In a market-based model, the need for a Code of Ethics to underpin the work of early childhood educators is critically important. Alongside the National Quality Framework, it provides a framework for ensuring that children’s rights are prioritised, and that educators themselves can advocate for the importance of their own roles and the experiences of children.
I’ve talked pretty endlessly on this blog, and on the Early Education Show podcast, about my concerns about the Federal Government’s new Child Care Package (formally known as the Jobs for Families Package, which tells you quite succinctly everything you need to know about these reforms). They’re bad for children, they’re bad for the sector, and the sector should not have supported them in any way.
As we heave ourselves over the line into 2018, the year that will see the introduction of this new legislation, I wanted to highlight an issue I am worried is not getting anywhere near enough attention.
The way we think about early childhood education has changed a lot in a relatively short space of time. It’s amazing to remember that across Australia, guaranteed access to preschool education in the year before school is a very recent initiative. The Universal Access commitment from all Australian Governments (Federal, State and Territory) was only agreed in 2009. For a long time, education was something that only happened once children started formal primary education.
This week, the federal Department of Education is conducting a nationwide “Workforce Census” of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services. This census will provide important information on the qualifications, retention rates and other factors that provide a snapshot of the early childhood educator role in Australia.
This is a good opportunity to take a step back and look holistically at how early childhood educators are viewed and supported, both within the ECEC sector and in the community. The National Quality Framework (NQF) was introduced in 2012, and one of its key pillars was the acknowledgement that quality learning could be provided by qualified and valued educators.
Four years on, how close are we to realising that vision?
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 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.
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.
It was a huge honour to be invited to speak at Community Child Care Co-operative’s 35th Birthday event, alongside such incredible early childhood “rockstars” as Alma Fleet, Eva Cox, Lisa Bryant, Anthony Semann and more. For those on Twitter, check out the hashtag #CCCCis35 to check out some of the incredible moments from the day.
The post below is my prepared presentation at the event – there were some minor changes on the day which reflected what I had heard and been inspired by in the previous presentations.
I would also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather today, the Cadigal People of the Eora Nation. I would also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land I call home and work from, the Ngunnawal People.
I’d like to wish Community Child Care Co-operative a very Happy 35th Birthday! It is a great honour to be invited by them to speak with you today. As CCCC has been such a positive and powerful force for advocacy in NSW and around Australia, to be invited to speak on that topic is somewhat nerve-wracking!
It is also a huge privilege to be speaking alongside such incredible educators, activists and leaders in the sector. I’ve worked with some of you professionally in the past, some of you I’ve followed through your writing, and some of you I’ve had long arguments with on Twitter.
It was particularly exciting to meet the wonderful Lisa Bryant (@lisajbryant) in person today, who has been a regular social media sparring partner! The early childhood community on social media is growing each day, which can only be a fantastic development.
The ability of social networking and online forums, such as Early Childhood Australia’s NQS Forum, are invaluable to the ongoing discussions, disagreements and arguments that will be shaping the future of our sector.
The late Christopher Hitchens once said that “Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.”
So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those in this room that I have spent valuable time “discussing” the finer points of early childhood policy with.
My talk today is focused on policy and politics – hopefully it will be a little more interesting than that sounds!
I set up my blog to explore the nexus between children, policy and politics – obviously particularly focused on the early childhood education and care sector.
As a sector, I don’t think we’ve successfully explored or acted in that space. With my usual arrogance and desire to hear my own voice, I figured I’d have a go.
This is not to denigrate the exceptional work of advocates and activists in this room, or advocacy organisations like CCCCNSW, who do incredible work.
But we need to acknowledge that our advocacy has not been as successful, or as strategic, as we need it to be.
Galling though it may be, we also need to acknowledge that the private operators do advocacy better.
They’re kicking our backsides. The Australian Childcare Alliance has a full-time lobbyist at Parliament House.
They’ve cultivated a close relationship with the new Assistant Minister for Education, Sussan Ley. A close-enough relationship that there is a more-than-passing resemblance to each other’s press releases.
The political agenda on children’s early education in this country is shaped by that advocacy.
So I have worked to focus my advocacy on policy, and politics.
My drive for advocacy has grown as my career has grown. My first love is working directly with children, but my career has slowly moved me away from day-to-day work with them. First as a Centre Director, and now as the ACT Territory Manager for Goodstart Early Learning.
The face-to-face work with children is crucial, it’s everything – and I salute those of you here today who are still in those roles.
From the first time I took on a Director’s role, I felt a powerful responsibility to advocate for the work of those in my team who were doing that tricky and complex work every day as Team Leaders, or assistant educators.
For me, this started with the Big Steps campaign. Although Directors are certainly not paid enough for the work they do, I felt that the privilege of the higher pay-rate, the ability to manage my own time, the greater ability with which I could access professional development and networking opportunities, conferred on me an ethical responsibility to advocate.
This has been particularly clear to me in my current role as an Area Manager – particularly in the new world of the National Quality Framework.
The Framework ask a lot of Centre Directors – they are legally responsible for their centres, with all the pressures and challenges that entails.
Those of us in roles such as mine, without legislative responsibilities and with no direct day-to-day, ongoing work with children, are in what my Manager and professional mentor gleefully describes as “made-up jobs”.
I am not in the ECEC National Law. The Government has not deemed my job to be essential to the successful education and care of Australia’s children.
I’m going to assume there are people in similar positions in the room today – don’t worry, I won’t make you put your hands up!
What I would ask you to do is to reflect critically on your roles – my challenge to you is if you are not advocating tirelessly for those who are carrying out the day-to-day teaching and education with children, you are not doing your job.
I am fortunate to work with an incredible team of Centre Directors in the ACT, and I’d like to just acknowledge their professionalism and work in their communities of children, families and educators.
I reflect every day on the privileges that my “made-up” job entails me, and if I cannot justify my work to that group of incredible women at the end of the day – then it’s not worth me being there.
For me, this means that above and beyond my day-to-day work, of which advocacy is certainly a part, it also means advocating above and beyond my 38 hours a week.
Anything less I could not ethically justify.
My particular focus with advocacy is politics. Political advocacy has always been one of the most common, and most effective, forms of advocacy as it is targeted at those who actually make the decisions.
My interest in politics stemmed largely from growing up as a teenager in the Howard years. I don’t want to get into a big discussion around Right vs. Left, but those 11 years left a deep impression on me and many in my generation.
The issue that particularly engaged me was refugee policy.
It seemed incredible to me, as a naive sixteen-year old, that we could actually make laws and decisions that treated people so cruelly.
That women and men working comfortably in offices in one of the most prosperous nations on Earth could sign documents and make telephone calls that would directly imperil the lives of people fleeing persecution that I could not even imagine.
Now, being from Canberra for the last 15 years, it’s very easy to reduce politics to bureaucracy – to people passing paper around with little-to-no impact on the real lives of people.
Our politics and policies on refugees and asylum seekers helped me realise that politics and policy have a direct impact on every one of our lives, whether we know it or not.
Just as those decisions can directly impact people fleeing persecution from outside Australia, decisions made in Canberra have a direct and deep impact on the work we do, and the communities we do it in.
They are the frameworks we put around our society.
The connection with early childhood policy took a bit longer to come to me, but since then it has informed my work as a professional in this sector.
It particularly “clicked” for me when I came to a single, clear realisation about our work.
Children’s education and care policy in this country is not about children.
It is about workforce participation.
The childcare sector in Australia is entirely set up, resourced and funded to ensure that families are at work and contributing to the economy. This fact informs every part of our sector, every challenge and every frustration.
Australia’s entire policy focus on early childhood education, on both sides of politics, Labor and Liberal, and even in far-left parties like the Green, has nothing to do with children.
This almost made sense in the 1970s, when getting women into the workforce wasn’t just a social and moral challenge, but a practical one.
Women with children were expected to remain at home.
The strides that have been made in gender equality since then are due in no small part to the creation of a formal, regulated and affordable childcare sector.
Greater numbers of women in the workplace have forced organisations to slowly (in some cases, extremely slowly) adapt to the 21st Century.
The childcare sector played a large role in that, and is overwhelmingly positive. But more than 40 years later, the paradigm needs to shift.
It’s no longer enough for us to accept that the early childhood education and care sector is just there to “babysit” children so their parents can contribute to the economy.
The latest figures from DEEWR tell us that for the first time in Australia’s history, over a million children are now in some form of ECEC. This is a staggering amount, and represents a major challenge for Australian society.
At the beginning of my talk I mentioned our friend Judith Sloan. It’s important to analyse her perspective on ECEC beyond her ridiculous comments about “dimwits”.
Her article points to the underlying tension of our work. The notion of universal access early childhood education for all children is a direct attack on conservative “family values”.
The conservative argument is essentially that the best place for a child, any child, is in a stable home with Mum and Dad (certainly not two Dads, or two Mums, but we’ll save that for another time).
I never attended childcare when I was a young child. I still did well in school, have a University degree (admittedly not from a Uni that would meet with Judith’s approval) and have a great job in a sector I love.
My parents had no degrees in early childhood education, but helped set my brother and I up to work hard in our studies (primary, secondary and tertiary) and in our work.
My story would provide “evidence” for conservatives that access to early childhood programs is unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money.
However, I was extremely fortunate to have two well-educated, stable and loving parents with no mental health issues or other vulnerabilities.
I was given every chance to be successful, even before I was in school.
But we are part of a society where not every child has those same opportunities. Some children will grow up in challenging and disruptive environments, where their parents are suffering immense challenges of their own.
Advocating for universal access to ECE is about ensuring that any child, no matter the circumstances of their home life, can be given the same head start I was given.
So I believe that we are getting near a crossroads – I would actually like us to be at that crossroads now, but unfortunately I think we’re a way off even from that.
Brain research consistently tells us that the first five years are absolutely crucial. Long-term studies like the Australian Early Development Index and the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children also point to those formative years as the building blocks for later life.
With a million children now accessing some form of childcare in those foundational five years, it is no longer good enough for our sector to just be about workforce participation.
We have the incredible opportunity to be improving children’s lives right here and now, and in so doing drastically lower their risk of experiencing vulnerability throughout the rest of their lives.
Children who struggle early will continue to struggle, and will find it harder to engage in formal learning and study, increasing the challenges they will face in employment and housing.
These foundational years all take place before children set foot in a school – and yet our entire education focus for children, from a policy and political perspective, only really begins in Year 1 of school.
So is Australia ready to leave behind the paradigm of workforce participation, and adopt a truly child-centred approach to ECEC?
Yes, the majority of states and territories have some form of funded preschool, but it’s telling that over the last 2-3 years of public debate around David Gonski’s school reforms, preschool and long day care was conspicuously absent.
I’ll be blunt – that our sector was not represented in those policy discussions points to a significant failure on our part, and the need to significantly raise our levels of advocacy.
This was our chance to raise our voices – the challenges we as a society will be helping children to face throughout their childhood years can, and MUST, be addressed in early childhood.
And yet, nothing.
I look at the recent election, and the only time early childhood education and care was mentioned was in terms of fees, waiting lists, planning permits and workforce participation.
Again, this represents a significant failure of our advocacy.
I’m sorry to be the person at the birthday party who brings the tone down, and I understand I won’t be getting many invites to other parties after today!
But if we are to take our advocacy leadership seriously, we need to acknowledge our challenge.
There are advocates in this room who have done incredible work, who have spoken and written and banged their fists on tables around the country. CCCC has done incredible work.
But despite all of that, we have not shifted majority opinion. We have not changed enough minds.
The debate in Australia, beyond these walls today, is not about universal access. It’s not about children’s rights. It’s not about the potential for ECEC to lift children out of structural disadvantage.
It’s about fees. It’s about freezing the CCR. It’s about “flexible opening hours”.
As leaders in our sector, and as advocates for children, we have to do better. It is unacceptable to do anything less.
We know the importance of what we do. We know the challenges, we know the structural inequities that stand in our way. It’s no use convincing the people in this room.
Our advocacy has to go beyond that.
We also know that if we are serious about improving outcomes for children; if we are serious about upholding children’s rights and their voice in our society; then we have to be the ones who are raising our voices.
If people aren’t listening, it’s our job to make them listen. Are we using every opportunity to raise the profile of our work, demonstrate our professionalism and inform people of our potential?
Are we creating opportunities to do those things?
So that is our challenge. I am not doing enough. None of us are.
Until we are having debates in cafes and offices around the best way to fund true universal access to early childhood education for children, we aren’t doing enough.
Until a journalist in a national, televised debate asks a candidate running for Prime Minister what their plans are to use ECEC to improve outcomes for children at a foundational level, we have not done enough.
Until the right of children to fully and freely participate in quality early learning programs is a national priority, and embracing that is a cornerstone of our education, family and health policies, we have not done enough.
So, enjoy the day and particularly enjoy the cocktail party tonight. Because tomorrow, we’ve got some work to do.
I’ve talked a lot about what we’re not getting right, despite the hard work of people in this room today. What are my thoughts on the next steps?
Above all, be fearless. Have arguments. Speak your truth.
Through my limited reach as a writer and participant on social media, I have forcefully and doggedly argued views that have infuriated and aggravated friends and colleagues.
A big one was the Early Years Quality Fund.
A fund that would only reach 40% of the sector, would only last two years and would be awarded on essentially a “first-come, first-served” basis?
This was a deeply flawed funding model, and in my view offensive to me, and those I work with.
I publicly stated that I could not ethically support this Fund, and criticised United Voice for agreeing to it.
In the lead-up to the election, I also publicly voiced my criticism of the Labor Government for their implementation of the National Quality Framework.
This was at a time when the sector was being encouraged to almost band together and cheerlead for Labor.
My firm belief is that the Labor Government categorically failed to implement the NQF in a way that would ensure its survival and growth.
It was a once-in-a-generation chance to change the conversation on Childcare. Labor didn’t do it well enough.
Overlaying the requirements of the National Quality Framework without a plan to address the structural inequities of the system, including the sexist discrimination of low wages, was always going to be problematic.
Are they to be commended for at least attempting? Yes, but I cannot and will not allow partisanship to silence criticism where it is due.
The case for early childhood education reform is a generally “progressive” issue. But this does not mean that advocates for early childhood should just support and “cheerlead” for Labor.
As has been shown all too clearly with refugee policy, Labor is in many ways only a progressive party by comparison with the Coalition.
To put it clearly, blindly supporting Labor without criticism as the only progressive party in town means that if you are, you are now supporting sending pregnant women legally seeking asylum to a tent in Papua New Guinea.
It amazed me the amount of my progressive friends and colleagues who had joined the campaign for Labor, who were suddenly quiet about the issue of asylum seekers after the PNG “solution”.
They had been extremely happy to loudly berate and criticise the Liberal Party, quite rightly, for their policies.
Labor supporters who had criticised the undermining of Julia Gillard by Kevin Rudd and his supporters, suddenly donning Kevin 13 shirts after a quick change-up in the Labor leadership team quite soon before an election.
If the price of joining up with a political party is silence, it is too high.
Advocates should be fearless and furious with criticism. Advocacy should be targeted at politicians, without being tied to a single party.
Advocacy should be about our sector, not political victories for others.
I don’t like to give advice, but I would urge my colleagues in advocacy to remember that.
The issues surrounding our sector – feminism, contested rights between children and parents, the role of education in the social good – demand that we be strategic and smart with our advocacy.
Tying ourselves to a political party or a political ideology is a bad idea.
Another bad idea is to paraphrase Mark Twain, but as he very nearly said: “Loyalty to progressing the early childhood education sector: ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
Advocacy is not just writing, not just attending rallies or forums. The Early Years Learning Framework encourages educators and teachers to look at every moment with a child, or group of children, as an opportunity to learn.
In exactly the same way, every moment in our day-to-day work is an opportunity to advocate for our professionalism, and the professionalism of the sector as a whole.
Every time you greet a family at the door, we could be advocating. Every time we have a pedagogical discussion with an educator, we could be advocating.
But I firmly believe we also have an obligation, and imperative, to advocate at that wider level – at the level of policy.
The Italian pedagogue and President of Reggio Children Carla Rinaldi encourages advocates to be a “megaphone for children’s voices”.
Aim it at Parliament House.
What made you angry? What frustrated you? When was your voice silenced? What made you want to yell at the TV screen, or your computer?
Write about it. Get it out there. Contact your local MP.
But do not fall victim of the “us versus them”, or “Left vs. Right”, or “Labor vs. Liberal”. As soon as we subsume our advocacy to that of a political ideology, we are no longer advocating. We’re advertising.
It can seem like a huge and uphill battle when you look at where the national discussion now.
Imagine having an election fought on the principles of children’s human rights and the magnifying and uplifting power of early childhood education.
It seems like at the moment as a people we are more focused on having cheap, available childcare.
But, fellow advocates, just remember, as Jon Stewart said, “You have to remember one thing about the will of the people: it wasn’t that long ago that we were swept away by the Macarena.”
Thank you very much.
Thanks again to Community Child Care Co-operative for inviting me to speak. You can check out their website at http://ccccnsw.org.au/.
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.
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.
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.