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Our New Year’s reflections and resolutions: ECE industry leaders

Clink your Champagne flutes: it’s been a heady year for Australian early learning. We had an election that, unusually, gave the sector the attention it deserves. The Jobs for Families Childcare Package was introduced with much fanfare, but has now stalled as its elements are dissected by opponents.

Early childhood educators continued to demand better pay – some even chained themselves to the Prime Minister’s office or walked off the job to highlight their plight.

This occurred against the backdrop of the national partnership for 15 hours’ worth of universal preschool access, which, to the lament of many, hasn’t been extended beyond 2017.

Last year, Early Childhood Australia, Early Learning Association Australia, and Independent Education Union Australia shared their early learning reflections with the Early Learning Review. This year, they divulged their alternately despairing and hopeful thoughts to us again.

Samantha Page – chief executive, Early Childhood Australia

“The continued freeze [on childcare subsidy] payments…is affecting access for kids.”

Childcare funding and supply were on Page’s 2016 agenda, and both remain in flux.

She said the continued delay of the government’s childcare subsidies are “causing anxiety and frustration”, as, given the current indexation freeze on payments, “families are feeling at the end of their capacity.” Those in rural or remote areas are feeling particularly strained.

Page also takes issue with the government’s focus on workforce participation instead of child education, in their framing of the subsidy package.

Another challenge, according to Page, is the over or under-supply of childcare services, depending on the area. “It’s stressful for educators”, she opined.

Shane Lucas – chief executive, Early Learning Association Australia

“It’s Groundhog Day…where the future of the Commonwealth’s commitment to funding 15 hours of preschool is concerned.”

Last year, affordability and access were Lucas’ alliterative, early learning buzzwords. This year, to his chagrin, they remain so.

In fact, the ELAA was so vexed they wrote to Education Minster Simon Birmingham regarding the soon-to-expire national partnership for preschool funding.

Birmingham replied that it was only ever intended as a ‘top up’ to increase participation rates. “We don’t regard it as a generous top-up”, Lucas retorted. “Funding is critical, and it should be a shared commitment between the states and the federal government.”

Lucas remains forward-looking despite this dissension: “Our challenge for 2017 is to lock in commonwealth funding for perpetuity.” Once he’s achieved this, petitioning for 3-year-old preschool will be next.

Verena Heron – NSW/ACT Branch industrial officer, Independent Education Union of Australia (IEUA)

“NSW really needs to pick up its game.”

Heron bemoaned the fact that NSW still trails the other states and territories on early learning funding. What’s more, its new investment package is more hindrance than help.

“It’s causing huge problems within the preschool sector…” Heron revealed. “Many centres will have to reduce their days, reduce the number of children attending.”

On the bright side, she is pleased that NSW early childhood educators are finally being recognised as professionals: they received accreditation in July.

As for her wishes for 2017, all she wants is the IEUA’s early childhood teacher pay equity claim before the Fair Work Commission to be resolved.

The IEUA lodged the claim on behalf of its university-qualified educator-members in 2013.

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