Seeking teachers overseas

ECEC organisations around Australia are seeking qualified teachers from overseas, according to news.com.au.

ACECQA will also invite selected universities and colleges in New Zealand, the UK and Ireland to apply to have their early childhood degrees, diplomas or certificates recognised in Australia.

The spokeswoman said 775 foreign childcare workers had applied to have their overseas qualifications recognised in 2012/13 – with 38 per cent from the UK and Ireland, and 22 per cent from New Zealand.

Only 412 applicants were approved, 73 were rejected, and the rest would be assessed this year.

Australian Childcare Alliance secretary Frank Cusmano, representing privately-owned childcare centres, said a shortage of university-trained teachers meant many centres would not be able to comply with new rules requiring them to employ one by January next year.

“There are a lot of exemptions that have been asked for, and received,” he said.

The qualification requirements, particularly around early childhood teachers, have been a source of contention across the sector.

You can read my thoughts on the requirements here. I am entirely supportive of having the highest qualified teachers working with our youngest children, but without targeted and funded support it is unachievable.

This will continue to be the case until teachers who choose to work in the early years are given the same respect, the same recognition and – yes – the same pay as every other teacher in this country.

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Addressing inequality

Interesting piece in the New York Times by James J. Heckman, Professor of Economics the University of Chicago, on early childhood education for all.

Everyone knows that education boosts productivity and enlarges opportunities, so it is natural that proposals for reducing inequality emphasize effective education for all. But these proposals are too timid. They ignore a powerful body of research in the economics of human development that tells us which skills matter for producing successful lives. They ignore the role of families in producing the relevant skills They also ignore or play down the critical gap in skills between advantaged and disadvantaged children that emerges long before they enter school.

While education is a great equalizer of opportunity when done right, American policy is going about it all wrong: current programs don’t start early enough, nor do they produce the skills that matter most for personal and societal prosperity.

America has an ingrained distrust against the State interfering in the lives of children and families, which is part of why their “daycare” system is so dysfunctional.

But there is a growing discussion and debate in the US about the importance of early childhood education, particularly following President Obama’s recent focus on ECE.

With Australia still facing structural funding issues with ECE, and a strong focus on testing and outcomes in the school system, a focus on addressing inequality and giving young people the skills and resilience to become successful could be very powerful.

The article is part of the New York Times’ series The Great Divide, which focuses on inequality in various forms. Well worth following.

What does the Coalition’s ECEC policy mean for the sector?

On the second-to-last day of the 2013 Election campaign, the Coalition announced their early childhood education and care policy: The Coalition’s Policy for Better Child Care and Early Learning.

Rather surprisingly, given Sussan Ley’s statements in The Australian, the Coalition will seek to pause many of the most important reforms of the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care.

With regards to staffing ratios:

The Coalition will work with State and Territory governments to review the implementation
of staff to child ratios to assess whether their implementation can be slowed to give the
sector enough time to absorb the changes and ensure continuity of service.

The Coalition are also targeting the new qualification requirements:

Given the concerns of the child care sector, the Coalition supports a review of child care
qualifications. We will seek the cooperation of the States and Territories to pause the
requirement that all staff should be qualified until the Australian Children’s Education
Quality and Care Authority has undertaken a full review of early childhood qualifications.
Given the shortage of ECTs, the Coalition believes that it makes sense to put on hold the
requirement for centres with more than 25 children to employ an ECT. We will delay this
requirement until a full review has been undertaken, and in the meantime look at possible
ways to encourage more people, particularly in rural and regional areas where shortages
are most noticeable, to study early childhood teaching.

The reforms to educator-to-child ratios and qualification requirements are rightly held up as key improvements to the sector. Research and practical experience from around the world has shown that these are crucial to quality outcomes for children.

It is important to remember that as the NQF is a product of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), any changes to the Framework will require the support of the States and Territories (which is acknowledged in the policy document).

I will be honest – I am conflicted about this policy announcement. Anyone expecting instant disapproval and blind support for the Labor Government’s implementation of the NQF reforms had probably better stop reading now.

I am completely supportive of the reforms – I have argued publicly that they do not actually go far enough.

I also completely dismiss the talk of “administrative” problems and the burden of red tape that the Coalition speak of – strict, clear and enforceable regulations are absolutely essential to ensure children’s health and safety. To put it bluntly, any ECEC organisation that cannot handle the “regulatory burden” shouldn’t be in business.

But…

I am forced to conclude that as things currently stand, the Coalition is not wrong to suggest that aspects of the NQF are put on hold.

This is not to say that Tony Abbott’s approach to ECEC is correct. The Coalition have no plan to address the structural issues they have identified, and will palm everything off to a Productivity Commission enquiry.

But this was inevitable, and it is entirely the fault of the Labor Government – specifically Ministers Kate Ellis and Peter Garrett.

As I have written before, the ECEC sector as a whole was never going to be ready to implement even the beginning of the qualification requirements by 2014.

The Government has entirely failed to ensure that the NQF would be embedded and immune from this inevitable announcement by the Coalition.

The NQF should have been accompanied with significant funding and support to the sector, and a long-term campaign to gain public support for the benefits of early childhood education.

Instead, we got a “Early Childhood Workforce Strategy” – an insulting 22-page pamphlet (I refuse to call it a document) that would have been laughed out of any sector or industry that the Government actually took seriously.

Families received the odd brochure or postcard, buried under an avalanche of Government advertising detailing how much money they were spending on rebates.

A bizarre and divisive fund for professional wages was delivered at the last-minute, which has only served to deepen the divisions and frustrations of the sector.

The Government’s implementation approach to the NQF seemed to be tossing it to the sector, and then wandering off with a quick “let us know how you get on”. Even with two years to meet the initial qualification requirements in 2014, huge swathes of the sector were never going to get there.

The best analogy I can think of is like asking a straight-jacketed person to do the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – it was never going to go well.

Structural and foundational work needed to be done before these reforms could really flourish – the low wages and professional standing of the educators in the sector; the incompatibility of ECEC with for-profit providers; lack of targeted funding to support children and families with vulnerabilities, and the educators who work with them – just to name a few.

The straight-jacket holding the sector wasn’t removed – the Government didn’t even seem to notice that there were issues.

From that point of view, it is simple to argue that the reforms should be put on hold.

The Government has gifted the Coalition a major goal on ECEC. Their failure to invest the necessary funding and support into the sector has allowed the Coalition to persuasively argue that the reforms are not really that great and are actually making things worse.

As an advocate for the human right of each child in Australia to a quality education, and the potential power of our sector to raise children out of inequality and vulnerability, I am furious with the Government.

The National Quality Framework should have been the turning point the sector so badly needs. Many people reading this will cast me as now advocating against the reforms – to be clear, this is completely not the case.

Do I want to see the reforms to be slowed, or wound back? Absolutely not.

But there is little point in pushing ahead with the 2014 requirements that are simply impossible for the sector to meet. What is the point in having the requirements if half the sector is on waivers?

The mismanagement of the NQF implementation may hamper our fight for recognition and structural reform for years. What a legacy.

Universal ECEC is not “Boys Vs. Girls”

An interesting article from Lucy Powell in The Guardian UK on the failure of the UK Government to invest in their childcare sector. It makes some good points, particularly the evidence that the huge investment required to truly have universal access for all children would be of long-term benefit to the country.

It’s time for government to stop tinkering and take childcare seriously. We see business case after business case for boys’ toys like planes and trains – high-speed rail and airport expansion. Government should develop the case for childcare as a key economic driver to get women – and it is still mainly women – back into work and earning their full potential to benefit not only families but also the country.

The case for free universal childcare should be seriously explored. The IPPR has shown that universal childcare – 25 hours of free childcare for children from one to four – would pay a return to the Exchequer of £20,050 over four years in terms of tax revenue minus the cost of childcare for every woman who returns to work full time after a year of maternity leave. Childcare investment would not only get our economy moving, it would also help the development of young children and begin to level the playing field between poorer children and their peers when they start school.

Powell does unfortunately couch the article primarily in terms of economic outcomes – the needs of children are only lightly touched on. I also question the reducing of traditional infrastructure investment as “boy’s toys” – quality infrastructure is also vital in lifting families out of vulnerable circumstances.

It serves no-one to reduce the argument to “Boys Vs. Girls”, or infrastructure vs. childcare. Investment is needed in both, and universal access to early education and care would significantly redress the gender imbalances in families that Powell rightly points out still exists.

Survey: Families prioritise spending on ECEC over PPL

Goodstart Early Learning has released the results of a survey conducted throughout June that sought opinions from Australian families on the early childhood education and care sector.

Goodstart chief executive Julia Davison said paid parental leave was not the main driver when it came to women’s participation in work. “Access to affordable quality childcare needed to be the second big leg of work and family policy alongside paid parental leave,” Ms Davison said.

“International research cited in a recent report by the Grattan Institute suggests that government support for childcare has about double the impact on female workforce participation as spending on paid parental leave. We would like to see the next government prioritising new investment into early learning and childcare so that parents do not end up wearing the additional cost of the quality reforms.”

Ms Davison said new investment should be an additional term of reference for the Coalition’s proposed Productivity Commission review of the sector. “Our government’s education spending priorities of inadequate investment in children’s early years do not reflect the priorities of Australian families and run counter to international best practice and research,” she said.

NSW educators rally over Government funding plans

Early childhood educators in NSW have rallied outside State Parliament to protest the NSW Government’s planned changes to funding early childhood education.

Leanne Gibbs helped organise a rally of childcare workers held outside State Parliament this morning.

“What essentially we’re asking for is a proper model of funding that ensures that children have access and that means three-year-olds as well,” Ms Gibbs said.

“We’re looking for a visionary approach to policy in this state and to funding early childhood education, so we want to see more money going into the childhood sector.

“We’re looking at a sector that could become unviable.”

Source: ABC News Online

You can check out more information on the proposed policy at http://www.earlyeducation.org.au.

Greens plan to lower childcare fees

The Australian Greens are today releasing their plan to combine the Child Care Benefit (CCB) and Child Care Rebate (CCR) payments and increase the amount paid to some families. The plan is costed at $2.3 billion over 4 years.

Some families, however, would get little new assistance, while others stand to gain more because the system would be skewed to help those who need it most.

Greens childcare spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said there was a clear need to streamline funding mechanisms to provide assistance to more parents who need it and promote higher standards of care.

”The crisis in childcare means fees are skyrocketing and availability is dropping, especially in high-need areas,” she said.

”If Australian children are going to be cared for in centres with sufficient numbers of qualified staff, the government must commit to increasing support to the sector.

”Without increased funding to childcare, families won’t be able to have the high-quality, affordable, flexible care that they need.”

Source: The Age

Streamlining the assistance payments makes sense, but it’s disappointing to see yet another policy announcement from a major party that fails to address the structural problems facing the sector.

For a great look at how the sector needs structural reform, check out this great story from ABC Radio National.

UPDATE: Green’s policy detail now up here.

Election 2013 – ECEC

We’re now into week three of the 2013 Election campaign. Early childhood education and care issues have bubbled into  few announcements and press releases, but as usual has not been a key priority for any of the major parties.

Labor has committed to continuing the work of the National Quality Framework reforms, but has not announced any measures to support the sector to meet the unrealistic qualification requirements due to commence in 2014. Labor will also continue to support the pay equity case at Fair Work Australia, and money from the Early Years Quality Fund has already begun to roll out.

The Coalition will instigate a Productivity Commission into childcare affordability. Beyond that, no idea.

The Greens have announced $200 million “expanding and upgrading existing community childcare facilities”. The Greens have also committed to the NQF.

All in all, a disappointment. Politically, we are miles and miles away from where we should be as a sector.

At the moment I’m reading “Children’s Chances: How Countries Can Move from Surviving to Thriving” by Jody Heymann. It’s a great, recently-published and up-to-date analysis of data from almost every country in the world. It looks at a variety of metrics on children’s chances to survive and thrive, and has a couple of great chapters on education.

It highlights to importance of early childhood education on long-term outcomes for children. In Australia, the policy debate is still stubbornly framed around waiting lists, fees and council zoning issues.

As I have been saying despairingly to my colleagues over the last few weeks, the real driver of policies for children in this country is workplace flexibility. Ponder that and become depressed.

Until we can get the conversation back to children, and the potential benefits of investment on the early years, nothing is going to change.

A Reggio approach to Australian early education

In a radical rethink of South Australia’s education system, Italian early childhood expert Carla Rinaldi says that funding and resources should be focused on the time from birth to age six rather than the later years of school.

She said care and education were inseparable, so day care centres must not simply act as babysitters for busy parents. Centres also need to be accessible to all families, regardless of wealth. Dr Rinaldi also wants to see an end to the term “preschool” as she says it is not “pre” anything.

Sheradyn Holderhead, The Australian (9/4/2013)

Interesting piece on the need for a re-conceptualisation of early education in Australia. We are still pretty firmly locked into the notion that “real learning” and “real education” start at school, despite all the evidence that foundational and integral learning begins from birth.

Welcoming men into ECEC

The most recent figures from the Australian Productivity Commission put the percentage of male educators working in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector at 3 per cent.

This is obviously an incredibly small amount, and is similar to other countries around the world. Why do so few men choose to work in early education?

There is no one simple answer to this question. Working with young children has traditionally been seen in society as a women’s role. The “traditional” roles of men and women were as “breadwinners” and “nurturers” respectively.

As child care and early education developed in Australia, there was a common societal understanding that the work would be performed primarily by women.

But as gender attitudes and preconceptions change, this is increasingly seen as the wrong way to look at the roles of men and women in early education.

Women have, and still are, fighting the battle to be seen as equally able to have a successful career and take powerful leadership roles in the business community.

This means that expectations around fathers have also slowly changed. Men can now expect to share the work of raising children, where once it was solely the women’s domain.

This cultural shift does not seem to have extended to early education though. The low percentage of male educators is evidence that the profession is still regarded in society as women’s work.

This, when combined with a national shortage of qualified educators and high rates of turnover, constitutes a serious problem for the ECEC sector.

Low wages and lack of professional recognition are a problem for all educators, male and female. The low wage is often given as a significant reason for the inability to recruit male educators. While this is certainly a factor, it is surely not the only reason.

The underlying problem lies in the perception of the work. When it is seen primarily as women’s work, men who choose to begin a career in ECEC can be viewed with suspicion by families and even by fellow educators.

Paul Sargent, a US-based education researcher, has collected many stories of male educators suffering prejudice and suspicion. He notes that even if they manage to avoid the worst of this, they are often expected to perform their roles in particularly “masculine” ways – for instance, focusing on outdoor play and physical development activities.

This can be problematic for men who work with children in different ways, such as being nurturing and caring. Men who act outside “the way men should act” are likely to be viewed as “different”, if not viewed with outright suspicion.

Anecdotally however, there are many examples of services wishing for more male educators. They are often described as a bringing a different perspective to the work environment, particularly among teams that have always been completely staffed by women.

Research has also shown that positive male role models in the early years can deliver benefits to children and families in disadvantage.

Yet this has not translated into higher numbers of men entering the ECEC sector as educators and teachers.

With the staffing crisis currently in evidence around the country, it is clear that breaking down the barriers to men choosing a career in the sector can only be of positive benefit to ECEC centres.

If the percentage could be raised even slightly, to 10 or 15 per cent, this would constitute a large number of new educators and teachers working with children.

So what can ECEC organisations, managers and directors do to encourage more men to apply for one of the vacancies in their centres?

A good place to start is in the centre itself. How are male role models portrayed in your learning environments? Is there evidence of fathers and male teachers and educators positively engaging in the lives of children? Do men feel welcomed into your space?

Make a decision to include a positive male image in all centre marketing and published materials. This works to reinforce in the minds of potential applicants that they have a place in your organisation. It also actively counteracts negative and damaging prejudices in society about men working with young children.

A great example of this is with the NSW-based organisation Big Fat Smile, which clearly sets out in its marketing that men are encouraged to work in their ECEC centres. This is a very inclusive approach to marketing a career in the sector.

Get involved with local schools, colleges and careers fairs and talk to young men about the rewarding career opportunities that come from working in ECEC.

Include positive stories from men already working in your organisation in newsletters and updates to families and the wider community.

Retaining men in the sector is just as important as recruitment, so it is important that men (as with all educators) are supported during induction and probation periods.

Issues that may arise with families (usually in the Infants rooms) need to be sensitively and respectfully managed. Leaders in the ECEC organisation need to take a proactive role in working with families to challenge bias and prejudice, and not simply move a male educator out of an Infants room.

It is also important that organisations, leaders and educators reflect on diverse ways of working with children, and ensure that men feel comfortable teaching and educating children in a way that works for them.

This is also important to share with children. The Early Years Learning Framework encourages us to work with children on challenging gender bias and assumptions. We need to remind children that boys can play with dolls, and girls can engage in construction activities (to use two simple examples).

Breaking down gender stereotypes with young children can give them a positive attitude to their own potential and those of their peers, and work to change the broader views of society.

Just as we are still working to embed the idea in society that girls can grow up to be and do anything they choose, in ECEC settings we need to see organisations demonstrating and advocating that teaching and educating is not “women’s work”, but a rewarding profession for all.

This article was originally published April 16 2013 on the website careforkids.com.au.