" The national study of 2500 children found that on a scale of one to seven, the quality of instruction for four-year olds - regardless of whether they attend preschool, a childcare centre or family day care - averages a ranking of just two. This puts Australia on par with the US, which has an unregulated sector considered to be of poor quality, according to Professor Karen Thorpe, one of the study's research directors.
While children from NSW are not participating in the study, Professor Thorpe said the results provided an accurate national picture. Professor Thorpe said the overall results of the first year of the study revealed that early childhood education and care services in Australia were ''mediocre''.
''We don't have too many exceptionally bad services, but we don't have too many exceptionally good services either,'' Professor Thorpe said. She suggested this was because past early childhood sector regulations only required services to meet a minimum standard to be accredited.
Christine Legg, the chief executive of KU Children's Services, one of the oldest community-based preschool groups in NSW, said she was not surprised by the E4Kids findings.
''It's a really good reflection of the sector at the moment,'' Ms Legg said.
She said that some less qualified staff misinterpreted the previous preschool teaching guidelines as ''sit back and wait and the children will learn by osmosis''.
New federal government national quality standards came into effect on January 1 and include lifting the minimum standard of qualifications for staff, education benchmarks and better staff-to-child ratios.
Professor Thorpe said she hoped the new standards would improve quality in preschools.
''The new standards are asking us to work to optimal levels as aspirational. You'd hope this would shift quality,'' she said. ''Research suggests the early environment does make a difference to a child in the long term.''