In discussion – early childhood education in focus

Join Deputy Premier Prue Car, Secretary Murat Dizdar and Deputy Secretary Gillian White to hear more about Early Childhood Education.

Watch the stream recording

MURAT DIZDAR: Good afternoon, colleagues. Murat Dizdar, the Secretary for the New South Wales Department of Education. It gives me enormous pleasure to be able to join you this afternoon in our ECE Connect 2023 series. I know this is a really powerful opportunity for us to make sure that we're communicating information and developments across our Early Childhood Education sector. And I want to call out the pivotal work that you undertake as care educators and teachers across New South Wales. Thank you to almost 10,000 of you this afternoon who've made time in your very busy schedules to be able to connect with us. I'd like to acknowledge the Burramattagal Clan of the Dharug Nation. We're coming to you from their beautiful homelands here at our Parramatta headquarters in the New South Wales Department of Education. I want to pay my respects to Aboriginal custodians, both past and present, and to those emerging leaders for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Well, colleagues, I'm delighted to introduce a very special guest to you today, in our Deputy Premier and Minister for Education and Early Learning, The Honourable Prue Carr. The Deputy Premier and her Government have made it very clear in coming into government that education is such a pivotal cornerstone for the development of strong and vibrant communities. The Deputy Premier has been very clear with us organisationally that having access to early childhood education is such a pivotal fillip for a lifelong journey of success for children and young people in this state. And it's really important that we set up our youngest citizens in this state for success through schooling and beyond, and I want to take my hat off for the work that you do each and every day to make sure that is the case. Play-based learning experiences in those early years are so critical to make sure that our children are set up to be able to connect, to succeed and to thrive through their educational journey and the work that you do in early childhood settings and out of hours, school hours settings is so critical to the families and young people in this state. We're also joined by our good colleague in Gill White, and Gill leads our Early Childhood Outcomes Division as our Deputy Secretary for that very important area here in the Department of Education. Can I also talk to you as a father of three young children who are making their way through public schools in this state to great effect, and I have seen firsthand as a parent and a father, the power of the work that you do with my own three young children. They went through both pre-schooling and long day care in Five Dock and in Drummoyne. And to the educators out there who know me well through those experiences, can I apologize? I was always that parent who was running the gauntlet of trying to make the pick up time and sometimes I got that wrong and I want to thank you for your patience with me. But what I do remember fondly about your work firsthand was the care and attention that you provided my own three children. It felt to me like you knew them just as well as my wife and I did. And I'll be forever grateful for that service and experience that I got for my three children on a daily basis. They're really thriving in the public education system and I consider that to be a function of the work that you put in in those early years with them. Let me be brutally honest and brutally passionate about the fact that education is the profession that creates all other professions in this state, in fact, in society. And that's why I consider your work to be so critical, to be so important, to set up young people for success, for ongoing delivery in the state of New South Wales. Can I thank many of you who submitted questions to this forum, ahead of watching this live stream. We've looked very carefully at those submissions and we're going to try and tackle those areas that were of particular interest from you. And I know you're going to enjoy hearing from the Deputy Premier and Gill on those. If you are... if you're watching this as a recording, thanks for also making time because we're going to email the link and transcript for those that haven't been able to join us live here. It gives me great pleasure colleagues to hand across to our Deputy Premier, the Minister for Education and Early Learning in the Honourable Prue Carr. Deputy Premier.

HON. PRUE CAR: Thanks Murat. Thank you all for coming along and listening here with us today. It's so great to be here on Dharug land, as Murat said in Parramatta to talk about our government's priorities and how we can support you in delivering early education and care to our very littlest people. As some of you will know, I've said many times that it is the honour of a lifetime for me to be Minister for Education and Early Learning because it's the work that you are doing every day with our smallest people in New South Wales that is literally transforming lives. I know that our communities only thrive live when children are fully participated in quality early learning. There's been a lot of talk that I've engaged in that the Premier's engaged in, that you've heard no doubt in the media about the need for the changes that we need to make in the public school system. But today is a chance for us to talk about some of our priorities in the early learning and care space, some of what we're already delivering and some of what we see in the future as our priorities going forward. One of the... one of the things I know for sure from feedback from you and feedback from all people, from all sectors, all parts of our very varied sector that are listening here today is that workforce is a major concern. The workforce challenge that you face in your settings is a huge concern. We have too many great teachers and early learning educators leaving, that’s it. We just have too many leaving or planning to leave the sector. I know that this is an issue that is felt across all services, across our sectors, all across New South Wales, whether in suburban settings or inner city settings or regional rural or remote locations. It's a problem in long daycare and preschools, in community based services. It's a problem in out of school hours services and this is the number one priority for our government. It's very similar to the challenge that we face in the school sector as well. Of course, we made a number of election commitments when it came to the workforce challenge in early learning and care, including a $9 million investment in scholarships for educators who want to upskill and a $10 million professional development fund to support paid professional development leave for early childhood educators, whatever your qualification. We also committed to and are investing in a $3 million research study to improving the availability and efficacy of early childhood education focused on ways that we can develop the strong workforce pipeline that we need in New South Wales. We do this because we know that teachers and educators are the central heart of what early learning is in New South Wales. Now you all know that we took to the election a commitment to deliver more public preschools for the children of New South Wales. That is part of our commitment to deliver and expand the access to high quality preschool so children are set up for a lifetime of learning. We are working towards universal access to preschool and this is one part and that's important. The consultation work is already underway, including the delivery of 100 public preschools on public school sites and a further 50 on non-government school sites. We know that this access to high quality play-based learning is the game changer for so many children that we then want to see transition into kindergarten and onto primary and secondary schooling. As part of this commitment, our commitment to you and to the people of New South Wales is that every public school site, every new public school site that is built will have a preschool on site with it to aid in the transition that so many of you tell me that we need to get better at. Our work will always be informed by genuine and meaningful consultation with those that work in the sector, and we want to make this a hallmark of our government in every possible way in the education space and across whole of government. Planning is already underway to make this happen and we're going to have a genuine face to face connection with you, including during this Connect series and so many other ways via the Department through all sectors or settings that you're working in to make sure that this happens without cannibalising other services and support services that already exist. I want to speak a little bit about the Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund. I want to assure you the Government is deeply committed to support... to supporting a sustainable and thriving early childhood sector made up of all service types. And the fund is going to be a crucial part of that going forward. It is going to play a big role in creating opportunities for the sector to change and to grow over the next decade and make sure that as a state we are better prepared for the challenges that we face and that we can plug holes where they exist, where they shouldn't exist. We're going to be looking at ways to use the fund to address workforce challenges, which we know that was already said is a key priority for the government. Lastly, I want to make sure that you understand that this is a government that is committed to equity in education and that equity starts with early learning and early childhood education and care. This means more practical support for children from multicultural families. It means more support for educators and services to provide adequate and appropriate support for children with disabilities and additional needs. And it means getting it actually right, really getting it right for accessing culturally sensitive, inclusive, early childhood education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families through a continued commitment to the first step strategy, of which many of you will be well familiar with. Our vision in New South Wales as a Government is to make sure that each and every child can grow, learn and thrive in a safe and high quality early childhood service, then go on to a wonderful primary and secondary school. The work starts with you. The valuable work starts with you. There's so much evidence that we can't go into it here, about the work that you do, starting our children off on the very best path for success in their life. We value you. We want to be working more and more with you and will be actually engaged in meaningful consultation with you and today is just part of that. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be your Minister and I look forward to working with you to see continued improvements in your sector.

MURAT: Thank you, Deputy Premier. Having worked with you for the last few months, it's great to hear of your vision and focus for the Early Childhood Education sector. I've seen that firsthand, but it's wonderful for our entire workforce out there to hear it. Workforce being number one. The importance of having more pre-schools, the pivotal childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund and that wonderful focus around equity and getting it right for the early learners. Well, colleagues, let's go to those areas that you nominated that you want to hear from Gill and from the Deputy Premier around. We're not going to shy away from the hot topics and I've got the very easy task I get to ask the questions and Gill and the Deputy Premier have got the answers. The first one. Deputy Premier, we want to go to you. It's the preschool commitment. You know that there have been national conversations about affordable access to preschool for families and just this week gone by we saw Queensland announce free kindy in the year before school. What's your plan to deliver universal preschool here in New South Wales?

PRUE: Well, universal preschool, it's so great to see so many of the states and territories around the country now coming on board with this. New South Wales is committed to universal preschool. Let me make that really clear to everyone engaging with this today. One of the ways that we hope to achieve that, obviously, is through our commitment to 100 public preschools and also enabling and assisting 50 non-government sites as well. But that's just part of the picture and we can only get it right if we do so in consultation with you. That was one of the first pieces of feedback I got almost on day one or two of being Minister. People saying great commitment to 100 public preschools, let's make sure we get it right, because we want to make sure that that's adding to where there isn't services, making sure that we can... we do so in a way that doesn't take away from existing services where they are and already delivering. We want to be plugging gaps. That's part of the picture, but we know that there is much more that needs to be done. 100 public preschools is not going to fix it. It's not going to be delivering universal preschool, is it? It’s not going to be delivering universal pre-K. But it's a way, it's a step forward to making that happen. And we are committed to doing that. I really look forward to investing personally in the federal government conversation around how we can get nationally consistent approaches and ensure we can try and take away some of the complexity to deliver a better service for the kids of New South Wales. But we are 100% committed to universal pre-K. I don't think any minister, especially the minister that has the dual responsibilities of early learning and education, can sit here and say they can't be committed to universal pre-K because I go to primary schools and I hear from teachers and principals the importance of that transition from preschool to kindergarten. So it's a huge priority of ours.

MURAT: Thanks Deputy Premier. Great to hear that 100% commitment to universal pre-K and that really important nexus where those additional preschools go into areas of need, particularly on an equity front. Gill, can you give us a bit more colour and flavour about the ongoing funding to support quality preschool programs?

GILLIAN WHITE: Yes, thanks, Murat, and thanks Deputy Premier. It's totally delightful to be with you all today on this stream. So yes, as the Deputy Premier says, a really strong commitment to working with the sector on access to quality and affordable preschool and making sure we work on those gaps, but also build on the really incredible existing service system that we have and so as many of you know very, very well, the flagship program that's the starting point for that is Start Strong, and Start Strong is the funding that we provide to the community preschool sector as well as the long daycare sector delivering quality preschool programs. And just a plug, there's going to be some more detailed sessions in this Connect series to get some more practical information and updates on those programs. So really hoping that many of you can tune into those. But what we know when we deliver those funding programs is how essential they are as baseline funding for that quality preschool delivery. But also what we've been able to do since the beginning of this year is add that extra affordability piece for families. So in a community preschool context, that's up to 4000... a bit over $4,000 off the bill for families and for those accessing long daycare in a preschool, in a long daycare setting that's more than $2,000 off the bill in addition to the childcare subsidy. And with the additional changes that the Commonwealth's making to the childcare subsidy, there will be an extra buffer on that affordability. So when we look at those programs, we know how vital they are. We also know how vital it is that we in the Department are in constant dialog with the sector about how to improve those programs, how to make them as easy to access as possible, as easy to explain to your families as possible. So we're constantly getting feedback from our sector peaks and other representatives, and I encourage you through these Connect series to put in questions in the chat for us to follow up on things if we can make them clearer to you as well. But fundamentally, the commitments that the Deputy Premier have spoken to come on the shoulders of that program and our ability to keep enhancing it and supporting the sector over the coming year.

MURAT: Thanks, Gill. Really important to be improvement focused there with the people that you lead here as well as being responsive to the feedback around how we can get better funding and targeted funding to make sure those quality programs out there operate. Deputy Premier, I'm going to take you to a hot topic. It's being questioned a lot in terms of what's been sent through. You covered this in your opening remarks. I want to take you to workforce. You've been very clear inside the school gates, around the workforce challenge and what you and your government want to do to make teaching an attractive profession. But our early childhood educators and teachers say that they are experiencing enormous change. They have enormous concerns around pay and conditions. They're feeling overwhelmed. What can you say to them and to the dedicated professionals out there listening?

PRUE: Yeah, well, it is it's something that is said to me every day by you working in all of our settings in early learning and care. While I wish I had a lever I could pull for every worker, every educator that is working in early childhood education and care, you will know that many, many of you are under federal arrangements and federal awards. I wish I could make a difference for more of you, but what I can do is make sure that I'm at the table federally, at the Commonwealth level, making sure as the biggest state in the country, in the Commonwealth that we are arguing for the time really has gone for that, for the underpayment of educators working in early childhood education and care. I've said a lot about the need to pay public school teachers more as a function of respect and you deserve the same. We will do everything we can for those educators working within our system to ensure that you are adequately paid as a function of respect that your government has for you. And we will be arguing very strongly around the Commonwealth table to ensure that we can do everything we can for others that fall under other jurisdictions. We will make sure that we send clear messages to your workforce that we value you, that you are involved in the formation of the very first steps of the education of our littlest people in New South Wales. That is, there's no more noble task, really. So I will always be a minister that will be talking up your profession and what you do every day, and we'll be investing as much as we can in your profession, in your professional development, ensuring that we respect the work that you do to make sure that we attract more of you and encourage more of you from state to state instead of really considering leaving, which I hear a lot.

MURAT: Great to hear Deputy Premier that you're not going to shy away as the largest jurisdiction here in being robust with the Commonwealth around what funding arrangements can look like and pay and conditions can look like for our workforce out there. Let me take you to another hot topic. This is regulation. You've been very strong inside the school gates to say we need to refocus and recalibrate and make sure teachers are not hamstrung and tied down by administrative burden and work and can focus on teaching and learning. We're hearing similar themes in the Early Childhood Education sector. Do you have any positions or plans that you could talk to around the regulatory implication actions that our early childhood educators grapple with?

PRUE: Yeah, thank you, Murat. It is something that does come up to me quite a bit actually from the sector. Let me start by saying, and I know you'll all agree with me on this, our number one priority is the safety and the wellbeing of all of our children in early childhood settings in each and every one of those early childhood settings. And there is a reason why we need important regulation. At the same time as saying that we want to make sure that the regulation that exists for very good reasons doesn't unnecessarily take you away from the job that you are trying to do, that we desperately need you to do as a society. So of course, as a Department, we will be looking at every way that we can make sure that those necessary regulations are done in a way that is useful for you as early childhood educators and useful for our children in these important settings to make sure that they are getting the best possible education through play-based learning, the thing that you're trained to do to ensure that they go on to achieve great things in their schooling life.

MURAT: Yeah, I really love the fact that our workforce is hearing from us that we want to focus you on what you're trained to do, that play-based learning experience. We know that that's what brings you to the table and Gill we should keep our doors open. We should keep welcoming the feedback about where we can make improvements to the core work of our early childhood educators. Let's get to another big topic here. Deputy Premier, you also flagged this in when you're talking about 100 preschools, but colleagues of have written about the supply and access challenges. They're telling us that there are families out there in parts of New South Wales where the wait lists for the provision are long and fulsome. How can your government, your leadership, address supply concerns?

PRUE: Yeah, well, certainly through the provision of these 100 public preschools on public school sites, we have already begun starting to look at what the framework might look for developing where this might be, but it will be based on need. It will be based on where we can make the most impact on where that need is, where there might be a desert of preschool opportunities for our young children, or where there really is a pressing equity question that we need to answer through the provision of public preschools. So it's a lever that we can pull as a state government. I don't believe that state governments in the past have pulled it hard enough. It's something that we can directly do and intervene to ensure that there is access where there is no access at the moment. And that's the principle that will guide our development of where these public preschools will be, where there is a need. And I do that with two important things in mind, because I want you to understand that this is about filling gaps where there are gaps, and I also want to keep reiterating to you that this is not about cannibalising services where they exist, where there are wonderful preschool programs within long day daycare centres that exist at the moment. This is about making sure that we identify where there is a need. And you're right, you've identified some of that need already in terms of where there are huge white lists where maybe we can come in and look seriously at the provision of a public preschool as part of this 100 or as part of a new school that we might be building. I can think of many new release areas, say in Western Sydney, where there are huge wait lists for preschool. So when we build new primary schools, they will have a public preschool on site. It's something the government can do directly and I can't wait to get to work to deliver it.

MURAT: Deputy Premier, I know it's going to be very refreshing for the workforce to hear from you that you're not going to be about cannibalising services, it's about going and filling gaps and particular equity challenges. And I know that our workforce out there listening to you are going to really welcome those developments. Gill, just off the back of that, talk to us about ‘the Fund’, what we affectionately know as ‘the Fund’. What advice are you giving to the Deputy Premier around this fund about making a difference for families and our workforce out there?

GILL: Yeah, fantastic. Thanks. Thanks, Murat. Yeah. So the Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund that the Deputy Premier referred to in her opening remarks is a really important complement to those preschool commitments the Deputy Premier was just covering very eloquently. It allows us some genuine funding opportunities to look at that accessibility and affordability aspect with all sorts of service types. So I'm conscious that we will have family daycare educators listening in today. I'm also conscious we'll have fabulous educators from out of school hours care sector, and sometimes you hear from us that you think, oh are they only talking about preschool, are they only talking about those ages 3 to 5? No, we're absolutely through that fund thinking about the diversity of that ecosystem and the contributions that all of you make through those different service types to families being able to work, to families having the confidence that their children are getting access to quality early learning and that they're getting it in ways that support that transition to primary school or sit alongside that primary school experience in the case of the out of school hours care sector. So the fund is this extraordinary opportunity for us to say we know we've got good provision in some parts of the state, but as the Deputy Premier said, there are gaps and we have the opportunity to work with a board that has both independent members and government members on what can we do innovatively to work with the sector in partnership on resolving some of those gaps. Now we are very clear that that requires a quality and sustainable workforce. So the Deputy Premier in Opposition really led a focus on making sure we had a legislative objective around those workforce goals in the fund. But it's also about us looking at in certain regional areas there might be genuine barriers to service providers being able to open up. They might be property barriers, they might be workforce barriers, they might be other things that the fund can assist with. So over the course of this year, the board has come together. They're starting to do some really good analysis. Over the course of the year and into next year, they'll be able to make some investments based on the government commitments to work in this space and then we'll iterate and grow that Murat to really look at how we can make our contribution as a state to accessibility and affordability of sustained workforce alongside the contributions of the Australian government who have those broader levers that the Deputy Premier was speaking to.

MURAT: It's so heartening to see that, Gill, because the strength of an equitable system is the strength of opportunity, the strength of access and affordability we want. I know you're very passionate about this, the same in Balmain as we would one in Bourke by way of those opportunities. And that fund certainly gives us a real a real shot at being able to pull that off.

MURAT: Let me stay with you, Gill. Another massive theme has been supporting children and communities. Our colleagues out there have said that cultural safety and inclusion is so important in their settings. They want to hear more about the programs and approach that we can support them with, particularly around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.

GILL: Thank you, Murat. I'm really delighted and proud of the work that my First Nations team is doing in partnership with the sector in this space. We have an Aboriginal advisory group that I co-chair with Aunty Vickie Parry, that many of you will know about. And this committee co-designed the first step strategy that the Deputy Premier referred to in her in opening remarks. And what this strategy is about, is that true partnership between the Department, the Government and also our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues about how we strengthen Aboriginal controlled services, how we increase the number of Aboriginal controlled services, and how we ensure our mainstream services who have Aboriginal children and non-Aboriginal children can be culturally safe and can learn and grow about what cultural safety really, really means in the early years. So I'm delighted that we are taking such a strong role in this work. We see it as integral to achieving our Closing the Gap targets which exist across the nation and within New South Wales. And we know actually that our Aboriginal families, our first teachers and they have been doing play-based learning so brilliantly for tens of thousands of years. So it's us making sure that we provide the funding and the bolstering for that to shine through and also make sure that we non-Aboriginal people can learn from that. So our Aboriginal Families as Teachers program operating in 29 locations is one example and I know the Deputy Premier recently got to see the Ninganah No More Languages program in action, which is another key part of that too.

MURAT: Deputy Premier, what about you? Our school folk have heard from you about your vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, particularly around the Closing the Gap in the equity with kids that you've spoken about. What about for early childhood sector here? What's your vision for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students that we have the privilege of serving?

PRUE: Well, look, I feel like I couldn't walk the smile on my face listening to what Gill was saying about really, like, isn't that... isn't that where we have to be? I think the Department is doing an amazing job at this, of really making sure that First Nations people are in the driver's seat about what is happening in early childhood education and care here in New South Wales. That's where the magic is going to happen. I've seen it. I've seen it myself with my own eyes at La Perouse. I've seen that happen. When communities can actually determine how their communities can actually access culturally safe and appropriate early childhood education and care right from 0 to 5. It really does make a difference. It's really magic to see. Many of you will be experiencing that right now in the thick of it. I think the Department is doing amazing work at that and will continue to support those strategies wherever we can, making sure that they can extend and expand so we can continue learning from them. As a non-Aboriginal person, I continue to learn from our Aboriginal communities and I can't wait to support them well into the future.

MURAT: You'll let me take you to the last question here. This is another hot, hot topic because our workforce wants to do the right thing, but they are saying that they need greater support in meeting the needs of children in their contexts who have a disability or require adjustment. It's a concern for them. It's a challenge for them. Can you point to any particular programs funding to help out early childhood educators out there?

GILL: Yeah. Thanks. Me, Right. Absolutely. And I think this is an area where we should continue to challenge ourselves because I think we have really good programs here in New South Wales and there's great programs in the Commonwealth as well. But that doesn't mean we're meeting all the needs or that we can think about ways of doing better. And we all know that one of the key promises of early childhood education is if we get the early intervention right, if families are supported in this process, then they can turn up to school gates in a much better situation than if those things have been missed out. So a bit of a plug. There's a session coming up later in this series about our programs, and we've done that together with our Commonwealth colleagues on what exists at the Commonwealth level and what exists at a state level. But two other things in the offing that I thought I'd just mention. The first is the Deputy Premier has spoken really eloquently about the 100 public preschools commitment. As we think through what and what that preschool provision looks like and how we upscaled the existing 100 public preschools as well as the new, we're going to be really focused on conversations with our union colleagues, our schools, our school performance colleagues about how to get that disability and access and inclusivity right in those public preschool contexts. But more broadly for the rest of the sector, I wanted to also give a shout out to the work that we're doing across other agencies, including with our health colleagues, on the rollout of health and developmental checks in all preschool settings, whether that's long day care, community preschool or our public preschools. We want to assist you as a government and as a department of having access to those development checks so that families can have those conversations before they head to school. If there are speech delays, if there are physical delays, if there's other things that we need to support that information flow about. So there'll be a specific session in this connect series about where we're up to on that health and developmental check work and how we've been deeply engaging with the sector. We know some of you do this stuff amazingly well, either yourself or with local area health districts, but we want to grow that and we want that to be available to all services across the state.

MURAT: Well, thank you, Gill. Thank you, Deputy Premier. I know just like me, you've really enjoyed the opportunity to connect with our colleagues right across New South Wales here, our colleagues in the early childhood education sector who are making such a discernible daily difference to young lives. Can I tell you that the Deputy Premier, Gill and I are enormously humbled by the work that you undertake take each day. We know the transformative work that you lead to set young lives up for success, and we really wanted to call that out. We know it's been another long day. We want to get you to your families and to your evenings, so we're going to cut it here. Thank you for connecting with us and please keep doing so in this ECE Connect series. We look forward to communicating with you in an ongoing manner. And thank you for your work. Keep it up.

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