New Front Project paper provides insights about how ECEC has navigated COVID-19
The Front Project has released a paper outlining the collective experiences of educators and leaders in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, describing it as “a celebration” of tireless essential workers who helped keep businesses, communities and families functioning, and children learning, throughout the first wave of the pandemic.
The paper has been made public as Victoria struggles with a second wave of COVID-19, with many educators and providers learning to navigate a new normal of permits and process as the State battles to drive case numbers down.
Throughout the first wave, Front Project CEO Jane Hunt said, those working in the ECEC sector “continuously supported children and families, from the early stages of the pandemic and throughout, so that communities and Australia more broadly can find a new sense of stability.”
The survey was conducted from May to June 2020, inviting ECEC professionals to share their thoughts about navigating the pandemic, and the responses, Ms Hunt said, were “overwhelming” in their generosity, with almost 1,500 teachers and educators answering questions and giving detailed accounts of COVID-19’s impacts on ECEC.
The responses highlighted the diversity of experiences across the sector, and the resilience of the ECEC workforce in quickly adapting to new and challenging environments, Ms Hunt said.
While there was much to celebrate in the report, the responses also highlighted emerging and ongoing challenges faced in the ECEC sector, particularly in Victoria as the challenges remain in responding to rapid paced change.
Those responding to the survey made it clear that change is needed, to better acknowledge the passion, skills and commitment that is required to undertake work in ECEC, and to ensure every child can access quality early learning.
“Your continued work throughout COVID-19 has held communities together and maintained consistency for families,” Ms Hunt said.
“As a result,” she continued, “governments, parents, carers and the general public have a deepened respect and understanding of the work that you do. I hope that this will lead to more opportunities for teachers and educators to contribute their wealth of knowledge and ideas to future reforms.”
- 79 per cent of respondents said the lessons learnt in responding to COVID-19 will continue to enhance their work.
- Only 60 per cent of respondents believe the ECEC sector is good at helping children who are experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage during COVID 19, an 11 per cent decline from prior to the pandemic.
- 67 per cent of respondents believe their employment in the sector is secure for the foreseeable future.
- 88 per cent of those who responded believe the sector is currently in a vulnerable position as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Productive use of downtime
A shift to online learning modes during the national first wave, and as such, lower attendance, created opportunities for some ECEC professionals to engage in professional development, the survey found.
This learning occurred through online courses and webinars, as well as by strengthening relationships and links with other teachers and educators in the sector through the ability to share knowledge, experience and learnings on online forums, resulting in stronger resourcefulness and reflection in practice as a result of these training forums.
Much of the online learning was supported by access to free or low-cost professional development opportunities through online platforms.
Many respondents expressed seeing strong leadership from supervisors, mentors and colleagues throughout the crisis. Some leaders had more time to support professional supervision and training, which translated into a stronger knowledge base, an ability to work well under pressure and the ability to deliver a higher quality of practice.
Some respondents also reported that a reduction in administrative duties has also allowed for more meaningful interactions with children and more time for lesson planning.
Perhaps the most pressing finding from the survey is that teachers and educators do not feel valued within the context of broader society, with 80 per cent of respondents believing there is a lack of recognition and respect for their role of ensuring children’s development and education, a 25 per cent increase since prior to COVID-19.
Echoing this sentiment, 80 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that ECEC is viewed simply as childminding rather than education by broader society.
Which arms of the sector felt the most impact?
Sessional preschools and kindergartens were the most satisfied with the funding arrangements in place to support them throughout COVID-19, with 53 per cent calling them adequate.
They were also less likely to report severe employment impacts during the crisis in their qualitative responses. This is likely because sessional preschools/kindergartens are funded differently to long day care (LDC) and family day care (FDC) services.
FDC services experienced the most severe impacts, with 69 per cent stating funding conditions were favourable before COVID-19, and 92 per cent saying they experienced challenges with the temporary relief package.
Many FDC providers reported being ineligible for viability payments, or experiencing delays in receiving financial support. The lack of administrative infrastructure and the relatively small size of these services may have contributed to difficulties in accessing relief funding.
For LDC services, there was some dissatisfaction with the temporary relief package, with 45 per cent saying the funding “restricted day-to-day work”.
Many LDC respondents reported a reduction or absence of hours, challenges with viability payments and irregular rostering. Some services had a high number of people who were not eligible for JobKeeper payments, such as recently employed casual workers or temporary visa holders. These services received less revenue from JobKeeper, resulting in staff shortages or reduced hours.
While some of those in the ECEC profession were able to deliver a sustained level of service and support for families without significant concern for their job security, the report noted, for many of those working in FDC there was “little or no certainty about your jobs or the viability of your services”.
The reason for this uncertainty, the report concluded, was that Australia’s ECEC sector is “underpinned by a complex funding system that does not provide long term stability”.
“The federal government introduced a temporary relief package to assist the ECEC sector to remain viable in the first months of the pandemic because the existing funding system was not sufficiently flexible to respond in the face of the crisis,” authors said.
“Frequent changes in funding arrangements are precarious and challenging for families and ECEC staff to manage. COVID-19 has emphasised a need to simplify an overly complex system and make it more intuitive to both providers and families.”
The Front Project committed to continuing to work to improve the ECEC system so it ensures the sustainability and quality of the sector, and prioritises support for children who face disadvantage and vulnerability.
“We will continue to gather insights from people who experience all different parts of the sector to inform our work to achieve better outcomes for all children” authors said, thanking all the teachers and educators who contributed to the paper.”
To view the report, please see here.