Cutting teacher numbers? Never a good idea for kids

Cutting teacher numbers? Never a good idea for kids

Would you send your child to a school that did not have a teacher for every class? What if it was decided that employing teachers was too expensive and instead they should be replaced by educators without university degrees?

This is the scenario being suggested for early education and care centres by the peak lobby group of for-profit early education and care centres, Australian Childcare Alliance NSW, here.

Currently early education and care centres in NSW (long day care centres and teachers) are required to have one university qualified early childhood teacher for around every 30 children. These are backed up educators with either a Diplomas or a Certificate III in Early Education and Care. The peak lobby group of for-profit child care, Australian Childcare Alliance NSW, are arguing for a drop in teacher numbers, calling it an “over-requirement”.

Many early childhood teachers and researchers are horrified at the suggestion that the numbers of teachers be cut because such a large body of research says that the presence of early qualified teachers in a room at a childcare centre makes the difference between high quality education and care and poor quality.

Back in 2009  the Council of Australian Governments decided to embark upon a collaborative effort between the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments to ensure that by 2020 all Australian children would have the best start in life to create a better future for themselves and for the nation.  One of the key things they decided was necessary to achieve this was upskilling the early education and care workforce. Since then the number of early childhood teachers employed in centres has increased by around 48%.

Sometimes parents (and some politicians) question if degree qualified teachers are really required for young children. Surely babies don’t need teachers with degrees looking after them? If parents with no qualifications can raise children, why do we need teachers looking after them in long day care centres? The answer is simple – too bloody right you do!

Why?  Because babies and young children are spending more and more hours of their childhood in childcare. 46.8% of all children in NSW use formal childcare and they spend an average of 28.4 hours a week there.  A child that is at home with a parent gets a lot of one on one interaction with a parent whose primary job (whether they realise it or not ) is building that child’s brain. Mothers (and it often is mothers) talk to that baby from birth. They introduce the world to that child, notice when he or she needs to be pushed to learn new skills and applauds when their child masters them.

This is how the very architecture of a human brain is built! It is vitally important. So if a baby and child is away from its primary caregivers for 28 hours a week, who is doing the brain building? Is it still happening?

The answer, luckily, is yes. Research tells us it is still happening in our long day care centres and in the homes of family day carers. But research also tells us that having degree qualified early childhood teachers in a room improves the quality of the interactions between all the educators and the children. In other words, if parents aren’t there building brains it works best if someone who has studied at university how children learn and who has been taught how best to help children learn (in other words has learnt how to teach children), is.

Multiple comprehensive reviews and research projects have found that the most influential factors affecting quality in early education and care is the education, qualifications and training of the workforce – the more qualified the staff, the better the outcomes are for children. Children with access to teachers have better language and cognitive development. They understand maths and science concepts more comprehensively and they have better social skills and fewer behavioural problems.

It seems like madness then given the strength of the research findings to suggest removing or cutting the number of teachers. Imagine the outrage by parents if this was suggested in schools! One of the reasons the group suggesting it has proposed it, is because NSW has always required more early childhood teachers in our childcare centres than other states and territories. Those of us who work in early education and care reckon that this is pretty great. It means the NSW government recognised it early and fought to keep our standards when national regulations came in for the sector in 2012. The other states are on a slow schedule to catch up to NSW.

So why is anyone suggesting cutting the numbers of teachers when clearly they are like rolled gold for children in the early years? To answer this we need to look at who is doing the suggesting. It’s the association that represents for-profit childcare providers in NSW. (Interestingly none of the other state branches of this organisation have reduction of teacher numbers on their agenda).

Teachers are of course more expensive than other educators. Is it hard to make a profit out of children if you have to pay for the expensive staff? Apparently – because there is absolutely no other reason you would want to cut the number of teachers our children have access to.

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