The Biggest Issue Facing the Sector

I was fortunate enough to attend the 2014 Early Childhood Australia Conference in Melbourne this year, and I was amazed by the quality of the presentations from truly inspirational speakers.

But the session that is still rattling around in my brain is not the one I was expecting. It was a working session with a senior representative of the Department of Education. We were invited to put forward what we thought were the biggest issues facing the early childhood (EC) sector.

Not a simple question! In 2014 alone there have been at least four separate inquiries into various aspects of Australia’s EC sector (Productivity Commission, NQF Review, two Senate inquiries). All of these have reflected the complicated work we do and the challenging regulatory frameworks we do it in.

So I was a little surprised when one issue quickly and decisively trumped all the others.


At least two-thirds of the questions raised were around documentation requirements. How much do we need to do? Per child, per day? Should we reference every learning outcome in an observation? How many observations?

I have to be honest – this really disappointed me. This was a rare and valuable opportunity for practitioners and professionals to directly address a senior figure in the sector, with the capacity to make far-reaching decisions affecting our works. She was asking us to represent all of those who do our work, and let the Department know what we think the most pressing issue facing us right now is.

She left that room thinking it was documentation.

Really? With every challenge and frustration we face, how many observations we have to do a month is the biggest single thing affecting our work?

I find this difficult to believe, given the challenges I observe in my work. Trying to recruit and retain qualified early childhood teachers and educators. Supporting the inclusion of children with disabilities. Ethically and respectfully incorporating Indigenous perspectives in our work with young children. Having to balance operational costs with the inclusion of vulnerable children.

I can’t help but think that we might have made even a tiny amount of progress on some of those tricky issues if they had been the focus of discussions.

Documentation is a challenging issue for services, and does require a lot of thought and reflection.

But we are also nearly 3 years into the new National Quality Framework. Support for services to work on their documentation is everywhere, from right here on ECA’s website to your local Professional Support Coordinator.

In forums I attend, documentation is still the key issue that is raised. Imagine how much progress we might be making on some of the issues I listed above if we were constantly and consistently raising them.

That really would make a difference in the lives of Australia’s children.

Liam McNicholas

Liam McNicholas is a Canberra-based early childhood teacher, freelance writer and advocate, particularly focusing on early learning in political and policy contexts. He writes regularly at, and can be found on Twitter @liammcnicholas.

15 thoughts on “The Biggest Issue Facing the Sector”

    […] This article was originally posted on Early Childhood Australia’s blog The Spoke. […]

    Anne Lyon says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head with your list of other issues!! We might have time to think about them more often & address them if we didn’t have to spend so much time documenting and analysing every sound and move a child makes!! Why can’t we take a closer look at Swedish Early Childhood practice…their educators are trusted to deliver an appropriate curriculum with minimal documenting and observing throughout their day!!

    Sue Baker says:

    Anne, this is part of the trouble. If educators think documenting is a chore, then you’re documenting the wrong bits. It’s about being a conduit do-researcher, for children and their learning, recording it, and getting them to express their 100 languages, as an artifact of their learning. While there’s confusion, not really understanding what the framework intends, not understanding the standards, then of course it stays up on people’s agendas as the big issue.

    Nadine says:

    That is really dissapointing to hear, I know some people struggle with the documentation side of things, but there are so many resources that you can access to help with this both online through your service and at professional development events. I wish funding issues and discrimination amongst service types had been brought up and maybe then we wouldn’t be in the current predicament we are in!

    Treapes says:

    Is it possible that the term documentation is not consistently understood? Do some only think of documentation as only records of children’s learning, while others think of it as all the records, attendance, staff records, prescribed information, policies, first aid, feeding, changing, etc as well as children’s learning? I can see Liam’s point of course. And those who are in the position to provide more clarity on this issue need to listen to the educations not belittle them. If documentation continues to be put forward as an issue then it must still be an issue. Clarity and responsiveness might just solve the retention of staff matter.

    Sarah Jobson says:

    Why are people asking so many questions about documentation? Perhaps questions about documentation are the symptom, not the cause of the problem. Perhaps the biggest issue is not documentation but the perception that documentation is heavily regulated, that there is excessive amounts of paperwork because educated educators cannot be trusted, and that educators and centres will be assessed and penalised, and their ‘failure’ advertised on a website for not meeting the unspoken requirements of an assessor. Perhaps educators feel that they can’t do their job of educating children because of excessive documentation, and that documentation is being done outside of work hours and taking up their personal time.

    Leanne says:

    I am more concerned about what may come out of the productivity commissions report, I was astonished to see they want to delete the Sustainability content we worked so hard to get into the NQS because they believe early childhood educators don’t understand it! How condescending, I don’t know one early childhood educator who doesn’t understand that our planet is precious and we need to be responsible about the decisions we make in lessening our negative impact. Children stand to gain so much from learning to conserve and take care of the planet….

    Belinda says:

    Because the paperwork is so difficult to do, manage and implement properly, we who are in the thick of it can’t spend time on thoughtful analysis of the BIGGER PICTURE! We are so bogged down in regulation and compliance our caring, progressive, passionate sides get SQISHED! If we do think sideways, Rating and Assesment remind us we need to only think through one lends!

    amy says:

    Perhaps the underlying issue is what it always has been? Educators are over worked, under paid and face a high rate of burn out because of the expectations put on what they need to accomplish in a small amount of paid time.

    amy says:

    Documentation IS clearly a big issue in the sector as this is what services are judged on. It is one of the biggest observable measures that say an individual educator is doing their job properly. The amount if questions regarding documentation I think, is a reflection of peoples insecurities about assessment and judgement. We have ALWAYS documented in some form and it is sad that people are getting caught up on it and that it is THE focus. Perhaps one of the big issues is that the quality of an educators work and the service as a whole is deemed appropriate or not at the discretion of an individual assessor? Perhaps this says the issues in the sector are the actual processes put in place and implied on the sector as a whole.

    Ayesha says:

    I agree with many of the posts above; for me, documentation about a child’s learning path during the year is not a burden. It is the endless steam of other docs required by various agencies, including our Committee of Management, DEECD. DE, KU,Local council planning and regulation, budgets, monthly accounts, policies and tick lists for safety, health, OHS, emergency drills, kinder children’s info, Toy washing, reports on minor injuries, risk assessments for everything and on and on and on….

    The ECA Learning Hub released the online learning module ‘Documenting and Assessing Children’s Learning’ by Dr Anne Kennedy. It provides educators with an understanding of the purpose of documenting children’s learning, common myths about documentation, how to save time and how to use the documentation in the program; plus an insight into practices and philosophies in some services. Check out this sneak peek video on YouTube.

    We documented the children’s learning while on the floor working with the children. By documenting while playing they saw how much we noticed and valued their achievements.Instead of producing papers and papers of formal assessments, to be filed away for assessors to view, we produced learning records for children, parents and educators to enjoy and use to further the children’s individual learning paths. It was never a chore. It was one of the most satisfying parts of the job. It helped children and parents identify the service as a learning environment.

    Chelsie de Bomford says:

    I agree Glenn, documenting children’s learning journey should be viewed as a privilege ad an honour not an additional chore to do. Yes it does take time and yes we are very busy but it should be part of our everyday practice working alongside children as researchers and investigators capturing the children’s thoughts, their views, their ideas and their love of learning. I see this as my professional duty and to me this is a critical and expected part of my work with children. In response to Liam, I can also certainly understand his frustration around the ‘big issues’ he stated and agree that these are serious issues facing the sector. It’s great that we have a variety of professionals advocating for a variety of concerns we are faced with. Thank you to all who make a positive difference for young children, whatever role that may be.

    Jaclyn says:


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