Where does Rudd’s return leave ECEC?

So, where does the rise of Rudd 2.0 leave early childhood education and care in Australia? As with most policy areas right now, we can only speculate (a very popular pastime right now).

The only certainty is that Peter Garrett has resigned his position as Minister for ECEC. Kate Ellis has not made any announcements, but has regularly voiced her clear support for Julia Gillard in the past. Unless she has changed her position to support for Kevin Rudd, it seems reasonable to assume that she may also choose to stand down in the near future.

Ellis and Garret have been the principal drivers of the National Quality Agenda within the Government, and their loss could signal that the NQA will be a low-priority during the period until the next election. The Department, DEEWR, will likely be sidelining any new work on it as well, awaiting the outcome of the election.

Rudd has voiced his general support for early learning before, particularly in the lead-up to the 2007 election where he shared his vision of “super-schools”, which incorporated early learning and K-12 in an integrated model.

This model was never really pursued, as economics and asylum seekers dominated the political agenda. It is completely unclear where Rudd would take ECEC if he is re-elected.

The most recent policy news for ECEC is the passing of the Early Years Quality Fund into law. This does not 100% guarantee that this will now be in place, but it does make it far more difficult to be halted.

This will be an interesting one – Rudd is no friend of the union movement, and may choose to back down in the face of a concerted push from the private operators to drop it.

Due to the fundamental inequity of the EYQF, as I have written before, this would be no terrible thing – but Rudd would need to swiftly announce a plan to replace it and address the wage inequity for educators.

Hopefully the commitment to a wage equity case at Fair Work Australia will remain – this seems very likely, as it is a relatively small commitment of many with almost no real detractors. It also allows Rudd to “kick the can down the road” for another couple of years.

The fundamental uncertainty is going to be around the continuation of the NQF reforms. The qualification requirements for 2014 are going to be a huge struggle for the sector, and it is entirely possible that the new-look Government may choose to put them on hold. Rudd will be looking to win over “working families”, and a commitment to push pack potential qualification-driven fee increases could be popular.

This will be a tricky one for the sector to manage. I am whole-heartedly committed to having people with the highest qualifications, but implementing them without structural reform to enable centres to actually recruit them seems ridiculous.

It may be better in the long run to push out the requirements – as long as a long-term plan to fundamentally reform the ECEC sector is also announced.

In the end, it seems likely that we won’t know what road ECEC will be taking until after the election, and potentially either a Coalition Government or a Rudd-led Labor one is installed. It is clear that Tony Abbott’s government would, if not completely roll back the reforms, freeze them as they are.

Labor will be stuck between the positives of the NQF reforms, and how generally unpopular they are with their link to fee increases. It is entirely possible they will adopt the same strategy.

UPDATED: Kate Ellis has confirmed that she will be remaining as a Government Minister until the election.

Win for Big Steps, but not quite the full victory

Providers would … have to agree to not increase their fees beyond operational costs, so as not to punish families.

“We know that quality early childhood education and care is dependent on having a qualified and professional workforce,” Mr Garrett said.

“We have listened to the sector and to parents and we are pleased to introduce this fund to help attract and retain qualified staff,” he said.

Simon Benson, Daily Telegraph (19/3/2013)

A qualified win for the Big Steps campaign.  $300 million for some of the sector is certainly less than the ask for professional wages for the whole sector.

But the important thing in this announcement is the Government’s acknowledgement that supporting educators is crucial to ensuring quality outcomes for children. This could be the starting point for much larger reforms.

Another bandaid solution?

“The new standards are designed to transform centres into learning, rather than babysitting, environments but have been criticised by the opposition and some parts of the childcare sector for being too expensive and ultimately costing parents through increased fees.”

“Grants to be tripled to staff in childcare”, Patricia Karvelas (The Australian, paywalled)