By Megan O’Connell, CELA Research and Policy Manager
Amongst the many Government reports and inquiries conducted in 2020, one released in late 2020 received little attention. The Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training released a report on Education in remote and complex environments.
This report builds on two previous reports, the Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education (Halsey review, 2018) and the National Regional, Rural and Remote Tertiary Education Strategy (Napthine review, 2019), and seeks to provide clear recommendations to progress the findings of these reports.
The report has a focus across education, from early childhood education through to university education, but importantly acknowledges that what happens in early education can set children up for a lifetime of learning.
Inquiry highlights four main concerns
The committee raises concerns that “children in regional, rural and remote communities are more likely to experience disadvantage and developmental vulnerability than those in cities; are less likely to access early childhood education; that the quality of early childhood education is lower than in metropolitan areas; and, that early childhood education providers in regional, rural and remote locations struggle to recruit and retain quality staff.”
The report covered a range of issues affecting early childhood education in regional, rural and remote communities including cost, access and workforce issues.
Access to culturally appropriate and accessible early childhood education is crucial for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The report draws on evidence from the AEU that 4-year-old Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have a lower rate of enrolment in preschool than other children. Attendance rates for Indigenous children fall as remoteness increases.
Submissions call for solutions including training, support and funding for universal access
A range of submissions received by the committee call for cultural competency training, support for wrap-around services and greater support for Aboriginal controlled organisations to deliver early childhood education. They also call for increased access to early childhood education by providing amending the activity test to enable 30 hours per week of early childhood education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children to support closing the gap.
The report notes that a variety of models of delivery are needed in rural, regional and remote communities and that these need to be underpinned by ongoing, adequate funding. This should commence with making Universal Access to 600 hours of quality early education in the year before school ongoing – the current annual renewal process provides no certainty for staff and management committees and does not enable long term planning or employment security. Services such as mobile preschools and playgroups ensure provision in remote and very remote communities but struggle to maintain viability as they do not fall within funding criteria.
Workforce challenges highlighted
The significant challenges of attracting and retaining staff are amplified in rural and remote services. Some services are small and have fluctuating enrolments, so do not have the economies of scale to sustain a full-time educator. Other services are located in high-cost centres, such as mining towns, where the salaries paid to early childhood educators are insufficient to cover the cost of living.
A workforce strategy needs to be developed with a focus on strategies that can attract, retain and develop the early childhood education workforce in regional, rural and remote Australia. Strategies need to have funding attached to them in order to attract staff to areas and to support the cost of living in high-cost centres, including providing accommodation where necessary. A focus on the workforce is vital to lift the quality of early childhood education and care across rural and remote areas.
How CELA is helping, and how you can share your thoughts
All children deserve to access quality early childhood education and care. The gap in provision between our cities and our most remote areas is acute. We must start in the early years to reduce the city-country education divide. Throughout 2021 CELA will be actively advocating for these issues to feature prominently in policy reviews, including the forthcoming ACECQA Workforce Strategy.
We are part of the solution – we can tailor and provide training to suit your needs. An upside of 2020 was the switch to online training that made professional learning far more accessible to regional, rural and remote services.
We want to know what training needs our regional, rural and remote services have. Please spend five minutes completing our short survey – www.surveymonkey.com/r/3MV22XL
Have you seen our new live webinar training calendar?
Many sessions to choose from, including many of our most popular training topics, redesigned for webinar format.
Topics are delivered in a variety of 2- 3 hour sessions or 2 part series. Every course provides a practical, hands-on approach to professional development.
CELA has been supporting the professional needs of the early and middle childhood sector for over 40 years.
We’ve trained over 7,000 early education professionals across 2020 through the calendar and customised sessions with a focus on developing quality practice for the benefit of children.