Federal minister schooled in early childhood education

The Minister also referred to early learning as ‘childcare’ until Amy requested that he refer to it as ‘early learning’.

From left: Early childhood teacher and IEU Council member Amy Martin; IEUA Acting Federal Secretary Christine Cooper; IEU Organiser Lisa James visited Parliament House, Canberra, to meet with Education Minister Alan Tudge.

In June, IEUA Acting Federal Secretary Christine Cooper, IEU Early Childhood Services (ECS) Vice President Gabrielle Connell, ECS Councillor Amy Martin and Organiser Lisa James met with Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge at Parliament House.

We explained the Fair Work Commission’s decision in the early childhood Equal Remuneration/Work Value case, which detailed a new classification structure providing increases of up to 10% to teachers’ salaries, in addition to an annual Educational Leader allowance of $3302.46.

The 16 June Fair Work Commission Annual Wage Review decision provided for an additional 2.5%, which will be added to the new rates proposed after the Equal Remuneration/Work Value case.

However, there is no indication of when the rates of pay in the new classification structure will come into effect and the Commission will consider submissions regarding the possibility of phasing in the increases over time.

While these increases are welcomed by the sector, the salaries of early childhood teachers will remain between $11,000 and $29,000 per year below those of their colleagues working in primary schools – unless there is an enterprise agreement in place at their centre.

Workforce challenges

Workforce challenges facing the sector was another topic canvassed during the meeting. These include studies that show turnover in the sector is very high, at over 30 percent, qualifications waivers more than doubled between 2017 and 2021, there has been a 25 precent reduction in students enrolling in early childhood degrees since 2012 and the majority of teachers who do graduate indicate they intend to seek work in primary schools due to better salaries and conditions.

Connell explained that regional services are facing extreme difficulty in attracting teachers and replacing teachers and educators while they are on leave, directors have unmanageable workloads and experienced directors and teachers are leaving the sector due to burnout. Martin said she had been working 11-hour days in addition to turning children away due to an inability to staff the centre adequately.

Minister Tudge expressed shock that children were being turned away from services. However, he went on to state that a shortage of employees is being experienced across industries Australia-wide. He then drew a parallel between early childhood teachers (four-year university trained), educators (Certificate III or diploma) and aged care workers (10 hours of training), calling them all ‘professionals’ and emphasising that these problems will all be resolved as soon as international borders re-open and overseas workers are available to fill these positions. He also referred to early learning as ‘childcare’ until Amy requested that he refer to it as ‘early learning’.

Universal access

We informed the minister that his decision to extend Universal Access National Partnership Funding for four years has given the sector more certainty going forwards. However, I expressed concerns regarding how children’s school readiness will be assessed as an accountability measure for this funding.

The minister said he thought the union would support their intention to measure children’s learning, so our members can demonstrate what it is they actually do. I explained that we support the assessment of children’s learning as teachers assess children’s learning and development in early childhood settings, and our concerns are primarily focused on how this information will be captured.

The process must be appropriate for preschool children and designed to capture individual children’s progress. The minister appeared to find it amusing when I asked him to confirm he is not planning to introduce ‘NAPLAN for four year olds’.

While the minister confirmed this was not the intention, he added that they had not considered how school readiness would be assessed, as such measures are still “years down the track”.

From this meeting it was clear that the minister’s priorities, from highest to lowest, are: productivity/workforce participation; accountability measures to justify funding; outcomes for children; and finally, the remuneration and wellbeing of teachers and educators. Any future approach to the current Federal Government must be expressed primarily in terms of increased productivity and workforce participation of parents.

Lisa James