We asked industry leaders to tell us the breakthroughs and successful outcomes they’ve seen over the last 12 months and what challenges the industry will face in the year ahead.
Early Childhood Australia, Early Learning Association Australia, Goodstart Early Learning, Independent Education Union and the Australian Council for Educational Research had much to say to Early Learning Review as the calendar turns.
John Quessy – Independent Education Union
“Funding, access, equity and an improvement in the professional standing of teachers”
John Quessy, general secretary of the Independent Education Union was pleased that early childhood education is now firmly on the political agenda. “I think that’s one of the great achievements of 2015 and it has certainly began before that but it is very much on the political and social agenda for people now,” he said.
Quessy said he was satisfied by the commitment that the Victorian Government had made towards pay parity, although is still cautiously optimistic about how the Council of Australian Governments will deliver the initiative in the new year.
“The decision of the equal remuneration case gives hope towards pay parity,” he said. “Perhaps not immediately but the case still needs to be made. It certainly remains alive on the agenda. What we’ve got at the moment is a situation where there can be up to a $30,000 income difference between teaching a 4-year-old in an early childhood setting and a 5-year-old in a school.”
Quessy also praised the accreditation of early childhood teachers, coming in 2016. “All teachers in early childhood in NSW will be accredited. Their professional standing will be recognised identically alongside teachers in primary and secondary schools, and that’s fantastic,” Quessy said. “Here in NSW, we think it is a win for the professionalism of early childhood teachers.”
Shane Lucas – Early Learning Association Australia
“There is still an ongoing funding issue that needs to be clarified”
Shane Lucas, chief executive at Early Learning Association Australia, a peak body for parents and service providers, applauds the Commonwealth for funding up to 15 hours of preschool a week for families, between 2016 and 2017 but is still reluctant to call the initiative a conclusive win, as it is still undetermined whether the government will extend access to the program beyond 2017.
Lucas is also pleased with the Victorian Government’s commitment to developing an education state. “We want to see the public debate around the benefits of early learning played out on a policy level over the next 12 months,” he said. “We also think there is still an ongoing funding issue that needs to be clarified in order to ensure a viable early learning sector into the future.”
Lucas mentioned affordability – especially for disadvantaged families – access and funding as issues to address in the new year. “We’d like to see the government at state and Commonwealth level acknowledge the critical role of early learning in every child’s learning journey,” he said. “Part of that for us is to ensure that the discussion about access to early learning becomes a discussion about entitlement.
“There’s not enough knowledge in the broader community about the importance of early learning and there’s certainly not enough understanding in government as to what the economic benefits of good investment in early learning are as well.”
John Cherry – Goodstart Early Learning
“Workforce participation and child development”
John Cherry, advocacy manager at not-for-profit provider Goodstart Early Learning, was pleased the federal government is investing an extra $4 billion into early childhood education. He said this would “significantly improve childcare affordability for working families”. However, Cherry also predicted a few challenges would arise in the year to come.
“We now have to get that package from the federal Parliament and that raises a whole range of challenges about not only how it will be funded but whether the package will meet the twin objectives of supporting both workforce participation and child development,” he said.
Cherry said many in the sector, including Goodstart Early Learning, believe the package could have done better in terms of improving child development. “Some of the children who benefited most from early learning previously are going to get the least out of this new package,” he said. “This is something we need to address through the Senate process over the next couple of months.”
With 2016 being an election year, Cherry raised two key issues that Goodstart Early Learning would like to see addressed. “We’d like to see all parties discussing all children getting access to quality early learning and not just the year before school but from the age of 3 and potentially at the age of 2 as seen in the UK, New Zealand, Israel and other counties,” he said. He also wants to see an extension in preschool funding beyond 2017 and more support for professional development for teachers and other educators.
Australian Council for Educational Research
“Providing more flexible learning arrangements to better meet the needs of individual learners”
The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) states that some of the biggest research breakthroughs of 2015 include a range of investigations of early years literacy and numeracy that inform practices in preschools, primary schools and parent education programs. One of ACER’s key programs is the Pattern and Structure Assessment (PASA), which investigates young children’s understanding of mathematics.
Furthermore, ACER has been developing an educational app for Aboriginals in their early years. The app is tailored to meet the specific needs of disadvantaged Indigenous preschoolers whose second language is English living in Broome, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek and the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
ACER predicts various policy challenges will arise in the year ahead, including:
• Raising the professional status of teaching
• Reducing the disparity between the learning experiences of students in Australia’s most and least advantaged institutions
• Ensuring the curriculum supports children’s development of skills in communications, creativity, use of technology, working in teams, and problem solving
• Providing more flexible arrangements to better meet the needs of individual learners
• Identifying and meeting the needs of children on trajectories of low achievement.
Early Childhood Australia
“We would like to see all children have access to at least two days of quality early learning”
Advocacy group Early Childhood Australia (ECA) would like an ongoing commitment from the Australian Government to professional development for the early childhood workforce. In relation to access to quality early learning, a spokesperson from ECA said, “this is the direction that other developed countries have taken, such as the UK, which provides access to 15 hours for all children from 3 to 4 and disadvantaged children from age 2”. The spokesperson said ECA hoped the program in the UK would be made available in Australia.
Reflecting on the past 12 months, ECA is pleased to see more funding for early childhood education and care. “An extra $3.2 billion over the next four years is being invested in the Child Care Assistance Package, which is significant, and will increase the number of children accessing quality early childhood education and care to 1.83 million by 2018–19,” the spokesperson said.
Additionally, ECA is pleased to see the National Quality Framework finally being embedded and is satisfied with the sector’s professionalism and commitment to quality improvement.
ECA still has concerns, however, that the proposed Child Care Assistance Package will result in some children missing out on early learning. “The biggest issue will be the implementation … and what this means for services, parents and most importantly the children accessing them. This will be the focus of the Senate inquiry reporting in March next year.”
ECA stated that there has never been a more exciting time to be in the early childhood industry with the opportunity of “making a contribution to Australia’s future prosperity. New research is emerging all the time showing that children’s life course is influenced by the relationships formed in early childhood” and because of this, ECA as a body wants to make sure that in the year to come, more children can access programs in order to amplify their development.Do you have an idea for a story?
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