Early Start Kindergarten (ESK) provides eligible children with 15 hours of free or low-cost kindergarten each week led by a qualified Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) registered teacher.
ESK is available to children who are at least three years old by 30 April in the year they are enrolled to attend the program and are:
- from a refugee or asylum seeker background, or
- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, or
- known to child protection.
These children can also access free or low cost year-before-school kindergarten through the ESK Extension Grant regardless of whether they have accessed ESK in the previous year.
Professionals working with families including Maternal and Child Health nurses, Aboriginal services, Child FIRST / Family Services practitioners, Multicultural organisations, bicultural workers, and Supported Play Group facilitators can refer to Early Start Kindergarten by confirming children’s eligibility directly with the relevant early childhood service provider. Parents can also notify early childhood services about their eligibility.
Referrals to Early Start Kindergarten
All professionals can advise kindergarten services of a child's eligibility for ESK.
Professionals working with families can refer all eligible ESK enrolments by confirming children’s eligibility directly with the relevant early childhood service provider. Parents can also notify early childhood services about their eligibility.
Notification of eligibility can be provided in writing or verbally from a parent, or based on the knowledge you have of the family’s background.
No other action or information is required to determine eligibility for children known to Child Protection, or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children.
The Department does not require proof of visa for ESK for refugee and asylum seeker children, however a service provider may choose to ask for proof of visa for their own records. It's important to ensure that proof of visa is not a barrier to a child’s participation in ESK.
Early Start Kindergarten for refugee and asylum seeker children
A child from a refugee or asylum seeker background is eligible for ESK or the ESK Extension Grant if the child holds or has a parent or guardian who holds one of the following:
- Refugee visa (subclass 200)
- In-country Special Humanitarian visa (subclass 201)
- Global Special Humanitarian visa (subclass 202)
- Emergency Rescue Visa (subclass 203)
- Woman at Risk visa (subclass 204)
- Humanitarian Stay visa (subclass 449)
- Temporary Protection visa (subclass 785)
- Temporary (Humanitarian Concern) visa (subclass 786)
- Safe Haven Enterprise visa (subclass 790)
- Protection visa (subclass 866)
- A Bridging visa, and is in the process of applying for one of the above Refugee or Humanitarian visas.
- Current or expired ImmiCard
- An approved exemption from the Department
If an exemption is required or there’s any uncertainty around eligible visas, contact your local Department office.
Exemptions will be considered by the Department where a child, their family or guardian does not hold, or is not in the process of applying for a refugee or humanitarian visa, but has been impacted by a refugee or asylum seeker experience or an experience similar to a refugee and asylum seeker.
Eligibility requirements for ESK align with the Kindergarten Fee Subsidy (KFS) for refugee and asylum seeker children.
Early Childhood services can support access for children from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds and help culturally and linguistically diverse families understand more about ESK or kindergarten by using
telephone interpreting services.
Telephone interpreting services can be accessed by phoning VITS Language Loop on (03) 9280 1955 or emailing
Early Start Kindergarten and Three-Year-Old Kindergarten
During the roll-out of Three-Year-Old Kindergarten, there will be no change to ESK. ESK will continue to provide 15 hours of funded kindergarten per week for all eligible children.
It's important to continue to enrol eligible children in ESK, even if funded Three-Year-Old Kindergarten is available at the service.
This guarantees that ESK eligible children continue to access the full 15 hours in all service settings, including long day care, irrespective of the number of hours of funded Three-Year-Old Kindergarten offered.
It also ensures that service providers can continue to receive all funding entitlements. ESK enrolments contribute to School Readiness Funding calculations for service providers.
There will be no change to how ESK funding is administered. Service providers should continue to provide the full 15 hours per week funded kindergarten through ESK and to submit applications through the Kindergarten Information Management (KIM) system.
Koorie Kids Shine at Kindergarten
Koorie Kids Shine at Kindergarten promotes free Three-Year-Old and Four-Year-Old Kindergarten to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities so that they are aware of, and can access, the grants and supports available to them.
Children eligible for Early Start Kindergarten: birthdays between 1 January and 30 April
Children whose birthdays fall between 1 January and 30 April have the choice of year they will start school. Parents and carers need to be consulted about the intended year children will start school before determining which year they access ESK.
Making all groups available for Early Start Kindergarten enrolments
ESK enrolments need to be placed in a group where they can receive 15 hours per week of high-quality education, preferably delivered by the same teacher. All groups, including year-before-school, multi-age and three-year-old groups, should be made available to all ESK enrolments
Quality and hours matter
Participation in quality kindergarten for supporting children’s long term development and health, particularly those who are vulnerable, is important for success at school and beyond.
The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project found that high-quality programs had a significantly stronger impact on children’s literacy, academic outcomes, self-regulation, and pro-social capabilities than that of low or medium quality kindergarten programs (Sylva et al, 2010).
Hours matter because they provide necessary time to create substantial impact on a child’s cognitive outcomes (Fox and Geddes, 2016). Children experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage benefit the most from two years of kindergarten compared with one year, with 15 hours a week the minimum amount required for most children.
Early Start Kindergarten in Long Day Care
ESK and the ESK Extension Grant can be used in combination with the Australian Government’s
Child Care Subsidy (CCS) and the
Additional Child Care Subsidy (ACCS).
The ESK or ESK Extension Grant must be used by a Long Day Care service so that eligible ESK enrolments can attend the kindergarten program for 15 hours per week for 40 weeks, at no cost to the family.
Long Day Care services may collaborate with the family or carer to determine how best to spend the money to support the child’s needs. The service may consider how this may affect their Quality Improvement Plan.
The grant can be put towards:
- gap fees not covered by CCS or ACCS
- financial expenses whilst accessing ACCS
- resources for children with high, complex needs or those experiencing disadvantage
- employment of a kindergarten teacher
- out-of-pocket expenses such as excursions/incursions
- professional development for staff about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
Early Start Kindergarten Extension Grants
The ESK Extension Grant provides a free or low cost year-before-school kindergarten program for children:
- not eligible for the Kindergarten Fee Subsidy (KFS)
- from a refugee or asylum seeker background, or Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, or known to child protection. A child is not required to access ESK in the previous year to access the ESK extension grant.
There are two different types of immunisation legislations that apply to kindergartens in Victoria:
No Jab No Play – is the Victorian legislation that applies to all kindergartens
No Jab No Pay – is the Australian Government legislation that applies to Long Day Care Services only
No Jab No Play
Under No Jab No Play, children enrolled in ESK are eligible to enrol immediately, without proof of up-to-date immunisations.
A 16 week grace period from the date children first attend the service allows the family to continue to access kindergarten while they obtain an Immunisation History Statement. The service should assist the family as much as possible through this process.
If the grace period has expired and the service has not received appropriate documentation (including a 'catch up schedule'), the child can continue to attend kindergarten, except in the circumstance of an outbreak of an infectious disease.
The service should continue to work with the carer to address this issue. The grace period intends to support and encourage immunisation, not prevent attendance.
No Jab No Pay
Under the Australian Government’s
No Jab No Pay, families accessing kindergarten in Long Day Care can only receive financial assistance through the Child Care Subsidy if children meet immunisation requirements.
There is a 63 day grace period to meet requirements, otherwise Australian Government financial assistance will cease to be paid and full fees will be charged.
The Early Childhood Agreement for Children in Out-of-Home Care
All children in Out-of-Home Care who are three by 30 April in the year they start kindergarten are eligible for Early Start Kindergarten. Ensuring more children in Out-of-Home Care participate in Early Start Kindergarten is a commitment under the
Early Childhood Agreement for children in out-of-home care.
Access to Early Learning
Access to Early Learning (AEL) program provides a more intensive early intervention than ESK. Through AEL, a facilitator supports vulnerable three-year-olds from families with multiple and complex needs, assisting them to access universal kindergarten programs.
AEL is for families that have a range of barriers to children's kindergarten participation. It is unlike ESK, which predominately addresses financial barriers.
AEL facilitators undertake in-home visits and work with families to build their child’s engagement with formal learning. They also work to strengthen the home learning environment. Facilitators collaborate with educators and other services to support the family and child.
AEL-School Readiness Funding (SRF) is now an item on the SRF menu of evidence, enabling groups of services to purchase this new model.
Further information about Early Start Kindergarten
Resources for Funded Kindergartens provides further information about ESK for kindergarten services, MCH services, Child Protection and Child FIRST professionals.
Early Start Kindergarten provides further information about ESK for families
To order ESK print material free of charge, please
complete and submit the order form
Early_Start_Kindergarten_Postcard (pdf - 456.71kb)
Early_Start_Kindergarten_Brochure (pdf - 781.2kb)