Planning and patience around the reform agenda

With this issue of Every Child we’re well into the National Quality reforms and what they mean in practice now and in the future. The sentiments around the need for reforms are positive.

There’s widespread agreement that we must have consistently high-quality early education and care for all young children and also streamline regulatory requirements and processes. Planning the changes was a joint effort by governments and the early childhood community because everyone recognised the benefits.

Even with national goodwill we must be patient and optimistic. We hope that the work of the new regulatory authorities brings about consistent applications of the law. Not surprisingly, the National Law and Regulations are complicated; the sector is complicated and children’s lives are precious.

Implementing major changes takes time, especially those as significant as in the National Quality Framework. Some 16 000 services across child care, preschool, family day care and outside-school-hours care (OSHC) are impacted by changes. There are more early childhood and OSHC services than there are schools, so it is a massive exercise.

Each of us has a role to play as the changes are phased in—from implementing the Early Years Learning Framework and upgrading qualifications, to leading a service through the rating and assessment process and working with regulatory authorities. Whatever our role, our input is critical to the reforms.

I’ve long argued that the biggest challenge in building quality early learning environments—and in achieving the core goals of the reforms—is a qualified workforce. We know that quality education and qualified educators go hand in hand, whether children are three or 13. Building quality early childhood programs for every child, regardless of location, requires a full complement of qualified educators.

Appropriately, the new regulations lift the bar in terms of qualifications for educators and child–educator ratios. But a real risk for the sector is training, finding and keeping educators. Until salaries, working conditions and career options are competitive with other industries or on par with the school sector, early childhood education and care will struggle to source and keep staff.

This issue of Every Child spotlights educational planning and programming in the light of the reform agenda. Our writers focus on dimensions of planning that contribute to successful pedagogies—especially those involving curriculum decision making, teaching and learning.

Key articles by Alma Fleet and Catherine Patterson provide help for thinking about planning and assessment processes as multi-purpose components of day-to-day professional practice. They stress the need to build on each child’s existing ‘knowledge, ideas, culture, abilities and interests’ and establish ‘benchmarks’ (starting points) for planning learning. Ascertaining children’s strengths and interests falls under the ‘assessment’ umbrella. Importantly, the focus in the Early Years Learning Framework is on assessment for learning, rather than on the assessment of learning.

Pauline Harris highlights the importance of moving away from deficit models in thinking about children’s development to strengths-based ones. She reminds us that the Early Years Learning Framework promotes building on children’s strengths, implementing proactive strategies to foster children’s learning and building pathways of success. Each article invites a wide-angled approach to the cyclic nature of planning, documenting and evaluating unfolding relationships and events.

This month we farewell Early Childhood Australia’s Chief Executive Officer Pam Cahir,
whose contributions to early childhood education have been significant and inspirational. Pam has led ECA to educational sector eminence and has been exceptionally successful in expanding its work, reach and profile, all with the goal of optimising experiences for Australia’s young children wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. Best wishes
in your ‘retirement’ Pam.

Alison Elliott

Every Child magazine – vol. 18 no. 2, 2012.

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