Coalition now supporting the NQF?

Sussan Ley, the Coalition’s spokesperson for childcare and early learning, has signalled that if elected her party will ensure the implementation of the National Quality Framework.

The Coalition has promised if it wins the election to convene a meeting with state and territory ministers to fine-tune the NQF to remove excessive regulation, but will maintain the quality aspects of the reforms to a sector dominated by low-paid female workers.

“Rollback of the reforms is not a term I have ever used and, by law, any slowdown would be a decision for the state and territory governments, individually or collectively,” opposition childcare spokeswoman Sussan Ley told The Australian.

“If we’re elected, we will sit down with state and territory ministers to work out what aspects of the NQF could work better than they are at present,” she said.

“In particular, we will focus on where excessive regulation adds to compliance and cost but not to quality.”

Source: The Australian

This is a fairly significant backdown after years of dramatic recitations of “the dead hand of government red tape”. The Coalition will also apparently accept the verdict of Fair Work Australia on any wage increases for educators. Taking Ms Ley at face value, this is good news for the sector.

It is important to remember, however, that the Coalition has been feeling political pressure on childcare and early learning, and the Australian has been very accommodating to their views on government regulation.

Also importantly, in the article Ms Ley claims that she has never stated that the Coalition would “roll back” reforms. This is disingenuous at best, and an outright falsehood at worst.

A good comparison on Ms Ley’s apparent change of heart can be found be reading this article “Coalition plans for childcare rollback” from 2012.

Ms Ley told The Australian the regulation was killing the sector and must be abandoned.

“Family daycare is becoming incredibly inflexible under the National Quality reforms,” she said. “I’m really feeling the frustration of the sector because every childcare roundtable I attend brings forward more examples of the dead hand of government regulation in a sector that absolutely doesn’t need it.


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.


ECEC centre offers “lovebird package” to families with night-time “babysitting”

The lovebirds special, which costs $95 and operates from 5pm to midnight at the NSW Academy of Early Learning in Casula, says an added bonus is that it is eligible for government rebates.

Owners Antony and Marc Elazzi said late-night care was much cheaper than hiring a babysitter.

“We believe that night care is the way of the future for the childcare industry,” Antony Elazzi said.

“We have created such a complicated world, where people have to work at night. The industry can provide a safe environment for children to stay which is regulated by the government, so that parents can work at night.”

Laura Speranza, Daily Telegraph (24/3/2013)

Well. It’s hard to know where to begin with this one.

This is where the for-profit chains, operators and advocates want to see the sector heading. This is “the future of the childcare industry”, according to Mr. Elazzi.

It’s a continuation of a trend that views ECEC as service for families, not as a right for children. The audacity of this proposal is shocking, and will of course be popular with some families. There will be no doubt some in the sector, perhaps even some of my own colleagues, who view this as a reasonable thing to do for some families.

But it needs to be completely clear that the view of ECEC as a learning and social right for children is completely incompatible with the view that “childcare” is a service for working families that can be twisted into any form that suits.

This is where the flexibility trials announced by Government will inevitably head, make no mistake. Any move to flexibility plays into the hands of profiteering private operators and fundamentally disadvantages children.

Advocates for children and for early learning and education in ECEC need to unite and take a stand on these kinds of issues. With 70% of the sector in the hands of private operators, this is an uphill battle – and we are losing.

Supporting working families and providing options for families is not the issue here. This needs to be worked through with a range of social and workforce policy measures – relying on ECEC to be all things to all families will be the end of any quality reforms we have started.

As for the educators of NSW Academy of Early Learning, any of them who have read this article must be thrilled to know their owners have such respect for them that they are being used as an option “cheaper than babysitting.”

What a lucky team.


ECEC wage funding only a small part of much-needed wage reform

The childcare sector is 98% composed of female staff. Increasing pay equity in this profession symbolises the ALP strategy to combat decreasing productivity growth by tackling the complexities of our labour market.

But it also speaks to the necessity of attracting women into the workforce more generally.

This is a problem conservatives do not appear to have analysed sufficiently. Tony Abbott leaves himself open to criticism that he is propping up antiquated traditions about the family (code for a male head-of- household) so he can cling to economically unsustainable views about the labour market (that women are supplementary to the “real” earners).

Chris Peers, The Conversation (22/3/2013)

The wages of early childhood educators are clearly a product of the gendering of the sector, as acknowledged by the Government’s commitment to support a pay equity case through Fair Work Australia.

Until the work of the social and community sector is properly valued, and that means wages, this debate will continue. The Government can be applauded for taking the first minor step, but Chris Peers is right in that it does not come close to addressing the complexities of the issue.


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.


Retail more financially rewarding than educating children

[Tanya Holmes], a traineeship diploma educator at South Penrith’s Bollygum Childcare Centre, will complete her diploma of children’s services this year.

Ms Holmes said she was forced to take a second job, in retail, to make ends meet.

And she was considering leaving the industry because it was too tough to provide for her family.

Alexis Carey, (7/3/2013)

Great to see more of the individual stories of struggling educators out there, particularly on International Women’s Day.


United States early childhood educators facing similar pay struggles to Australia

Heather Amos, who works at A New Dimension Child Enrichment Center, said she is actually making less money in the child care field now than she was seven years ago. “It’s not just a physically demanding job but emotionally as well,” she said. “Obviously no one goes into this field to get rich, but I feel given the amount we are investing in the lives of these children, we should earn more.” Still, she has mixed feelings about unions. “A lot of it comes down to who is running the unions, but I feel childcare workers are underpaid for the amount of work we do.”

Sheila Regan, Twin Cities Daily Planet (1/3/2013)

The United States has a much more complicated system of early childhood education and care which varies wildly from state to state. Government funding levels are also a huge issue, with President Obama prioritising an overhaul of preschool funding in his most recent State of the Union address.


Wage disparity between ECTs in ECEC and Government Preschools

Only hairdressers, animal trainers and supermarket checkout operators earn less than childcare workers, according to the latest Bureau of Statistics figures. Full-time childcare workers earn $811.40 a week, compared with the average full-time weekly earnings of $1122.60, forcing many to take on second jobs to make ends meet.

Cosima Marriner SMH (24/2/13)


Less tinkering needed, more consideration to a “root-and-branch” overhaul of ECEC

The current funding model – a John Howard special – removed the direct funding of services entirely from the system, replacing it with standardised fee subsidies for parents.

The rhetoric is straight economics 101: parents are the best judges of the quality of care so they will choose the right services. They are assumed to be able to compare prices, hours, quality, like choosing a Laundromat, and be ready to move the child if there is a better local offer. The model assumed a level playing field between consumer and provider but a perennial shortage of care in most areas put the power into the providers hands.

“Child’s play: Coalition childcare inquiry doesn’t go far enough”, Eva Cox (The Conversation)


Big Steps still doing the media rounds

Early childhood expert Elspeth McInnes, a senior lecturer at the University of South Australia, said it was crucial to have better-paid, more qualified staff.

“Best practice in childcare involves a policy of continuity of care, an environment where the child consistently has a familiar carer available to them,” Dr McInnes said.

“Childcare pay row tests the care factor”, Elissa Doherty (Herald Sun, paywalled)