Partners Group is taking a stake in Guardian Early Learning Group, a provider of early childhood education in Australia, for AUD440m (€285m).

In is biggest direct equity deal yet in Australia, Zug-based company Partners will own a controlling stake in the Australian company on behalf of its clients.

Cyrus Driver, managing director and head of private equity for Asia at Partners Group, will join the board of Guardian once the deal completes.

“Early childhood has been proven to be a crucial stage for a child’s learning and development, and innovators like Guardian provide an essential service in society,” Driver said. 

“With its strong reputation, Guardian has a great opportunity to continue its robust growth and provide more children across Australia with the benefits of high-quality early-years education.”

Guardian has now changed hands twice in three years.

It was sold to an Asian private equity firm, Navis Capital Partners, for approximately AUD120m in 2013.

The Guardian transaction is the second significant move by a global investor into Australia’s keenly sought-after early childhood learning and childcare centres.

A year ago, Morgan Stanley Real Estate purchased Australian Childcare Projects, a developer and operator of childcare facilities, which had positioned itself for further expansion to capture growing demand for childcare centres.

Since its inception in 2007, Guardian has grown to become one of the largest providers of early childhood care in Australia, serving 10,000 families through its network of 71 centres around the country.

Guardian has also been developing, designing and constructing 10 new childcare centres, to become operational over the next 12 months.

Partners Group said it would draw on its track record of investment in the childcare and education sectors globally to support the Guardian management team’s growth aspirations for the business.

In the past decade, Partners, manager of assets valued at more than €46bn, has made more than 15 direct investments in education-related businesses.

These include Knowledge University’s US early childhood education businesses, the parent company of KinderCare Learning Centers, Children’s Creative Learning Centres and Champions.

This transaction was due to close late 2015.