I was fortunate enough to attend the 2014 Early Childhood Australia Conference in Melbourne this year, and I was amazed by the quality of the presentations from truly inspirational speakers.

But the session that is still rattling around in my brain is not the one I was expecting. It was a working session with a senior representative of the Department of Education. We were invited to put forward what we thought were the biggest issues facing the early childhood (EC) sector.

Not a simple question! In 2014 alone there have been at least four separate inquiries into various aspects of Australia’s EC sector (Productivity Commission, NQF Review, two Senate inquiries). All of these have reflected the complicated work we do and the challenging regulatory frameworks we do it in.

So I was a little surprised when one issue quickly and decisively trumped all the others.

Documentation.

At least two-thirds of the questions raised were around documentation requirements. How much do we need to do? Per child, per day? Should we reference every learning outcome in an observation? How many observations?

I have to be honest – this really disappointed me. This was a rare and valuable opportunity for practitioners and professionals to directly address a senior figure in the sector, with the capacity to make far-reaching decisions affecting our works. She was asking us to represent all of those who do our work, and let the Department know what we think the most pressing issue facing us right now is.

She left that room thinking it was documentation.

Really? With every challenge and frustration we face, how many observations we have to do a month is the biggest single thing affecting our work?

I find this difficult to believe, given the challenges I observe in my work. Trying to recruit and retain qualified early childhood teachers and educators. Supporting the inclusion of children with disabilities. Ethically and respectfully incorporating Indigenous perspectives in our work with young children. Having to balance operational costs with the inclusion of vulnerable children.

I can’t help but think that we might have made even a tiny amount of progress on some of those tricky issues if they had been the focus of discussions.

Documentation is a challenging issue for services, and does require a lot of thought and reflection.

But we are also nearly 3 years into the new National Quality Framework. Support for services to work on their documentation is everywhere, from ECA’s website to your local Professional Support Coordinator.

In forums I attend, documentation is still the key issue that is raised. Imagine how much progress we might be making on some of the issues I listed above if we were constantly and consistently raising them.

That really would make a difference in the lives of Australia’s children.

This article was originally posted on Early Childhood Australia’s blog The Spoke.

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