The National Quality Framework (NQF) reforms acknowledge that good outcomes for children can only be supported by qualified and professional educators, who regularly reflect on their own – and their colleagues’ – practice. As with any profession, research and knowledge is always changing and being updated. It’s important that educators, no matter what their qualifications or experience, always remember to give themselves time and space to discuss and analyse their own work.
The partisan report from the Senate Committee hearings into the Jobs for Families Package clearly articulate the Government’s view of ECEC as parent welfare, not education for children.
After consultations, public hearings and duelling economic modelling at ten paces, the long-awaited Senate report into the Jobs for Families has been released. Predictably, the Government-majority Committee has recommended the Senate pass the package as it currently stands. Labor and the Greens delivered dissenting reports.
For advocates in the sector with a focus on children (not workforce participation with a side order of children’s rights), it’s a tough read.
The early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector is set for a number of big changes over the next few years, and one that will have a significant and direct impact on educators will be the end of the Professional Support Coordinators (PSCs) in each State and Territory.
The PSCs, until July this year, provide and source appropriate and quality-assured professional development for the ECEC sector at a subsidised rate, thanks to funding from the Federal Government. From July, individual educators and services will have to choose from a diverse range of individuals and organisations providing professional development.
One of the main benefits of the PSCs are that you can be assured of a level of quality and relevance to the National Quality Framework (NQF) in the sessions they offer. PSCs in each state and territory are managed by organisations who had to tender to demonstrate their knowledge of children’s services. It will become much harder for the sector to be assured that the professional learning they’re paying for will be worth the cost.
For individual educators, this means it is a critical time to think about your own professional development needs. For many educators, going to training only happens when their manager sends them somewhere, or organises someone to come to a Staff Meeting or Professional Learning Night. With the changes that are coming, it’s important that educators also take individual responsibility for their own careers and the professional learning and growth that is required.
“Ongoing learning and reflective practice” is one of the Principles of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), which states that educators should be always seeking to “build their professional knowledge”. The Educators’ Guide to the EYLF also prioritises the importance of planning for your own learning – not just relying on your colleagues or organisation to do so.
One of the overall goals of the NQF is to improve the professional identity of educators – both in the wider community but also within the sector itself. Part of this means valuing the work we do as a continually-evolving profession that requires us to always be seeking to learn. We learn more about how young children learn every day, so how we work as educators should always be evolving.
At the end of the day, the quality of learning received by children can only be as good as the educator or teacher providing that learning. We have a responsibility to always be seeking our professional learning opportunities, particularly on topics or areas we may struggle with. This includes seeking out opportunities in our own time.
It’s important to remember that there is a wide range of online, quality-assured resources available that can help out. I can particularly recommend Child Australia’s Wraparound Program and Online Learning Centre, National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program and KidsMatter as excellent starting points.
Take the time to think about how you are planning for your own professional growth – and what you might need to achieve it. This supports not only yourself, but also the children and families you work with.
Three years, three Ministers, two Departments, one Productivity Commission Inquiry – Zero progress.
Today’s announcement from the Prime Minister that we could be heading to the polls as soon as July marks as good a time as any to reflect on the Abbott/Turnbull Government’s achievements in early childhood policy since 2013.
Well, at least this won’t take too long.
Access to and affordability of ECEC was one of the big issues in the 2013 election. The then-Opposition Coalition had campaigned hard on ensuring a better-structured sector that would be more affordable to families. This was primarily to be achieved through a Productivity Commission inquiry.
Tony Abbott and the Coalition won the election, and the inquiry was set in motion. Sussan Ley was appointed as the Minister for the sector. Her time in the role can mostly be marked by the phrases “we’ll wait and see what the Productivity Commission recommends” and “it’s all Labor’s fault”, as well as overseeing an unnecessary fight over Universal Access Preschool funding with every single state and territory and floating thought-bubbles about Government-funded nannies.
Ley’s tenure as Minister marked no actual policy direction or announcements. Her support for the National Quality Framework was tenuous at best, and her relationship with the sector was poor. I imagine she was as happy to see the back of ECEC policy as we were to see her move on to Health.
The biggest milestone of the Age of Ley was the Productivity Commission (PC) report into the sector, which promised to be a game-changing proposal for fundamental structural reform. In the end – not so much. Two years on, the PC’s Final Report has all but vanished from the discussion. It ended up being an extremely lengthy exercise in fiddling around the edges which, while disappointing, was inevitable given the restriction placed on the PC to only make proposals within the current budget for ECEC.
The Commission finally reported to the Government in November 2014, meaning that any proposed budget changes wouldn’t be in place until the next Federal Budget in May 2015. Getting on to two years after they were elected.
Keen to ensure that the sector wouldn’t be bored during this waiting period, Tony Abbott followed up his Grocery Code of Conduct by putting Ley out of everyone’s misery, shifting ECEC out of Education and making it the responsibility of children’s friend and advocate Scott Morrison.
Morrison, fresh from overseeing the mental, physical and emotional torture of children in island concentration camps, went full-tilt into “Loveable Old Scott” mode, promising to sort out the funding of the sector and the attendant affordability issues.
Morrison introduced the foundations of the “Jobs for Families” package that is currently before the Senate. That is literally about all I can actually remember from his time in the role. Good work Scott, have a go at Treasurer as a reward.
Which brought us the downfall of Abbott, the introduction of the agile and nimble Malcolm Turnbull as PM and the appointment of fresh-faced Simon Birmingham as the third Minister to take the wheel of ECEC policy.
Birmingham has continued trying to get the Jobs for Families Package through the Parliament, with the innovative and agile tactic of making it even worse.
It’s hard to believe that three years on, and literally nothing has happened in ECEC. The Government’s reform package will not pass before the election. After decrying Labor’s inadequacy in handling this portfolio, the ability of the Government to achieve literally nothing is almost impressive.
We’ve got a little while before the election, double-dissolution or not, and it’s possible we may see some wider election promises in this area. It seems more likely that they’ll just continue to the claim the Jobs for Families Package is the magical fixer of all things.
Three years of inaction in ECEC is ridiculous and pathetic. Let’s hope the next three see positive moves forward.
“My dataset is better than yours” was the most common refrain heard during today’s public hearings in the Jobs for Families Child Care Package. I was fortunate enough to attend, and while there were no nails in the coffins of this reform package, it’s certainly not looking terribly well and probably is in need of some medical attention.
I tweeted at length about it earlier this morning, so just wanted to post a quick summary of the main highlights from my point of view.
1. The impact on Indigenous children is appalling
Listening to the testimony from the SNAICC representatives was truly hard, as they respectfully but forcefully outlined the likely impact of these reforms on Indigenous children.
It’s incredible that mere weeks after the Closing the Gap report revealed our failure to meet the early childhood attendance goal, we’re seriously considering implementing reforms that would make it more difficult for Indigenous children to access ECEC.
2. Who’s got the best data?
The Government has two reports in its crosshairs – an ANU report commissioned by ECA and a Deloitte report commissioned by SNAICC – that had the temerity to suggest the reforms might be bad for many children and their families.
The Government has pointed to the reports not using the best data available. Which is understandable, given that the Government has refused to release data on crucial parts of this reform. It is madness that we are considering passing legislation that we know so little about.
3. Bureaucrats bereft, basically
The hour spent in the company of no less than six bureaucrats from the Department of Education was particularly terrifying. Answers to questions took agonisingly long to produce, and seemed in many places to be a “best guess”. Consultation processes, described by the sector as ranging from woeful to comedic, were “extensive”.
4. Want ECEC? Get a job
We at least gained crystal-clear clarity around how the Government views early childhood education. Senator McKenzie, Committee Chair, at one point left the beaten track entirely for some bizarre point about mothers going to yoga classes while their children were in childcare – on the public dollar, for shame!
For the Government, funding ECEC is viewed as welfare funds. Not funding early learning, but funding welfare, and just like every other form of welfare funding they begrudge every single cent spent on it.
The beating heart of this package (the JOBS FOR FAMILIES package, the clue is in the title) is punishing children for their employment “choices” of their families.
5. Gymnastic advocacy
Which leads to my last point. The dexterity required for people and organisations to suggest that this is a “good” package that can be made better with some minor amendments is now incredible, verging on the impossible. The litany of issues with this rushed, under-explained and data-poor legislation were recounted endlessly today. Every major part of the reform package has serious structural issues. The Activity Test. Closure of BBF services. The hourly benchmark fee. The six-hour blocks of funding. The lack of transparency over eligibility for the Child Care Subsidy.
At a certain point, when every part of the car is broken, you get rid of it and save for a new one. It’s time to throw this package out and start again.
Earlier this week, the Federal Government launched the annual Closing the Gap report. As seems to now be the story every year, there are a few things to celebrate (such as the decline in infant mortality) but much more that frustrates.
In early childhood education (ECE), targets have not been met. A new target of 95% of Indigenous children enrolled in ECE in 2025 has been set. With collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities, and sensible policies from Governments, this target could be met well before a decade passes.
With the current reform package before the Senate, there is no chance of this target being achieved. Which explains why they’ve put it off for a decade.
On Wednesday the 2016 Closing the Gap report set out the new goal of getting 95% of all Indigenous four-year-olds, not just those in remote communities, enrolled in preschool by 2025.
But the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) says the user-pays funding model proposed under the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Jobs for Families Child Care Package) Bill 2015 would threaten the viability of Aboriginal-run child and family service centres, halve the number of subsidised childcare hours available to low-income families that don’t meet a new “activity test” requirement, and further disadvantage Aboriginal children.
SNAICC deputy chief executive officer, Emma Sydenham, said the decision to scrap the Budget Based Fund, a top-up for those services that couldn’t cover their costs with fees or individual child subsidies, 80% of which were Indigenous, may force centres to close.
“Their focus is only on the needs of particularly vulnerable children and families in their communities,” Sydenham told Guardian Australia. “Their focus is not on how to meet the bureaucratic needs of these policies.”
There is a particularly kind of madness or cruelty (or both) in speaking the easy words of healing, consultation and Closing the Gap while putting forward policies that will make those things impossible.
This isn’t just about closing an inequitable gap in outcomes become Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It’s actually about improving lives and opportunities.
If the Government believes that slashing access to one of the most proven ways of addressing inequity – early childhood education – is the best way to meet this target, I dread to think what they have planned to address all the others.
Many have come out strongly against the Federal Government’s proposed reforms to early childhood education and care, primarily due to significant concerns on how the proposed Activity Test will affect the right of children to access early education.
It’s been a tricky fight for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones was the complete lack of data and numbers around the number of children and families likely to be affected.
We’re getting somewhere now, after Education Department deputy secretary Jackie Wilson appeared before Senate Estimates on Wednesday night.
Judith Ireland from Fairfax covered the numbers revealed in that appearance:
About 45,000 families will be worse off under the Coalition’s childcare reforms because they pay childcare fees that are higher than the upper limits of the government’s new subsidy rate.
A Senate committee also heard on Wednesday night that a further 37,000 families would be worse off because they did not work enough hours according to the new “activity test”.
This breakdown comes after the government published modelling late last month that showed overall, about 184,000 families would lose support in the new childcare package that starts in July 2017, while more than 815,000 will be better off.
Not insignificant numbers. It’s becoming indefensible for anyone with the interests of children of their families to advocate for this package – even with amendments – to be passed.
Even with the information revealed in Estimates, huge question marks still remain over the nature of the Government’s much-spruiked by un-detailed new safety net.
Hopefully we’ll learn more over the next few weeks.
A departure from the norm for this blog, but after Saturday’s post on Goodstart Early Learning’s release of a commissioned report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on the Government’s ECEC reform package, Goodstart contacted me via email. They have asked if the response can be posted on my site, which I am happy to do.
Goodstart’s response in full can be found at the end of this post. I encourage readers to read it, before returning back up here for my quick thoughts.
I actually have had the opportunity to read Goodstart’s submission to the Senate Inquiry, along with every other publicly accessible submission. As with the PwC report, it was not easy to find as (at the time of posting) it is not included on Goodstart’s media or publications page, but is linked to through this blog post.
Goodstart makes some good points (echoed by the rest of the sector) in both their submission and in their response to me below. It’s important to note that my post was not about their submission or surrounding documents though – it was about the specific report commissioned, how Goodstart used that report and how the Federal Government used that report.
Goodstart’s report, and subsequent media release, was quoted in Parliament. By the Prime Minister. To encourage the passing of this package by the Senate.
Goodstart’s submission to the Senate inquiry was not. This is why I posted on Saturday.
The key points that I raised in that post, which are not discussed in Goodstart’s response, are:
- Why did Goodstart commission the report at all?
- Why did the report not take into account the Activity Test and subsidy cap, both of which will have significant impacts on children, families and any potential effect on workforce participation?
- Why did Goodstart’s media efforts following on from the report entirely focus on workforce and economic outcomes, with no reference to the effect on children?
Given Goodstart’s position as Australia’s largest provider of early childhood education and care (or “childcare”, as it is repeatedly referred to across Goodstart’s website and public statements), these are questions that are worth raising and discussing.
It is disappointing that Goodstart believes that with amendments (which are described as “minor amendments” on their media page), this Bill should be passed. I disagree. Major amendments will not save this Bill. The Bill is poor policy. It is regressive in terms of positioning the sector as early education, and splits children into those deemed “worthy” of accessing education (by virtue of being in a “working family”) and those who are not.
I cannot change or influence Goodstart’s approach to advocacy – and as an organisation they are entitled to view the Government’s reform package in any way they see fit. But I will stand by my view that, in my personal opinion, Goodstart (as Australia’s largest ECEC provider) has an obligation to champion the voice of children and their right to access education regardless of the circumstances of their families. Not sometimes, but all the time. Not for some, but for all.
I am emailing you regarding your blog post from February 6.
I am sorry you didn’t have the benefit of reading Goodstart’s detailed submission to the Senate Inquiry on the Government’s ‘Jobs for Families’ childcare package – or the media release we sent out explaining our position. Both are available here on our website along with a quick summary of our position about the strengths and weaknesses of the Government’s approach.
Goodstart Early Learning has made a strong commitment to advocacy on behalf of the 60,000 families whose children we care for across the nation. We’ve spent many months working hard to argue for more funding, better access and greater equity through the Productivity Commission process and direct to the Government since it announced its response to the Commission’s recommendations.
As our submissions, evidence to inquiries and media releases on the issue make clear, there’s no question that the vast majority of Australian working families will be better off if the Government injects more money into subsidies.
There’s also no question that the current draft legislation needs to be improved to do more for disadvantaged children [emphasis is Goodstart’s – Liam].
Goodstart lodged its submission to the Senate Committee on Monday February 4 and we issued the media release that same afternoon. Like many in the sector we believe the package needs amendment to ensure disadvantaged children receive at least two days of early learning each week – no matter what their parents do.
We don’t believe there is a conflict in lobbying the Government to do more for children from low income households while also welcoming changes which will make early learning more affordable for the majority of working households in Australia.
As you noted in your blog post, late last week Goodstart also released independent modelling from PwC which demonstrates the Government’s claims that the changes will be good for two-income families were well founded. Importantly there will be strong economic benefits for the nation when more women return to work as a result of early learning being more affordable.
We are urging the Senate to pass the bill, with amendments to ensure disadvantaged children receive at least 15 hours of early learning each week [emphasis is Goodstart’s – Liam].
Liam we hope you will be able to correct the record with your readership by posting this email or at the very least the links to our submission and media release.
Campaign Manager, Goodstart Early Learning
“And so people in the sector need to recognise and, if need be, adjust their business models to support those families who are looking to provide for their children for six hours a day or four hours a day over three days.”
– Senator Simon Birmingham
Advocacy gets tricky in the details. Fighting the good fight for ideals and foundational rights is not easy, but it’s clear. Calling out and ending the scourge of domestic violence. Calling for the release of children from immigration detention. Calling for a fair, equitable and funded early education and care sector.
There are clear, consistent and compelling cases that can – and are – being made on these important causes. But there comes a time when you need to move beyond the headline, get people round a table and hammer out a plan.
Tackling domestic violence will take generations of work in law, government, our schools and our homes. It will require challenging the very forces of society that encourage men to desire and exercise control over women.
Ending Australia’s offshore detention program, and freeing children from their abject existences within it, seems less and less likely as global events and our own inward focus hardens our attitudes. Even changing the Government will not end this.
As for early education – talk about getting lost in the details.
I’ve devoted a fair chunk of my professional career in this sector to understanding, exploring and arguing with people on Twitter about the ins and outs of Australian early childhood policy. There are any number of people more intelligent, articulate and credible in this space – but I’m not exactly a newbie here either. But, confession time, I find the system inordinately complex, challenging and migraine-inducing. On a good day.
Australia’s legislative, regulatory and political framework for Birth-5 education is a labyrinthine mess of funding streams, Federal/State & Territory overlaps, a system deliberately designed to foster profit-based competition, local government planning issues and an undervalued and underpaid workforce. They’re just the problems I could think of while writing this paragraph.
The Productivity Commission Inquiry was designed – at least in part – to identify, and provide solutions for, these endless entanglements. Its success in this area is minimal at best, and given that the current Government has had wildly varied responses to its final report depending on A) who was the current Minister at the team (just a reminder, we’re up to 3 now since the last election) and B) which Department has responsibility for the sector (2 so far, 3 if you count going back and forth from Education). It’s telling that the new Minister, Simon Birmingham, has barely referred to the Commission at all since his elevation to the role of Education Minister.
Advocating for a fair and equitable early education system is easy – right up until the point you have to get into the details. And it’s in the details that something very concerning is happening – and I’m not convinced the sector is ready for it.
Senator Birmingham has recently floated the idea that ECEC services should charge by the hour. An innocuous suggestion by itself – most families don’t use a service for its entire hours of operation each day. But, taken alongside a number of other statements and policy directions of the last 6-12 months, it’s now clear that Australia’s early education system is facing an existential threat.
Generalising massively here (which we have to because, again, the details make my head hurt), we can see the Birth-5 education advocacy push within Australia (and even internationally to greater or lesser extents) as moving along a continuum from formalised babysitting towards recognition as part of the formal education system. It’s a very simplified version, but we can generally agree that we’re moving towards a vision of being viewed in the same framework as primary, secondary and tertiary education – funded and available to all.
The National Quality Framework (NQF) was a significant milestone on this journey. It was agreed to by both Coalition and Labor State and Territory Governments, and despite some tough talk has been continued under the Coalition Federal Government. I’m a vigorous defender of the NQF – and its now clear that the Government know it’s here to stay. Which makes their current policy moves dangerous.
They’re not going to get rid of the NQF. They’re going to make it meaningless.
Proposed changes, currently before the Senate, will see the current work/study activity test – essentially how much you contribute to the economy before your children are deemed worth of accessing an ECEC services – will become tighter locking out already marginalised children and families.
The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care estimates at least half the indigenous families now using childcare would fail the work and study “activity test’’.
– Natasha Bita, The Australian
This erosion of access was the first major push-back. The current proposal to expect services to charge by the hour will push us back another step – except this one will be over a cliff.
The Government’s moves, taken as part of a wider push, will see the sector slide back along the continuum. Rather than heading towards integration with the education system, Birth-5 education will become a service for parents like a trip to Monkey Mania. In fact, given the administrative nightmare hourly charging within the CCMS system will cause the sector, we may as well hand over to private indoor playgrounds. At least their system is set up for it.
“After all, nobody expects a three or four year old to engage in 10 to 12 hours of centre-based learning per day. These children will be much better served via access to two or three shorter educational sessions per week.”
– Senator Simon Birmingham
I can understand families being seduced by this idea – particularly given that Australia’s Birth-5 system is the most expensive in the OECD. But Early Childhood Australia have legitimate analysis that hourly billing will actually end up being more expensive in the long run.
Regardless, I don’t actually believe that this argument is about the cost of ECEC. Despite a significant international shift in the last 5-10 years towards recognising and beginning to properly fund this area, the current Government just does not fundamentally accept the need for early education (with the exception of Preschool). Despite the clear evidence on return for investment, Australia does not appear ready to take this leap away from a workforce participation mindset towards a focus on society as a whole. The evidence is becoming overwhelming – just as with primary and secondary education, everyone benefits whether you personally have children in the system or not.
It’s worth discussing primary and secondary education within the context of this (now extremely long) look at advocacy and details. The Gonski campaign was a fantastic example of education-based advocacy because it was clear, and actually managed to overcome a lot of the problem of minute detail. The Australian community at large could accept the details of the problem – and solution – because the argument about the right to accessing school is done and dusted.
The reason Birth-5 advocacy doesn’t have a “Gonski”-style campaign is the right to access argument is still being waged. We’re still in the weeds of even getting the community to accept this needs to be funded at all, let alone how.
The Government’s current approach reflects this – and therefore the “solutions” being proposed are a staggering case of missing the point entirely.
Senator Birmingham is not wrong to point out that families may be paying a lot for hours they are not using. But this isn’t the point – the point is they’re paying a lot for ECEC full stop. Forcing services to upend their entire approach misses the point that the system needs to be structured and funded to support the attendance of all children, particularly those experiencing vulnerability.
Senator Birmingham is not necessarily wrong to raise the issue of children attending 10-12 hours of formal learning a day. However, this firstly exposes a rather simplistic and inaccurate view of what is happening in ECEC services, and secondly his proposed solution is again entirely the wrong approach. If this is his concern, regulate services to provide shorter permanent hours of operation. Instead of opening to floodgates to Paid Parking Meter Childcare, let’s do 8.30 – 3.30. Heaven forbid the business community should have to be flexible to meet the education needs of children.
The move towards a fair and equitable Birth-5 education system is under threat, and the details are the weapons. Small but significant policy changes that undermine the gains of the last decade. I’m worried that the sector isn’t ready for this, and that private operators in the space may actually seize on the proposed system.
We need to be aware, and we need to force ourselves to keep up with the details. We may end up buried under them.
Questions are vital in our work with children. The Early Years Framework (EYLF) and the Framework for School Age Care (FSAC) encourage us to view children’s learning holistically – not as a block of knowledge to be “transmitted” to each child, but as a complex creation of relationships, interests and meaning.
Questioning is a valuable strategy to encourage children’s curiosity and search for understanding. Providing the correct answer to a child is the well-trodden road to knowledge. Responding to children’s questions with questions or curiosity of our own takes us off the main road to the wild lands of imagination and discovery. These are the paths that take us to where none have walked before.
We value questions – but how often do we question our own roles, and our identity as professionals? If we do – are we asking the right questions?
Here’s a question we often hear: Why did you start working in children’s services?
This is a great icebreaker, and we love to tell those stories. I’m fond of mine. I was in the first year of a Media Production degree, and needed a part-time job to fund the meagre lifestyle of a university student.
That’s my answer to that question – but now I know that it’s the wrong question. Our first step doesn’t tell us much about the journey that lies ahead. Other answers I’ve heard include “I always thought children were just cute”, or “it was just an easy job to get”.
The question we need to start asking ourselves is: Why are you still working in children’s services?
This is the question that unlocks our identity as professionals. Working in children’s services is challenging and complex. We know that turnover is a significant issue, as is burnout. People leave our work regularly – but crucially people stay. The reason why we are still here can tell us a lot about our professional identity.
The status of early childhood education has raised significantly in the last decade. Providing children with individual, play-based learning experiences before they start school is now seen as critical to reducing inequality and ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed in life.
Australia has acknowledged this with the introduction of the National Quality Agenda. For the first time the entire country came under the same system of regulation and quality support. In particular, the introduction of the EYLF and the FSAC provided a national curriculum framework to support the learning of every child attending a children’s service.
This makes the role of an educator more important than ever before. We know that quality children’s services can dramatically improve children’s chances in life – particularly for children experiencing disadvantage.
All children can benefit from the work we do, but as professionals we must be particularly mindful of how our work can affect individual children. For a number of children that we work with every day, the children’s service they attend may be the most stable, safe and consistent environment available to them. For children of families experiencing poverty, violence, mental health issues, the time they spend with us is critical – not just for their education, but for their overall wellbeing.
The work we do is complex, demanding and incredibly busy. But it is essential that we all regularly take a step back to remind ourselves not why we started, but why we’re still here. We have a powerful role to play in the future lives of children, whether it is fully recognised by society or not.
Ask some of your colleagues why they still do the work they do – the answers might surprise and inspire you.