Regulations governing who can bid for contracts to run before and after-school services in NSW Government schools have been scrapped.
The changes mean there is no longer any requirement for operators to have at least 50 per cent of their services meeting certain standards.
Network of Community Activities chief executive Robyn Monro Miller said parents have not been consulted or informed of the decision.
“This isn’t a decision that the Government should be making behind closed doors,” she said.
“I think parents are going to feel cheated and misled.”
Screening scheme discontinued
A pre-qualification scheme, designed to screen out operators with a history of breaching regulations or running poor quality services, was introduced in November last year.
On October 27, a notice posted on the NSW Government’s eTendering website announced the scheme was being discontinued with immediate effect.
A spokesperson said the decision was taken following an internal review and feedback from the industry.
“We were completely flabbergasted to hear that the Department of Education no longer felt that those standards were necessary, we believe they are,” Ms Monro Miller said.
“By not putting some mandatory standards around who can tender for these services, we believe the department is actually doing a disservice to our children and certainly to our families who are using and trusting these services.”
Ms Monro Miller said the decision would open the floodgates to foreign-based private equity firms who already controlled 30 per cent of the Australian before and after-school care market.
“Out of school hours care is seen as big business and sadly that means that we are prey to groups moving into the sector who may not have children’s welfare as their first priority.”
Changes welcomed by biggest player
The decision has been welcomed by the biggest player in the market, Camp Australia, which is owned by a United States-based private equity firm.
In December last year, the company was banned from bidding for or renewing tenders at government schools in NSW following a number of breaches, including one in Western Australia where a seven-year-old child with Down syndrome wandered out of aftercare without anyone noticing.
The Education Department confirmed Camp Australia is now eligible to apply.
“We look forward to resuming tendering in NSW with a focus on delivering high quality care,” a spokesperson for Camp Australia said.
“The NSW Government ran an industry consultation process on the scheme and Camp Australia contributed to that process.”
Sector ‘not a level playing field’
The not-for-profit 3Bridges Community runs five out-of-school-hours services in Sydney’s south, all of which are rated as meeting or exceeding standards.
Children’s Services manager Tina Warner said when it came to bidding for contracts, community-based organisations like 3Bridges were increasingly up against big commercial operators.
“I have written over 20 tenders, been shortlisted for four and achieved one over the last three years,” she said.
She said a two-tier licensing system where commercial operators were charged higher rents was working against the community sector it was meant to protect.
“It’s definitely not a level playing field,” Ms Warner said.
“Which principal is going to choose a lower licence fee when they have so many things to do in their school?”