Improving the accessibility and quality of pre-service training

What we heard

We heard quality pre-service training is vital to teachers and educators graduating with the skills and knowledge necessary to confidently begin their careers and help to strengthen the current workforce.

This includes placements that provide the valuable practical experience needed to prepare graduates to create safe and positive play-based learning for all children.

The workforce told us that tertiary education providers need to be adaptive in their course offerings and delivery models in response to sector changes. This includes ensuring that graduates have the practical skills and knowledge needed to plan and deliver longer kindergarten programs.

We also heard that the time and financial commitment required to successfully complete training can be a barrier to accessing early childhood qualifications. This is particularly the case for educators seeking to upskill from a Certificate III qualification to a Diploma. Recent changes to the National Training Package which require educators holding a pre-2013 Certificate III to update their qualification before commencing a Diploma was also identified as a barrier.

What we are doing

Reducing barriers to accessing quality pre-service training and supporting students to undertake initial training or to upskill remain key priorities to meet the workforce needs arising from the Best Start, Best Life reforms, which in turn will support the existing workforce.

To date, over 4,000 early childhood teaching scholarships have been awarded and up to 1,700 diploma-qualified educators are being supported to upskill to become early childhood teachers through the Innovative Initial Teacher Education initiative.

Since the release of the 2021 strategy, we have delivered the Early Childhood Educator Traineeships program, a partnership between the Department of Education, Jobs Victoria and Chisholm Institute, which has supported over 200 students to work in an early childhood education service while completing their educator qualification.

With changes introduced in January 2023 to Free TAFE, we have also made early childhood educator training more accessible to more people. Under the changes, Victorians can access Free TAFE regardless of previous qualifications at the same or higher level. If they have already undertaken a Free TAFE course to complete the Certificate level qualification, they can also access Free TAFE to complete their Diploma level qualification in Early Childhood Education and Care.

While we have had success in increasing the uptake of pre-service training in early childhood education, we need to continue to grow the number of well-trained and job-ready teachers and educators across Victoria.

Building on our existing financial supports and partnerships, we will:

  • Support more students, including from diverse backgrounds, to overcome barriers to study and experience a smooth transition into the workforce through a new Early Childhood Tertiary Partnerships program. Up to 2,000 students will be supported to undertake Certificate III, Diploma and Early Childhood Teacher qualifications across 11 pre-service training programs. Prospective students will be able to access a range of tailored supports, depending on their program, including financial assistance, academic and placement mentoring, relocation supports for regional placement blocks, culturally responsive professional resources, and employment matching.
  • Support educators working in funded kindergarten programs to upskill to a Diploma qualification through a new Certificate III Upskill Support program. This will provide up to 400 certificate-qualified educators with the financial support they need to complete a Diploma in early childhood education. Eligible students will be able to access $7,000 in financial support, split across three milestone payments.
  • Provide greater financial support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students upskilling from a Certificate III to Diploma qualification by increasing the value of the Aboriginal Pathways Diploma scholarship to $9,000.
  • Support educators holding a pre-2013 Certificate III to undertake a Diploma by implementing a Recognition of Prior Learning and Skills Gap Pilot project, in response to changes to the National Training Package. Chisholm Institute’s pilot will test a toolkit that will streamline assessment of Recognition of Prior Learning applications. The toolkit will be made available to all TAFEs at completion of the project. Chisholm will also deliver flexible training to address skills gaps between the old and new Certificate III qualification and test the effectiveness of this approach in encouraging educators to upskill.
  • Work with teachers and educators, including through the Early Childhood Education Workforce Reference Group, tertiary providers and sector bodies to design the next phase of the Early Childhood Professional Practice Partnership This will support a continued focus on lifting the quality of placements for both educators and teachers, and supporting partnerships between tertiary providers and early childhood education services.

Building local partnerships in Wimmera South West

For more than two years, organisations in Victoria’s Wimmera South West region have been collaborating to inspire local people to start careers in early childhood education.

First highlighted in our 2021 Next Steps in Victoria’s Kindergarten Workforce Strategy, this ongoing partnership project, led by the Department of Education’s Early Childhood Improvement Branch, has since resulted in significantly increased interest in training opportunities.

This has been credited to the partnership’s ethos of making the most of every single connection, and of every available opportunity.

Small across-the-board changes have had significant benefits. For example, instead of talking about “childcare jobs”, stakeholders have “raised their language” to remind people of the benefits to children of high-quality early childhood education, and the professionalism and opportunities of careers in the sector.

Short videos profiling local people at the beginning of their careers have generated strong interest, as has a video series showing the real-life benefits of working with local providers.

In Horsham, a new 5-week pre-accredited course attracts significant enrolments. Almost everyone who completed the first course has gone on to study for their Certificate III.

WDEA Works is now piloting an online version of its Certificate III training program to meet demand in more remote towns in the region. Using innovative ‘Swivel’ technology, trainers are simultaneously working live and remotely with early childhood students across the district.

Meanwhile, Wimmera South West Partnership stakeholders are this year focusing on refining the student placement system. As with previous initiatives, it is anticipated that the cumulative impact of small changes in practice will make a big difference to the quality of placements.

Putting Aboriginal perspectives and engagement at the centre

It was a Facebook ad that prompted Tiffany Stute to apply for one of the Victorian Government’s Early Childhood Aboriginal Pathways Scholarships.

Tiffany had found university stressful the first time around, when combined with the burden of work. This opportunity not only gave her financial breathing room, it allowed her to ‘scratch a career itch’.

I had started doing a bit of work as a library assistant and realised I was really loving working with the kids,” Tiffany says. “[The financial support] meant I could give myself the space to really dive into studying."

Tiffany finished her studies amid the COVID-19 lockdowns — even finding the time to complete additional short courses, including on bringing Indigenous culture into the classroom.

She now has two years’ experience as a teacher and is devoted to ensuring Aboriginal perspectives and engagement are embedded in the play-based learning approach at her kinder service.

“I want to make sure I get that balance, doing the right protocols, finding the right people, understanding what I can teach the kids,” Tiffany says.

As part of the local community, she knows many of the families and parents that attend her centre. “It can be daunting… but it’s really exciting and uplifting to be able to go, okay, I can anticipate their needs, or I know how to support them in the best way possible.”

Helping educators ‘earn and learn’

Chelsea McGinty was inspired by her mother’s work in early childhood education and learned a lot from her mum about how to give children the best opportunities to learn.

When an Indigenous employment agency noted that Chelsea had already completed a lot of volunteering in early childhood education, they recommended she apply for the Early Childhood Educator Traineeships Program, a joint initiative between the Department of Education, Jobs Victoria and Chisholm Institute.

Successful applicants undertake a paid traineeship, while also completing a Certificate III or Diploma in Early Childhood Education and Care through the Free TAFE program.

Chelsea found the ‘earn and learn’ aspect of the traineeship program valuable.

Being able to work full time and then study has been really helpful. What I learn in the centre I can go and apply in class, and it goes both ways,” she says.

While some services have already been using traineeships to ‘grow their own’ educator workforce, we know from feedback that they can be tricky to resource and run. The program offers comprehensive support for trainees and services.

Employers receive funding to deliver wrap-around supports, including mentoring, and benefit from job-ready employees with first-hand knowledge of their service and its needs.

Chelsea is currently working towards her qualification and is loving working in the Windsor Community Children’s Centre where she says the staff all support each other.

The traineeship program has focused on providing opportunities for people who may be facing multiple barriers to employment including Aboriginal Victorians, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and long-term unemployed people.