Aspects of quality, pedagogy and parity

Planning for the National Quality Standard, the rating system and national regulations is nearly complete. The final countdown is on.

This issue of Every Child continues our support for the National Quality Framework (NQF). These reforms will bring integrated and consistent approaches to early childhood education and care through a new National Quality Standard(NQS) for early childhood education and care providers.

Articles on portfolios, learning stories, ethical reporting, and working with families provide good ideas for implementing the Early Years Learning Framework and preparing for the changes.

Sometimes, as Ginie Udy from SDN Children’s Services says, centres are providing excellent quality early childhood education, but not articulating this clearly. A major goal of the NQF is transparency. She stresses the need to both look at practice, and make clear its links to the Early Years Learning Framework and NQF expectations. Then it needs thoughtful and explicit documentation.

Anne Kennedy reminds us of the origins of the word ‘pedagogy’ and explains its meaning in the context of the Early Years Learning Framework. As she says, the complexity of development, teaching and learning in early childhood requires intentional teaching. The term ‘pedagogy’ encompasses strategies such as scaffolding, guiding, facilitating, modelling, encouraging, supporting and resourcing.

Moving away from the ‘how’ and ‘why’ to resourcing the changes, two writers take a closer look at workforce issues. At the core of quality programs for children are quality educators.

Wendy Boyd stresses the importance of strong early childhood education courses with a focus on birth to five years. She highlights a growing unease that early childhood education courses are being ‘watered down’ so graduates meet all the requirements of school teaching registration authorities, as well as those of early childhood accrediting agencies. The sooner there is a national approach to initial early childhood teacher education course content and outcomes, and to course accreditation, educator standards and qualifications—along the lines of those required by the school sector’s national Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership—the better.

Continuing the focus on teacher quality, the Independent Education Union of Australia’s Teachers are Teachers campaign spotlights the substantial differences in salary levels for teachers in the school and preschool sectors.

Salaries for early childhood teachers in early learning centres and child care centres and those preschools/kindergartens that are not an integral part of schools, are consistently lower than for teachers working in the school sector. Further, working conditions in child care can be especially challenging. As we know, there tend to be fewer holidays, longer hours and shift work. Often, there are more limited promotional opportunities, less professional support and issues around job security. Is it any wonder that many graduates from early childhood education programs who are qualified to teach across the birth-to-eight-years age groups aim to work with young children in schools? Pay parity is a goal we must all promote.

The Productivity Commission’s report on early childhood education and care workforce issues released recently, provides a comprehensive examination of many issues surrounding employment in the early childhood sector.

The Commission’s research, together with consultations and expert input, have resulted in a detailed and insightful analysis of current workforce profiles. This report, together with the National Early Childhood Education and Care Workforce Census (2010), provide data sets and comment that address gaps in existing information and key policy, staffing and education issues. That some 140,000 staff were employed in the early childhood education and care settings during the reference week in 2010 indicates the importance of this sector to the economy. This comprehensive information will help policy makers to better meet current and future demand for early childhood services.

Finally, the new ‘national body’ (mentioned on page 4), which will ‘oversee the national system’, has been formed. The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), will work with governments and the sector to build a national system of high-quality early childhood education and care for all children. ACECQA will provide leadership, guidance and consistency in the implementation of the Education and Care Services National Law.

Alison Elliott