Introduction

A national challenge

Demand for highly skilled early childhood professionals across Australia continues to rise as policy settings create more accessible and affordable early childhood education, and more children can benefit from quality kindergarten programs.

At the same time, workforce shortages are putting pressure on early childhood teachers, educators and early childhood education and care services across the country.

Early childhood workforce supply and quality is a national challenge which requires national solutions, together with strong collaboration and well-coordinated action across the system and in partnership with all stakeholders.

While Victoria is not immune from these challenges, we are leading the nation in supporting our kindergarten workforce.

Our efforts, in collaboration with Victorian service providers, sector bodies, tertiary partners, unions, local government and other stakeholders, are making a difference. Victoria has been able to expand its workforce considerably over the last few years, while maintaining a lower proportion of staffing waivers compared with other jurisdictions.

Building from a strong base

Since the introduction of Three-Year-Old Kindergarten in 2019, early childhood teacher and educator roles delivering funded kindergarten programs in Victoria have grown by more than 50 per cent.

This has been supported by strong uptake in Victoria’s attraction programs, including early childhood teaching scholarships and initiatives to upskill Diploma-qualified educators to become early childhood teachers, along with increased access to vocational education and training and supported traineeships.

While we are starting from a strong base, the Best Start, Best Life reforms are also driving significant additional demand for teachers and educators across the system.

We know that supporting continued growth in the number of skilled teacher and educator graduates entering the workforce helps to support Victoria’s experienced early childhood professionals to deliver quality kindergarten programs and lead early childhood services that meet the needs of children and families.

We know too that the reforms bring change for our existing kindergarten workforce. The strong uptake of the Victorian Government’s professional learning, mentoring and coaching programs is evidence of the sector’s continued focus on practice quality during this time of reform. This includes the flagship Three- Year-Old Kindergarten Teaching Toolkit, local Early Years Learning Networks and Early Learning Leadership Forums and the inaugural Best Start, Best Life Educational Leaders Conference.

The focus of this workforce strategy is on the role the Victorian Government plays, in partnership with the sector, to support best practice and drive long-term change for the workforce.

We know many parts of the sector are adopting innovative strategies to grow and support their workforces now and into the future. We look forward to working together to develop new ways to harness this expertise and better support the kindergarten workforce, raise the profile and status of the profession, and attract more people from across the community into the sector.

What we’ve achieved so far

  • Early childhood teacher and educator roles in funded kindergarten programs have grown by more than 50% since the start of Three-Year-Old Kindergarten in 2019.
  • Over 4,000 scholarships have been awarded to remove financial barriers and support more people to become early childhood teachers.
  • Up to 1,700 educators are being supported to upskill to become teachers through the Innovative Initial Teacher Education initiative.
  • Over 200 students have been supported through the Early Childhood Educator Traineeships program to work in the sector while completing their qualification.
  • Almost 1,000 teachers have participated in the End-to-End Workforce Supports program, including coaching, for early career professionals.
  • Almost 2,000 grants have been awarded to assist teachers progress to full registration.
  • Over 4,000 professionals have engaged with the Three-Year-Old Teaching Toolkit to support evidence-informed practice.
  • Over 1,200 experienced teachers have participated in the Effective Mentoring Program, to ensure that their knowledge and expertise is shared with early career teachers.

Continuing our partnership approach

The Best Start, Best Life Workforce Strategy builds on our previous kindergarten workforce strategies and sets out our priorities to value and grow the kindergarten workforce to support the delivery of Three-Year-Old Kindergarten and the transition to Pre-Prep. These priorities complement the range of sector-led initiatives in place to attract, retain and develop a skilled workforce.

The foundation of our workforce strategy continues to be informed by what the workforce, the sector and stakeholders have been telling us about challenges and opportunities, as well as ways we can collaborate.

Through the extensive Best Start, Best Life consultation process, we heard directly from early childhood teachers and educators, both highly experienced and those new to the sector, those in sessional kindergartens and in long day care services, working in small services and for large providers, and across metropolitan and regional Victoria.

The workforce recognises the Victorian Government’s commitment to early childhood education and want to be influential in the implementation of the Best Start, Best Life reforms. We heard about the practical experience of reform and what helps the workforce to feel supported and confident to deliver quality kindergarten programs in new ways.

We heard that as the workforce expands it is important that the existing workforce continues to be supported and their expertise respected. Professional learning, career development and supports need to target the breadth of the workforce – teachers, educators and service leaders; those early in their career right through to the sector’s most experienced professionals.

We also heard the importance of valuing all teachers and educators delivering early childhood education, whether it is in kindergarten or long day care services, and that wages and conditions are key factors in this.

There was recognition of the additional funding the Victorian Government provides to those services that are signatories to the Victorian Early Childhood Teachers and Educators Agreement 2020 or the Early Education Employees Agreement 2020 to support them to meet wages and conditions under those and analogue agreements. There was also recognition of the critical role the Commonwealth has to play as the primary funder of the broader early childhood education and care sector, given many teachers and educators are delivering kindergarten programs in long day care services.

The Victorian Government will continue to work with Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to support the delivery of the National Children’s Education and Care Workforce Strategy 2022-2031. The Victorian Government will also continue to encourage the Commonwealth to lead on policies and funding to support the workforce across the country, including the broader range of policy levers that the Commonwealth holds – from child care subsidy settings to funded higher education places and migration policy – to maintain and lift the attraction, retention and quality of the early childhood workforce.

Refreshing our comprehensive kindergarten workforce strategy

In April 2021 we released a paper, Working Together to build Victoria’s early childhood education workforce, to support the state-wide roll out of Three- Year-Old Kindergarten. This policy paper was designed as both a resource for stakeholders and a conversation starter to facilitate discussions about roles and responsibilities, new partnerships and innovation across the sector.

This was followed in December 2021 by Next Steps in Victoria’s Kindergarten Workforce Strategy, which provided an update on the work of the strategy and an outline of the feedback arising from the consultations undertaken on the Working Together to build Victoria’s early childhood education workforce paper.

The Best Start, Best Life Workforce Strategy is the next instalment and builds on the Victorian Government’s comprehensive approach to supporting the kindergarten workforce.

The extensive Best Start, Best Life consultation process has confirmed the continuing importance of the three guiding themes of attraction, retention and quality which have underpinned the first two stages of this work.

The Best Start, Best Life Workforce Strategy sets out 6 areas for action under these themes, informed by this consultation process and relevant research, and which span the career journey of both early childhood teachers and educators:

  • Encouraging more people from all backgrounds to choose a career in early childhood education.
  • Improving the accessibility and quality of pre-service training.
  • Enhancing the transition from study to practice.
  • Supporting career development and wellbeing.
  • Supporting effective leadership.
  • Comprehensive approach to maintaining and lifting practice quality.

The Best Start, Best Life Workforce Strategy responds to what we have heard from the workforce and other stakeholders, building on the range of initiatives already in place and setting out additional measures to support and grow Victoria’s kindergarten workforce.

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