The ten biggest ECEC news stories of 2020 – The year in review

The ten biggest ECEC news stories of 2020 – The year in review

by Jason Roberts

December 15, 2020

As we approach the end of the year, it has become a tradition at The Sector to conduct a review of the biggest early childhood education and care (ECEC) news stories of the year.

 

When thinking back on the year that was we arrived with a shortlist of around 15 stories, which is actually around 25 per cent less than last year and most likely a function of 2020 having been completely dominated by COVID-19 and all of the coverage that it catalysed as the sector grappled with making sense of a truly unprecedented period.

 

The stories themselves are largely good news stories. This is by design. We are of course aware of a number of stories in 2020 that would not be classed as such, but have elected to exclude them from this year’s recap on the premise that 2020 was such a challenging year on so many levels that it was important to focus on the positives ahead of what we hope will be an exciting and fulfilling year next year. 

 

From our shortlist of fifteen stories we have selected the ten stories that we think merit inclusion in this year’s final list and ranked them in order of importance. We hope you enjoy it. 

 

Counting down from ten to one, we present to you the most important news stories of 2020.

 

10 – NCACL makes free database for educators to help find First Nations children’s books

 

The National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL) created a database for educators to help them discover children’s books by and about Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Peoples.

 

The database, which is freely available and contains over 300 titles, has been designed to support those working in ECEC settings to identify culturally appropriate and relevant material to add to their collection of stories for use in their programs. 

 

Funded by the Federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment the creation of a collection of children’s stories by and about Australia’s ATSI community with a specific focus on ECEC is a first. 

 

9 – Federal Court rulings put spotlight on entitlement eligibility of long term casuals

 

A landmark case was heard by the Federal Court of Australia in May 2020 which ruled unanimously that employers who employed casual workers on a regular roster were obligated to pay them full entitlements as well as the mandatory “loading” payment.

 

This decision triggered major concerns across the Australian business community as it raised the spectre of a significant narrowing of the definition of what constitutes a casual but also a substantial new layer of costs that would be legally due to any casuals employed as such historically. 

 

The importance of the ruling has been underscored by a set of remedies and clarifications that have been included in a Federal Government Industrial Relations Omnibus Bill that is due to be presented to the Senate for debate in 2021, with a vote expected thereafter. 

 

8 – FWO “Workplace myth busted” videos sees massive audience engagement signalling significant deficits in ECEC awareness around this important area

 

In early 2020, The Sector published an article titled “Should I be paid if I come in early to open? Fair Work busts 10 common myths” which highlighted a video resource released by the Fair Work Ombudsman that outlined ten common myths about practices that were common in workplaces but were in fact unlawful. 

 

Two of the myths showcased, and debunked, had particular relevance to ECEC namely, an educator does not need to be paid for coming in early to open up and educators do not need to be paid for attending mandatory out of hours meetings or training sessions – in each case, an educator must be paid. 

 

Although not an event in and of itself that would normally merit inclusion in the end of year review, the response to the article from The Sector audience was nothing short of remarkable and signaled to us a deeper concern regarding workplace practices across our sector. 

 

7 – Corporate activity in the ECEC sector heats up as Busy Bees joins Think takeover fray

 

After several years of relative quiet in the ECEC mergers and acquisitions space, Think Childcare found itself on the receiving end of not one but two takeover offers in the space of one week. 

 

The first offer was from the private equity arm of Australian investment manager Alceon Group Pty Ltd and the second was from Busy Bees Early Learning Australia which as at 30 June 2020 owned and operated 64 long day care centres across Australia. 

 

Should Busy Bees be successful, and there is no reason to think they won’t be given the price offered was 29.6 per cent higher than Alceon’s, they will see their network expand by well over 100 per cent and become the third largest for profit provider in Australia behind G8 Education and Affinity Education Group

 

6 – OSHC sees the arrival of new peak body, the Outside School Hours Council of Australia

 

The outside school hours care (OSHC) sector witnessed the founding of a new association established to further represent, support and advocate for the interests of the national OSHC sector and the children and families receiving care.

 

Born out of the severe disruption faced by the sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Outside School Hours Council of Australia, or OSHCA, whose members include both for profit and not for profit providers, will join existing peak body the National Outside School Hours Services Alliance (NOSHSA) in the advocacy space as they each work to advance the broader sector’s interests going forward. 

 

In addition to OSHC sector advocacy objectives the group will also focus on fostering new skills and development among the OSHC workforce in order to help rebuild confidence in the vocation post COVID-19. 

 

5 – New staffing arrangements for ECT’s came into effect across all states with the exception of NSW

 

On 1 January 2020 a new set of regulations came into force that stipulated centre-based ECEC services must have a second early childhood teacher (ECT), or another ‘suitably qualified person’ in attendance when 60 or more children preschool age or under are being educated and cared for on any given day.

 

The ruling highlighted the importance of ECTs in the provision of quality ECEC in the eyes of the regulator, but also increased markedly the structural demand for ECTs, currently in short supply, across the sector

 

Notably, the new regulations applied to all states with the exception of New South Wales which already had more robust requirements in place. 

 

4 – Anne Hollonds commenced her role as Australia’s latest National Children’s Commissioner

 

In November of this year, Anne Hollonds commenced her role as Australia’s next National Children’s Commissioner, a statutory position responsible for protecting and promoting the rights of all children in Australia, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

 

Ms Hollands took over the role from Megan Mitchell who held the role from February 2013 to March 2020 over which time she championed the rights of children actively in both Australia and Overseas. 

 

In a post COVID world, Ms Hollonds said “It will be vital for governments to consider children in the road to recovery, because the impacts on children and their families are likely to be ongoing, and Australia’s children need an ongoing commitment to the protection of their rights.”

 

3 – VIC extends “free” preschool policy to December 2021 regardless of setting

 

As part of its 2020/21 Budget the Victorian State Government committed to extending its current free kindergarten policy for a further 12 months to not only community kindergartens, as was the case in New South Wales, but also for children attending kinder programs in long day care services.

 

The announcement was part of a huge State Budget package targeting the ECEC sector with a total of $773.8m allocated out to FY 2023/24 providing prima facie evidence of the “Education” State’s ongoing commitment to not just education but early education too. 

 

As Executive Director of the Community Child Care Association noted “This landmark investment in early childhood education will carve a learning path for the fast-growing minds of our youngest Victorians.”

 

2 – Advocacy bodies and the broader sector coordinate decisively to influence emergency COVID-19 policy measures  

 

Prior to and after the announcement of Scott Morrison’s “free childcare” policy ECEC peak bodies from across the sector worked tirelessly to safeguard the broader sector from the ravages of COVID-19 by not only lobbying Government aggressively but also coordinating extensive evidence gathering campaigns to back up their calls to action with hard facts. 

 

Although as the public we will never be privy to the full extent of their involvement, we believe it is fair to say that these advocacy bodies played an important role in crafting the ECEC Relief Package, expanding JobKeeper eligibility by simplifying the turnover test, facilitating the inclusion of large charities, including Goodstart Early Learning, in the JobKeeper scheme and prompting clarification of Family Day Care (FDC) and In-Home Care (IHC) services jobkeeper access to name a few key developments.  

 

On reflecting on the work of the advocates as part of her contribution to the ECEC Innovation Forum the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia (ELACCA) CEO, Elizabeth Death noted that collaboration, timeliness and evidence underscored the new approach to advocacy that was deployed to great effect during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

1 – In an unprecedented move the Federal Government adopts “free childcare” model as COVID-19 pandemic bites

 

On 2 April 2020, in a joint press conference, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan announced that all children were to receive free education and care for an initial period of three months with scope to extend as required thereafter.

 

The decision ushered in a new, unprecedented approach to providing and funding ECEC services in Australia with the suspension of the Childcare Subsidy model of payments based on family circumstances to a direct to service payments from the Government based on occupancy levels. 

 

Although the policy, as it was always intended, ceased on 12 July 2020 it was successful in its original aims of supporting the ECEC sector through the most challenging circumstances in living memory and provided a template for a new type of emergency funding up to now never utilised before.

 

To review the biggest stories of 2019 please click here.

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