Pathways to professionalism and equal status, as well as a nationally consistent approach, are among the aspirations for professional registration of early childhood teachers. ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR MARIANNE FENECH looks at a review of teacher registration in Australia to examine what it means for early childhood teachers and the pay gap and offers educators a chance to have a say as part of the early childhood teacher registration study.
Professional registration is increasingly touted in Australia to be boosting the quality and professionalism of early childhood teachers (ECTs) who work with children birth-to five-years-old and the pathway to achieving equal status with teachers working with school-aged children. This pitching of teacher registration was highlighted in last year’s review of teacher registration in Australia, which was conducted by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). Two key recommendations from this review included: irrespective of their place of employment, all ECTs in Australia are required to register under a consistent national system (Recommendation 5); and that the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers be revised to ensure ‘their relevance and applicability to ECTs’ (Recommendation 6).
An interesting aspect about professional registration for ECTs is that in many states and territories, while registration for teachers in schools preceded the introduction of the National Quality Framework (NQF), the registration of teachers working in the prior-to-school sector escalated after its introduction. In South Australia, for example, the registration of teachers working in long day care only commenced in January 2014, even though teachers in schools and preschools have had to be registered since registration began in 1976. The registration of ECTs in Western Australia became a requirement in December 2012, in Victoria it was September 2015, and in NSW it was July 2016.
The NQF was a key policy measure intended to professionalise and improve the quality of the early childhood sector through a series of measures that included increased requirements for the employment of ECTs, the implementation of a national curriculum—Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF)—and the expectation that services will engage in a process of ongoing quality improvement. Quality Area 7 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) specifically requires services to demonstrate that ‘there is an effective self-assessment and quality improvement process in place’ (Element 7.2.1) and ‘educators, co-ordinators and staff members’ performance is regularly evaluated and individual plans are in place to support learning and development’ (Element 7.2.3). It is unclear whether professional registration supports ECTs meeting Quality Area 7, whether teacher registration is perceived by ECTs as additional and unnecessary regulatory burden given NQS requirements, or indeed, whether ECTs are intrinsically motivated rather than driven by regulation to engage in ongoing professional development.
There is also the question of how much support teacher registration would have in the early years’ sector if ECTs enjoyed pay parity and the same professional recognition as teachers who worked with school-aged children? Recent figures suggest that the pay gap starts at $16,000 and doubles within a decade. It is unclear whether professional registration has increased the salaries of ECTs in South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and NSW, or indeed, whether the salaries of ECTs in these states are higher than their ECT peers in the ACT, Tasmania, or Northern Territory where ECTs can only register as teachers if employed in a school, or in the case of Queensland, where voluntary registration is available to ECTs working in the prior-to-school sector. Notably, despite the majority of ECTs working in states that require professional registration, they are still undervalued in the public arena.
A year after the release of AITSL’s review into teacher registration it is unclear if, or how, recommendations 5 and 6 are to be implemented. What is clear, is that ECTs need to critically reflect on claims made about proposed benefits of teacher registration for them and the early childhood teaching profession, and to ensure their voices are heard as policies on professional registration for ECTs are developed.
The Early Years Learning Framework in practice (2nd ed) By Bridie Raban, Kay Margetts, Amelia Church and Jan Deans
A key resource for interpreting and implementing the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), and is of value to anyone involved with early childhood education. It includes an overview of the principles and practice and pedagogy underlying the EYLF and advice on implementing the outcomes with different age groups. It also includes guidelines on learning environments, observation, evaluation, planning, play and transitions. Purchase your copy here on the ECA Shop.