Updated: Aug 3, 2018
I've been reflecting on the amount of paperwork and regulations that direct what we do in Early Childhood. Over the years, we seem to be piling on more and more compliance and documentation and it seems to me that there is less and less emphasis on training in child development and key learning areas like Maths, Science, Art, Music. How many new teachers and educators actually feel confident enough to teach a music program to children? When singing and dancing dominates so much of our day and assists in providing quality transitions, engaging in literacy and so many other concepts, why do we not spend time training new educators in music education?
From my experience, instead of training in these important domains. we spend a lot of time and effort in training in ways of documenting (jottings, anecdotal records, learning stories, etc). At the end of the day, I am seeing many new educators who just do not have any idea of how to be with children.
In the past, we had the NSW department that would come and look at compliance and then we had the NCAC (National Childcare Accreditation Council) who would look at quality. We used to maintain one folder of documentation for everything that the NSW department would want to see and another folder of documentation for everything that the NCAC would want to see. Bringing everything under the purview of the NSW department of education was touted as a way to reduce burden on staff and streamline everything. However, now we have three different types of documentation:
The compliance documentation as required by the National Law and regulations,
The evidence of quality according to the national quality standards (there are 7 Quality Areas so we actually have at least 7 folders for this) and
The documentation of children’s learning according to the Early Years Learning Framework.
So at the end of the day we actually have much more documentation to prepare. Combine this with the NSW department’s lens of meeting the letter of the law rather than the intent of the law and it makes for very burdensome compliance and evidentiary requirements. You just need to look at the number of consultancy businesses about getting through the Assessment and Rating process that have sprung up over the last few years to see that this has become a very complex, expensive affair.
To make things worse, in February this year we saw a change in the National Quality Standards and this
was also touted as reducing paperwork. Campaigns were run stating that the NQS have reduced from 58 elements to just 40 elements. What we were not told was firstly, much of this reduction was basically combining what used to be 2 short sentences into 1 long sentence. Secondly, we have gone from 58 ways to show that we are "exceeding" to 85 ways that we need to show that we are "exceeding" because each element now has 3 "exceeding themes" that need to be evidenced. This is almost double the evidence that we have had to have previously. It makes no sense. At the end of the day its the parents who will end up paying for this and children who will lose access because Early Learning has become too expensive.
At the end of the day, there seems to be an ongoing cycle of government-directed change (based on what a few academics tell them without meaningful consultation with providers and educators who actually work on the floor), services spend money on workshops and consultants to understand the change (because it is too dense and complex for an ordinary person to understand - the new guide is 636 pages long!), services spend money on paperwork and compliance, increase fees, lower quality and time spent with children and around it goes.
In my ideal world, there would be no assessment and rating. Instead we would have ongoing, collaborative relationships with the department and regular "spot checks" (at least one visit every 6 months) where we work together on quality improvement plans and addressing the needs of the children and families that we care for and educate. All services across Australia would meet minimum standards and other aspects of the service would govern parent choice. Eg some parents may prefer a service with a larger focus on music while another family prefers education on sustainability and connecting with nature. This is not to say that one service is better than the other, its just that we cater for different needs and preferences. Services would not pay for workshops or PD on compliance but rather on better understanding the care and education of children. Art workshops, dealing with trauma, healthy eating, STEM, early literacy, etc is where we should be spending our time and money, not on understanding the changes to the NQS, getting through assessment and rating, and so on. At my service we have a commitment to not spend money on compliance training but only on what will actually help educators and teachers do a better job with children.
We would also have a high bar for entry to this profession and educators would have to sit a test for entry that would ensure that they had minimum standards for literacy and numeracy. This would not only ensure that we had a high caliber of people entering this sector, but also that they were committed to being an excellent educator. Once we have sufficient training (a minimum 2 years including at least 1200 hours (150 days) of practicum as well as training in all key learning areas for a diploma?), educators would be trusted to do a great job without having to show too much evidence of compliance. This should instead be evident thorough their practice and environment and the regular checks by the department would address any issues. This would save significant taxpayer funds and keep fees affordable for families. After all shouldn't access for all children be a priority? Shouldn't the focus be on getting it right for children?