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Early Childhood Education gains to be applauded

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We enter 2020 applauding early childhood educators for their integral role in striving for better educational outcomes for children across Australia. Amplify puts a spotlight on a range of recent reports and government releases that affirm how far the early childhood sector has come, and its vital importance to children and their families.

In November 2019, CELA CEO Michele Carnegie attended the launch of the State of Early Learning in Australia, convened by ECA. The launch was attended by key stakeholders in early education from across Australia with presentations from ECA CEO Sam Page, Hon Dan Tehan MP Minister for Education and Hon Amanda Rishworth MP Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development.

Together with CELA Policy and Research Advisor, Megan O’Connell, Ms Carnegie reflects on the significant improvements in early education across since the implementation of the National Quality Framework.

“It is due to your effort, continual focus on improvement and dedication to early education that we are seeing growth in quality and access that, in the longer term, will translate to better outcomes for children.”
Says Ms Carnegie.

The State of Early Learning 2019 was released in late 2019. This report, the third in a series, shows how the sector has progressed and the challenges remaining. Much of the data in the report has been previously reported, however it sheds light on how much progress has been made in access and quality since the National Quality Framework was released.

Growing participation in early education, supporting children and families

The report highlights the growing participation in early childhood education over time, rising by a third in a decade. Nearly half of all children attend early childhood education other than preschool. This is in addition to the near universal enrolment in preschool.

Figure A20. Proportion of birth to five-year-olds attending ECEC
(non-preschool) (2009–2018) (Productivity Commission, 2019). Source State of Early Learning 2019

The growing contribution of early childhood education to the labour force is discussed, with the increase in female employment coinciding with increased enrolments in early childhood education. Australia’s level of female employment is now nearing other leading nations in part due to the availability of accessible, quality care.

Figure B9. Female employment as a percentage of employment
(2008–2017) (OECD, 2018c). Source: State of Early Learning 2019 report

Key statistics around the importance of high-quality early childhood education and care are cited – including that most women thought having access to care for children is very important. There is increasing recognition that access to quality services for children makes the decision to work, and to work longer hours, easier for women in particular. However, cost of care can be a barrier with families bearing around a third of the cost of early childhood education fees.

Improving enrolment and attendance by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

Pleasingly, the report shows that more indigenous children are enrolled in early childhood education, in part because of reclassification of Budget Based Funding services. Although enrolment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at preschool has increased, remoteness has a significant impact on attendance levels.

Figure A14. Preschool attendance rates of Indigenous
and non-Indigenous children by geographical remoteness
(Productivity Commission, 2018). Source: State of Early Learning 2019 report

Quality has improved over time and continues to improve

Since implementation of the National Quality Framework there has been tremendous upskilling in the early childhood workforce, with most staff now holding a qualification. The graph below shows the strong rate of progress that has been made with most educators now holding a formal qualification.

Source: State of Early Learning 2019 report

“The quality of early childhood education has progressed rapidly over time. Around four in five services meet or exceed standards. The percentage of services working towards standards or lower has halved in five years. With a significant number of services exceeding quality, discussions should move to ensuring all services not only meet standards but continuously improve.” Says Ms Carnegie.

Figure P4. Proportional changes in quality ratings (Q1, 2014–19) (ACECQA, 2019d). Source: State of Early Learning 2019 report

Significant challenges remain, with workforce shortages looming and access, attendance and quality varying based on location and socio-economic factors.

“However, the hard work of educators is clear in the improvements made to date. Hundreds and thousands of Australian children have benefited, and will benefit in an ongoing manner, from these improvements to access and quality,” says Ms O’Connell.

2020 is set to be a big year for early education – and the initial signals are positive

On 12 December at Education Council (a meeting of state, territory and Australian Government education ministers), Australia’s Education Ministers committed to the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration on national education goals and actions for the coming decade. This document signals, for the first time in an Australian education declaration, that early childhood education is officially recognised as a key building block for children’s development.

The declaration commits Australian Governments to strengthen early childhood education and acknowledges the 15 hours of early childhood education provided per week to all Australian children in the year before full-time school.

This is referenced as a solid foundation for development and learning which must be built on. The declaration cites the need to continue to focus on quality and access, and the priority in increasing the capability of the early childhood education workforce.

“Having agreement across all states and territories, and with the Australian Government on these issues is no mean feat,” reflects Ms O’Connell. “It is fantastic, and significant, that the contribution early childhood education makes to children’s education and development is officially acknowledged.”

Good news for the National Partnership, and a commitment to quality

This declaration hopefully signals good news for the Universal Access National Partnership – the funding for early childhood education in the year before school. Preliminary findings from the review suggest the partnership has been successful in achieving its objectives. This review and the review of the National Quality Framework are set to be released in the next few months.

The Commonwealth Government’s announcement that it would fully fund the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) bodes well for ongoing government commitment to early childhood education.

“It is fantastic to see a much-needed commitment to ongoing quality assurance,” says Ms Carnegie.

“Equally great has been ministerial recognition of the central role played by educators, and endorsement for the development of a new children’s education and care national workforce strategy to support the recruitment, retention, sustainability and quality of the early childhood services workforce. This strategy will be co-developed with the sector. We look forward to hearing more about this.”

CELA will be actively involved in these emerging developments – we look forward to working with you to ensure your voice is heard. Together we can ensure all educators can respond to the needs of children and families and grow access to high quality early childhood education.

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