The report published in the February 5 edition of the Canberra Times on the qualifications of early childhood educators fails to tell the whole story of early childhood education and care (ECEC) in the ACT.

It is disappointing that the Canberra Times did not seek comment from any sector representatives on these figures, as a more complete story could then be told. The statistics dramatically quoted in the article on the percentage of educators with a qualification (50.6%) are sourced from the “National Early Education and Care Workforce Census”, last updated in 2013.

These statistics are now nearly three years old, and do not reflect the current make-up of the ACT ECEC sector.

The National Quality Framework (NQF) reforms, which started in 2012 and are scheduled to be fully implemented in 2020, are raising the quality of ECEC in all states and territories in Australia. The NQF reforms acknowledge that quality outcomes for children can only be achieved through the work of committed, professional and qualified educators.

Minimum qualification requirements were introduced and are being strengthened through the implementation up to 2020. Northside Community Service, and the majority of our colleagues in the sector, have responded effectively to these changes and currently every educator working in one of our four centres either holds an ECEC qualification or is studying towards one.

Within Northside’s four Early Childhood Centres, every one of our educators either holds a qualification in Children’s Services or is working towards one. We also currently have 8 educators studying towards their Early Childhood Teaching qualification.

It is important to note that in the ACT prior to 2012, there was no legislative or regulatory requirement for a minimum qualification for educators working directly with young children, putting the ACT significantly behind most of the rest of Australia. This has led to a more challenging process to align with the NQF reforms, but is entirely necessary as it is now clearly inappropriate to allow people with no formal qualifications to educate young children. The 50.6% quoted would reflect the number of educators who, only 1 year after the introduction of the NQF, were still studying to complete their Certificate III.

However, the ACT still faces a number of critical issues in ensuring that as a sector we meet the full rollout of the NQF and can provide the best possible outcomes to young children. In Canberra, as across the rest of Australia, early childhood educators are fighting to be viewed as professionals, not babysitters. The early childhood educator profession, of which 97% are female, are not paid appropriate professional wages. Recruitment and retention are significant ongoing challenges in the ACT, particularly given the highly-paid and long-term careers in the public service.

Large numbers of services opening in a short timeframe has also placed considerable stress on the sector. Minister Rattenbury is overly optimistic if he believes that additional services will resolve the issues discussed. Given the current state of the sector, this will in fact only exacerbate those issues, as services will be forced to respond to the higher demand for educators with higher wage costs, which must be passed on to families through fee increases.

Northside is committed to advocating for the professionalism and importance of the ECEC sector, and we are keen to sit down with Minister Rattenbury to outline these issues and discuss how the ACT Government can work with the sector to ensure the full rollout of the NQF, professional recognition and wages for early childhood educators and ensuring children’s right to access high quality early childhood education.