEEP sessions each week plus a Great Start to School program run in Term 4 in conjunction with Benalla P-12 College. All sessions are free.

The positive results achieved so far have buoyed all working in Benalla’s early years arena. They will be working hard to ensure even greater improvement in school readiness results in the 2018 census to be released in 2019.

For enquiries regarding the PEEP program contact Tomorrow Today on 57 621211.