Early Start Kindergarten for professionals

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:

  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, or
  • known to Child Protection.

Professionals working with families including Maternal and Child Health nurses, Aboriginal services, Child FIRST / Family Services practitioners, 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.

Children who have used ESK or are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander can access free or low cost year-before-school kindergarten through the ESK Extension Grant.


Referrals to Early Start Kindergarten

All professionals can advise kindergarten services of children’s eligibility for Early Start Kindergarten.

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.

Early Start Kindergarten and Three-Year-Old Kindergarten

During the roll-out of Three-Year-Old Kindergarten, there will be no change to Early Start Kindergarten (ESK). ESK will continue to provide 15 hours of funded kindergarten per week for all eligible children.

It is 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)
  • who are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, or who accessed an Early Start Kindergarten grant or an Access to Early Learning program in the previous year.


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

The 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