Key points in summary:
- ACECQA’s newly released report highlights 21 actions to ensure a sustainable, high quality children’s education and care workforce
- Improving wages and conditions is the number one action identified to address workforce issues in ECEC
- The quality of early childhood qualifications, as well as strategies to encourage enrolment, are issues in need of addressing
- All governments and the sector are responsible for implementing the strategy
The Mparntwe Declaration opens with the statement “Education has the power to transform lives.” This rings true particularly for early childhood education and care, where we know that the first five years of life accounts for 90 per cent of brain growth, and where key foundational social, emotional and cognitive capabilities are developed.
The ACECQA Workforce Strategy Report highlights the workforce challenges the sector faces and proposes 21 actions to address them over the next ten years, focused around:
- Professional recognition
- Attraction and retention
- Leadership and capability
- Data and evidence
- Qualifications and career pathways
Actions needed to address workforce issues
The top five actions, as identified in the consultation process as being most important are listed below. It will come as no surprise that improved wages and conditions were ranked as the most important of all the 21 actions.
- Investigating options for improved wages and conditions.
- Promoting the importance of a career in children’s education and care through a national communications campaign.
- Agreeing to and consistently using contemporary terminology to describe the children’s education and care sector, and its workforce. Terms such as ‘child minding’ reinforce outdated views and diminish the professional worth of educators and teachers.
- Investigating options for improved wellbeing supports.
- Improving access to an increasing range of micro credentials for educators and teachers in areas of identified need.
The Department of Education, Skills and Employment says that all governments and the sector are responsible for implementing the strategy. This will no doubt be the subject of much Commonwealth, State and Territory negotiation over coming months.
CELA will continue to actively advocate to all levels of government to make the necessary investments as soon as possible. We believe critical workforce issues need to be addressed now.
We know from our joint workforce survey that we conducted in the middle of this year with like-minded peaks (Early Learning Association Australia and Community Child Care Association) that 49 per cent of services need to make changes to their programs, such as closing a room, combining a group or limiting the children able to attend due to staff shortages; a fifth reported needing to do this weekly or more often.
Fair Work has recently revised the Award for Bachelor qualified Teachers in schools and education and care settings, however the shortages mean many services are already facing the need to pay above Award in order to attract and retain staff, particularly in rural and remote areas where it is more difficult to attract qualified staff. This creates financial viability issues for services and in turn may lead to the need to increase fees, reducing access to families — unless further government investment is provided.
Education, and Training our Workforce
High quality education and training for the workforce underpins high quality education and care.
One issue which the report notes is to do with qualifications. Firstly, there are not enough students enrolling in qualifications to meet demand, particularly in a sector with high levels of attrition.
For instance, the report notes that:
While some of the approved children’s education and care vocational education and training qualifications have experienced modest increases in enrolments in recent years, enrolments in the Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care, a crucial qualification for much of the sector due to the qualification requirements under the NQF, have declined by more than 25 per cent.
In addition, the report notes that quality of VET graduates remains a problem.
Inappropriately short duration qualifications, variable RTO quality and insufficient knowledge of the NQF are the most commonly cited reasons for poor quality graduates. Many large providers have either established their own RTO, or established a formal partnership with one or more RTOs, to ensure an ongoing supply of higher quality graduates.
The Department of Education, Skills and Employment’s Skills Reform Agenda is an important piece, particularly around Qualifications Reform. How VET qualifications are designed, delivered and assessed is critical to quality and an area which CELA is monitoring closely.
The other issue relating to a quality workforce is teaching qualifications.
The ACECQA report notes that combined Early Childhood and Primary School Teaching degrees have grown in popularity, and due to school-based reforms around initial teacher education, providers are under pressure to include more school content and less early childhood content. This means that graduates’ depth of knowledge and understanding about early childhood pedagogy is diminished.
The report notes that higher education providers state that up to 80% of students express a preference for a career in the school sector, rather than the early childhood sector. Of the students who teach in non-school settings upon graduation, the majority may still continue to actively seek employment in schools. We note that a key driver for this may be wages and conditions — with primary school teachers typically earning much more than early childhood teachers.
The issues around both VET and higher education qualifications need to be managed carefully — while there is a workforce shortage, there may be a temptation for governments to diminish the quality and relevance of qualifications for the early childhood education and care sector, to the detriment of children’s learning in the critically important early years.
CELA remains concerned about the quality of qualifications and the cost of completing them, as well as the need to improve wages and conditions for the sector — one of our key advocacy pillars is around building a stable workforce that is nurtured and valued.
For questions or feedback, please contact Michele Carnegie via email@example.com or Felicity Dunn via firstname.lastname@example.org
READ THE FULL WORKFORCE REPORT
Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.