There are few sectors that are as people-centric as early childhood education and care. Relationships with children, collaborative partnerships with families and communities – all are part of the daily life of an early childhood service. Of course, the key group which ensures quality relationships between the service and its children, families and communities are the early childhood professionals and other employees who make up the staff of the service.
The engagement of early childhood staff is governed by a complex interaction of laws, regulations and awards. However, the most important influence in engaging quality staff in this sector, with a return measured in both the quality and viability of services, is a cultural commitment to supporting and improving people. Moving beyond mouthing “our people are our most important asset” to actually demonstrating that they are is critical to the achievement of superior outcomes for children, families, the broader community, staff and the service alike.
Much of CCSA’s support to the sector is focussed on understanding what might be called the mechanics of staff engagement. Compliance with the pay and condition requirements of Modern Awards or Enterprise Agreements, the National Employment Standards and the broader Fair Work Act are all important issues for any Australian business, whether it’s run on a for-profit or not-for-profit basis. In the case of early childhood services, though, this is complicated by a range of multiple awards – it is not unusual for even the smallest services to have their small number of staff covered by at least three awards (the Educational Services (Teachers) Award, the Children’s Services Award, and the Clerks-Private Sector Award) with no uniform approach to key employment arrangements such as annual leave, overtime and taking of meal breaks.
In managing staff, these workplace relations requirements are then further overlaid by the need to comply with the National Quality Framework, including the Education and Care Services National Law and Regulations. Quality Area 4 – Staffing Arrangements of the National Quality Standard lay out key requirements including educator-to-child ratios and qualification requirements of early childhood educators. As these are so prescribed, with hard numbers and formal qualifications, they are easier to understand and comply with than the other aspect of Quality Area 4 – respectful and ethical relationships between staff.
A useful guideline to achieving respectful and ethical relationships is contained in the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics. The code of ethics defines the core aspirational values of the profession and provides guidance for professional decision making. It should be adhered to as a minimum set of standards by all involved in early childhood education and care, including approved providers / employers, and covers relationships with children, colleagues, families, community and society, and the broader profession.
Beyond the code, however, the best early childhood services pay attention to the recruitment and retention of high-performing staff, considering this to be an investment, not a cost. Training, including continuing professional development not just for those staff members for whom it is mandated such as Early Childhood Teachers but for all staff, is an integral part of those services’ operations. This extends to ensuring that those who are charged with running the service, including management committees or private owners, centre managers and service directors receive equivalent training to improve their individual and collective governance and management skills.
CCSA’s focus is on supporting services to achieve excellence in governance, management and support of their people.