A 2021 transnational study into the work of early childhood educators has revealed accreditation decreases the amount of time they spent with children.
In fact, 38 per cent of educators reported a decrease, with 16 per cent indicating a sharp decrease.
Educators were ‘often engaged in putting together documents, adding to portfolios or completing self-assessment forms whilst on the floor with children’ and ‘trying to complete excessive amounts of checklists’.
Others said teaching time was ‘minimal. Lots of on the floor time was spent completing paperwork’, and ‘never enough as we have our heads in our iPads documenting and photographing, therefore “missing” the moment’.
Some talked about a panicked atmosphere saying ‘everyone scrambles to make sure they have every piece of documentation up to date’ and ‘at times children suffered’.
So why does a reduction in teaching time matter? It matters because the early years are the most important time for children’s brain development which depends on quality interactions with carers.
Accreditation occurs every three years for most services but happens more often if the service does not do well. That means that in many services, the amount of time spent with children is reduced at least every three years as they prove their compliance with managerial systems.
Managerialism is a system where authorities are in control and many managers and administrators are needed. Workers are not trusted to understand or do their job, so authorities create long, detailed lists of what workers should do.
They justify this by saying it ‘increases quality’, and who can argue with that? However, it is the authorities and managers’ notions of quality that are promoted, rather than what quality looks like in unique settings.
Managerialism has increased in all sectors of education. In early childhood education, enormous documents have been created in the form of curriculum, frameworks and standards.
These documents are so complex, longer documents (handbooks and guides) are needed to explain what the original document meant.
The Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) is the agency responsible for creating the documents educators use for this process. They leave the monitoring of compliance to state and territory regulatory authorities.
Australian services are required to provide evidence that they are meeting or exceeding these requirements by providing authorities with big data. Exceeding these requirements is a prized marketing tool for the service, ensuring enrolments. Since Australia has one of the highest levels of privatisation of childcare in the world, has marketing become more important than quality?
Our study revealed only 4 per cent of educators noticed an increase in the quality of care during accreditation. Alarmingly, 10 per cent of educators reported that there was a reduction. Many educators said they worked really hard to ensure the quality of care remained the same, often at personal cost.
In some instances, directors had to ‘employ two extra staff members per day to ensure that the children were cared for as most of the staff were documenting’.
Paperwork was so time consuming that it ‘was expected to be done in the rooms with children and many staff felt pressured to take the work home as they were unable to do so’. Half of the educators worked unpaid hours during accreditation, despite being so poorly paid.
Additionally, 66 per cent said staff morale decreased during accreditation, affecting their work.
Unsurprisingly, the overburdened early childhood sector is in crisis with 73 per cent of educators saying they intend to leave in the next three years because of burnout, excessive administration and overwork.
They are the 13th lowest paid workers in Australia, despite many of them being diploma or degree qualified.
The Thrive by Five campaign is calling for major reform – and it is sorely needed. As one educator said, the government needs to: ‘respect and understand the individualism of each service, and how we guide children’s learning in different ways. There is no “one size fits all” for centres.
Every centre is unique and has different families and educators, so it is very frustrating being guided by the same process for every centre’.
Surely our children and educators deserve systems that allow educators to teach.