One in five early childhood educators plan to leave the profession

Susan Irvine, Queensland University of Technology; Jennifer Sumsion; Jo Lunn, Queensland University of Technology, and Karen Thorpe, Queensland University of Technology

Despite lip service being paid to the importance of early education, little is being done to encourage early education staff to stay in the profession.

One in five early childhood educators plans to leave their job in the next 12 months, a survey finds.

Of the 1200 early childhood educators and degree qualified teachers working in long day care centres and preschools across Australia who were surveyed, around one in five said they planned to leave their job within a year because of low pay, feeling undervalued and increasing time spent on paperwork.

Educators who took up further training or upgraded to an early childhood teaching degree were most likely to leave.

This means that some of our most qualified educators are choosing to leave the profession early in their career.

Young educators who entered the profession because they liked the idea of working with children are also leaving. This is mainly because their experience is not matching their expectations.

Challenges of working in early education

This is intellectually, emotionally and physically demanding work and there are qualification requirements for all educators.

To work in long day care, educators need a vocational qualification (certificate III or diploma). Teachers in long day care and preschools have an education degree, often the same qualification as teachers in schools. Yet, wages and conditions are poor by comparison, particularly in long day care.

This may be linked to the gender pay gap and the fact that 94% of this workforce is female. A female-dominated workforce is often associated with lower wages within particular sectors. Government distinctions between care and education, and overemphasis on childcare to support parent workforce participation are also unhelpful and devalue the professional work of educators and teachers in these services.

Here are the main reasons why people are leaving the sector:

Feeling undervalued

The vast majority of educators talked about their love of children, the importance of early education and the satisfaction they derived from their work.

In fact 85% described their work as a profession rather than a job.

However the study highlights a tension between educator views of their roles and responsibilities, and a lack of professional recognition within the community.

While educators talked about their years of study and contribution to early learning, they felt many in the community continued to view them simply as babysitters.

Drowning in paperwork

While filling out documentation is part and parcel of the job – this includes observations of children’s learning and teaching plans – the sheer volume of paperwork is becoming unmanageable for many educators, and many struggle to complete it in the time given.

This is leading to feelings of guilt about not meeting personal and/or external expectations, and a sense of obligation to complete this work during breaks and outside of paid working hours.

An over-focus on paperwork is distracting educators and teachers from the most meaningful aspects of their work; their daily interactions with children and families.

Low pay

While there are a range of factors that contribute to job satisfaction and retention, it is clear that in the end money does matter.

The study revealed that some educators were barely surviving on their income. This is a particular problem in long day care where salaries range from $18 per hour for an assistant educator to $32 per hour for the most senior and experienced director of a long day care centre; many indicated they were only able to continue working in early education because their partner or family financially supported them.

Despite government and employer incentives such as TAFE fee waivers and early childhood teacher scholarships to grow a more qualified workforce, many educators are training to leave their centre in search of better pay and working conditions in preschools or schools. Others are choosing to leave the education sector completely.

Implications for the sector

The quality and stability of educators and teachers working in these services is the single most important influence on children’s development, learning and well-being.

The professionalism of educators also enables confident parental workforce participation.

These two factors combine to ensure the best social and economic return on national investment in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC).

Building a qualified, professional and sustainable workforce is essential to delivering quality ECEC services and to achieving the best outcomes for children, families and the broader community.

Yet only one party, Labor, has addressed the ECEC workforce in their election policy.

Labor said it will focus on “valuing the professionalism of early childhood educators” committing to develop a new national workforce strategy with a strong focus on valuing the work of educators and supporting their professional development.

Going a step further, Labor commits “to work to address the gender pay equity gap for early childhood educators”. However, there is little detail as to how this might be achieved.

We need a shared plan and collective effort to grow the workforce to provide these services. This has to be a policy priority and the solution needs to include professional wages for professional work.

The Conversation

Susan Irvine, Academic Coordinator, Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood), QUT Caboolture, Queensland University of Technology; Jennifer Sumsion, Professor and director of RIPPLE and Foundation Professor Early Childhood Education; Jo Lunn, Professor, Faculty of Education, School of Early Childhood., Queensland University of Technology, and Karen Thorpe, Professor, Psychology, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Susan Irvine

I am an early childhood professional with over 25 years experience working in early childhood education and care (ECEC), in service provision, public policy and higher education. Prior to coming to QUT in 2010, I held the position of CEO at Lady Gowrie Queensland. I maintain a research interest in ECEC policy and am currently involved in a national study identifying ways to grow a qualified and sustainable professional ECEC workforce.

12 thoughts on “One in five early childhood educators plan to leave the profession”

    Anne Kennedy says:

    The results of this survey are disturbing but not surprising. There are some solutions at the service level but most importantly we must gain widespread, national agreement for improved wages and conditions on the basis of equity with other sectors of education and recognition for the significance of the work of professional educators. Until the sector becomes more politically active and garners the support of all the families and communities we work with to push for recognition, nothing much will change.

    Pam Stiles says:

    We have a national Framework and why not a national approach to industrial issues. Without a national approach we would never have achieved the EYLF. Membership to the Australian Education Union Vic, of which I am a member, is open to all levels of educators from Cert 111 up.

    Lea Powell says:

    Interestingly, in other countries including the US there is a greater push to have ECT’s recognised in a greater capacity than currently. Many overseas countries, utilise ECT’s as a vital component of the health/ education crossover professional workforce. Within this framework, they are being encouraged to assit with early intervention through diagnosis and facilitation of mental health in children and therefore diagnosis of autism and adhd and other behavioural issues, in conjuction with community health workers and services. With an overworked mental health profession these workers are seen as being ideally positioned if well trained to act as an intercept to growing child mental health issues, because they sit squarely at the natrual intersect of all groups. Recognition is given within this proposal for appropriate tertiary training being needed as minimum for this to occur.

    However, Australian government officials have NO understanding, or intention of supporting either ECE workforce or infant and child mental health workforces. It is a far bigger problem than just becoming unionised or more vocal, it requires a fundamental change of position to a belief in social justice and social equity of all members of society. Whilst saying this, Ironically, within Australia, the greatest influence in philosophy at the moment is that of Reggio Emilia, yet it is based upon a theory of social pedagogy, which isnt even discussed, or taught in Australia and Reggio practitioners have no idea about HOW to practice this, and their understanding is way off base, understanding it as a pretty picture taking exercise, rather than as a whole of community, social justice practice.
    We need better educated ECTs than we currently have, that are demanding of learning and ready to question and argue, we need to have a better system than one that allows any one to be qualified by RTO and therefore skip through and miss vital learning. We also need to ensure that in situations where ECTs are employed that their supervisors are equally or more educated rather than less. These fActors as well as funding and economic support that supports ECE are vital, we cant expect to change minds if our workforce is such a mess.

    We need to formulate and understand theories that we are teaching so that we know what the implications of them are, and from there we can move forward.

    Yes, being an ECT in a day care service is a horrible job, because of all of the inequities and imbalances that permeate the ‘ profession’. Being an ECT in a school is equally awful, because of the total lack of understanding of Early child hood philosophy in the school sector. Not only this, the impact of Howards antithesis of ECE and refusal to fund it is currently playing out in our drops in standards of education nationally.
    It is very easy to see why ECT’s are racing to leave the profession. Who would want to work there when so many other options are enticing and don’t have these issues?

    Julie Grahame says:

    I’m afraid that I have just joined the ranks of the ones leaving the industry. I have had a horrendous experience this year with a committee over-reaching their role, telling me how to run my program, how to interact with parents, etc. Once it was decided that I was not going to be swayed, I was then jumped on for every action not deemed appropriate by this very small group of parents. They removed our healthy food policy, questioned the Bush Kinder program (and cut the number of visits back), and so it went on. The amount of power that one or two parents can hold in a stand-alone Kinder is ridiculous! Worse still, there is no support for preschool educators. The DET has a counselling service set up for other teachers, but EC teachers are not given access to this. Even the Union, which I have always strongly supported, were no support at all! After 30 years of teaching, I have now walked away totally disgusted with the industry. We need to start looking after our educators, increasing their pay rates and decreasing the paperwork demands, giving them the support to work through employment issues and to find a decent work/life balance (not the 60 hr weeks I was working!)!

    Annie Liang says:

    What could we do about it?

    A says:

    Unfortunately the ‘drowning in paperwork’ is usually because there are people who do not understand the EYLF and NQF in management positions. When you TRULY know these documents, there really isn’t that much paperwork to do, even to be rated as an exceeding or excellent centre (I know because my centre is one). Unfortunately in my work as a consultant with centres I see too many ‘managers’ putting arbitrary numbers on observations, follow ons, and specific experiences and have created unrealistic and time consuming templates for planning/recording music, literacy and numeracy experiences and the program all whilst NOT giving educators their mandated 2 hours planning time under the award. There are so many centres expecting educators in training to document children’s learning, again without giving them the mandatory 2 hours planning time stipulated in the award, and expecting trained educators to complete mountains of documentation on a daily basis again without giving them the time off the floor and replacing them for that time.

    If we are educated about the ACTUAL requirements of the EYLF and the NQF, there isn’t paperwork to drown in (again I know as we have achieved an exceeding rating without the useless paperwork). My educators at my own centre NEVER take work home, neither do I as the ECT in the room (& the EL and the NS). There simply is no need to as the 2 hours under the award is more than adequate. It is when these massive companies begin piling on their unnecessary expectations under the guise that it is ‘required’ under the EYLF or NQF which adds to the workload and when educators working in centres receive training from people who have not worked in a centre for many, many years. They may be inspirational, but they are unaware of the REAL day to day expectations of working in a room which is ever changing.

    This is when educators should be questioning their managers, Directors, area managers etc about why they deem the truckload of paperwork is necessary and ask them to point it out in the EYLF and NQF exactly where it says it is ‘required’, or, if being trained by someone they need to question how what they are being taught is achievable and if there is a real world example that they can show them how it all works together.

    We need a HUGE change in our profession that brings things back to basics, to what the documents ACTUALLY require, not hundreds of peoples interpretation of them is. Once this is done, people will begin to enjoy their job and see the value of child centred documentation that can actually be used.

    In regards to wages, unfortunately now that our regulatory authorities have allowed massive share holder companies to take hold of our profession, there will always be a fight for equality as they are first and foremost businesses who must answer to shareholders. There are less and less community based services and there is no requirement for owners to have an early childhood qualification which again leads to a lack of knowledge (and passion) about the profession.

    Twenty years ago, our profession was predominantly focused on people – children, educators and families. It has slowly declined into being about profits at the expense of the well being of the 3 people who make it work. Sheesh our regulatory authorities are even licensing centres with absolutely no access to nature, ability to have one educator present at a centre as long as ratios are adhered to, and no limitation on the numbers of children a centre can be licensed for…what does that tell you about their priorities? Children and Educators certainly are not a priority!

    A huge change is needed and this includes a massive overhaul of our regulations. Until then, big business is only going to have more (detrimental) control over our profession

    TJ says:

    I am not surprised by the issues raised in this article. I have just commenced my field experience for my Masters in a community Kindergarten. The staff are highly qualified and dedicated and I feel very fortunate to be gaining experience from them! However, I was shocked to discover that they do not get any breaks between 8.30am and 2.30pm. Coming from the school system I find this difficult to comprehend.

    Tracey Bell says:

    Great question….are you a member of the union? Are you prepared actively promote and participate in the work that needs to be done to promote the Big Steps campaign and get the politicians to listen to us? If you answered yes to all of these, then this is what WE can do about it. We all need to stand together united.

    A says:

    Tracey if you are talking to me, no I am not. I lost respect for the union when the union got back an ‘educators’ job for her after she had been physically and emotionally abusing children which a centre full of people witnessed on many occasions simply because the proper procedure was not followed by the employer many years ago. No consideration was given to the children and other educators who faced her wrath on a daily basis. The union felt she was being bullied by other educators and staff at the centre without properly investigating her claims and speaking to all staff and educators. The reality was she was bullying everyone in the whole place. Highly unethical in my opinion and not behaviour that should be supported in our profession.

    Kate says:

    I agree with A. – no time off the floor means that you take your paperwork home. Although when you plan and observe daily, you only need a few hours to reflect on your documentation. Most paperwork the centres require is not targeted at LEARNING, hence unnecessary.

    Alana says:

    I couldn’t agree more!!!!

    Cate says:

    This is not news and has been the case pretty much since I graduated 23 years ago. The only difference is the paperwork has trebled in amount due to this ridiculous notion that we need to reflect and evaluate everything, assess everything and justify everything. We are underpaid, we are undervalued and we are at times drowning in paperwork not a requirement of EYLF or the NQF but because managers say so. We have a system that has been broken since the moment the focus shifted from service provision to profit provision and unfortunately it will continue.i could not agree with A’s statement above more.

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