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Tension is building in the early childhood sector as low wages and federal government indecision clash with issues of accessibility, sector growth and respect for professionalism.

How Canberra is failing the early learning sector


fter the re-election of the Turnbull government, Australia’s early childhood sector faces renewed uncertainty and a looming teacher shortage. A national survey of 1,200 early childhood teachers and educators in kindergarten and long day care has found that one in five plan to leave the sector in the 12 months to June 2017, forced out by low wages, heavy workloads and a lack of public respect. Meanwhile, the future of universal access – the provision of 15 hours a week of preschool education to every child in the year before primary – remains under a cloud, with funding due to expire at the end of 2017. The Coalition went to the federal election without a pledge to make 15 hours an ongoing entitlement. Until now it has been funded under the former Gillard Labor government’s national partnership, extended by the Coalition while a long-term decision has been repeatedly deferred. Demand for degree-qualified early years teachers and certificate III or diploma-qualified educators is growing, thanks to Gillard’s national quality and early years learning frameworks. They set minimum qualifications for educators and for the first time required every long day care centre to employ a qualified teacher. From 2020, many long day care centres will be required to employ two qualified teachers. It is in long day care that pay and morale are lowest, according to the Australian Research Council-funded study by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Charles Sturt University academics. Kindergarten teachers are generally


Children suffer from high teacher churn rates.

A common refrain was that they could afford to work in early childhood only because their partner had a better-paid job.

covered by union-negotiated agreements similar to those of school teachers, and several states boast pay parity between preschools and primary. However, long day care centres are largely covered by award rates that can be as low as $18 an hour for educators and less than $33 an hour for centre directors – roughly the starting rate for a graduate school teacher.

Planning urgency

Susan Irvine Associate Professor, School of Early Childhood, Caboolture

Governments and employers urgently need to begin workforce planning for the sector, says study co-author Susan Irvine, associate professor at the School of Early Childhood, QUT Caboolture.

Educator spring 2016  
Educator spring 2016