Who is going to staff new preschools?
The NSW Government said that they will create 100,000 new preschool places as part of their pre-kindergarten program. Five hundred preschools are to be delivered in the next four years. Their aim is to give all NSW children access to free, high-quality play-based preschool education in the year before they start school.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? At least until you start to consider how on earth they are going to staff all these new preschools. We have been experiencing a shortage of early childhood teachers and educators for years, and this has only been exacerbated since COVID.
Directors are telling the IEU that they need to limit the number of children in attendance because they cannot maintain minimum ratios due to staff shortages, illness and attrition from the sector.
Preschools that used to have so many applicants for positions they could pick and choose who to interview are lucky to get one or two applications today. Directors are taking on multiple roles in the centre to cover absences.
Teachers and educators who turn up to work each day have more responsibilities and are working longer hours. Some are not having lunch breaks away from the children and many are completing even more documentation outside of work hours because they are missing their non-contact time, simply because preschools and long day care centres do not have the staff to cover this.
The increasing volume of paperwork is causing burnout. Critical reflections, Quality Improvement Plans, documentation to demonstrate how each of the National Quality Standards is being met in the centre, Reconciliation Action Plans, Transition to School Statements, minutes from each conversation held with a parent, permission forms, policies and more, is frustrating teachers and educators who understand the importance of focusing on their relationships and interactions with children and their families to facilitate young children’s development.
Early childhood teacher graduates who are qualified from birth to eight or 12 are flocking to the school sector where they can earn $12,000 a year more right off the bat or an additional 30 per cent a day as a casual teacher.
Experienced Proficient Teachers in schools are paid $30,00 a year more. Then you add paid parental leave, pupil-free days for professional development and genuine opportunities for career progression and even those who love working with preschool-age children start to question their choice of workplace.
So will we end up with a whole lot of under-utilised new preschools because the NSW Government is focusing on facilities exclusively, to the detriment of the teachers and educators who turn these buildings into places of learning?