Changing the climate conference 2019
Early childhood educators were invited to attend the Changing the climate conference, in Melbourne on the 14 and 15 March 2019. The conference aimed to build skills and to improve the delivery and sustainability of positive climates for learning.
Early childhood forum 2018: realising the potential
On 8 June 2018, the Realising the Potential: early childhood forum 2018 was held in recognition of the crucial role the early childhood sector plays in giving our children the best start in life, and examined the latest evidence on what young children need to thrive.
This free forum explored the importance of the early childhood years and their impact on health, education and social and economic wellbeing. Leading international and Australian experts gave their innovative perspectives on early childhood services and systems.
It included sessions on parenting, kindergarten quality, access and inclusion, language development and much more.
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Unlocking the potential in early childhood
- Realising the Potential: Thinking Fresh and Acting Smart (PPTX, - Sharon Lynn Kagan.
- Forum welcome – George Megalogenis, Master of Ceremonies (MC)
- Welcome to Country - Aunty Joy Murphey Wandin, AO
- Opening address – Jenny Mikakos MP, Minister for Early Childhood Education
- Keynote address – Professor Sharon Lynn Kagan, Co-Director, National Centre for Children and Families, Columbia University.
- Armchair discussion – Professor Sharon Lynn Kagan with MC George Megalogenis
Voiceover: This podcast is one of a series of recordings made at Realising the Potential Early Childhood Forum, presented by the Department of Education and Training on Friday the 8th of June 2018 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
We kick off the forum with our morning plenary session themed Unlocking the Potential in Early Childhood.
Following a Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin, AO, a senior Wurundjeri elder of the Kolun alliance and a forum welcome by Master of Ceremonies, George Megalogenis.Jenny Mikakos, Minister for Early Childhood Education will then provide the opening address.
The keynote address follows, delivered by Professor Sharon Lynn Kagan, who is the Co-Director of the National Centre for Children and Families at Columbia University.Professor Kagan will then sit down for an armchair discussion with MC George Megalogenis.
George Megalogenis: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Aunty Joy Murphy.
Aunty Joy Murphy: Thank you. Could I begin by saying that we meet on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people. This is a part of my father’s country and I’m very blessed to have been his oldest daughter, and still living on country today.
Could I also pay my respects to all ancestors, elders and communities on this great nation, and of course our neighbouring islands. And can I acknowledge anyone that may be in the audience with us today that’s come from far and near, and particularly those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin.
When we talk about early childhood it is important to realise where you come from. And for our community our children, our young people, young under 14s represent 45% of our total population. So indeed there’s such a journey ahead for our young ones, and also for those of us that are elders in the community, to ensure in every way possible, that our communities, our families, and our children have access and have opportunity to all things in life that might give them a better and successful outcome in the future. And in saying that, can I also say that the work that is done from my many, and including our Minister, our current Minister Jenny Mikakos, has been a strong advocate for Aboriginal and Islander communities for many years. It is important that when sitting as they do as ministers, that they do recognise and that is one thing that our Minister has done so well. And I just want to sincerely thank her.
Can I also thank our Aboriginal organisations and their staff for the wonderful job that they do, and indeed assisting our zero to three year olds.
There are about 23% that have attended formal childcare, and the zero to four years old who have now 46% attending childcare.And I’d have to say without the help of so many that would not have been possible probably 15 years ago.
So it is a great fortune opportunity for me to be here with you today, but also as an elder, it is my responsibility to ensure that I can manage to do what, you know, what is expected of me, but indeed what we need to do is ensure that all children are cared for in a culturally appropriate way.
Welcome to country by our communities is by our belonging. And we’re known as the Manna Gum people. These beautiful young leaves I picked this morning, and I might say as young and fresh as they are, it’s again a very opportune moment of have these growing at my house where I was born in an area where so many of our community were born in an area and not had the great fortune to live there. And indeed my father enabled us to have this wonderful opportunity to live in an area where we were born, and three, I’m a great-grandmother, generations beyond me are still able to do so.
This leaf is a gift from this land. This gift says to you accepting this means that you are welcome to everything, from the tops of the trees to the roots of the earth. It also means that by accepting this gift that you join with me to honour the spirits of our ancestors who have nurtured this land underneath this beautiful, amazing building for thousands and thousands of years. And in doing that also we come together and we share the responsibility that we’ve all been given as individuals, as mothers, as aunts, as grandmothers, whatever the case might be, uncles, fathers, grandfathers, to look after those that we’ve been given, and indeed nurture. And that applies of course to the things that grow on this earth.
I wish you every luck in everything that you do. And I do want to thank you for your support, especially for our children. My language is the Woiworung (aboriginal language) and you are most welcome to the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people.
George Megalogenis: Thank you Aunty Joy for welcoming us all here today. And I too want to pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we’re meeting today, and also to pay my respects to their elders past and present, and elders from other communities who may be here.
My name is George Megalogenis, and I’m here in a different capacity today, I’m your Master of Ceremonies. I won’t be speaking on the topics today, because there are much smarter people than me to address the topic of our discussion today which is Realising the Potential of our Children.
Today is about bringing Victorian early childhood sector together, and hearing the latest evidence from a range of international and national experts, on the best ways we can support all children to reach their potential. And it is also the opportunity to talk about the future of early childhood reform in Victoria.
Now I’ll just give you a quick run through on the day.The key themes we’ll be looking at at both the plenary session and the concurrent sessions include Improving Excellence in Early Learning; Supporting Positive Parenting; Promoting Language Development; and Making Early Childhood Services Accessible and Inclusive for all Children.
Towards the end of the day, once we’ve heard from a few of our speakers we might also start to wrap up the idea that in this room is the key, if we turn it properly, to the next big reform in Australian public policy.
Now before we hear from the Minister, who will be our first guest, not on stage we’ll have to take a video from the Minister ‘cause she’s had to rush back to Parliament where, as we speak, I think a hostage situation is underway. They don’t let politicians out anymore in the Victorian Parliament and she’s in the Upper House, so she is back at work.
Now obviously today we’re going to have many exciting conversations, lots of ideas thrown around, questions to be asked and for thoughts to be shared between us. I have to admit, because I’ve been doing a lot of reading up for this topic, I wish I’d covered this as a journalist back in the day when I was in Canberra, because I think this is one of the great untapped areas of public thought in Australia. In this room a lot of people are well aware of what they know, but I think we find a bit of a disconnect between this floor here and Canberra, and to a lesser extent other state governments.
Now our first guest who we’re going to hear via video link is the Minister Jenny Mikakos.She’s the Minister for Early Childhood Education, the Minister for Families and Children, and the Minister for Youth Affairs.Unfortunately as I’ve mentioned, she can’t be here in person, so we will be watching her on the screen.
Give it up for Jenny Mikakos.
Minister Jenny Mikakos: Good morning and welcome to Realising the Potential, the Victorian Government’s Early Childhood Forum.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which the forum is being held, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and I pay my respects to their elders both past and present and the elders from other communities who are with you there today.
Can I also acknowledge our international keynote speakers, Professor Sharon Lynn Kagan, Co-Director the National Centre for Children and Families at Columbia University; and Tove Mogstad Slinde, Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Government, and Chair of the Network on Early Childhood Education and Care at the OECD; as well as the many local experts presenting today.
It is my great pleasure to officially open this forum. And I’m very sorry that I can’t be with you there in person today due to an additional sitting day of the Victorian Parliament. But I want to pass on my deepest appreciation for the tireless work that you do to support the learning and development of Victoria’s children.
As early years professionals and leaders, you understand that the first years of life are critical to life-long learning, wellbeing and success. This forum is about taking some time out to reflect on the great work that you do, and learn together about how we can continue to improve and grow. Today will give you the opportunity to hear from a number of renowned international and Australian early childhood experts, about the latest research which builds on the recent Lifting Our Game report.
The forum is unique in that it brings together people from so many different parts of the sector, including our maternal and child health nurses, educators, playgroup facilitators, parenting professionals, primary school principals and other staff.
The Andrew’s Labor Government is committed to an ambitious and transformative reform agenda in the early years. Last year I announced the Education State Early Reform Plan. The plan sets out our long-term vision for the early childhood system in Victoria, one with high quality services that is equitable and inclusive and welcoming of all children.
We have invested $202.1 million in the reform plan, the largest investment in early childhood by a Victorian government ever.
This year’s state budget invests a further $135.9 million towards realising our early childhood vision.And this includes funding to grow the teacher workforce, to deliver an essential kindergarten infrastructure boost, and to roll out a specialist language program in up to 130 kindergartens across the state.
We’ve already achieved so much. We recently launched the free maternal child health app, a great source of trustworthy information for parents and a modelling into our MCH system. And we’ve expanded the support of playgroups across Victoria, with many having started for the first time in new local government areas. These are all vital in providing early support for families.
I was also thrilled to recently announce the rollout of school readiness funding to 25 local government areas next year, as well as to all our kinders operated by Aboriginal community controlled organisation. In this Australian first initiative, the Andrew’s Government has committed $58.1 million dollars over four years, to ensure that from 2021 all kindergartens can access the expertise their children need to stay on track for school.
Finally, I’d like to touch on the Child Information Sharing Scheme, which received $43.4 million in this year’s state budget. This reform will fundamentally improve how services work together by amending privacy laws and making information sharing between professionals much easier.
This is an exciting and ambitious reform agenda, and we need your help to realise its full potential.Today’s forum is a wonderful opportunity to address all of you at once, educators, maternal and child health nurses, and other delegates from across the early childhood sector.It’s an opportunity to highlight the importance of working together as a connected system, because this is how our families experience our services.
Because the best outcomes for Victoria’s children are achieved when supported playgroup facilitators are talking with their MCH colleagues, and MCH nurses are talking with kindergarten teachers, and when communication between early childhood professionals and school professionals is a matter of course. We have wonderful services across Victoria and we want to make the most of this by building a fantastic system. A system that both shares information, and delivers integrated services around the needs of children and families, and shares best practice to continually learn and apply the best evidence.
I hope that you enjoy the forum and leave energised, with fresh ideas about how to better work with families to improve children’s learning and wellbeing.I also hope that each of you comes away from today feeling empowered to make changes in your own service and community.
With such a dedicated and passionate workforce, I am confident that we can continue to reach for the highest standards of quality, and best learning and development outcomes for every child.
We all know that the investment that we make in children today will help us build a happier, healthier, and more prosperous community into the future.
Thank you. And, I hope you enjoy today.
George Megalogenis: Now I know the Minister did want to be here this morning, she told me that she desperately wanted to be here but obviously couldn’t make it. It’s unfortunate that she couldn’t, but we much appreciate the thoughts to open the conference.
Now the first of the big treats we’ve got today is a presentation, it’s the keynote presentation for the morning from, probably the world expert, can we say that? Are you number one in the world? No. She wants to talk herself down. Okay.
I’m going to invite Professor Sharon Lynn Kagan to the stage. She’s the Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy, Co-Director of the National Centre for Children and Families, and Associate Dean for Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University, and the Professor Adjunct at the Yale University’s Child Study Centre, scholar, pioneer, leader and advocate. She’s helped shape early childhood practice and policies in the United States and in countries throughout the world. A warm round of welcome for Lynn.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Thank you. Good morning everyone. It is such a pleasure to be with you this morning. I want to acknowledge the Department of Education and Training for inviting me. I want to acknowledge the heritage of this land. And I would like to dedicate my remarks this morning to a dear colleague who introduced me to Australia, to the joys of this country and the treasures of this land over 40 years ago. My comments this morning are dedicated to the memory of Collette Tayler.
I’ve been asked this morning to talk with you about all that Victoria is doing, and some of the things that perhaps it could be doing, to improve the quality of services for young children. I’m going to do so in four sections, beginning with taking stock, then thinking about how we think fresh, how we act smart, and then how we really do create high quality systems.
You know, if I were a time traveller from afar, coming and looking at the early years in Australia, and Victoria in particular, I would think wonderful progress. There’s so much to build upon, world take note of what is going on here. But at the very same time I would also realise that we all are living in a totally new world, and that it’s time for us to think fresh and to act fresh.
What about our world is so new?Well first of all everyone in this room understands that there are five major trends that encase everything we do.The trend of globalisation, the trend of technology, that of all of the economic and social changes that we are experiencing, changes in the way we are understanding the roles of gender, and changes in our environment.
Beyond those worldly trends there are tremendous changes that are going on in science, in the laboratories around this world.We know from the neuroscience studies that children grow, their brains grow to 80% of their full size by the time of age three, and 90% at age five.We know from the evaluation science that high quality early childhood programs make a very big difference, short-term and long-term in the lives of children.From the kind of econometric sciences we understand that investing early makes a profound difference in the impacts that we have financially for children and for society.Two other sciences, the implementation science and system science, tell us a lot about how we go about implementing these services for very young children.
And then, if we looked at what is going on we would see that there are five other big things happening. Indeed, in Australia you have made increased investments, particularly in Victoria with the Reform Plan. You have growing public will to support these efforts. There are plentiful efforts from which to learn, and models from which we can teach one another.
But aha, in spite of all this there are tremendous challenges in our field.And I’d like to highlight five of them very quickly.
The first is the quality challenge.Arrayed before you is information from a number of countries around the world, and you can see where Australia sits.These indicators of quality, as measured by important things like student/teacher ratio, average teacher wages, curriculum guidelines and teacher training.Indeed, if we look a little bit more closely we see, in terms of meeting the national quality standards for which you as a country are known globally, we still have 25% of the services that do not.
Indeed, and perhaps most distressingly in light of this land’s commitment to all of its peoples, the equity and inclusion challenge puts Australia near the bottom range of the countries that indeed were surveyed.
If we talk about equity and inclusion you all, as a country, are doing very well in comparison to the OECD averages for four year olds, a little bit less well for three year olds, and I’m pleased in looking at your new reform plan that you indeed are addressing all of that.
If we look at issues related to efficiency and sustainability, and this actually is a very important slide, that Australia ranks 24th out of the 26 OECD countries, for their investment percentages of GDP that are put into education.
Victoria fairs well when compared to the rest of the states and territories in Australia, and it is a joy to be here and to share this slide with you, and to commend you, on all of the accomplishments that indeed have been made to date.
What I would submit, if we’re honest with each other, overall we need to look at these four kinds of trends and say, well what does all this mean for children and for our future? And this is where I’d like to turn to thinking fresh.
I would submit to you, that given all these trends, and given where we are, we need to think very differently, first about children and then about the policies that support their development.I would submit to you that there are three important changes in the way we are looking at young children.
First we know now that all children, not some children but all children, are really competent learners.And we understand this, not only from the neuroscience research but from our work with them.
And when we say that they are competent learners, we don’t just mean in academic areas, but we mean in all areas of social and emotional and cognitive development.
The second thing that we understand, and we do have the United Nations to thank for this, is that all children are equal rights bearers, again not some but all. This is the first time with the sustainable development goals that early childhood has been explicitly mentioned by the United Nations in one of its declarative policies. These entitlements include health, and safety, education, nutrition, equality, and the right to a safe environment.
And finally, we understand now more than ever from the sciences, that children live in complex contexts. They aren’t isolated away as they were in the Victorian era where they were miniature adults, not really to be seen or heard, but rather children are profoundly affected by their peers, by their families, by their communities, by their neighbourhoods, and by their government policies.
Well if you would share this belief with me, that we need to think fresh about children, each one of these has a ramification for how we need to think fresh about policies. And indeed, if we believe that all children are competent learners, we have got to create the learning environments that enable them to reach that potential. If we believe that all children are rights bearers, then we have got to create the services in all domains of development and distribute them equitably. And finally, if we believe that children live in very complex contexts, then we are obligated to make those contexts comprehensive and effective.
This means we’ve got to change our thinking a little bit. If we care about children as competent learners, we have got to begin to think not only about the quality of programs for kindergarteners, but we need to think about the quality of programs and services for children birth to age eight, and how they relate.
If we believe that children are equal rights bearers, not only must we focus on policy but we must shift that focus to one that looks at quality and equity as twin and entwined goals. And if we believe that children live in complex contexts, we can’t just focus on the quality of individual programs, we must look more broadly at the systems that encase those programs. Not a small order. How do we do it? How do we begin to act smart?
Let me try and say to you that there have to be three foci for our work, and I’d like to discuss each with you.Each is definitely related to one of these beliefs about children.
If we believe that all children are competent learners, and that our programs have to be high quality, we are obligated to produce quality programs and services in all domains of development, health, mental health, child protection for all children.
As an example, since most of you work in classrooms or with young children, I’d like to focus on the learning environments. We know that this adheres to all domains, that good learning environments occur when six conditions are met. When there are standards. When there is ongoing and careful observation of children. When there is a supportive pedagogy that honours children’s backgrounds, their interests and their inclinations. When we focus on the social and environmental aspects of learning, social and emotional development; when we attend to continuity across the years and across institutions; and when we have curriculum, albeit they are tailored to children’s interests, but that the curriculum stands as a guide, quality, early learning environments.
Second, if we believe that children are rights bearers, we need to provide an array of services for all children. When I say an array of all services, what indeed do I mean? These flowers represent them. I mean very high quality health programs; very high quality parenting education programs, high quality - notice high quality precedes all of this - early start, early kindergarten programs and childcare; a tremendous attention to transitions; and a focus on parental leave.
As I review what has going on in Victoria, indeed you all are paying important attention to all of these areas and are moving robustly in this arena.
The third area of focus, children living in a holistic context in complex contexts, what does that mean? It means creating a system and policies that support a system.
Now here’s the rub, everybody talks about system, but what indeed do we really mean by it? I’m going to try and define that for us.
Think with me about a beautiful garden where many magnificent flowers are planted.Often we plant a series of home visiting programs.We may plant another set of child and family programs.Another set of kindergarten programs.Another set of transition programs, and programs that work with the pre-primary and primary.And we keep planting and planting and planting these flowers, so much so that we have many flowers but like any good gardener who indeed honours the land, what happens if we don’t take care of the soil?What happens if we don’t have sun and water?Those flowers, no matter how magnificent they are, they die.
I would propose to you that around the world we have spent a lot of time building up lots of new programs for young children, but not a sufficient time looking at the infrastructure or the soil that supports them. What is that soil? And what is she talking about? Well I’d like you to play with me intellectually for just a minute and live with this metaphor. I would submit to you that there are eight things that make up that soil, that support the quality and the equitable distribution of those programs. And you have to excuse the very mixed metaphor, that indeed you’ve got beautiful flowers that are natural above the ground, and the somewhat mechanistic approach to gears below the ground. Someone once suggested to me that I should really make things worms because that’s what’s really in the soil. The truth is that worms don’t fit the metaphor because worms amble about at will, and we need systematic attention to all of these gears.
So let me talk for a moment about what these are and what makes a very high quality early childhood system. The first part is that we need pedagogy that honours children’s diversity, that builds on their strengths, and that supports those strengths. We all know this.
The second thing we need is that we need good standards, or expectations for what children should know and be able to do, and again I don’t just mean in the cognitive area, we need curriculum and we need means of assessing the degree to which children have achieved these standards. And by this assessment I don’t mean formal tests. I do mean very detailed, meticulous observation by teachers on a routine basis, so that they know intimately the challenges that each child is facing as well as each child’s capacity. Those data are collected and used for program improvement.
Third, we need to be sure that we have got equity driven and consistent program regulations and supports.And I’ll say a word about the incredible contribution that Australia has made to the world in this gear.
Fourth, we need equity driven professional development. Understandably the world changes our techniques about working with young children, and our knowledge about them changes. And our professional development strategies needs to keep up with that.
Fifth, we need equity driven financing mechanisms, money that supports indeed what we are doing, but not just more money, more money that is purposefully spent to ensure that the services are of high quality. We need governance mechanisms that link together all of the disparate programs that are serving young children. Clearly we need families and communities that are meaningfully engaged, and last we need transitions that help children move from one service to another, and from one year to another.
What is a system? I’d ask you to remember two formula, that a system is made up, not only of the flowers or services, but of those services combined with the infrastructure. And I would submit to you that for a very long time we’ve only been focusing on the flowers.
The second formula that I would ask you to remember, is that eight minus one equals zero. And I really do know how to add and subtract, but I think you get the meaning. If you take away only one of these gears, if you don’t have all of them in place, it is impossible to have an effective system that is going to render the kind of services that we want for all young children.
So that’s something to think about, how do we bring action to it? I’d like to say that there are really three strategies. Create a plan predicated on a theory of change, move strategically and learn from others and think big, think long, and think different. Let me talk about each of these.
If you take those systems that I’ve been talking about, really subsystems, the learning subsystem, the green; the services environment, the flowers or the array of services that we need; and the gears, all of those are necessary as a part of our long-term vision. We can’t focus just on one flower or one type of program, or on one of the gears. We’ve got to do it all together, and that’s the really hard trick.
I would submit to you that there are people in this room who spend a lot of their lives focusing on the green, or the learning environments for young children. And to you I would say congratulations. You are really doing everything to promote the quality of services for young children.
To those of you who focus on creating different sorts of programs, and working in different sorts of programs, I would say thank you, thank you, you are working on creating equity for young children.
And finally, to those of you who work in the area of all of these gears, deep appreciation, because you are focusing on the efficiency and the sustainability of these programs, making them last over time, not having the kind of programs we unfortunately do in my country, here today and gone tomorrow depending on who is politically in office.
None of us can do this alone.We all are in it together.That means we’ve got to create an integrated overall plan.I’ve spent time reading your Early Childhood Reform Plan, and I want to really congratulate you, because you have done a majestic job of creating a vision for early childhood that focuses on quality and on equity and on inclusivity.And that you are channelling programs to key services, maternal and child health, nursing, to kindergartens, and importantly to early intervention services.
That you have thought carefully, that you plan a long-term rollout, that there was a commitment of money, that financing gear, both in the last session and in this session, means that Victoria is well on its way.
Moving strategically, learning from others, let me focus here for a minute.Very recently I have been engaged in an international study that is looking at the top performing early childhood countries in the world, top performing defined by advances on PISA which is not exactly my criteria but one that our funder gave to me, and top performing in terms of providing high quality services.The countries in this study were Finland, and I apologise for not including Norway we could only include one.In Asia we are looking at Hong Kong, at Korea and Singapore.And in the Anglo approach we are looking at Australia, that’s where I was working so closely with Collette, and also in England.
The major lesson from this two-year multimillion study, is that our contexts are very, very different. And that those contexts permeate every policy in the ways in which families, as well as societies, think about children. Some of these countries believe heavily in public funding for young children, the Nordic countries. Asian countries in contrast, believe in a market system where families buy services in the market. The Anglo approach, yours like my country and like England, is somewhat next. These countries look very, very different in how they approach their monitoring, in how they approach accountability for young children. They are similar however, in that they all historically have accorded more attention to children’s health, and to public health, and to child protection over time, than they have to early childhood. In most of these countries the focus on young children, the educational focus, is somewhat recent.
The second thing that we’ve learned from these countries is that dispersed and plentiful services matter. I come from a country that is focusing on providing early childhood to four year old children, and thinks we’ve kind of done it when we do that. And indeed the data are quite clear, that there is a need for focus at the pre and perinatal period owned by lots of different kinds of programs including maternity and paternity leave, including ongoing health and developmental checks, and including home visiting programs.
Services for infants and toddlers turn out to be the hidden area where we as a world are focusing the least. And indeed these countries do do a better job than most, by providing different kinds of supports for infants and toddlers.
Pre-school services, an area where most countries are making good headway, take multiple forms and you all are carrying the torch in advance on that.
Finally the area of transitions is one where we have noted some very interesting things happening in these countries, but they’re not universally, and this is an area we want to sustain the gains that children make, then indeed we must invest in with much more care and attention.
We have found actually, that there are five ingredients. This report is going to be released in August, so you’re getting a little bit of a preview of it. The first thing we found is that in all of these countries there is a very strong, and stable, policy foundation. This just doesn’t happen automatically. There have to be really strong policies. There has to be durable funding. And there had to be constituencies of individuals who support our public officials in advancing a commitment to early childhood. All these countries demonstrate this to a greater or lesser extent.
The second key ingredient of successful early childhood policies is that we need knowledgeable and supportive teachers and families. Lots of countries are focusing on intensive professional development for those who work with young children in whatever capacities, but they often forget the inclusion of parents. In many of these countries we are seeing innovative models and approaches for parents and teachers working collaboratively together. And maybe in the Q&A we can talk a little bit about that.
The third thing that characterises all these countries is that there are comprehensive services that are coordinated, that there are coordinating mechanisms. Previously many of these countries provided supports to young children in as many as five disparate ministries or departments, and now in most of these countries these are being consolidated, often like Victoria, under the ministry, at least a majority of the services under the Ministry of Education and Training.
The fourth thing that we noticed was that these countries collect and use data to drive the improvement.They collect data on children.They collect it on teachers.They collect it on programs.And they are not afraid of collecting and using these data to make things better for young children.
England is perhaps the country that stands out most, because it does do periodic national assessments of young children, and reports child outcome data to families and to communities, not individually but aggregated. Each of these countries also is developing its very strong research tradition by supporting different kinds of research, longitudinal research, empirical research, but the use of data, and the organisation of data, they are putting money into creating effective data systems.
The last thing is that they really pay attention to their pedagogy for young children. That they want people to be informed about different pedagogical approaches, but they also want to be sure that the services to children are highly individualised, that indeed we are recognising children’s individual strengths. I am struck by Finland where an individual education plan is developed for each and every child, and is done in consort with parents and is reviewed twice a year. To the best of my knowledge no other country does it. In the United States we do it on children who have very special needs. But Finland has taken this notion and commitment to individualisation to a new level.
In addition, these countries focus on making sure that their pedagogy is continuous. They don’t have one curriculum for infants and toddlers, and another curriculum for four to five or six year olds, and then another curriculum for primary school. If there are those different curriculum they are aligned thematically, and they are aligned with content. It’s very important to build in that continuity in a permanent way.
These five content lessons lead to five process lessons that are equally important. Those strong, stable policy foundations, they didn’t happen overnight. They evolved over a long period of time. Government structures change, funding and financing can be accordion like, it gets bigger and smaller depending on the state of these economies. But everybody understands that this is a perpetual commitment that will improve step by step.
The second is that these countries really do focus on their personnel and on their families.I am struck by countries that are comparatively new, Singapore, by that I mean comparatively new in their current manifestations, and Korea, and they both have, after war-torn Korea, they both have felt the way to really improve their entire social capital and there economic capital, is to focus on individuals.
And so they put a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of resources in investing in individuals. Parent engagement is required in Korea as part of the governing structure of each and every childcare facility. Note I emphasise required.
For the data to drive improvement really tells us that this notion of focusing on the infrastructure, ends up being far more important than we thought. That indeed, in my country, we set aside 10% of our major services Head Start and Childcare to invest in the infrastructure, to invest in quality improvement. It turns out that some of these countries recognise that upfront some of these investments must be even more than that at least to get going. And they make no bones about that being as important as investing in direct services to young children.
And finally, in each and every one of these countries, they do focus on improving the pedagogy that is presented with, and that evokes - evolves with young children.In so doing, they respect the culture profoundly.When you walk in to a high quality early childhood program in Finland it looks different from a high quality early childhood program in Hong Kong or in Singapore or in the Unities States, because our cultures do inform how we approach services to very young children.So moving strategically means understanding who we are, understanding our context and building it.
And third, the third strategy for how we get to the systems approach is to think big, long and different. I really do believe that in early childhood globally, because for a long time we were very much the starved profession financially, we have been content to take small gains. And that’s probably smart, it’s probably necessary, but to be content with small gains in the absence of having a broad vision, a total plan, means that we are taking baby steps really on the road to nowhere. So I do believe that we need to think about the short-term steps and the long-term steps, because those long-term tomorrows get here really fast.
And we alone cannot do this by ourselves.We need to reach out, not only to families and to communities who are our constituents, who are those we serve, but to business leaders, to politicians, in a very, very strategic way.So I would say that thinking differently means thinking about the systems, think about those ovals, and thinking about the subsystems as much as it means thinking about the people who we engage.
As we create change for Victoria, I do want to congratulate you, because you are steps ahead, miles ahead, of where lots of other jurisdictions in this country, but also jurisdictions globally are.Clearly you are thinking differently.This is a favourite quote of mine from Albert Einstein, he says, “The world as we have created it, is really a process - and I would add a reflection - of our thinking.It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”Clearly in America this is Apple, a company that influenced six major, major fields technology all tremendously, they have as their motto Think Different.Now grammatically this is not correct, right, it should be think differently, but they’ve gotten away with it.They do dare to think different.
And I would just end with this quote from the Steve Jobs book Walter Isaacson’s definitive biography of Steve Jobs, who says, “That the people who think they can change the world are actually the ones that do.” And I would ask that you, as pioneers in changing the world, join me on this trip that we are taking to make our countries more wonderful places for children and for families.
Thank you so very, very much. I hope this has been helpful.
George Megalogenis: It’s a long walk, sorry.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: That’s fine.
George Megalogenis: Thank you very much for that, that was a terrific presentation.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Thank you.
George Megalogenis: We’re going to grab a seat now and have a bit of a conversation.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Welcome.
George Megalogenis: And I am going to be responding to what you presented.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Good.
George Megalogenis: Because you’re going to give us an early - more detail I think on that report that you mentioned.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: You can tell he’s a journalist, right.
George Megalogenis: Yes. No. So the journalist in me just says let’s get as much of that report as we can. But I want you to describe - I want you to describe what a good system looks like, and if you’ve come across the example, and then maybe we’ll work back a step or two and figure out what you might need to add to a system to bring it to viability.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: So I try to delineate that systems really need each one of those three ovals, and that without attending to the direct services and making them of high quality, without attending to an array of services, and without attending to the infrastructure, we can’t possibly have a system.
So the reality, this is kind of hard to do, right, because you’ve got a lot of things going on at one time, and it bespeaks why our field, perhaps more than other fields, really does need to focus on collaboration and on integrating our efforts.
George Megalogenis: It strikes me that there’s been a big sort of an expediential leap in understanding of early childhood.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Yeah.
George Megalogenis: And all that brain development, all the data is in and it’s been in now for about 10 or 15 years, but the systems change needs to respond to that exponential leap in knowledge is the thing we’re looking for. So it’s - there’s no habit of practice that says, that’s now responded to some of these epiphanies in the research. So maybe I’ll just get you to walk through each of the examples, ‘cause I was taken by the cultural differences in the three areas of study. Maybe start off with each of them, and pull out the best thing in each of the three, and what part of it reflects culture, and what part of it - existing culture, and what part of it reflects new thinking, and just take it in segments from Nordic to Asian and then to Anglo.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Okay. This is hard to do because it summarises two years of work in the - - -
George Megalogenis: Yeah. No I understand.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: - - - entire book. So I’ll do my best. I’ll do my best.
George Megalogenis: Essentially what we’re looking for is maybe a bit more of a freeform, step by step through each of them. I don’t want you to give the book away.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: No. No. I’m happy to give the book - - -
George Megalogenis: Yeah. If you want to.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: - - - but it’s just am I going to remember it all.
George Megalogenis: Yeah. That’s okay. That’s okay.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: So the striking issue is that our systems, although they all have those elements and each one of these successful systems does, it plays out very differently. And I’d like to give you an example.
The notion of committing to data, in many countries, England, collecting data on young children is normative, they do it all the time. And I don’t just mean formative assessment, but I also mean looking at children’s progress over time. When you talk about that in the Nordic context, at least in Finland, they look at you like you’re crazy. Why would we ever want to collect data on young children? The purpose of early childhood is for children to grow, to explore, to have fun, that simply is not part of our ethos, it is not part of our mantra. Yes, teachers may observe, they may record the development of young children, they may keep portfolios like we do in Reggio, but the idea of collecting outcome data on young children is really almost verboten. It’s almost an insult to consider it.
The Anglo countries are somewhere in the middle.We’ve got some people, at least in the United States, who think absolutely we should could collect data in young children.And then many of us in the early childhood field are a little bit more squeamish about it.
But if I took each one of the gears I could go through an example that shows how culture influences our attitudes towards these different components. Certainly toward funding, the Nordic countries believe that children are automatically entitled to many of these services. Whereas in Singapore for example, parents are asked to pay no matter what their income, a small portion, a portion according to their income, to show that they value the early childhood service. So this is a very different idea about the relationship between a society and its obligation to children and families.
George Megalogenis: So if you were to construct - we’re obviously in an Anglo setting.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Yeah.
George Megalogenis: But we’re also in an Anglo setting in a very diverse population.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Yes.
George Megalogenis: Australia, certainly in the south east corner, our capital cities are more Eurasian I think than Angle/European in - - -
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Right.
George Megalogenis: - - - terms of the change in our population mix. So if you were to take something from the Nordic example and an Asian example, how would you adapt something which you know within an Anglo culture we’d pick up? Without going too specific, you know, in advice, what do you think we’re not doing right at the moment, that we can pick up from some of these other models?
Sharon Lynn Kagan: I feel both overjoyed by the question, and somewhat handicapped in my ability to respond to it, because I am not from Australia, - - -
George Megalogenis: Yeah.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: - - - although I’ve spent a lot of time. And if you really do believe in culture it really then would be presumptuous of me to respond totally. But let me give you a couple of examples.
I am very, very taken with Finland’s commitment to individualising services for young children. And I believe that that speaks whether you’re dealing with a homogeneous culture or a vastly heterogeneous culture. Children vary. They vary in part because of their culture, but also because just of the developmental characteristics they bring.
So I think some notion of a stronger attention to individualisation and to helping teachers really observe young children’s behaviour, helping actually all conditions not just people who are working in classrooms, but the entire medical field, to really understand behaviour and then to try to plan for it is a takeaway that we all might learn from.
George Megalogenis: And could I just take - I was also taken by the Singapore and Korean examples.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Sure.
George Megalogenis: Now these are, especially in Korea’s case which has basically been rebuilt from scratch, South Korea.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: South Korea, yes.
George Megalogenis: Obviously we’re not talking about North Korea here mind you.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Great. Thank you.
George Megalogenis: The idea that they were behind, that they had to catch up and get ahead may be a cultural driver. I wonder whether you observed that, especially at the quality end what they were doing reflected, you know, recent memory of devastation?
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Well I would say that when you are dealing with many of the Asian countries which have much of their culture rooted in Confucianism.
There is a combination of that heritage, that belief system, driving the need to excel, and to have children excel very early, that is coupled with the policies of the country that are focusing on young children. So in the case of Korea and Singapore, in part it was Confucianism in my mind, and part it was the development of the country coming together to really fuse that complete commitment to very young children.
George Megalogenis: And you think that probably would have happened anyway without the shock of the war?
Sharon Lynn Kagan: I think the shock of the war propelled it dramatically, and that you wouldn’t have quite so much commitment to the entire social, the enterprise of social development for economic reasons in those countries.
Having said that, I think some of the variables that influence the nature of the pedagogy are not attributable necessarily to that, but are attributable in part to Confucian culture.
George Megalogenis: And it’s almost a big takeout point that quality centre in each of these three areas you looked at, looks different because of culture. In fact what you’re actually observing is the culture at its best, as opposed to - - -
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Exactly.
George Megalogenis: - - - what the best model is.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Exactly. That indeed there really is no one best model, and there is no one country, this is actually probably important to say if I might add, there is no one country that has the system that is completely evolved, where comparatively speaking early childhood is a very new field, and we’ve just come into our own in the past 50 years. You know, we were babysitters before that time. And we have to remember that. So we are about creating these structures and building them step by step by step.
George Megalogenis: Now, look in the room of course, there’s probably a lot of original thought in this room. But you did mention in your presentation that up until this point the sector has been satisfied with little baby steps. And I must apologise, not so much for being, but because the job of caring for children is so important, you almost don’t want to do the other stuff which is getting the politics, or just rattle the cage. So, there needs to be a step change in their thinking. Maybe illustrate - did you see any examples in the report where other societies have gone we’re going to do it, and it’s a grass-roots thing rather than the top-down thing?
Sharon Lynn Kagan: In most of the societies where there has been recent change, there have been grass-roots movements that have propelled it upward.
And I would think that is particularly true in the Anglo countries. It is embedded into the DNA of Finland, so perhaps less so. And it is individuals working on behalf, not only of their own children, but individuals joining in constituencies that are well mobilised with the intention of improving policy. So in many of these countries advocacy training for families is quite usual or it’s quite the norm, helping people become public advocates on behalf of young children is normative, engaging business and industry is also normative. That’s not really necessary in some of the other countries that have this commitment from the get-go.
George Megalogenis: And, we’re almost out of time, but I do want to ask a question about parents. And most school principals will tell you, primary schools and certainly secondary school, that the parents are not so much in their faces, but a little more active in those years. But they’re not active at the start, and in fact maybe they’re a bit bamboozled by the responsibility of this new life. How would you get parents almost to bring forward the engagement, ‘cause that’s really what it’s doing? It’s not suggesting that parents aren’t engaged at any time at all, it’s just that they, and certainly in Australia, I think it’s fair to say that it sort of switches on once you handover a child to a primary school.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: I actually did my dissertation on this just a few years ago, no I’m kidding, many years ago.
George Megalogenis: Thank you.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: But the real - - -
George Megalogenis: It’s one of the reasons why, so you can freshen up.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Yeah. That’s great. The reality is that, if we look at the developmental trajectory of a child, they are most dependent on parents in their earliest years, in the earliest months of life totally dependent, and then gradually that ebbs. So, some of the fading away of parent engagement, as children mature into primary school, must be regarded as normative, and as developmentally appropriate.
And indeed, how we consider parent engagement may change. It may not be being involved in the school or in the facility, and certainly given parent’s complex lives now that is much more challenged, but indeed it may be being involved in the dyadic educational support of relationship of an individual parent to his or her children.
So I do think it’s a complex question that needs a 21st century response, but housed within everything we’ve learned about development over history, that some of this is not inappropriate.
George Megalogenis: Yeah. It’s almost a dozen takeout messages because it was such a terrific presentation, but the focus on the parent and maybe, say re-education, maybe bringing them into the story earlier is part of the, I think, the community engagement. We might need to look forward to building a better system.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: It is one of the gears. Just - - -
George Megalogenis: It’s certainly one thing, yes.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: - - - an important one.
George Megalogenis: Thank you very much. I just see all zeros now on the time clock which means we’re out of time.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: I guess we have to end. Thank you. Your questions were provocative and perfect. Thanks.
George Megalogenis: I really appreciate your time.
Sharon Lynn Kagan: Thanks everybody.
George Megalogenis: I’ll have to go back and do some housekeeping.
How do I lead and improve excellence in early learning?
- Learning-rich leadership for quality improvement in early childhood education (PPTX, - Professor Joce Nuttall, Director of the Teacher Education research Concentration in the Learning Sciences Institute Australia, Faculty of Education and Arts, Australian Catholic University.
- Quality, learning and development: Describing the journey from fundamental to proficient (PPTX, - Dr Dan Cloney, Research Fellow, Policy Research and Practice, Australian Council for Educational Research.
- The VAEL Professional Learning Model (PPTX, - Andrew Hume, Chief Executive Officer, Gowrie Victoria.
- Spaces of relationships, encounters, dialogue and collegiality (PPTX, - Anthony Semann, Semann & Slattery
Voiceover: This podcast is one of a series of recordings made at Realising the Potential Early Childhood Forum, presented by the Department of Education and Training on Friday the 8th of June 2018 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Our breakout session on How Do I Lead and Improve Excellence in Early Learning will feature the following speakers:
- Professor Joce Nuttal, Director of the Teacher Education Research Concentration, in the Learning Sciences Institute Australia in the Faculty of Education and Arts at Australian Catholic University;
- Dr Dan Cloney, Research Fellow in Policy Research and Practice at the Australian Council for Educational Research;
- Andrew Hume, Chief Executive Officer at Gowrie Victoria; and
- Anthony Semann, Director at Semann and Slattery.
Marie Howard: Hello. My name is Marie Howard. I am the State President of ECA in Victoria, and I’m going to be your facilitator for this session.
I’d first like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land where we’re meeting today, the people of the Kulin nation. I’d also like to pay my respects to their elders past and present, and the elders from other communities who may be here today.
I’d like to welcome you to your first concurrent session entitled How do I Lead and Improve Excellence in Early Learning. Early childhood education is a topic dear to my heart. I’m really excited to have been asked to facilitate this session today.
The quality of early childhood education and care services is a key factor in delivering benefits for all children, particularly those from the disadvantaged backgrounds.
In this session today, we’re going to hear from four experts in early child education and care. They will share their thoughts on leading and improving excellence in early learning from their own unique experience. Before we start I’d like to reiterate what George said about social media. I’d encourage you to join the conversation and share your thoughts. They’re the hashtags up there. I don’t think I need to read them out.
So without wasting anymore time I’d like to introduce our fabulous speakers, and I’d like you to give a warm welcome. I’m going to talk about each of them, and then we’ll welcome Joce up to the stage.
So our first speaker will be Professor Joce Nuttal, Director of the Teacher Education Research Concentration in the Learning Sciences Institute Australia, Faculty of Education and Arts at the Australian Catholic University.
We have Dr Dan Cloney, Research Fellow, Policy Research and Practice from the Australian Council for Educational Research. Andrew Hume, the Chief Executive Officer of Gowrie Victoria, and Anthony Semann, Director of Semann and Slattery.
So can I invite Joce to start off, and she’ll be followed by Dan, Andrew and then Anthony, and then I’ll be back at the end of the session just to ask a few questions of the panel. Thank you. Welcome our speakers please. Joce.
Joce Nuttal: Thanks Marie. Thanks Marie and thank you everyone for coming, choosing this breakout session. I’d like to add to Marie’s comments, my acknowledgement of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation as the traditional owners of this land, where teaching and learning has been happening for tens of thousands of years.
I want to share some of the thinking behind a project that I’m working on at the moment that’s funded by the Australian Research Council. The project has focused on the role of the designated educational leader under Regulation 118. If you are one of those people put your hand up. My people! Welcome, you’re doing really important work. I hope you find this session stimulating.
This introduction of a mandatory professional leader inside each early childhood centre or service is a really profound shift for our sector. Professional development was historically something that happened outside of our field. You went on a course, or you did some university study, or you came along to a day like today, that’s shifted. Now every service is required to have someone in-house, who is responsible for leading the learning of the other adults, so that they can better foster the learning of children. And this takes a bit of a head shift, because of course, we all did our teacher education, our TAFE education, in early childhood learning and development. And so, suddenly finding yourself responsible for leading the learning of other adults in the centre can take quite a bit of a shift in terms of your own identity, and your own practices.
We are working with this concept of learning rich leadership. And I want to spend a little bit of time unpacking what we mean by that. I think there’s still a widespread belief, we call it cognitivism, that learning that learning is something that happens in the head, it’s in the brain. Well it is, the brain of course is implicated in learning, but it’s not the only thing that’s implicated in learning.
In this project we’re thinking about learning in terms of practice change, and in particular of changes in professional practice. In other words, we consider that leaders have learned, and that their teams have learned, when practice changes. And ideally, those practice changes will lead to positive improvements and quality provision.
We’re not getting into, in this project, the debate about quality. We have a national consensus on quality, which is the National Quality Standard. And of course while any standards are open to contestation, that’s our marker going into this project.
When leadership practices change how do professional practices change in ways that influence the assessment of services against the National Quality Standard? So, why focus on leadership in early childhood?
And, why is there this policy focus on leadership and early childhood, not just in terms of the national law and regulations, but in terms of some very important professional development work that’s being funded by the Victorian Department at the moment?
There is evidence from a lot of workplaces that leaders, that effective leaders make a huge difference. And if you’ve ever worked for an ineffective leader you’ll know what I’m talking about. But, we actually know very little about how this connection works in early childhood services.
So, our hypothesis in our study has three components. First of all, we’re predicting that effective leaders think about their centre or their service as a system. And I’m not talking here so much about system in the way that Sharon Lynn Kagan talked about it this morning in terms of the systems of infrastructure, but taking a systemic view of the early childhood centre. Some people describe this as being up on the balcony as well as being able to be down on the dance floor.
Our second hypothesis is that after decades of thinking about teacher education, thinking about initial programs that try to influence the knowledge and the skills, the beliefs and the attitudes of early childhood educators, what we need to actually focus on is practice. Practice that is embodied because it’s bodies that do practice.
And third, I want to touch on this, not so much as a hypothesis, but as something that is already evidenced in the English setting, which again Sharon touched on this morning. And I should acknowledge that our partners in this research are Professor Liz Wood at the University of Sheffield, so we’re able to make a comparison with the policy settings in England, and my good friend and colleague, Dr Linda Henderson, at Monash University.
What we’re seeing in England is that one of the dangers of a standards-driven, data-driven environment, is that educators, sometimes not always, simply become more compliant because of the stress and strain of meeting mandatory standards. And when that happens innovation tends to go out the door as standards come on in, and so our hypothesis is that effective leaders are thinking not just about practice change, but about innovations in practice.
I want to end by touching on two further concepts that are important in our study. These aren’t hypotheses, these are genuine targets for our enquiry - sustainability and appropriateness.
It’s easier - it’s not easy to lead - but it’s easier to lead in services that are already functioning well, everything is smooth, quality is at a high level. You can’t take your eye off it, but it’s easier to lead in those contexts.
But the reality for many ED leaders, and when you have engaged with over 100 educational leaders prior to this ARC work, across South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, what we’re finding is that the reality for many of them is that quality is variable, that they’re poorly paid, that they have limited non-contact time, and they’re dealing with teams that have really diverse qualifications and come from incredibly diverse cultural backgrounds. And those cultural backgrounds provide a richness, they also provide a challenge.
These realities are slow to change. And I did want to pick up Sharon’s point about support for educators as part of the infrastructure. And the silence in policy around pay and conditions for early childhood educators.
And the intensification of the work of many of you who have taken on the educational leader role and yet are still paid at the same level and have the same non-contact entitlement.
These realities are changing, slowly. But in the meantime we’re trying to understand what are the leadership practices and approaches that foster quality practice in spite of these limitations? The children can’t wait until everything settles down, they’re with us now, how can educational leaders be working with their teams to foster quality practice. So that’s the challenge that we’ve set for ourselves.
I’d love to hear from any of you who want to know more about the work. And I’m delighted now to hand over to Dan. Thank you.
Dan Cloney: All righty. My name is Dan Cloney. I’ve put my contact details up here. My experience to date has been that we, as a sector, are not great at Twitter, so I always encourage people to sign up, have a conversation, make some noise. I really do want to hear from people, you know, positive or negative. You know, I want to spend a bit of time today telling you about the E for Kids Study. I want to tell you about where we’re going with that work, the work I’m doing to try and translate the research into tools that educators can use to track quality and to measure learning and development. And it’s all centred around this idea about how do we improve quality? How do we use research to improve practice?
And I’ve got to say my phone is in my pocket on silent, it’s vibrated five or six times, so I’m pleased to say I’ve got five or six new followers, so thank you folks.
Okay. So, I was fortunate enough to be a Research Fellow on the E for Kids Study. The intellectual impetus for that was the National Reform in Early Childhood. We did this longitudinal study over, you know, the best part of 10 years. It was Australia’s largest study that was focused on the relationship between the quality of every day early childhood education and care programs and kids learning and development.
The final report is available. I would strongly encourage you to go and download it. It condenses 10 years of work into something that is pretty accessible and pretty powerful I think. And just while I have that up there, I think it’s also a good time to just, you know, pay tribute to Collette Tayler who was the intellectual lead, the person who had the courage to bring together early childhood educators, education measurement people, economists, health folks, and do a study that, you know, sometimes told us challenging things about the level of quality, about the impact of every day programs were having on children’s learning and development.
And so that’s what I want to focus on here, is inside that study we said what we want to look at is, you know, what is the quality of everyday programs? But we want to take the perspective that to us quality means the things that we do that are directly causal, that cause children to grow in their learning, development, the knowledge, the skills, the understandings that they have. And so we used this measure, the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, which is a measure of process quality. And the tagline that goes along with, that I think explains its sort of approach is, this idea of teaching through interactions. That it is what educators do on the ground with children that drive growth in their learning and development. And there are lots of other things that we call quality that sit around that. They’re important. But if we’re interested in knowing what is that we do that causes learning and development then this is what we should pay attention to.
The class looks at three aspects of interactions. And it does this because it takes the theoretical perspective that not all practice causes all outcomes. We do specific things that foster children’s social and emotional skills, their ability to regulate their emotion, to understand what rules and things are going on in the classroom, or in the group, or in the program. And there are somethings, and I’m going to talk about instructional support, that’s going to be the focus because I’ve got 10 minutes and that’s where I’ve been doing my work.
Instructional support gets at the kind of interactions that support children’s oral language development, pre-academic skills, cognitive skills, and really the focus, and I won’t go through all of this, is that the measure of instructional support is about how does the language we use support children’s learning? Right? And, there are classical educational concepts in here around the use of feedback, scaffolding, introduction of concepts, the stimulation of language, self and parallel talk, there’s stuff in there that I think you will agree that is what we do. And so this measure, fit’s very well the Australian sector with what we think of as quality, and it has that added benefit of being, you know, something that is causing children’s learning development and something we should be very interested in.
My colleagues say never put complex graphs and statistical output in slides. I can’t help myself, I’m sorry. But this is kind of the state of play in Australia that came out of the E for Kids Study. And what I want you to take out of this is two messages.
One is that this measure of instructional support that we think supports children’s early oral language, their cognitive skills, it’s low in most settings in Australia. And there’s an equity issue. What this slide shows, it breaks down neighbourhoods that services are operating in by groups of SES, from low to high. And hopefully I’ve drawn a little line to show that trajectory.
The boxes represent, you know, what is average qualities, the middle 50% of observations we made in our study. And what we see is that in the least affluent neighbourhoods, the lowest instructional support quality is happening. But across the board, there’s a little salmon coloured dotted line, horizontal line between two and three on the scale, that’s the transition point from low to moderate quality on this measure. And so it’s true to say that in Australia most centres, most programs, are offering on the low end of instructional support. This is a really good reason for us to focus on this as a point of change. This is where we focus our quality improvement efforts on. And I’ve added one more line here. This comes out of some US research that says, you know, we want to see programs operating above this point where this red line is, before we would start to see significant effects on kids learning and development. So if we want to know that our sector is having positive effects on kids oral language development, cognitive skills, that’s where we need to get it to.
So I’m going to leave the findings of the E for Kids Study there, because I’m almost certain that when I check the Google stats later on, that final report’s going to have had about 400 downloads. And I want to spend two minutes and 4 seconds telling you about, okay, so what next?
And this is sort of the work I’m doing now with some of my colleagues. And we’re focusing on how do you take research, instruments that require a lot of training, a lot of skill, that are very costly to run in the field, how do you take these research tools and turn them into the kind of tools that everyone in the sector can use to monitor and improve their own practice?
And so what I’m focusing on, is can we describe a continuum of instructional quality? What does it look like from low to high?
And can we describe the points along that continuum with really explicit examples of behaviours, so that educators, groups of educators, communities of practice, can get together and collect some evidence about what they’re doing? Right? And the technical term for it is virtual equating, but what they would do is they would say look, here’s some video evidence of the kinds of things I’m doing. We can use that to locate ourselves on this continuum. And if you can do that then the benefit is of course, that you can see what are the behaviours immediately above that location. What are the things that I would set myself as a target to do if I wanted to just incrementally step along that quality continuum.
I think that’s important, because sometimes we say, gees quality’s important, we should do quality. And maybe it’s not an aspirational target, it’s something that’s way off in the future that’s impossible for us to really achieve.
I’ve put up another technical, over the top slide, so I’m sorry for this again. The only thing I want you to take out of this, is this is some preliminary work on what the continuum looks like if we use the class measure. We don’t have to use the class measure, these things I think are pretty universal. But what I’ve done is I’ve highlighted a level, you know, I’ve tried to paint from low to high the continuum here. And I’ve painted a level around classrooms that we would say are just below the average. And what I’ve done is I’ve taken the descriptions we get from the class, and said well what do classrooms there actually look like. And the only thing I want you take away from this is at this level the educator rarely provides opportunities for students to be creative or generate their own ideas and products. Doing this thing, doing concept development, is hard. And in classrooms operating around the average, around the mean, we rarely, rarely see it. Telling educators to operate at a much, much higher level to always do it is too much. We need to focus on incremental and continuous quality improvement.
I do have another slide where I was going to talk about measuring children’s learning and development but I’m out of time. So I’m just going to grab a little patch and say I do think we should be getting really interested in measuring kids executive functioning, emotional regulation, social and emotional skills, and their early cognitive abilities. But I won’t get into that today. You can send me an email. Send me a Tweet if you want to talk about it. I’ll be around as well.
And what I’m going to do is pass over to Andrew. So thank you very much.
Andrew Hume: I’m Andrew Hume from Gowrie. There’s also the Gowrie team at Broadmeadows who we’re going to spend a bit of time talking about today. I’m going to be talking a lot about we today, because we’re going to tell a story about some of the work that we’ve done at a service in Broadmeadows. And some of the work that we’ve been doing there, where we were involved in a cracking piece of research called the Victorian Advancing Early Learning Study. DET are going to release that in the next couple of weeks. It’s a mouthful, so for the rest of this 10 minutes going to be referred to as VAEL.
What I’m going to try to do is build on what Joce and Dan have already spoken about. And I’m going to talk about leadership in terms of the conditions that leaders can create that support practice change and better practice.
So the we - the we includes us at Broadmeadows obviously. The we includes University of Melbourne who are leading the study, and a special nod to our expert coach Nicole Pilsworth in that, but it also refers to our school partners, the Broadmeadows Valley Primary School.
So a quick little story about Broadmeadows. Two, and sorry to the Broadmeadows team, I think you’re going to be up there for four-five minutes, and I didn’t know it was going to be this big but there you go, you’re now famous.
Two years ago Gowrie went to Broadmeadows and took over the operation of the long day care service, collocated with the school. And we went there for one primary reason. And that was to demonstrate high quality in a complex community at a reasonable price.
It is a complex community, Broadmeadows. It’s C for one. The levels of vulnerability on AEDC whether you look at one or two domains are about double the state average. And of course the community, with some of those characteristics, also has a remarkable sense of, and skills of, resilience. We’ve learnt a tremendous amount from this community over the last couple of years.
Occupancy was about 30 or 40% when we started. To cut a long, long story short, we’ve just received our exceeding rating and occupancy is at about 90%. Being part of the VAEL research was a really key part in that change. So, a little bit about VAEL.
It’s DET funded as I said, led by University of Melbourne, and we are one of the participants as are Mooney Valley City Council and Mission Australia. Well Dan talked about E for Kids, I describe VAEL as the so what from E for Kids.
So E for Kids showed those really fairly low levels of instructional support on average. The aim of VAEL was to develop a professional learning model that had a sustained impact on educator professional practice. If it was a picture, which it is, it looks like this.
So, back to where Joce started, there are lots of moving parts in the system of a service that contribute to practice change. In the bullseye there is what we’re trying to shift, what we’re trying to improve.
And just to pick up Dan’s point, the measurement tool that was used for this was class. Well, there are a number of measurement tools. The primary measurement tool was class, which is really focused on the interaction between educators and children.
What I’ve got time to talk about today is just a couple of the outer rings. Maintaining threshold conditions and Leadership and service management. Think about these as like the ecosystem that wraps around the pedagogs.
Two aspects are highlighted in VAEL as being particularly important, so I want to zero in onto those, and I’m going to try and bring them a bit to life from the Gowrie perspective. One is the stability of leadership and staff, and the other is by-in from all levels of leadership.
So, stability of leadership and staff intuitively confirms what we know. If you have stability it gives you consistency of relationships with children, families and communities, consistency in expectations and ways of working. It reduces the risk of losing what we call context expertise, people who know the community. It begs the question of course, from a leadership perspective, what can you do to contribute to that? Many things.
And what I want to talk about today is at Gowrie what we call values based recruitment. So values based recruitment is about choosing people to join the team where you’ve got a core set of aligned values. And when we’re talking about values, just go deep, think really deep. Values are the stuff that you don’t budge on, you don’t trade, no matter what the pressure is. When you’re seeing something, or participating in something, when you tear up, when you start to get goose bumps, that’s the sort of stuff we’re talking about, where you really start, that’s the sign you might be rubbing up against one of these deeply held values. So that’s what we go looking for.
One of ours at Gowrie is demonstrating the flexibility to grow and learn. So that’s a value that we recruit for, demonstrating the flexibility to grow and learn. Every single role in the organisation we’re looking for that. And in interviews we delve into people’s relationship with failure. And there’s not too many of us that can authentically say I love failure. But for people who hold demonstrating the flexibility to grow and learn as a core value, I can tell you three things about them now.
They will readily acknowledge their role in the failure. They will have analysed how it actually happened. And most importantly, and this is the really big distinguisher, they will have already done something different in other circumstances as a result of that learning.
So bringing people together with a core aligned set of values is something that’s really important for us.
So let’s move onto the buy-in at all levels of the organisation, having touched on that aspect of service leadership and management, so buy-in. VAEL talks about a whole range of things. I’ll try to group them together. Prioritising the practice change, and think back to what Joce was talking about, the realities of running a service and everything you have to do. So you need to priorities the practice change. For us at Broadmeadows, that meant that the VAEL work was the single practice priority for an entire year. That meant Broadmeadows didn’t participate in a whole range of initiatives that we had going across the organisation.
VAEL also tells us that it’s about committing to the necessary resources needed to make the change, that’s time and that’s dollars. And I feel like a lot of the time we try to get away from that but, you know, there’s an old saying that hope is not a strategy. And trying to make this level of change without investing the right time and dollars doesn’t work, and VAEL’s a fantastic example of illustrating how much and how intentional you need to do it.
And you need to hard-bake it. If we’re talking about sustainability you need to lock it into rosters with clear expectation about how that time’s used.
Last one on buy-in to talk about is, and this is a tricky one to discuss when we’re talking about all this stuff about measurement, but you’ve got to buy-in to the learning and improvement, not just the absolute result, and particularly not the start point. And that was really clearly understood right across our organisation, that it’s not about where we start, our job’s to improve.
When you think about it, and you think about our context, that’s actually only fair, so remember we were growing from like 30% on occupancy up to about 90%. So you’ve got a new team, and a growing team, that have got content expertise but limited context expertise.
You’ve got enrolments that are growing, so the amount of time and effort that is understandably and completely appropriately put into some of the earlier domains in the class models that Dan was talking about, around the social and emotional support, completely makes sense.
Right. The results, well as Nicole reminds me constantly, the class results, because there’s a whole number of different results and ways of measuring that are included in the report. So, this is - put all this together. So what can you achieve, stable team with aligned values; organisational buy-in; and a really disciplined measuring system. So the class samples for individuals and they’re amalgamated at room level, were taken on a quarterly basis. On a quarterly basis the team came together with the researchers to share and understand the information.
Here’s the actual results, this is under threes. Under threes has two of the class domains not three. The stuff on the right, so this is the quarterly result, the stuff on the right, this is under threes, this is the hard stuff, this is the instructional support. So it started at about average. In the course of a year, I mean it’s a fantastic result and it’s knocking on the door of rolling into that really high performing instructional support in a year in that context.
These are the results for the over threes, with all three domains there. Improvement across all three domains, really high starting point on the first two, and a similar trajectory on the instructional support.
Out of time, but this is the really most important thing. The measure are great, and they’re an indicator of success. The magic, the more important piece is what the team did with the information, what they did with the data. So this wasn’t about here’s your results. Teams took the data, pulled it apart across all of those domains that Dan told you about, all those different factors, took that and intentionally said right, what are we going to do differently? And, what do we want to be moving next time, back to this really solid incremental approach that Dan’s talking about around practice change.
So when we talk about measurement, and when you have a look at VAEL, don’t forget that piece. It’s not just about measuring it’s what you do with it.
Right, definitely out of time. I’m going to hand over to Anthony. And as he’s walking up, the only thing I would just say, VAEL comes out in the next couple of weeks. It sits really beautifully with E for Kids, and Every Toddler Talking. Go and have a look at it, it’s some really rich information.
Thank you very much.
Anthony Semann: Thanks mate. Hi everyone. How are you? That’s one person who responded. Come on. Always has, always will be Aboriginal land, to elders and Aboriginal people in this room thank you for allowing me to be a visitor. I promise I will encounter everyone with tenderness and kindness.
My paper chase course, Bases of Relationships, encounter dialogue and collegiality. The idea that relational leadership should have an impact on quality practice is what I want to explore in my time today.
Quality is, and has often been, constructed through process and structural components like ratios, group sizes, and the quality and quantity of interactions. And these should remain the cornerstone of our debates around quality.
However, in this presentation I want to bring further attention to the idea that leadership operates as a relational space, our space of encounter, a space of dialogue, a space of collegiality, and a space of solidarity. These are all critical to the experience of leading and being led. Because without attention given to leadership as a relational experience, it omits one of the most important aspects of quality, that is the experience of educators. And to reiterate the obvious, perhaps that’s already been restated and will continue to be restated throughout the day. Quality matters to young children, but also to everybody who encounters early childhood. We must continue to interrogate and analyse.
So for the experience of the other can only ever be understood and articulated through a personal story, a story of the actor. And in this instance it’s the story of the child, the child who is at the centre of everything that we do. However, the challenge remains. How do we bring to the service the story of the protagonist, the young child, the person who is often quiet, silent in this story of quality? Because if we reduce the voice of the child we might actually get to a place where we say well the research doesn’t matter, because we haven’t heard the voice of the child. But I don’t think it does, I think it does matter that we continue to tell the story even though much of the research to date has silenced the child.
I want to explore with you today the idea that Peter Moss aptly names the Space of Encounter. And it’s this space of encounter I want to talk to you about today. The space of encounter of those who are leading and those who are being led, and this means all of us in this room. I understand that this demarcation is sometimes quite clumsy, but today I don’t want to talk about management, I want to talk about leadership, because management structures don’t always talk about encounter where leadership does.
Management can often be transactional, so to speak of leadership today is to speak of relationship, a relationship which makes the labour of early childhood people one which is emotionally pleasurable. We flourish in environments. They give us pleasure. They gratify our mind and our soul as early childhood teachers. These are visceral environments, environments that linger in our heart and soul after we leave our workplaces. See the work of the leader, I’m going argue, is the work of a place maker. The place maker is the person who understands what is important to people, what is important to educators as they journey towards what we know as quality.
We can get from point A to point B as we work towards quality. But what I’m interested in is what happens between point A and point B for the people who are doing the hard work, examining what it’s like for those who work tirelessly towards the ambitious goals of quality that the research so strongly speaks of. See the impact of leadership should never be measured about what happens onsite when the leader is there, but rather what’s happening in your centres today while you’re not there. That is the test of everyone’s leadership.
See the encounter between the individuals delivering education is the mark that’s left behind after we leave that space. It is the way in which our actions, the way in which our words, including the unspoken has had on the other. And I don’t want to be reductive when I talk about these ideas around quality. These are merely just suggestions that I’m going to offer to you all this morning. Do with them what you will, but I hope they have an impact on quality.
So I’m going to raise four points with you today. They include every moment matters, articulation matters when it comes to quality, reflexivity matters, and the nexus matters.
So I’ll start with the first one, that is every moment matters. Leader DNA, that which is defined as the fundamental and distinctive characteristics of someone, especially with regard to the unchangeable, is the mark we all leave on each other. It is the encounter between those being led and those who are leading, and that’s the problem. That is the fundamental problem. We might choose to lead people towards quality however they may not want to be led, or they may choose not to follow.
As leaders in early childhood we must come to appreciate that everything we do, everything we say, everything we touch, the things we choose not to do when it comes to quality, is our leader DNA. We must come to appreciate that to have influence is to make everything matter, make every encounter matter between leaders and followers. Great leadership can leave individuals or groups excited to take on a challenge and to tackle it head-on, to rise to the occasions, to move beyond their wildest ambitions to the journey of quality.
Conversely, leadership can leave individuals deflated. When beset by a challenge in trying to achieve quality, to lack one’s pride in themselves, and to reduce everything to a transition, a timetable of events within our classrooms. For if the leaders desire deeply to create change then they have to collaborate with everyone who they work to. This includes their leadership presence, that is are you seen or unseen in your place. Your influence, do you make a difference or are you indifferent towards people. And your leadership values, those which are actions suggest to others matters to you. Leadership is an everyday moment, it’s an everyday act, it happens between people, and the astute leader understands that your DNA is contagious and that you must act in particular ways.
Articulation matters, to speak of leadership that makes a difference is to speak of the quality of leaders and what they understand of quality, understanding the challenging terrain of trying to define leadership is never an option to opt out of the discussion and debate about what leadership is. It is to sit alongside people you work with and grapple with the question what is quality?
I often wonder what happens when a leader cannot speak of quality, when they are unable to articulate to others like their colleagues about what matters to them, when they demonstrate an inability to remain abreast of what the research says matters. The impactful leader is one who sees the power in relational dialogue, one who doesn’t just give ideas to people, one who doesn’t just give practices to people, but one who invests in cultivating ideas along people, one who delivers hope to the group, one who understands what matters to them, their colleagues, families and children.
I see great leadership practices across this country, but in my 20 years at Semann and Slattery I’ve seen things that aren’t so great. And I often wonder why does that happen. And the difference I can see in some situations is those who can articulate what makes a difference, and those who cannot. They lead through innovation. They attempt to resist imitation, but they always work towards innovation. They understand the context in which they work in.
The nexus matters, to speak of quality but not to enact it is window dressing. It matters little to children what you say in your staff meetings. It matters little to children the language you use in your philosophy statement. It matters little to children the articulated goals in your quality improvement plan.
It is the nexus between theory and practice that actually makes a difference. It is realising that the words we use have to come into practice. Without impact our words are merely marketing to children and families.
The relational leader understands that we have to bring our words into life. Now this is very hard sometimes because we have to understand the contexts in which we work in. The nexus is hard because quality is hard to understand. But the relational leader understands that to make a difference they have to have important encounters with their staff. They have to support pedagogical transformation. They have to bring about a culture of accountability but a culture of transformation as they lure families and children to what is a sight of hope.
Reflexivity matters, and this is my last point. To be reflective and reflexive is to turn the mirror on yourself. It is to do what Nikolas Rose calls make your narrative stutter. The relational need leader sees the project of leadership as being always under construction, and the ultimate aim is to improve yourself not to improve others, because it is easier to point to others than to point to yourself.
The reflexive leader always asks hard questions about themselves, that is how might I shift who I am to deliver better outcomes for others. Be warned, we all have an ego.
To see oneself as superior of others is to speak only of ego. To see oneself as better than another centre speaks only of ego. See the ego traps us as we say things like, you know, we’re doing good work here but the others down the road are not. It can present itself in more astute ways like what we do here others should also do the same. The ego, the central downfall of many a good leader.
The humble leader sees the most powerful leadership style as being one which is about leadership presence, one that concerns oneself in the things that really matter, things that actually are lived alongside the people we work with. The relational leader always asks thoughtful questions, questions that allow us to work on shaky grounds when it comes to delivering quality.
So in summary, I want to go back to my question. How do I lead and improve excellence in early learning? Well the best way is to sum it up in this. Be humble, be present with people, concern yourself with things that really matter, and see yourself live in leadership alongside others, for a leader without followers is just a person who’s chosen to take a walk in the park by themselves.
Thank you very much.
Marie Howard: Thank you to all our speakers. So can we just give them another round of applause as we welcome them back to the stage? So you guys come up, Dan?
We do have some microphones and I think we have time for some questions from the floor, otherwise I have some questions that I have prepared earlier. So, we might start with that unless there’s some people with a burning question.
I’ll ask you the first question Dan.
Dan Cloney: No. That’s great.
Marie Howard: Give Anthony a break because he’s just finished his speech.
Dan, you talked a little bit about how we can measure quality, and I think there is a question around, a broader question, about should we be measuring quality in children’s learning and development. So, what are your views around that?
Dan Cloney: Yeah. I think that’s a good question. I think it was brought up in the plenary this morning as well, that there is a tension around, you know, should we be doing this kind of measurement? And I think a lot of it comes from the old way of doing measurement. You know, ages and stages, setting benchmarks, saying four year olds should be able to do this kind of thing. I think the measurement we should be doing is, instead of focused on growth, saying okay, if we’re going to be a serious, impactful, well respected sector, then we should be able to demonstrate that we’re continually improving in quality.
And when we do that, that kids, young children are getting a real benefit in a range of developmental domains that we think are important. That’s how we’re going to drag in serious investment, serious respect, lift our esteem. And, you know, I think it’s a reasonable thing to expect to say that, you know, if kids come in and spend a year in our programs, or two years, or three years, or four years, or five years, that we have some idea about the learning progression they should go on. And we should be able to say, yeah, we contributed to that. And if we can’t then it’s very hard for us to say, you know, we are this very important sector that we, you know, know that we are.
Marie Howard: Thank you. Joce emphasised the importance of practice change. Can you give us some examples Joce of leadership practices that you are exploring in your project?
Joce Nuttal: Thanks Marie. There are a couple of examples I can briefly describe, more principles rather than specific practices.
The first one relates to a response I often get when I start working with centres, when I say what is it that you’re trying to achieve here in your professional learning? And, I often get the answer, teamwork. People want to emphasise and develop relationships with each other, with children, with families. But particularly with each other, because there’s an assumption that if you get the relationships right amongst the team then other things will follow. And so I often respond by saying that’s great. That’s good that you have good relationships with your colleagues, but what are they for? And that’s often quite a confronting question because it takes so much work to get the relationships right, you don’t have time to think about what you’re getting the relationships right for.
And so, thinking about focusing on practice, and I think Andrew’s given a really nice illustration of that at Broadmeadows, the way that the team were able to focus on practices, and how they wanted to enhance the quality of their practices. I’m betting that one of the consequences of that was really enhanced feelings of teamwork and relationships with each other, because working together to achieve a common goal, and succeeding in that, is an intensly positive experience in terms of relationships.
The other thing that we try to emphasise in our work with leaders, and I stress that the project’s at the beginning, and this is hypothetical but it is based on a lot of pilot work, and that is the tendency to focus on people rather than practices, as if somehow they are separate things. People in practices develop together. The development of practice isn’t separate from the person and their relationship with themselves, their relationships with each other. And so in our work we ask educational leaders to take their eye off intensely individual and personalised approaches like coaching, mentoring, we know that those things work, but we also know that they’re very difficult to sustain in a sector that has a lot of turnover.
And so if we focus on practices then the work of the leader is about creating cultures. Creating cultures that can endure after the leader leaves, or where there is staff turnover, because it’s a focus on practice for quality rather than a focus on us all getting along with each other.
Andrew Hume: Can I just add something to that, because there’s heaps of information in this VAEL Study? And one of the things in the VAEL Study, it talks very strongly about the approach you are taking to practice change. It might be around the particular intervention that you are choosing. The importance of everyone within the service being trained on that so that there is a common language and a common approach, is emphasised really strongly, and those results goes to what you were talking about.
Joce Nuttal: It’s what I would call the common object.
Andrew Hume: Exactly, that’s what I would call the common object.
Marie Howard: So while you’ve got the floor Andrew, I’ll ask you a question.
Andrew Hume: Oh, we all sat in the right order then Marie.
Marie Howard: Yeah. I was interested, a lot of organisations, everyone has values and, you know, we often join not-for-profits because we like their values. It’s often hard to live the values or instil them in your practice or in your staff mentality etcetera. So, I was interested in the value that you said about being flexible. Can you just repeat that one again for me?
Andrew Hume: Demonstrating the flexibility to grow and learn?
Marie Howard: Yeah. So, I think the audience might be interested to know what the others are. Where could they find out, on your website, or - - -
Andrew Hume: Okay. Good question. I guess because values are sort of for your organisation, the response that your question sort of brings for me is, it’s not about choosing a value and instilling it, it’s about finding out what your values are. Because if you think about values like we are, that they are so deep that you don’t budge on them, you can’t instil one of those.
So the first job is actually to go and find out what your values are. Now, people make professions out of this sort of stuff, but if you want a start point, you know, there are no life hacks, but if you want a start point, a quick and dirty way of starting to think about this, ask yourself the question, why don’t people fit in around here? A practical way to get into that question is to go, all right, no-one leaves an organisation because they’re deliriously happy. So, let’s think about the last three people that left here, your organisation, your service, and go looking for themes there. And that’s often a better way to start the conversation than what is it that we stand for? Because when you start from the what is it we stand for rather than where was there a disconnect, you’ll be drawn towards values that are completely okay, you know, integrity, respect, honesty, things like that. And there’s nothing wrong with those, but when we’re talking about values we’re taking them as a given. You know, because the opposite of them is I don’t know, lie, cheat, defame. So take them as a given, so you’re looking for something else. You’ve got to find a different way to go and find it. But prompting why don’t people work out around here is not a bad start.
Marie Howard: Thank you. And, Anthony I do have a question for you.
So, the question we’ve got for you is how might we navigate different pedagogical approaches in services?
Anthony Semann: Yeah. I think there’s always an implicit assumption that the person you work with has travelled your journey, has heard what you’ve heard, has read what you’ve read, has watched that inspiring TED talk. And I think we need to move beyond that. You know, like, I don’t think anyone goes to work and goes today my goal is to really piss off four people. It’s just not. It’s not how - well I’ve never worked those ones. You know, like my experience is people have really good intent. And there are tensions in the pedagogical practices, but we make an assumption on the surface level of that’s not okay, and that is. And most people work from a truth statement, that is what they’re doing is good for children. And that may not align with the person that you are working with.
And as we say with children, you’ve got to look behind it, you’ve got to go beyond what’s apparent. What we tend to do is shut down and become instructional, that we must be doing this, you should be doing this, and then we throw the evidence at them. I mean that’s a quick way to end up in a staffroom by yourself, is when you start to lecture people. And so my approach would be, is you sit there with a person, you begin to understand where they’re coming from. And actually while you’ve taken your position, so what makes you think that colouring book will kill a child’s creativity? Where have you come to? Because maybe they haven’t heard the academic at a four year degree who says there are more creative ways. That person may have had a really good intent of sharing joy from their childhood with that child. So to me, the key is to have a conversation. Don’t judge. Don’t tell. But actually be really democratic, because people only change for people that they think like them. You don’t change for a monster because then you leave, and you say I’m out of here. So that would be my response, is be patient and engage in really lovely dialogue with someone.
Marie Howard: Thank you, can you thank our panel for their discussion today everybody? Thanks.
Encouraging and supporting positive parenting
- Resourcing parents: the role of early education and care services in promoting positive parenting (PPTX, - Warren Cann, Chief Executive Officer Parenting Research Centre.
- Maternal Child and Health Service (PPTX, - Marcia Armstrong, Principal Maternal and Child health Nurse Advisor, Department of Education and Training.
- Self empowerment Self Determination Self Regulation: Parents as the Experts (PPTX, - Michelle Forster, Indigenous Implementation Consultant, Triple P International.
- Yappera Children’s Services – Engaging Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Families (PPTX, - Tegan Bastow, Early Childhood Educator and Kimberley Do, Family Support Worker, Yappera Children’s Services Cooperative LTD. Presentation
Voiceover: This podcast is one of a series of recordings made at Realising the Potential Early Childhood Forum, presented by the Department of Education and Training, on Friday the 8th of June, 2018, at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Our breakout session on Encouraging and Supporting Positive Parenting will feature the following speakers:
- Warren Cann, Chief Executive Officer at Parenting Research Centre;
- Marcia Armstrong, Principal Maternal and Child Health Nurse Advisor at the Department of Education and Training:
- Michell Forster, Indigenous Implementation Consultant at Triple P International;
- Tegan Bastow, Early Childhood Educator; and
- Kimberley Doe, Family Support Worker at Yappera Children’s Service Cooperative Limited.
Wendy Allan: I’d like to welcome you all to this session obviously. It’s a very popular one, given we’ve got a lot of people in the crowd, and I can see quite a few familiar faces which makes me feel more comfortable, because I am not Kim Howard. I am Wendy Allan. I’m the Early Years Policy Advisor with the Municipal Association of Victoria. And unfortunately my dear colleague, Kim, is very, very unwell. So for her not to be here today is the testimony that she is really, really crook. So fortunately I’ve got the gig. So bear with me ‘cause I only found out about an hour ago. So here we go.
So I’ve introduced myself. I’d now like to do a formal acknowledgement. I would like to first acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting today, the people of the Kulin nation. I would also like to pay my respects to their elders past and present, and the elders from other communities that may be with us today.
So just to check that you’re all in the right session, this is the one on Encouraging and Supporting Positive Parenting. And the irony is, is that if I hadn’t been facilitating this I would have been sitting exactly where you are, because it is something that I am very interested in. I mean I too am a parent, but I think for all of us in the sector, our parent body and community is an incredibly untapped resource. And I think for all of us, we need to really think about how we engage more with them. And, as Sharon said in her presentation this morning, how we actually use them as part of our advocacy platform for our sector.
Okay. So, as you know, the evidence is that parenting and the home environment arguably has the greatest impact on a child’s life, on their learning and development, and particularly during those early years. And we know that positive parenting can help overcome the effects of disadvantage.
So today we’ve assembled a panel of five experts, and I’m really pleased with the combination, because we have researchers, academics, practitioners, and certainly people who are on the ground dealing with parents in services every day. So I think it’ll be quite an interesting, and broad ranging perspective that you’ll get from our speakers as well.
So that’s what they’re going to do, they’re going to share their thoughts and perspectives on the role of parents, and the capacity of parents, and how we need to work with parents.
I have a social media message. I think all of our facilitators are required to say. Before we start I’d like to remind you to follow @detvic on Twitter, and I’d encourage you to join the conversation. It will be quite a valuable resource that the Department is really, really encouraging people to get in the conversation and give your thoughts. Those, you know, those opportunities are really valuable, because sometimes there’s just nuggets of gold in someone’s thought bubble that they send off into the ether that then can actually influence a direction that the Department takes. So, the hashtag, #realisingthepotential; #earlychildhoodforum; #vicedu.
So, now I’d like to introduce the speakers. I’m going to introduce them in a block, so they’ll stand up and you can see them. And then one by one they will come up on stage and do their presentation. We’ll leave questions, if we have time for questions, they’ll come back up at the end of the session. As a panel we’ll have a bit of a conversation, and like I said, if there’s an opportunity for questions from the floor we’ll try and do that. If not, then I’d encourage you to have further conversations with them over lunch.
So our first speaker is Warren Cann. Warren is the CEO of the Parenting Research Centre, and he’ll be our first speaker today. Our next speaker is Marcia Armstrong. Marcia’s the Principle Maternal and Child Health Nurse Advisor at the Department of Education. But for those of us in local government land, we know that Marcia’s had a long and prior history at Wodonga Council, so thank you. Michell Forster. Michell’s an Indigenous Implementation Consultant with the Triple P International. And we have two wonderful special guests. Tegan Bastow and Kimberley Doe. So, Tegan is an Early Childhood Educator, so she’s right in the thick of what we’re talking about in terms of working with families. And Kimberley is the Family Support Worker at Yappera Children’s Service Cooperative.
Okay. So I’m going to take a seat now and we’ll hear from our presenters. So on that note I’d like to invite Warren to take the stage. Thank you.
Warren Cann: Okay.Thank you, thank you very much.
Those of you who are parents will realise that your instincts only get you so far, right? Pretty much as soon as you’ve had a baby you discover you’re on a very, very steep learning curve, and that’s what it’s like for human parents. We depend very much on our environment, on exposure to broad information and good support, because we start a learning journey that never stops. And we start from day one and we keep learning. And by the way, it doesn’t stop when you get to 18, right? It doesn’t even stop when you get to 20, 25. Frankly, it probably doesn’t stop when you get to 45 or 50, it’s a continual constant learning journey.
Parents these days though, live in a very interesting and unique informational environment.It’s very interesting just to look at the history of discussion about parents and parenting.
This is data that comes from Google’s Ngram. And, what Google did was they scanned 50 million books or so, and you can track the frequency of different phrases from the 1800s through to 2000s. I think they stopped in 2008. This is the frequency of the word parents as it occurred in books in that period of time, so relatively steady.
This is the word parenting. Benjamin Spock actually published his book Basic Care of Children I think it was, in about 1946. I don’t know whether that could be thought of as really as the starting point. It took a little while to take off. But from the mid-1960s we’ve seen an explosion in the term parenting. Parents today are learning and developing in an environment where parenting is on everybody’s lips, where everybody’s talking about parenting, where there are huge amounts of information about parenting.
And the thing is, is that information hasn’t coincided with greater compassion or understanding for parents. In fact in some ways, despite having access to lots of good information, parents are under more pressure now than they ever have been.
I’ve been really interested in this piece of research that was done in the US, that looked at parents experience of criticism. 61% of parents reported that they’ve been criticised for their parenting choices. It struck me as a little low to begin with, but at least that 61% were saying they’re being criticised. Who do they get criticised by? Let’s see if you’re surprised. 36% by other parents, 31% by in-laws 37% by their own mother or father, thankfully only 8% feel they’ve been criticised by their healthcare provider, and even better, well done ECEC, 6% have been criticised by their childcare provider.
And what do they get criticised about? We’ll see if there’s surprises here. You’re probably not surprised to find that 70% of the criticism will be about discipline, 52% about the food, 46% about sleep, and 39% about breast/bottle decisions.
So, parents these days are exposed to quite a high degree of negative feedback, sometimes from complete strangers in the street, but often from the people who are close to them and the ones who they probably are depending fairly heavily on for support.
So what is the result of this level of criticism? Well, I was really interested to see that 60% of parents will go out and seek more information if they are criticised. That’s a very positive, constructive thing to do isn’t it? Over half will ask a professional, that’s also reassuring. Over a third will actually make a change based on the feedback they get. But 42% said criticism left them feeling unsure of themselves. On the other hand, 67% felt bolstered in their choices, so they became even more determined to do what they currently do. And then, understandably, 50% will go on and avoid that critical person.
So, we have a very interesting dilemma isn’t it? We have parents who are needing information to grow and develop. On the other hand they are often exposed to this kind of negative kind of informing or feedback, and that is having very, very mixed results to say the least. And I think what this does is create a very interesting scenario for us in terms of people who are charged with supporting parents and developing their parenting in developing their skills and their confidence.
What I want to do is take you through a little bit about what we have learned about contemporary parent information seeking. And I want to make an argument for how particularly the role of ECEC could really be bolstered in meeting parents’ information needs.
It was the year before last, we had the opportunity to conduct a representative survey of 2,600 parents, these are Victorian parents, and this was a unique opportunity to talk to, using a telephone based survey technique, to talk to a large range of parents from all over Victoria in all sorts of situations and circumstances, funded by Victorian Government Department of Education and Training.
We learnt - in one way this study was quite interesting, was that we actually got to talk to 40% of men, and often fathers are left out of the discussion around parenting as we know, and we often don’t get their viewpoints. But we managed to get their viewpoints in this survey.
Just quickly what did we find? Well, 91% were actually - felt pretty confident as a parent, so they feel like they’ve got what it takes to do a good job. But when you dig a little bit deeper, there were some areas where they wondered about, and they were challenged by. Like 41% felt that they become impatient with their children just a bit too quickly. And nearly a third felt that they are sometimes too critical of their children. In terms of what they’re doing, we still have about 28% of parents say they’ll occasionally smack their children. But only 2% seem to be using smacking as a regular, or their normative way of dealing with discipline issues.
How is this?Are you surprised by this?36% say that sleep is a problem for them, and that goes up to 50% for parents of babies and toddlers.As we’ll see later, sleep is a big deal for parents at the moment, and there are lots of challenges in that area.
I think also, like we’re also seeing some of these contemporary worries. 70% of parents and adolescents said their children spent too much time on electronic devices, so parents today are worried about this. We actually didn’t ask them whether they’re worried about their own use of electronic devices, we’re going to do that next year. 80% believe that early childhood education is important, or at least they believe that what they do at home is important for their children’s early education. So we don’t really have - we don’t need to convince parents that the early years are important, they’re already convinced.
Okay. Now here’s where I wanted to sort of begin to focus my attention a little bit more. 91% said they had someone trusted that they could turn to for advice, and that’s really good news. Only 3% were not sure where they would turn if they needed help. 91% felt that they could - there was someone in their lives who they could turn to for advice.
We did ask them though, where they get their information from. And this is quite interesting. This is information in addition to what they might learn from their own family, so this is more formal - or not necessarily more formal because it does include friends and neighbours, but people outside of the family. And you’ll see there that 83% of parents are talking to their peers and neighbours still, which is important for all of us who are involved in this peer orientated programs, people are still turning to their neighbours and friends when they’re looking for advice. But nearly 80% are now accessing information online.
Now we did a similar survey in 2004, and information online ranked about number five, and it ranked underneath professionals, talking to professionals. We’ve seen a massive change in that amount of time, and now information online is ubiquitous and people are essentially saying, when it comes to formal sources of information they go online and they go online first. Books are still up there. Health professionals same level as books basically, but isn’t that interesting, educators and teachers are as frequently asked as health professionals, by parents for information and advice.
The average parent has four to five sources of information. Four to five sources, so they’re not just relying on one. What percentage of parents use no additional information sources at all? Anybody want to guess? That’s a bit of a rhetorical question isn’t it? Less than 1%, so less than 1% of mothers use no additional sources other than their immediate family. So essentially what this says is virtually every parent is at some point in time accessing information. But what about fathers? 2.3% are not using any additional sources, which I think many might find surprising that fathers are actually more involved in information seeking than we once might have thought or assumed, a very, very small number don’t seek any information at all.
This is a breakdown of seeking information by children’s age. So green is zero to two, going to orange which is 13 to 18 years, and there’s a lot of information here to absorb. But I want you just to focus on one thing, and that was the online information. If you look at the online information, which is this set of columns here, you can see that online information use by the young age group is getting up to about 90%, so it’s becoming the normative way of getting information for the younger age group, and it does drop as children get older, towards the later years, as you might expect. But, I think what this tells us, is that this generation goes through online information will continue to be a really important source of information for parents.
Now this is also interesting, this is information used by SES, so this is a fairly rough measure of social disadvantage. And you’ll see the light green here is online information used, and you’ll see there that there is something of a difference when you look at the lowest levels of social disadvantage to the highest level of social disadvantage, but the difference is not as much as you would expect. I mean we’re still seeing upwards - over 70% of people from the most socially disadvantaged areas, accessing online information. So there is a - in a way there is still a little of a divide, digital divide, but also there’s a sort of a great democracy I think in this information - accessibility of information. Again, look how the educator features - all right - getting up to nearly 70% across all of those areas, so despite your background people are approaching their educator for information.
Okay.Now we can also look at this from the other side of the fence, because with our partners at Murdoch Children’s research Institute, we deliver the Raising Children Network website and associated resources.And that website, after 10 years of operation, gets 53,000 visits per day.Now visits are not just hits, that’s not just people flicking through, that’s people arriving and staying and looking.Okay, 53,000 visits per day.
And I think - by the way, guess what they’re looking at, sleep was accessed by 1.37 million parents last year. That takes us back doesn’t it? Okay, and yet, even though we might think and be able to argue quite conclusively, I think that online is the new universal, I think there will always be a crucial role for access to information from professionals, and there’ll always be those who need more than just access to information online.
And here I think there’s huge potential, particularly in ECEC services. This is just a little bit of a breakdown of parents seeking help from educators. And when you combine zero to two with three to five, you’ll see that almost half of all parents will talk to their early years educators about issues related to parenting, and this creates an enormous opportunity.
We also learned from our surveys that their experience is very positive.81% are satisfied with the help they get from their early child educator.82% believe that their ideas are valued by the educator.
In terms of the negatives, 82% disagreed with the statement that they felt judged by their educator. And, 92% disagreed with that they felt blamed and criticised by their educator. So that means there’s still some who are a little bit uneasy about the advice they were given, but what this seems to suggest is that, not only do parents approach and talk to their early educators, they find them very reasonable, supportive and understanding sources of information and advice.
And, just what about if we could begin to broaden our thinking about the impact of ECEC from, not just providing quality programs to parents of children while they’re in our service, but also potentially having an impact by supporting parents in their parenting role. And not that we would want to turn early childhood educators into social workers or even to parent educators, there still seems to me to be an enormous opportunity here, because of the nature of the service, and because of how well it’s received, to be providing support to parents in their role at home, essentially influencing what happens at home, not just influencing what goes on in a centre.
I think there are two sort of main opportunities that we can pursue here. One is opportunistic parenting support, that is when parents do seek information and ideas. And the other opportunity is in promoting parent development and learning.
So in my last five or so minutes, let me just touch on and give you maybe some tips on the way that might be able to work. First of all with proactive resourcing, this is about what we could do as an early childhood education service, to proactively support parents. One is to constantly communicate the message that parenting is learned, and is basically learned on the job. And everything that we do and say, if we’re reminding parents they are on a learning curve and a learning journey, that can take a lot of heat and a lot of the pressure out of the parenting.
If you think that’s a lot of books, all right, the web is nothing - the web is hugely worse.When I put parenting into Google just yesterday, I got 245 million hits.So, if you’re a conscientious parent you’ve got a lot of reading to do.And I think one thing that ECEC sector could do is to help parents narrow down, and get some of the confusion and mess out of the online information scene.
In our survey we asked parents how they heard about the Raising Children Network, and many find the Raising Children Network through Google.But what we discovered in Victoria here, because it was Victorian, was that people heard about it through their maternal and child health service, because it’s so well embedded in MCH.
Educators, look at that, it’s only 5% of parents learning through their early education and care. What about if we promoted the use of Raising Children Network through our early childhood education and care services? What about if parents could hear about the enormous resources available to them through our Raising Children Network?
And here are just some tips about how we could proactively resource.Could I just give you a little warning though, I remember hearing about a kindergarten teacher who sent a tip sheet home in the children’s bags about swearing.And then she had a lot of kind of interested, slightly irate queries the next day, about why particular kids had got certain information sheets.So you can make a mistake, it’s easy to make that kind of mistake.So in universal information provisions, very carefully, you want to really make it clear that when you are sharing information with it is everybody, and it can’t be misinterpreted as perhaps being targeted.
But, you know, using your information library, setting that up, maybe a dedicated a computer iPad, why not have it set up so it’s raising - so it’s got RCN on it?And, using RCN content in your newsletters, you could also be looking to enrol your families, get them connected to the RCN Facebook, you can ask them whether or not they are subscribing to the Grow With Us email newsletters.
Even in the act of enrolling you could be connecting them up to this information. And why not ask when they’re enrolling, did you know, have you heard about the Raising Children Network? And once they’re connected, well there’s a huge range of resources they can then access, whether that be video or whether that be hardcopy information resources, including new approaches that we’re taking like the delivery of short Webinars about, you know, key topic areas. These are new and just developing, but what an enormous opportunity we have here to promote this use of this resource through our services.
Okay, and then I’ll just finish with this in terms of responsive resourcing, because now you have this enormous and wonderful information architecture that you can use when you are responding to parents who indicate a need, or an interest, or ask you about something. Be vigilant for those opportunities. It might be just a passing comment. Always seek permission before offering information and advice. Just keep in mind, just because somebody is complaining about something, it doesn’t mean they’re asking for help, all right? So just be conscious and just make sure that you’ve got permission from them, hey, are you interested in some information about that? I’ve got something I might be able to share with you, before you give them that information.
And then you can make information more powerful by looking at it together. Look at the material together. Get on the website, find the information together. You can download and print resources from the RCN website, which you can then tailor to the parent that you’re working with, even putting your name and phone number on it makes it more likely that information will be received. And make sure you follow up, because parents need to know that information is just the start. There’s always something extra. There’s always something more you can do if you feel stuck. Don’t you think there’s a huge potential now, if we take our wonderful ECEC sector and properly use this incredible information resource that you have, to be able to both proactively resource parents, but also to be able to respond to parents when they ask you question like they often will?
Thanks very much.
Marcia Armstrong: Good morning everyone. My name is Marcia Armstrong, and I’m the Maternal and Child Health Nurse Advisor for the DET.
I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I’d also like to pay my respects to the elders both past and present, and any elders present here today.
Today I’m going to talk to you about the Maternal and Child Health Service in Victoria, and the implications it has actually for parenting and assisting with parenting, particularly with our vulnerable families.
So I’ll just tell you a little bit about the Maternal and Child Health Service in Victoria so people are very familiar with it. But it actually has three program areas that make it up.
The Universal Program, that all families actually are invited to attend as 10 key age-staged consultations where families are given anticipatory advice, and surveillance of health and development from birth to three and a half years. It also provides a flexible component that has additional visits, community strengthening activities, groups, and also telephone consultations. And some of those groups may include first-time parent groups and parenting groups along the continuum.
The second tier is the Enhanced Home Visiting, or the Enhanced Program, which is responsive to families who need additional needs. And at the moment we actually provide 15 hours to approximately 10% of the population zero to 12 months. But with the reforms in the education state that’s going to increase over the next three years to 20 hours and 15% of the population from zero to three years, and that’ll be fully implemented in 2021.
But supporting this is actually the Maternal and Child Health Line, which is advice and support for families from birth to school age, that provide 24 hours per day and seven days per week.
And then just looking at social media, Maternal and Child Health have just launched their Maternal and Child Health app, and that was launched on the 23rd of March this year. And since then, well by the time we got to May, we’ve actually had 20,000 downloads. And the good thing about this app is that it’s actually linked to evidence-based practice, and linked to the Raising Children’s Network and the information out of the Royal Children’s Hospital, and also promotes maternal and child health and linking back to Maternal and Child Health. And if it’s is two o’clock in the morning families can, you know, be reminded that the Maternal and Child Health Nurse is on the line, and they can ring and get a real voice to that, so a wonderful innovation.
But what Maternal and Child Health do is that they basically connect with families.And Maternal and Child Health in Victoria, have a really, really great way of first making that connection, because it’s actually legislated.There’s actually a birth notification system that goes to local government, that alerts the service that there is a new baby in the community.And all parents and infants and children are then invited to participate in that service, so we know where everyone is.
But then it is about engaging those new families and keeping them engaged, and coordinating and building relationships with other services because Maternal and Child Health are not the experts in all areas, and we do need to tap into everyone else so that we can provide the best service for our families. And that means actually, at a local level, knowing where those people are and how we connect and where we refer to, and that community strengthening activity in the universal platform, is a way that we actually do that.
But we also have to collaborate with other professionals so that we have a really good working relationship, and that includes general practitioners, family services workers, people working in supported playgroups and community playgroups, kindergartens and even with Child Protection. And we have to be very clear that we know what our real roles are and what everyone else is doing, to make sure that we hit the mark with parents.
But just a little reminder about how many parents we see in Victoria, and this is our latest stats that we have collated.We actually see in the first year, 95% of parents across the state.And even by three and a half years we’re still seeing over 63%, very powerful.
The Enhance Service at the moment is seeing 1200 individual families even if they’re just working in that 10% zero to 12 months, but will go up to actual 15% zero to three, and then probably it’ll be 37 - estimated to be 37 families that will get that support. But have a look at how much the lines do, 90,000 calls a year, and it’s incredible the support that can be provided, and the direction that can be provided to parents with parenting.
But when we actually look at our vulnerable families, our families who need that extra support, we actually have that universal service running along there all the time, supported 24 hours by the Maternal and Child Health Line, but we also have our Enhance Program. It’s a more targeted program that actually looks at what the strengths of families are, but also their additional needs. And we have the ability to collaborate, coordinate, and connect families with services that are going to be very good for them.
And we know that the most powerful influence on children’s development is the quality of the parenting they receive, and the quality and the nature of those home learning environments. And when we look at maternal and child health, they’ve got the ability, like we’ve got around 80,000 birth notifications each year in Victoria, there’s 80,000 home visits, first home visits that occur in Victoria. Nurses in Victoria see the home, they know exactly what it looks like. So we’ve got a really powerful environment where we can do that.
These are the things for good outcomes of children that we know that they need, and Maternal and Child Health can as a service, but also a provision of moving families along the early years continuum, can actually provide these outcomes for families.
And when we look at what they do, we can look at supportive programs that we go in, in the Enhanced Program, but we also can look at supportive programs across the continuum that can assist parents, and particularly supported playgroups and making sure that children actually access the next chronological area that they need to progress to going to school, and that includes early start kindergarten and the year before kindergarten.
And I recently – have spent 17 years working at the City of Wodonga, where Wodonga have a very strong early years platform, and this was the design of the early years in Wodonga with the very much universal Maternal and Child Health moving through there, but supported by the additional programs on a chronological basis to children going to school, and including the secondary and tertiary supports, and also the networking groups that are needed to make it happen. And interestingly enough, when we look at the AEDC data of a very strong early years program, we can actually see that the vulnerability on one or more domains, or two or more domains in Wodonga from 2009 to 2015, actually had that declining trend line, which is a wonderful outcome.
But I must say, that over in Victoria we do have a very strong platform of early years, and I think it is us working together, and communicating together, collaborating together, that we can actually provide the most meshed in service system that’s going provide the best outcomes. And I don’t think that there’s any mistake that Victoria actually has the best AEDC outcomes out of all the states in Australia.
And I’ll have to finish there I think. Thank you.
Michell Forster: Uncle Kenny, a mature-aged Aboriginal man living in a mission, an Aboriginal community out West Queensland, where I was delivering Triple P, a range of Triple P programs over a view years, Uncle Kenny had come to quite a few of those programs that I was delivering. He actually came to three of the Group Indigenous Triple P Program for zero to 12, children aged zero to 12. He also came to a Team Triple P for parents of teenagers. These two sit at a higher level of our Triple P, at a level four. He also came to some seminars that I had delivered, three in fact he came along to. He never ever contributed a word in all those programs that he came to. He wasn’t rude to me, he would also dip his head hello or say hello. I tried to engage in conversation with him in morning teas, afternoon teas and lunch, but he never really spoke a word to me at all.
I’d learn a few things about Uncle Kenny through our local community coordinator, that he was the sole parent of his six kids, and that his wife had been taken by the grog disease. I also found out that a few other people in that community were attending the programs as they were mandated to do the program, but Uncle Kenny was not mandated.
It was about six months - I’d actually sadly, really sadly, come to the conclusion that he was just attending these programs to receive the very healthy IGA vouchers that people were getting at the end of the completion of the program.
It was about six months after I’d last seen Uncle Kenny in that community, I had been speaking with a few other people in the street, and I noticed him across the road talking to a young man who was probably about 17. And I watched him. It was a very brief conversation that he’d had with him. And he turned and he started to cross the road and he saw me. And he walked straight up to me and he said this, ‘I did what you told me to do’. I looked at him and I said, ‘what’s that Uncle’? And, he goes, ‘that’s my boy over there. He’s just come up to me and said he had to go to court next week. So I did what you said, I didn’t say anything I just listened to him. Then he told me had to go on Tuesday. So I said to him do you want me to come with you boy? And he said yeah, that’d be good dad’. Then he looked me and he had tears in his eyes. And he said, ‘that boy hasn’t spoke to me for over a year’. Make me cry now. So he said, ‘it’s really good isn’t it? That really worked what you told me to do. That boy is talking to me now. So I’m going to support him. I’m going to go to court with him next year’. Uncle Kenny thinks I told him what to do.
You see when we support parents with Triple P, we never assume the role of the expert. We allow the parents to be the expert in their own families and we don’t tell parents what to do. Triple P uses a self-regulatory framework. This is our model up here.
So what we know with Triple P is that parents who are expects, and positive parents on their own children and families, are the ones that can self-manage. They have the tools or the skills that parents can use to become experts on their own children. This includes deciding for themselves which strategies they would like to try out, and which best would suit them and their families.
Triple P also emphasises that each parent is responsible for the way they choose to raise their children. This allows for a parent’s values and cultural beliefs to be incorporated into what they want to see for the children in the long-term and in the short-term.
So parents select those aspects on their own, of their own and their child’s behaviours they wish to work on, and the goals they wish to work on, to specific parenting and child management techniques they wish to implement and self-evaluate.
What was Uncle Kenny thinking? They’re all so confident. We also know that parents who are experts, or positive parents are confident. There’s a parental self-efficacy. Confidence refers to a parent’s belief in themselves and that they can overcome or solve parenting or child management problems. Parents with high confidence have positive expectations about possibility of change.
We also know that parents who are the experts, and positive parents take ownership. They have personal agency. Here the parent increasingly sees the changes or improvements, are because of their own or their child’s efforts, rather than to chance, age or maturity factors, or uncontrollable events such as genetic make-up or people telling them what to do, how to parent. Uncle Kenny still thinks I told him what to do.
We also know positive parents take ownership.Problem solving refers to a parent’s ability to apply the skills and knowledge they have acquired to issues beyond the presenting concern.It refers to a parent’s ability to flexibly adapt, or apply what they have learned to new problems at later development phases, with different children, and for a variety of child behaviour problems and family concerns.This means the test of whether a parenting intervention is truly successful, and is not simply the parent’s ability to resolve current issues but their capacity to address a diverse range of family challenges over time, with relative autonomy.I had not seen Uncle Kenny for six months.
We also know that positive parents are resourceful and resilient. They have self-sufficiency. As a parenting program is time-limited, parents need to be able to manage problems on their own, so they trust their own judgement and become less reliant on others in carrying out basic parenting responsibilities. Resourceful and resilient parents are self-sufficient, and have the knowledge and skills to parent with confidence. When confronted with a new problem they use their knowledge skills and personal resources to resolve the problem. Uncle Kenny.
Encouraging parents to become resourceful and resilient, means that parents become more connected to social support networks, and community like elders, parents, extended family, friends and childcare supports. It is thought that the more resourceful and resilient parents become, the more likely they are to seek appropriate support when they need it, advocate for their children, become involved in their children’s schooling, sporting clubs, and protect them from harm, effectively managing conflict with partners, siblings, and creating a secure low conflict environment.
We want parents to be the experts in their families raising their children. We want parents to be in control for themselves, to self-organise, to be successful contributors of their own lives. And we support our families to reach their full potential and thrive, in my experience this is what parents want to do as well.
Our people have been told what to do for a few hundred years now, including how to parent. How can we parent when we’re told what to do? We need to do this on our own. We need to raise our own children, with our own beliefs, in our own homes, in our own communities our way. Support is great to accomplish this, but we cannot manage if you tell us what to do, because it’s your way not ours.
So at this point Uncle Kenny thinks I told him what to do, and in fact I never told Uncle Kenny what to do at all. I was nowhere near that man that day, he decided that he was going to stop and listen to his son when he approached him. He decided for himself that the wasn’t going to get angry as he normally would and give him a 2,000 word lecture. I am guilty of giving Uncle some information, this is true, some tools and some strategies, but Uncle Kenny was on his own that day. Did I tell Uncle Kenny what to do? No I didn’t. He did that all by himself.
But I do wonder this. What if Uncle Kenny received these positive parenting tips and strategies to support him when his son was only two, or three, or four years of age, would I have been having that conversation with him that day, or would his son have been caught up in the system?
Tegan Bastow and Wendy Allan: So we’ve just done a bit of a presentation, so we’re from Yappera Children’s Service and we’re just going to talk about how as we as a service engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
So first I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting here today, and pay my respects to elders past, present and who are in the room.
So a bit about Yappera.Yappera was the first Aboriginal Early Childhood Education and Care Service to be established within Victoria in 1980.So funding was secured through the Department of Social Security, to deliver a range of multifunctional services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, including family support services, NCH programs, and a long day care component.So in later years a kindergarten component was also incorporated into the service.So we started off in a small building in Fitzroy and then we moved to a service that was purpose-built in 1992.
The Yappera Children Service offers a range of services for children aged between six months and five years, a long day care program, early start kindergarten program, pre-school kindergarten program and a January program. We are quite lucky to employ a number of Aboriginal staff within the service which helps support our families.
So the next two slides we’ll talk about some of the programs that we do to promote attendance, participation, engagement and retention within the service.
So at Yappera we were lucky enough to be part of the Koorie Kids Shine at Kindergarten Campaign. So, in these brochures they were all shot at Yappera. The Koorie Kids Shine in Kindergarten Campaign aims to help every Koorie family feel welcome and included when they walk into an early childhood service. The aim is to increase participation in kinder by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Research shows that children who have a stimulating, supportive and healthy start are more likely to do well later in life. The Victorian Government have made an ongoing commitment to provide all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with access to two years of high quality kindergarten programs, three year old and four year old kindergarten in the years prior to school.
Extensive research demonstrates that kindergarten programs help children with their language development and self-confidence.An earlier start, and more time at kindergarten, prepares children for success at school, and has a positive impact later in life.
Early start kindergarten is available for children who turn three by April in the year they will be attending kindergarten.
So in this slide we’ve got - we have the Victorian Aboriginal House Service. They come in and they run a Healthy Lifestyles Program within the service. So they focus on healthy eating, gross motor activities, and have a healthy themed program that they deliver to children on a weekly basis. Some of the topics include fruit and vegetables, eating healthy, drinking water, different sports, how to be sun smart. And up in that photo there’s a man in a costume so he’s Deadly Dan, and he talks to the parents about smoking and the affects it could have you your body.
At Yappera we have a cultural music and traditional dance program. As part of the program we ensure that a cultural component is incorporated. We were lucky enough to have Robert and Gary come to Yappera on a weekly basis, and both run a cultural program within the service. Both Robert and Gary are also parents of children that attend Yappera. It is vital that children are around positive male role models. These programs help the children with their identity and cultural safety. The children take great pleasure in learning through movement and dance.
We’re also lucky to have partnered up with Thornbury Primary School. So they offer a Woiworung language program from prep to grade six. So we’re linked in term four and go across to the school and participate in classes once a fortnight. Family involvement with incursions and excursions, Yappera organises whole service excursions where parents are invited along. This encourages family’s participation and input on their children’s learning, and also forms positive relationships between the child, educators and carers.
On a weekly basis we also have Hey Dee Ho (music progam) participate within the programs. The children, as you can see, they’re very interactive and they love it. They go home talking about the different themes they do each week, it’s different nursery rhymes. And they also explore musical concepts, so beat, rhythm, tempo, pitch, and the dynamics in every session.
Each program is set around a theme where they use props, puppets and non-tuned musical instruments to participate.
Yappera also runs a Bush Kindergarten Program. At Bush Kinder the children and adults benefit from using only what nature has provided. Yappera’s Bush Kinder Program was established in 2016. Yappera developed a curriculum in which children could lead their own play and learning with the nature. It recognises the place, the bush, and the significance of the land in Aboriginal culture.
So as a follow-on to Bush Kinder, so we actually ran it in a parklands in the Darebin region. So as a follow-on to that, we also have the Responsible Pet Ownership Program come in, and they educate the children about being safe around dogs, and I guess making sure that within Bush Kinder and within your home that you’re doing the right things with animals, and making sure you’re not going near them when they’re eating or showing signs of distress or anything like that.
These are also some of the services that Yappera offers, so onsite maternal child health, onsite specialist services, early child intervention programs, dental, general health, immunisation, speech therapy, nutritional resources and advice, and referrals and support.
So in the next few slides we’ll talk about community events and programs that we attend with the children, or that we run for the community.
So every year Yappera have an annual NAIDOC disco, which is a community event. It is one of the favourite activities for the children. And every year the community and families participation is growing. So Yappera also takes the children to community events throughout NAIDOC Week. So some of the events that we attend are the Collingwood Children’s Farm NAIDOC event, the VAEAI Movie Day, the Elders Luncheon which is held at the Aboriginal Advancement League, and the Victoria Place NAIDOC event; National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day. Children’s Day is held on the 4th of August every year.
National Children’s day is a time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to celebrate the strength and culture of their children. Every year the educators organise or attend events to celebrate National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day.
So, Yappera hold a range of family workshops and information sessions throughout the year, where all families are encouraged to participate in, and contribute to their children’s learning.We encourage families to share their ideas, skills and knowledge and to feel a sense of belonging and equality within our service.Yappera encourages families to attend these sessions, to build and support good relationships.
So in these photos it shows our group meal time at one of our family nights, and information centre - session sorry. This bottom left is one of the proud dads, and the bottom right is of an art exhibition that we had. And this, so we had a yarning circle which was really good. We had a few parents come along. And the bottom two are our Bush Kinder camp barbecues, so they come along and they get to explore the Bush Kinder setting with their children.
Yappera hold a Christmas Breakup Party to bring our families together to celebrate the year. This encourages the Yappera community to get involved and have fun interactions with the children and educators. This is one of the favourite events that the majority of our families attend every year.
And as you can see from the photos, staff we love to dress the part.
So at the end of last year Yappera received some funding for a family support worker. Yappera observed that there was a need for a family support worker due to the increase in vulnerable families within the early childhood sector. So as it is a new role, we - I guess we’ve been guiding the role to the family’s needs. I, myself, am employed in that position, but I’ve also got the seven years behind me within the service. So from there we’re, yeah, just really guiding and going by the parent’s needs and what they feel they need support in.
Thank you for listening to us today. We’ve brought some brochures and pamphlets if anyone wants to know more about the service.
Wendy Allan: So there is a question that I have got, and perhaps if each of you just give me, you know, what would be your top thing that you would say to this group, of qualified, you know, experienced educators about working with parents or supporting parents? Or what could they do differently with parents?
So in any order, just one thing that you think makes a real difference.
Michell Forster: Get Triple P trained, no. No, just never assume that you’re the expert when you’re working with parents, because we don’t really know what’s going on inside families, or with parents, or you know, or what good things they are doing. And I know when we - when I’m working with parents that they are doing a lot of good things, and sometimes they just need a little bit more support. And something I think also, that kind of pricks my ears all the time when I hear it, is I constantly hear people say I’m dealing with this family. I’m dealing with this family. And, we’re not really dealing with them, we’re supporting them or working with them. So sometimes when they might hear that word too, it’s a bit of a rundown, so yeah, just supporting our parents and letting our parents take the role as the expert and supporting them.
Wendy Allan: Thanks. Marcia?
Marcia Armstrong: I think the concept that it takes a village to raise a child. Parents are children’s first educators. But I think it’s about the collaboration that we have as professionals and service providers, and if we all are working together we can actually provide the best suite of services that we can actually support our community and have the best outcomes for our children.
Wendy Allan: Thanks. Warren?
Warren Cann: I would say that you don’t have to be a parenting expert to be able to help parents, that everybody in this room, whether they’re an educator, or a nurse, or a social worker, or whatever, has access to knowledge and information and ideas that could be incredibly valuable for parents, but all we have to do is pay a little bit more attention to the way we help. And I thought it was interesting the conversation really coming really true, the presentation today was the need to be able to recognise and support parental autonomy and choice making. We need to be able to find ways of sharing information with parents, but that doesn’t just tell parents what to do, and that means sharing information in such a way so that parents get to make choices, and get to apply some of the ideas that we might be able to offer them, but apply them in such a way is that it’s consistent with their own values and beliefs and what they want for their children. And I think in the future it would be great to unpack what that kind of practice looks like, you know, in more detail. What does that practice look like, because many of us come into our careers wanting to work with children, but we find ourselves now working with parents, right? And that can get a bit tricky. It can get - we can get tricky. It’s easy to fall into a whole, say the wrong thing, and you’ve got a defensive parent on your hands. So I know the Department’s interested in this, and I’m looking forward to seeing more work being done on how do we actually share the kind of practice that makes us more effective in working with parents.
Wendy Allan: Thank you.
Tegan Bastow: I think some of the strategies that we use within our service is to keep trying. Try different things different ways, and I guess having partnerships with different organisations as well, and having that information flowing and being consistent.
Wendy Allan: Okay. On that note I’m going to close this session. Thank you all for your attention and attendance. Enjoy the rest of the day. Please thank all our fantastic speakers.
How can I help language flourish?
- Helping languages to flourish (PPTX, - Dr Anne Kennedy, consultant, writer and research in early childhood education.
- Language Acquisition: Improving Children’s Outcomes through Professional Learning and Collaborative Practice (PPTX, - Associate Professor Patricia Eadie, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne.
- How can we help language flourish? (PPTX, - Professor Sheena Reilly, Pro Vic Chancellor (Health) Griffith University
Voiceover: This podcast is one of a series of recordings made at Realising the Potential Early Childhood Forum, presented by the Department of Education and Training on Friday the 8th of June 2018 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Our breakout session on How Can I Help Language Flourish will feature the following speakers:
- Dr Anne Kennedy, Consultant, Trainer, Writer and Researcher in early childhood education;
- Associate Professor Patricia Eadie from Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne; and
- Professor Sheena Reilly, Pro Vice Chancellor Health at Griffith University.
David Worland: Good morning everybody. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy weeks to join us at today’s conference. My name is David Worland and three weeks ago I was appointed CEO at the Early Learning Association Australia. So I’ve also had some time in the sector. You know, it’s all very new and exciting for me at the moment. I’m thrilled to be here.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we’re meeting today, the people of the Kulin nation. I would also like to pay my respects to their elders past and present and their elders from other communities who may be here today. And I think specifically to, you know, speaking on behalf of ELAA, the opportunity to be co-branded with the event and the long-term support of the Department for ELAA as an Association we deeply appreciate that, so thanks on that front.
I’d like to welcome you all today to the first concurrent session. And it’s focused on how we can help language flourish. We know that language development is a critical part of child’s overall development. It contributes to their ability to manage emotions and communicate feelings, establish relationships, and to learn to read and write. And language is both a vehicle for and a contributor to secure attachment.
Research shows that parents and early childhood practitioners play a crucial role in improving child language and communicating skills. The quantity and quality of language that children are exposed to, will have implications for their language and long-term development.
In this session today we are going to hear from three experts. They will each share their thoughts on how early childhood professionals can help language flourish.
I’d also like to remind everyone that we have an active social media present at the conference, and whilst we’d like you to turn off your phones and keep them silent, we have @detvic on Twitter, and I encourage you to share your conversations using the hashtags #realisingthepotential; #earlychildhoodforum; and #vicedu.
It’s time now to introduce our speakers. I would like to give a warm welcome to Dr Anne Kennedy who is a Consultant, Trainer, Writer and Researcher in early childhood education. We will then be welcoming Associate Professor Patricia Eadie, Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne, followed by Professor Sheena Riley, Pro Vice Chancellor at Griffith University.
To maximise time I won’t be coming back to the stage until the presenters have done their presentations, but at that time we’ll open the floor up to some Q&A. So without further ado could you welcome Anne.
Anne Kennedy: Good morning, lovely to be here with you. And this is the speed dating session on language development because I’ve got 15 minutes which is not much time. But I’m thrilled to be here and thrilled to be talking about such an important topic.
Helping children’s language to flourish requires those things. It needs knowledgeable professionals, collaborative planning, intentional teaching, and ongoing monitoring and assessment. And I feel like I was on the right page when I heard Sharon speak this morning in highlighting those four important elements.
It’s very important for early childhood professionals to be knowledgeable about the ways children learn additional languages, particularly in a country like Australia where we have hundreds of community languages spoken. And many of you work in services where children speak two or three or more languages. So the Victorian Framework reminds us that we have to understand about additional language learning and what that means for us as educators or professionals working with children.
One of the key pieces of research that’s come out of early language development, and I’m sure Trish is going to talk a bit more about this, is this notion of what we call serve and return. Think about the French Open, lots of serving lots of returning, and that’s what language should be like when we’re working with babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers and school aged children. So they serve we return, they return we serve. And it’s that two-way rich interaction that makes a huge difference to how children learn, how their language will flourish.
When you have the opportunity to be with a child and you’re engaged with that child, there’s some sort of little tips that can help you and can help ensure that those interactions are really meaningful, and they include clarifying and extending the children’s talk with some comments, some questions, using open-ended questions, adding your own ideas - oh I was thinking whatever. Thinking aloud, I wonder what would happen if you - showing real interest and enjoyment. And allow unhurried time, I guess that’s the hardest one to do is to find that unhurried time, but it’s so critical. We have to build that time in.
I can remember when I was a kindergarten teacher, the hallmark of a good kindergarten teacher in those days was how many tabletop activities you had, and the more you had the better the teacher. But what that meant was myself and my co-educator ran around like chooks with our heads chopped off, putting out the spot fires, trying to keep all the activities tickety-boo. Pack away lots of those activities, have some rich open-ended materials and you will have that unhurried time to spend talking in meaningful conversations with young children.
I guess the message is always loud and clear on this, but we do need to read to children. Their story is just beginning and they can benefit so much from daily exposure to books, shared, read, told, repeated, favourites again and again. Those of us who have read bedtime stories to children and grandchildren we get sick of them. True? And if you try and short-change them they let you know. They know you’ve missed important bits. That’s really important. That’s a real foundation for early literacy to know how a book works, to know about the language of the book, to know about the characters in the book and how the plots work. So read to me every day it’s so important.
I think when we’re planning for young children we need to think about group times particularly. We need to plan for one-to-one time. We need to plan for two at a time. And we need to plan for small groups. And I would minimise the amount of large group times together. I know there is a purpose for that and there is a time for that, but particularly for under threes I don’t see much value at all in meeting and bringing them all together, because the talk time will be your time not their time. So that’s something to really think about.
You need to ask yourself in your setting who does all the talking and how do you know that. And if we came in and we filmed you, and video record you, what would we - whose voice would we hear the most? Would it be your voice dominating? Or would it be the children’s chatter with the adults interacting richly and frequently but not dominating.
There is a suggestion that I saw from some American literature, that we could replace teachers with a device. Well that’s a worry, because the device can’t do the rich quality and quantity of interactions and conversations and talk. So we need to check that we don’t run the risk of being replaceable with a device if we don’t do that kind of unhurried talk, small talk with young children.
An excellent way to promote talking for children is to use puppets. And you can use puppets with very young children and right through into the school. They encourage creative language. They encourage thinking. They encourage concepts and vocab. And they can be very good for children who are finding - who are learning English as an additional language too because they can switch in and out of their home language and into English more confidently.
I think you need to build a toolkit of language games. When I trained initially, and it’s so long ago, we had to have a whole folder completely full of language - what we called language games. And I don’t - that’s not the work now of universities, you don’t have time for that kind of practical work, but I would encourage every educator and professional to have a toolkit of language games which start off simply with babies and toddlers, face games, finger plays, those sorts of things. And then build up into other more complex games like magic bag. So we had something in the bag and you say, ‘I’ve got something in my bag and it’s round and it’s soft’. And let the child have a guess, no, it’s not that, it’s round and soft and it’s got two ears. And let the child - and that sort of thing. And I went shopping, great one to play in the car too, I went shopping and I bought milk. And the next person says I went shopping and I bought milk and carrots. And just see how far - good for memory, good for cognitive flexibility, but also good for language. And charades, another good game. I’ve just listed that small number but you need a whole repertoire that you can draw on at all the - across the day, across the week, across the year, with any age group.
I think we need to look for language opportunities in every day. Somebody sent me this photo. I was asking for a photo and I thought it was a child on a poker machine. I really did. I got such a fright. I thought why have they sent me one of a child on a poker machine. I don’t think I can use that. I don’t think that’s appropriate. But it’s actually a child at the checkout and, you know, which I’ve just, actually I have to confess, I’ve only just learnt to do because I got frustrated with the queues at Coles. It’s actually quite clever. And our children are growing up with this of course, they’re digital natives, they understand all this technology. They’re swiping when they’re bubbies. Hand them a phone and they’ll swipe and they’ll do this sort of thing. And it’s great for literacy, good for language, particularly if you engage with them. So cooking, shopping, washing clothes, everything has potential for language and for interactions.
Dramatic plays have been at kind of at the bedrock of early childhood program and curriculum. And it’s there for a whole lot of reasons, it’s why early founders of early childhood, the kind of gurus of our sector way, way back, why they promoted it, because they knew it could develop children holistically, particular in language and literacy. I think it’s hard as an educator to find the balance. You do have to find the balance between being in that play and supporting the language and the learning, and being out of the play and doing the deep observation that Sharon was talking about this morning, where we really observe children and listen and hear what they’re saying, and what they know, and how we might then build on that and share that with their families.
We have to encourage the story lines and the plots, the characters, the concepts, and the vocab. Sometimes the play gets stale or repetitive, or the superheros start to get quite aggressive. Though I wouldn’t ban the superheroes but I would rechannel or reframe the play so that it’s productive.
I remember having a friend who was teaching when the - is it the Ninja Turtles were in - and she had no idea what they were but the children were playing it everywhere. And as fast as she banned it, it would erupt somewhere else. So she thought well maybe I’d better watch it. So she watched it, and she rang me and she said, ‘Anne, did you know the superheros, the Turtles, were actually goodies’? She said, ‘I thought they must have been baddies because all the children at the kindy go around going arr-arr, like this’. So she used that very carefully. She just sat near the play when it was erupting and she said to them, ‘so what would Donatello do’? And the children, they were really shocked because she came into their world of that superhero play, and they didn’t know what was going on. How did she know about Raphael and Donatello and whoever else was in it? But that enabled her to redirect that play into something positive. How would they help? Superheroes help they don’t destroy. Well not the ones we want at kindergarten or childcare anyway. So dramatic play, we just have to hold onto that as a really important foundation for good work across the curriculum.
Some people worry that digital technology is one of the reasons why we’ve got an epidemic of language delay, and it probably is one of the reasons. But it also, of course, can support language learning and development. Can’t believe that I’m a great talker and I can’t talk. It all depends. I think the question, when people ask me I say well it all depends. It depends on the age. It depends on the apps. It depends on what they’re doing and when they’re doing it. It depends if we’re with them, if the adults are with them and engaging in the talk as they engage in digital technology. So we certainly should not be frightened of it, we should be - again that’s being knowledgeable as a professional, finding out what’s the research say? How can I support families with this issue too? And how can I ensure that when we’re using digital technology there’s plenty of talk happening as well?
And I think we’ve often avoided this in early childhood, in the sector before school, about thinking about phonemic awareness and its importance in literacy learning. And we shouldn’t, because it’s absolutely foundational to good literacy, and it begins with that learning about sounds. And baby’s learn to recognise their mother’s voice when they’re in utero, probably their father’s voice or other partner’s voices that they hear a lot. And they know what sounds they like, and they know what sounds they don’t like. So that starts in utero.
So certainly at birth they’re very tuned in and very ready for sound and for talk. And you know, there’s fabulous books where you can see photos of newborn babies gazing at a parent or an adult, a carer, gazing. And mimicking the mouth. I mean it gives me goose bumps to see stuff like that. So we should be building on that intense interest to be social, to engage with others, to talk with others, to mimic our faces, and to mimic the noises we make.
I can clearly remember being in a room down at my beach house, and there are people here who have been to my beach house, it’s a great gathering place Janet isn’t it? And all my sisters were there, and can you imagine the noise, and I had a baby grandson. And the louder we talked the noisier he got. And we were, what’s he doing? But he could hear that loudness and the laughter, and he - it just inspired him, and he just couldn’t stop. Then he got so worked up, and then I had to do my good early childhood calm the baby down trick. But it was just - it really hit me then. I thought I must have missed so much of my own babies, but I hope all the babies and toddlers that I work with, and that I support educators to work with, get, you know, have that support and understanding of how important it is to respond to sounds. That tuning into discriminating between sounds, qualities of sound, all those things, we do not have to get into formal phonic education in pre-school or childcare. But we will have children who are ready for some of that, who will say that’s the sound in my name, or that’s the letter of my mum’s name, and we should respond positively to that. But we really do need to do a lot more work in sound discrimination. A lot more work in that, and that will lay the foundations then for that more formal approach when they come to school.
These presentations I believe are going to be made available, and I have listed some resources. The Department itself has some fantastic stuff. FKA Children’s Services, marvellous for resources to do with community languages, books, plus consultancy can help you. Harvard Project Zero fabulous for language development and other areas. The Raising Children Network good, very practical resources for educators and for families, and the VCAA of course also has some good rich resources. So we have to keep up to date, we have to be knowledgeable, and these days there’s no shortage of resources. And I should add also, ‘cause I’m sitting looking at ECA, but ECA also has wonderful resources that I’ve been part of, and I’m proud to be part of.
There’s no shortage of resources it’s a matter of finding them, and making sure that you and your staff team are up-to-date with current ideas related to language development. And then we will be able to help children’s language to flourish. Thank you.
Patricia Eadie: Just while we’re talking about resources, I should put in a plug for the lip language, or Literacy Teaching Toolkit, that has been launched for the primary years, and is very close to being launched for early childhood. And that contains a whole other set of resources around early language and literacy development. So that’s something to keep an eye out for.
I’d like to acknowledge how easy it is to come after Lynn Kagan’s speech this morning, and now Anne’s, because I guess what I get the opportunity to do is to unpack some of those strategies and some of the things that have been spoken about already.
So I think Lynn talked a lot about systems, and really this is where I wanted to kind of ground where I was coming from this morning. And I just want to do a little bit to start around child development more generally. And then I’m going to make some links to why language and why early childhood educators.
So it’s important to realise that obviously child development takes place in a nested structure. And developmental outcomes are the result of progressively more complex interactions between the child, their carers, the environment and the cultural context. And I think Lynn spoke to this system, and the fact that what we are talking about today cuts across both education, health and economics, in terms of our investments in the foundations of child outcomes, providing high quality early learning and development opportunities for all children, and by doing that we maximise health and wellbeing in adulthood, as well as children’s sense of themselves and identity.
We need to acknowledge that there’s great variation in the environments in which children live and grow. And it’s the interaction between genes and the environment that has the most significant impact on early development. And I know Sheena’s going to draw this point out a bit more.
Importantly, as Anne mentioned, play and human relationships form the common context for children’s learning. And that’s underpinned by secure attachment, and this relational piece, the responsive relationships and stimulating language and learning environments. And the platform for advancing children’s language is based in these relationships. So that’s really at the heart of what I want to speak about this morning.
Why does language get a Guernsey in one of these sessions? Well, I think there’s probably a whole range of reasons for that. But the really important thing, is that language we need to think of as the currency of learning. Language is both an outcome for children, but it is the tool by which they learn. And it underpins many, many of our skills as growing children and adults, and I’ve just put a few there.
Importantly, as Anne was just touching on, language links to literacy. It forms the foundations for good literacy development. And as children get older, those two things, language and literacy become increasingly inter-related. And language, not surprisingly with that list, is a really key predictor of achievement, and children’s social emotional outcomes.
So how is language learned? As adults we don’t actually teach language directly, particularly not to typically developing children. But as adults, we provide the input that’s adapted the child’s level of attention and comprehension. We reinforce their attempts, their early attempts to talk, and that encourages them to talk more. And we provide models and repetitions and expansions of their utterances.
This perspective is referred to as interactionist in the academic literature. But what it actually means is that children, these things will not be a surprise to this audience, that children are active learners. They’re predisposed for learning and particularly for learning language. Thinking and talking, watching and social interactions, is what enables children to make sense of their world and construct meaning. But the environment exposes the child to different purposes and contexts of language.
And research demonstrates that it’s the human interaction between young children and other people that advances their learning and development.
So Anne was right, we can’t be replaced. The human piece is really important. And I’ve got a link there that you will be able to see through the slides. I’m not going to show, this is a Ted Talk by a professor in the United States, but it speaks to the issue that Anne brought up about children recognising sounds and identifying sounds very early on in their lives.
So I’m particularly, if you haven’t already worked out, interested in the way interactions support language development in very young children.
Video screened featuring interaction between an educator and an infant who are blowing bubbles together and reacting to the activity with sounds and discussion.
When I show that video, we can often have 15 minute, 30 minute conversations about all of the things that were happening in that short piece. But it what it goes to - that little infant was 12 months old, just 12 months old, and it showed the intentionality. There were key features that were happening in that interaction. She regulated behaviour, and if I’d shown you the whole thing, she got even faster at handing the bubbles back to get more bubbles. She was requesting something to happen. She was interacting socially. She was smiling. There was, and in particular, and what I really want to draw on, is joint attention. That moment when she had the bubbles and she looked at Natasha, and they understood that what that was was bubbles, that was such an important piece of learning. Joint attention, that ability to get another’s attention, to comment on things, even without words to comment, is really at the heart of children’s early learning, and certainly at the heart of their early language learning.
So what comes next? It’s vocabulary. And there are some fundamental elements to vocabulary development. The first is the quantity of vocabulary that children hear at home, and in their early childhood settings. But it’s also about the sophistication of the words children are exposed to, because there are a number of less frequent or rare words, that really add to vocabulary, and the conversational support that we provide to those communication interactions. I haven’t used the phrase here, but Anne used the serve and return. This is about extending conversations, sustaining turns on a topic. They build vocabulary. They take children and us deeper into their learning and expand knowledge.
It sounds easy, it’s actually really, really hard. And to do that well takes a lot of focused attention on being able to do that in terms of adding vocabulary and grammar to what children are saying.
But I just want to drill down a bit into this notion of sophisticated vocabulary. A million words in English, most of us in this room have a vocabulary of about 20,000 words, well maybe not in this room but generally in the population there’s 20,000 words. Very few of those are these low frequency words. So there has been much work done taking into consideration the conversations between mothers and children, pre-schoolers. On average there’s less than 3,000 words in most of those interactions. But importantly, there’s only 23 of those almost 2900 words, are these sophisticated words that build vocabularies. 99% of the vocabulary we use with young children is from the 3,000 most frequently used words.
And it’s really important to understand this balance around quantity and quality, because quantity is important, but sometimes when we raise quantity, what we’re doing is just using those same 3,000 words. And so the balance is to think about how much we’re talking, but how rich that language is for young children’s development.
So when I speak to our teacher candidates at the University of Melbourne, I use this mantra with them. And we’ve all got slightly different ones. Anne had a version of it. But every day, with every child, in every situation language is used and they are opportunities for learning, and we need to maximise those opportunities as much as possible, because increasingly we’ve learnt that learning and development are strongly affected by relatively small shifts in the learning environment.
And I’m not going to go into those different models, but I think for many of you you’ll be aware of the home learning environment programs, the early childhood model programs, that speak to this point. I also imagine most of you will have seen these types of graphs around the 30 million word gap. And these are back from the 1990s in the United States, but they demonstrate that both in the words that children hear, the quantity, and then eventually the children’s own vocabularies are impacted. And there is this spread dependent upon advantage and disadvantage, that piece that Lynn spoke to around equity.
This is Australian data from the AEDC and what you see across the bottom are the most disadvantaged to the least disadvantaged communities, and this is language vulnerability. So across the whole spectrum children can be vulnerable in their language development, but what we see is the more disadvantaged you get the bigger the proportion of children who are vulnerable with their language skills. And we see this as well in their school readiness skills, in the things that are related to both language, concept development, identifying letters and sounds that we’ve already been talking about.
So if we know there are these differences, then it draws the question about equity. And I’m going to pretty much skip over this because I know Lynn dealt with it so well this morning. But the issue here is that we need programs and services and policies that are provided for all children and families, but with a scale and an intensity that’s proportionate to the level of need and vulnerability of individuals. And that’s what’s referred to as proportionate universalism. So all children get it, but you think about who needs more, or who needs something that’s a bit more intense.
I guess it begs the question about quality. And Lynn also spoke to quality this morning. And this is from the work of Collette Tayler and I’m about to show some data from the E for Kids Study which the Victorian and Queensland Departments partnered with NGSE and the University of Queensland to run that study.
But this gives us a sense a window into quality. And the quality that I really want to speak to in the next couple of slides, is the process quality, where the interactions are happening, where the relationships are occurring.
This is the E for Kids data, looking at the classroom assessment scoring system. Class looks at emotional support. It looks at classroom organisation. And it also looks at instructional support. And if we think about those, what we know both from this Victorian and Queensland data, but also this looks incredibly similar to international data, is as a sector we do emotional support and the classroom piece really well. But it speaks to my comment earlier about it.
We think language is easy to do with young children, but it’s actually really quite complex. And when we look at instructional support, around the world, instructional support is lower than those other two.
So, on the back of the E for Kids Study, in 2016 the Department, the Victorian Government, made a commitment to use the research findings that they’d partnered with, to develop policy and inform implementation that would actively support all young Victorian children’s health, learning and development. And out of that came the Every Toddler Talking research or initiative.
I’m going to do this very quickly because I think I’m very close to time. But Every Toddler Talking wanted to strengthen early childhood educator’s practice, to promote all children’s language and communication, identifying that this is a complex piece of work. This is complex work that we do with young children every day. Part of it was to create the opportunity for collaboration between early childhood educators and speech pathologists in particular. And ultimately, the goal is to improve those inequities we see in language and communication outcomes.
As part of the rapid review that was done by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the professional learning program that was wrapped, or was within the Every Toddler Talking initiative was Learning Language and Loving It. It’s a program, a manualised program out of the Hanen Centre in Canada. And it actually is a program that, as you will see there, is quite intensive. There’s a lot of professional learning. There’s a lot of individual video coaching that intersperses those professional learning programs.
As part of Every Toddler Talking, the Learning Language and Loving It - can I tell you that’s really hard to say too many times in a talk - but it was the goals there were mapped to the VEYLDF and to the National Quality Standards. And Learning Language and Loving It embeds the responsivity that we’re looking for. It embeds the extended interactions. It provides opportunities to practice those skills.
And so I wanted to share with you some of the findings from the educators that participated in this initiative and in the research piece around Every Toddler Talking, because it’s really promising.
I’m going orientate you to this slide first. So the solid lines are those services, and those educators who were engaged in Learning Language and Loving It. The dashed line were are set of very generous services who sat still for a while and allowed us to compare their practice to those services who were undertaking Learning Language and Loving It.
There are a number of different versions of class depending upon the rooms you’re going into and observing practice. Class looks at rooms. It doesn’t look at individual educators. It looks at what’s happening in a room in a service. I’ve only got one pointer so I don’t know which way to go. But I’ll try - that’s not the pointer at all.
So before we did anything, what we see along these parts here and - hopefully you can orientate yourself there as well - we’re looking, we’re seeing scores that look almost identical to E for Kids data.
We’ve got mid to high scores in emotional support and classroom organisation. And these low scores around instructional support. About a month or two after Learning Language and Loving It finished, what you see is this rise in instructional support. What we were really excited about was that we don’t have the comparison group here, but we went back another six months later, and on both tools, both versions of the tool, what we see is a continued increase in instructional support, many months after this professional learning package had finished.
So what we’re seeing here is that with targeted professional learning we can enable educators to actually get to this instructional piece, and to be doing it well. And one of the key things that we found - I’m winding up - is that in fact, where we had educators from a room doing this professional learning together it worked best. Having that collegial and kind of buddy in the room with you, to be thinking about what this instructional support might look like.
There are a number of things we could talk about in terms of our key learnings from Every Toddler Talking, but there were some really unexpected outcomes around the support families received once early childhood educators and speech pathologists knew each other. They started - it wasn’t that referrals increased, it was that the referrals and the conversations were more meaningful, they were more targeted, they understood each other better. So there was a lot of really positive impacts of the collaboration and professional learning at a lot of different tiers.
And so I just want to say thank you and leave you with that thought.
Sheena Reilly: So thank you Trish and Anne, it’s great to follow you both, and also fantastic to follow Lynne’s talk this morning, because I’m hoping that what I’m about to talk about is going to complementary.
So I want to just start by drawing a distinction between speech and language, something that people often don’t do. Speech disorders are really easy to spot because kids are saying sounds in rather unusual ways, or they’re saying words and you can’t understand them. We produce speech by producing sound, and that is shaped by our articulators, your tongue, your lips and so on.
Whereas language is how we convey meaning, and it can be oral, it can be written, gestural, signed, and we also need to think carefully about the fact that we have to understand language that is spoken to us, as well as it being our means of communicating with people.
I also want to set the scene about why there’s been increased recognition and interest in language and literacy. And this is because over the last few years it’s become increasingly recognised that we need good language, and we need to be literate in order to achieve our full potential. And there’s been discussion around the shift from brawn to brain, and I show you what I mean by that in a minute.
And having poor language and literacy 50 or 60 years ago, would not have been viewed as a disability. It would not have been an impediment to employment. But your language and your literacy skills are now highly desirable and they do determine your employment.
So if you have a look at this slide you can see there’s two lines that cross in the middle, and the crossed some time in the fifties. And what you can see is what’s happening to white collar service industries, and a rapid increase in those sorts of jobs over the last 50 to 60 years, versus a decrease in blue collar. And this is what I mean when I talk about the shift from brain to brawn.
Jobs that required brawn were very popular. And they were really a part of what our society was about. That’s really, really shifted. And what employers want now also is very different. That places demands on education, on student outcomes. And I want to bring that right back to the early years and talk about why this is a very important shift in how we think.
So the question that I’ve been asked to address, like the previous speakers, is how can you help language flourish. Well I think there’s three things that you need to do.
First of all you need to understand something about how language develops, what can go wrong, and why all of this matters. And I’ll come back to some of the points that Trish and Anne have made.
The previous speakers have already covered off on some of this, so I’m not going to do it in detail. But there’s a couple of things I really want to emphasise. And I want to draw your attention to pregnancy.
We think about language when kids start to talk, and when they start to put words together. Wrong. Language starts in utero. The auditory pathways in the brain, you heard Anne say this, are already being laid down. Children are orientating to voices. They’re recognising music. They’re recognising all sorts of things in their environment. So that is starting to already sculpture an infant’s brain.
By the time that infant comes into the world, those auditory pathways are ready to be enhanced and enacted, and that’s all happening in that early newborn period. And those very infants, as Anne mentioned, are able to orientate and recognise things that they heard in utero. And we know that through some really fascinating experiments that have been done.
And over the first couple of years of life, as you’ve already heard, the infant’s brain is developing at this unparalleled rate. It is amazing what’s actually happening. And all of that is being shaped by the infant’s early experiences. And this is the same for all development, but it’s particularly relevant for language.
Infants learn by observing, by doing things, by listening to speech and being read to. And when they don’t have those experiences, and they don’t have quality experiences in terms of interaction, they miss a whole load of experiences. So their exposure to quality parent/child interaction, the serve and return that we’ve heard about, play, exposure to books, reading, songs, social communication, all the things that you will hear about all the time are absolutely critical.
By three we heard this morning, that the infant’s brain is pretty well developed. Much of the structure and design is almost complete. It’s not finalised. Development goes on into adolescents, but there’s a lot that already there. So you have a really important role in shaping how these infants end up as competent talkers.
And we know from research, and this is a slide from [inaudible], that parenting and early childhood education is so influential that it really can moderate the impact of quite significant disadvantage.
Anybody want to guess what this is? Got to be some neuron pathways. Absolutely. That’s exactly what it is. It looks a bit like, you know, electrician’s wires doesn’t it? And you can see how intricate these actually are. And they’re all marked by colour because they’re all doing different things.
And if we move onto the next slide the picture at the bottom is a picture of language connections in the brain. And when you look at something that sophisticated, it is really easy to understand that little things can go wrong that cause quite major problems. And getting the architecture and the sculpture of that brain, and laying down the pathways for that infant, is really, really important, because some of the brain research is suggesting that if you miss some of those critical periods for laying down those pathways, it’s pretty damn difficult to go back and get them set again.
So we all play a really important role in providing the right developmental experiences - sorry I don’t know what’s happening here - and shaping the capacity of that child. And if we don’t that there are life-long impacts, and I’ll come back to that. You have to help build those neuronal connections and the architecture of the brain. And there’s strong evidence that your environment and your experiences shapes those.
So what can go wrong? Well I’ve just told you. It’s an extremely complex process. There’s lots of pathways. So it’s not surprising that things can go wrong at lots of different stages, it’s the nature of language development. And Trish put it beautifully, this is actually a complex process.
So I want to get across the concept of we have to have a process of looking at language over a period of time. We don’t just look at it at one point and say that child is not doing very well therefore so-and-so, or they’re doing okay so we don’t have worry about them ever again. And I’ll show you some data to suggest the danger in doing that.
What we do know is about one in five children unfortunately start school with poor language development, and that means they’re not setup to really embrace their learning fully in the classroom. And that’s data that we’ve generated here, a number of other people in Australia have generated, and also was generated out of the UK and parts of Scandinavia, so we’ve got a problem that we need to fix. Underneath that clearly there’s lots of reasons why some of those children are entering school with insufficient language development, but they’re behind the eight ball immediately in terms of their learning.
So I want to just tell you a little bit about the Early Language in Victoria Study. Trish and I worked on this many years. Somehow she didn’t go grey but I did. And this was a longitudinal study of around 1900 children that were recruited across Melbourne. And I’m only going to just talk about that first phase there, phase one. The little girl that Trish showed you is one of the subjects from this study that we saw at 12 months of age. The kids are now teenagers which is pretty amazing. That’s why I’m grey.
So there are multiple waves of data, and all I’m going to focus on is just some data from these early waves. And you can see from that snapshot slide, we collected data from the parents, we saw the children face-to-face, later we collected data from teachers and so on. We’ve got more data than we know what to do with, but it’s a wonderful dataset to have.
So the first thing I want to talk about is some vocabulary data. Some of you may have seen this, and if you have bear with me. And the first point I want to make is the enormous range that we see in children’s development. And Lynne made that comment this morning.
So we had children at two years of age who had no words, so down this extreme end of the scale. And we also had some pretty precocious children who had hundreds and hundreds of words in their vocabularies at two years of age. On average, children had around 261 words. Girls, you won’t be surprised to see, had more words than boys.
And on average they had around 50, so there was a much bigger range between the girls and boys. And these are all important things that we should be thinking about when we’re looking at children.
We were interested in the children in that sample who might get a label of being late talkers because they didn’t have any words or not enough words. And we wanted to know a little bit more about that group of children.
Now if you consult Dr Google, there’s 350 million articles on late talking, as of last week when I put these slides together, and 79 million them go on to tell you about what to do and when you should worry. And it must be a nightmare for parents and early childhood educators. And they’ve all got these titles here. And you won’t be surprised to know that many of them conflict in the sorts of information that they tell you what to do.
So we wanted to know about these late talkers. We wanted to know how many of them there were. And most importantly, what did it mean for later language development, because this is a major milestone that lots of people hang their hats on.
There were about 20% of the kids who are late talking, and we all gulped and got very worried at the time. And that means that these children have much smaller spoken vocabularies than was average for children of this age. So you can see what that means for boys and girls there compared to the average. And we wanted to know does this predict children going on to have later language problems, because if it does, wow, we’re onto something, we can leap in and do something about this.
But that indicator alone is not a reliable predictor of children having later language problems and I’ll show you why. And I’ll just show you one snapshot of information around the children’s early development trajectories.
So under the two year heading there, you can see the group of children who we classified as late talkers, and you can see the children who were typical talkers at that age. And then you can see what they looked like at four years of age. And the critical take home here, is that not all the children who were late talkers at four were having any problems at four. In fact 50-60% of them were absolutely fine by four years age. So if you were going to put resources into play because you were a late talker at two, you’d probably risk wasting a lot of resources on kids who might not need interventions.
What was really worrying to us, and we did wonder if we’d find this, is that there were a whole heap of kids who were in the typical talking range at two, who actually did have impaired language at four years when we saw them. So they look like they’re doing quite well in the early years, but that changes over time.
So there’s a lot of data that underpins this slide, and I’ve just shown you one small piece of it. We’ve looked at these trajectories later throughout children’s development, and in fact Laura Conway who did some of that work is in the room listening, but trajectory and pathways, whatever word you want to use, is really important. Children can start slow and they can stay behind. They can be behind and they can catch up. They can be on track and stay on track, and that’s the vast majority of children of course. But importantly, children can be on track and then fall behind, different demands on their system later in their life.
So there’s a really important message here about thinking about how we look at language over a period of time, and not take small snapshots.
I was thinking about putting a slide in here on behaviour, and low and behold Pam Snow has just written a wonderful blog on behaviour as a form of communication in young children and in adolescents. And so I’ve just taken the one sentence from her blog which was wonderful, “Don’t overlook the role behaviour plays as a form of communication.” That is after all how children start communicating. The behaviour and the gestures are a very important part before their systems are sophisticated enough to actually produce spoken language.
And remember that many children who are struggling with their language don’t show outwards signs like you see in speech disorder, it can be really hard to actually pick up that some of these children are having problems.
So why does it matter? I’m going to go back to a couple of things that Lynn said this morning, and the previous speakers have picked up, and I just want to hammer home these points. It matters because oral and written language are the foundations by which you learn, that’s how your education proceeds. And we know from longitudinal studies that children who start school with poor language are less likely to be literate and numerate, they’re less likely to finish school and to gain a qualification. The outlook for some of those children can be quite bleak.
We also know that they’re more likely to have problems with behaviour and mental health in the early years, but through adolescence and into adulthood. And unfortunately we know that they’re likely to get into our juvenile justice and prison system. And some of the studies looking at those populations now suggest that as many as 50% of those people have previously undiagnosed language and learning problems.
It matters because this is really common, and yet it’s something that you don’t know about. Everyone knows about autism, everybody knows about dyslexia. And Dorothy Bishop does the taxi test, she’s a Professor at Oxford University, where she asks taxi drivers what they know about certain conditions. They can all give you their opinion on autism, on dyslexia, and a range of other childhood conditions. They will know nothing about developmental language problems that are far more prevalent and as problematic in the longer term.
Trish has just published some really important work, and I just wanted one slide on this today, just to demonstrate that as early as four years these problems are having an impact on the children. And what Trish’s important data has shown, that already we can detect differences in quality of life at four years of age, as reported by the children’s parents. And when Trish looked at the children from four to nine years, we can see that their quality of life continues to decline. So we really have to pay attention to these problems.
So how can you help language flourish? I’ve said you need to understand how it develops, when and why it can go wrong, and also be able to think about the importance of why this problem matters. And you have a really critical role to play in the promotion of language development in its early detection, and then later in the management.
So I want to just talk about a few recommendations and things to keep in mind. Fluidity is quite common in the early years. Children do develop at different rates, and we have to keep that in our head. And I would pretty confidently say now, for lots of children they fluctuate and there’s no one time when we can be really certain about whether that early behaviour is going to predict their later language. So we need to check progress regularly, we can’t rely on single indicators. Be alert, but not always alarmed, and take note and see what’s happening, and the rate of progress that’s happening with the children.
I just wanted to alert you to a group of websites in the UK that I actually find really useful. I refer lots of people to them, lots of parents, GPs, early childhood educators, and they’re called Progress Checkers. And they’ve set up this very, very nice system where you can actually go and get some basic information about your child’s language. You can choose which age you’d like to look at. And I’ve done a screen grab of the 12 to 18 months, and it gives you a little guide on what children might - what you might expect children to be doing. And then you can actually complete a progress checker. So parents can do this. Anyone can go on the website and do it.
And for the 18 months progress checker there are 11 items that it asks you questions, and they’re simple yes/no questions. And this one is ‘my baby can point to many things when he or she is asked. Things like body parts, familiar people and objects such as cars, books and coats.’ And you just simply answer yes or no. And at the end it totes up your responses. I have purposefully answered no to many of those questions, and it then gives you some advice. And there are three levels of advice. Your baby seems to be doing well. Perhaps there are some things that aren’t quite on target, why don’t you come back and complete the progress checker again in a couple of months. Or this set of advice where I answered no to many questions, where it suggests that you might like to seek some help. I think these are really practical things that health professionals, and early child educators, can also log into as well as parents. This is UK orientated so it talks about UK services, but I think it’s got some real application. Everyone’s got a mobile phone, everybody can get onto these checkers.
So positive parenting to promote quality interactions, universal promotion, Trish put this much more eloquently than I have, it certainly enhances and it’s not going to do any harm. Quality early childhood education is absolutely important. Yes, we need to target vulnerable populations, but we also need to think about the fact that language disorder targets all children, and that disadvantage can make the outcomes actually much poorer.
And finally, just acknowledge my many colleagues who have helped put together some of these slides. Thank you.
David Worland: Thank you very much. Just sort of reflecting on that trajectory language thing and thinking I live with two teenage boys, and there’s a distinct drop off in the capability of those teenage years where it becomes grunting to most things.
Look I really wanted to thank each of the speakers today for their time and wonderful presentations. And I do have some questions, and if time permits we might go out to the floor for a couple more as well.
But I think, you know, quite often when we come to these presentations it’s great to get the theory, but I think, you know, there’s a lot of practitioners out there. And we talked about, you know, having a language toolkit. What are some of the things you’d recommend for the practitioners out there that they can put in their toolkits to, you know, make their lives easier when they’re working with kids.
Anne Kennedy: Well I think I did give some clues. I think you need to have a good repertoire of language games, and depending on the age group you’re working with, I think you need to know those resource places, the internet places that we mentioned, that I mentioned and that Sheena mentioned. We need to - I think you need to be on the lookout all the time for contemporary articles, magazines like Every Child and other professional magazines, Rattler etcetera, that have articles on language development that are based on the research. So if you’re up for it go for the more academic articles, but a lot of good articles will be based on research and they’re practical. They give you the theory but they give it to you in a way that you can understand.
You have to be knowledgeable. If this is such a critical area that underpins so many other things for children’s wellbeing and for their learning and development, then you need to know stuff. And if you studied ages ago, or even recently, there are new findings all the time. So I think that’s part of your toolkit.
Lots of songs, rhymes, poetry. I’ve actually got a grandson that’s learning poetry every week and can now recite poems. I thought it was a dying art, dead art, but it’s not. There are some schools doing it, and it’s really a fabulous skill to have for language development, to be able to say poetry and understand how poems work, and the rhyme and the alliteration etcetera. So just all those practical things that can - - -
Patricia Eadie: Can I make an addition there Anne, which is that there are so many routines within the days for young children that in fact, you talking with children during those routines is equally as important. So we have used a number of the abecedarian strategies with our teacher candidates at the Graduate School, and abecedarian speaks to enriched care giving. And really that’s about the language and the interactions, and the things we are talking about with young children through the routines. So yes, the toolkit is important, but there are so many times, washing hands, changing nappies, mealtimes, there’s - I don’t need to list them, but they are opportunities for language as well.
Sheena Reilly: Look, I would totally endorse that, both sets of comments that are made. How many times do you go into someone’s home and they’ve got every whizz-bang toddler, early year toy going, and what’s the child playing with, a bit of cardboard, pot and a pan and a spoon out of the cupboard. And, though you don’t need highly sophisticated toys or approaches, it’s about actually expanding on every - making every day’s activity I think a language activity.
David Worland: Well we touched, I can’t remember which presentation it was, but we certainly talked about the increased screen time that young children are getting these days, and how that may affect language development. I was just wondering, obviously they help occupy time, but it doesn’t provide the serve and return interaction. Now what messages should we be giving parents about this?
Anne Kennedy: Well I think it can provide the serve and return time. It’s about quality screen time. You know, we said the same thing about television, it was going to be the death of conversation. Maybe it is in some places. But again it’s about the quality and whether you’re interacting with your child, whether two children are interacting. And there are some terrific resources around recommendations of games and books and interactive. So, you know, I think we’ve got to embrace it. It’s not going to change. Where it’s damaging is where you see a whole group of kids and a family sitting around they’re all on their phones, that’s not what we’re talking about. You know, we’re talking quality interactions using different forms of media.
Patricia Eadie: All good early childhood professionals understand the balance. I mean a child sitting in the sandpit for a week is not a balanced engagement in the program, just as a child sitting on a screen all day is not a balanced life. Plenty of adults haven’t got a balanced life I think, because there’s too much of it. But I think, yeah, there are plenty of good options, plenty of good advice too again, on things like Raising Children Network etcetera, good advice. ECA has got a good policy document around wired up stuff. I think you just - you need to - again, you need to know. Because I think parents might be asking for that kind of support and advice, and you need to be able to either give that or to know where to send them for that advice.
There are recommendations about - from the paediatric people in the States etcetera about how much screen time, how many hours etcetera. But again, I think, you know, you have to empower people to make those decisions, things that suit their family etcetera, but balance is important.
David Worland: Obviously most people in the room here are working very intensively with children, and we’ve talked about the risks in developmental language delays. What are perhaps some of the signs people should be looking for in identifying those, and perhaps how can they, you know, have some of those difficult conversations with parents that might emerge from identifying that?
Sheena Reilly: I think there’s probably not one answer to that, but I think what it is about is observation and knowing the children that are with us on a daily basis and understanding a sense of what they are using for communication, because depending on their age there may be lots of gesture, lots of ways of communicating, the behaviour piece may be that.
Certainly the intentions of young children to start communicating begin early, and so if you have children that aren’t trying to get your attention, to interact with you, those are important signs.
Sometimes children’s behaviour, which is actually not what we would want it to be, is actually their way of communicating and trying to get their needs across. So sometimes the children that their behaviour is harder to manage, may actually be using that behaviour as a way of communicating with you.
And I think the expressive stuff is, you know, it’s a no-brainer it’s easier to pick up because you know a child’s not saying words properly, or you know they’re not saying words at all or putting words together, so some of those red flags that we rely on are easy to see.
What’s much harder to pick up in these children is whether they’re understanding their world, and are they really understanding the language that’s spoken to them. So that requires, I think, some extra attention to following instruction, recognition of items. And they’re the sort of children that, you know, you really do want to red flag, because the children who are having challenges around comprehension, understand spoken language, they are much more intractable problems to deal with in the longer term as well. Lots of the expression seems to catch up but the receptive language issues appear to be much more challenging.
Anne Kennedy: I think you have to, - in our sector you have to particularly think about the cultural contexts where children are being raised, because there can be cultural expectations around language and speech that can differ. And so you need to be conscious of that as well and check in on that, and ask for help etcetera, if you’re not trained.
Patricia Eadie: I agree. And with bi or multilingual children, they may - their language development in another language may be really quite advanced, so we have to also balance that out.
David Worland: We’ve probably got time for just one more question. I was doing a bit of preparation for today’s session, and reading the more recent census results, and we’re living in a rapidly changing society, a bit more culturally rich. Over 30% of our community were born overseas. 20% of our households are speaking a language other than English at home. And I was looking at our economic trading partners, eight of those 10 top trading partners speak languages other than English. So are we doing enough as a community to prepare our children to be more, perhaps multilingual, and if so what could we be doing?
Patricia Eadie: Well, when you travel overseas I always feel so ignorant because I’m monolingual. And in other countries it’s just the norm that people are raised speaking two, three languages in so many countries. So I think if we want that - if we want to serve our children well, if we want them to reach their potential as this conference is talking about, I think we do have to think about strategies, and policies, and funding which Victoria is doing, about how we empower them to be respectful of other languages, but also to perhaps learn other languages.
Anne Kennedy: And I think we shouldn’t be concerned about whether children speak in two or more languages is going to set them back. I think that myth has pretty much died, but it’s worth probably just reiterating that it is much easier, and really very - it provides advantages in children’s cognitive development to be learning two languages. And that’s the cognition learning part. But there’s also the social connectedness and the cultural context of them maintaining a second language.
Sheena Reilly: Imagine their brain pathways is what I would say. You know, little kids that can speak multiple languages. It’s just incredible. Yeah.
And I think I’m going to piggy-back on that and say and talk to your colleagues and tell them about these everyday situations and opportunities for every child.
David Worland: Thank you. Well I think we have run to time, I just wanted to ask the audience if you could please thank Anne, Patricia and Sheena for their wonderful presentations.
Welcoming, including and supporting all children
- Early Years Education Program - Aileen Ashford, Chief Executive Officer, Children’s Protection Society.
- Aspirations, Resilience and Identity: Using culture and aspirations to facilitate and protect the identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children - Professor Kerry Arabena, Chair for Indigenous Health and Director Indigenous Health Equity Unit, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne.
- Welcoming, including and supporting all children - Dr Kerry Bull, Senior Manager, Noah’s Ark.
- Our Children, Our Culture, Our Way (PPTX, - Miranda Edwards, Director, Lulla’s Child and Family Centre.
Voiceover: This podcast is one of a series of recordings made at Realising the Potential Early Childhood Forum, presented by the Department of Education and Training on Friday the 8th of June 2018 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Our breakout session on Welcoming, Including and Supporting all Children will feature the following speakers.
- Aileen Ashford, Chief Executive Officer at Children’s Protection Society;
- Professor Kerry Arabena, Chair for Indigenous Health and Director Indigenous Health Equity Unit from Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health at University of Melbourne;
- Dr Kerry Bull, Senior Manager at Noah’s Ark; and
- Miranda Edwards, Director of Lulla’s Child and Family Centre.
Mark Baigent: Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this parallel session. My name is Mark Baigent, I’m the CEO with Early Childhood Intervention Australia - Victoria/Tasmania.
I love to acknowledge firstly, the traditional owners of the land on which we’re meeting today, which are the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and pay my sincere respects to their elders past and present, and elders from other communities who may be here today.I’d also like to welcome all of you to this, the first concurrent session for today, Welcoming, Including and Supporting All Children.
And accessible and inclusive early childhood system is one that places children and their families at the centre of the services they receive. Making services inclusive and welcoming for all children and families, and capable of addressing each child and family’s need is vital to ensure that all children are able to realise their full potential.
In this session today, we’re going to hear from four extraordinary, highly experienced speakers, each bringing a unique perspective around early childhood services, and their understanding of welcoming, including and supporting all children and their families.
But before we start I’d like to remind you to follow on Twitter @detvic; and encourage you to join in the conversation and share your thoughts by using the hashtags @realisingthepotential, and @earlychildhoodforumau, and @vicedu.
And now to our speakers.I’m going to welcome four speakers to the stage in progressive order, each is going to give you an address.They will then take their place in the chairs to my right and participate in a question and answer session after all four have finished their presentations.
The four people we have today to speak to you are firstly Aileen Ashford who is the Chief Executive Officer for the Children’s Protection Society; secondly, Professor Kerry Arabena who is the Chair for Indigenous Health Equity Unit at Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne; thirdly, Dr Kerry Bull who is the Senior Manager for Noah’s Ark; and fourthly, Miranda Edwards, Director of Lulla’s Child and Family Centre.
So to maximise our time I will simply pop in and introduce each speaker when they are due, and then come up and facilitate the panel discussion at the end.
Can I invite Aileen Ashford firstly to start us off? Thank you Aileen.
Aileen Ashford: Hi everybody. It’s a big auditorium. I’d also like to acknowledge that we’re meeting today on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present, and those emerging.
I want to share with you today our Early Years Education Program and our journey with that. It’s a program that’s only for vulnerable children under the age of five. And it’s an Australian first in terms of a randomised control trial.
I just wanted to go through the rationale of why we set about on this journey, our model, a case study, talk a little bit about the research and some of the learning so far.
The rationale was that in 2008 the data from DHHS, which was family services data, identified that only 1.9% of children under five were enrolled in early years’ services. And CPS also did its own internal data analysis, and identified that only 16% of children were enrolled in early years’ services that were engaged with us. And 50% of eligible four year olds were enrolled in kinder. And we started to understand what those barriers to participation were. And I’m sure all of you in the room know what those barriers are, is service cost is a major factor for vulnerable families, sustained participation and inclusion, sometimes they don’t feel welcome in some centres. Sometimes they have issues of getting their kids there because of chaotic parenting lifestyles. There’s a lack of trust of services due often to their own past trauma as families. And there’s a lack of understanding for many of those parents about the really good benefits of early years education.
And what we also looked at, and we’ve heard about that this morning, and all of us in the room would know, the evidence of intensive early years’ intervention. You know, the impact of prolonged exposure to neglect and toxic stress on the brain development and the ability to learn for young babies and children. We know about attachment focused care giving as an intervention. And we also look at the trials of the Abecedarian and the peri-preschool models, and the size of that at risk population in Australia estimated at 52,300 preschool children.
We also looked at the trials of abecedarian peri-preschool which I just talked about, but those trials were taken overseas and with different populations, mainly African/American children, and of course in a different country than Australia. So that’s why set about developing a model to work only with vulnerable children.
This is an overview of the model.So, I’ll go from the grey box and around.So, the attachment framework is part of the model.Nutrition is a really big part of the model, so the children get two - they get breakfast, they get lunch, they get lots of snacks in between, but they also take food home, the parents take food home.
There’s lots of parental involvement and I’ll come to that in a minute. There’s a wraparound family services as part of the model, early years educational pedagogy, and an infant mental health component to the model as well.
So enrolment in the model is before the age of three, and children usually have a three year dose in the model, so they’re there for three years, some stay longer. There’s high staff/child ratios, so one educator with three children under three, and one educator with six children between three to five years.
The program runs five days a week, five hours a day, 25 hours a week. There’s all diploma or degree qualified staff that are employed. And there’s a team, a transdisciplinary team of kindergarten teachers, early childhood educators, a pedagogical leader, infant mental health, family services, our cook, and two early childhood consultants who have worked with us on this program, which is Dr Anne Kennedy and Professor Brigid Jordan.
There’s regular supervision for staff. There’s a unique education and care program based on the Foundations of Attachment Theory and Relation Penalty. There’s integration and joint case planning with Family Support Services. So many of the children coming to the service are referred by Child Protection, or they’re referred by other services like Family Support Services, Maternal and Child Health Refer, a whole range. So it’s an enriched care giving. It’s a centre-based primary carer for each child, and what that means is one educator is attached to one child in the room, and that is the key person that they go to.
And there’s purposeful greetings when they come in. And we heard - there was a little funny story a couple of weeks ago where one of the mums was having real trouble getting her child to the centre, and her little child said to her, ‘you know mum, they miss me when I’m not there’. We thought that was really smart that she had learnt that to tell mum.
We have a lot of collaboration with families during a unique orientation process.So families stay in the centre, they can stay all day in the rooms with their children, and they’re welcome.There’s a room in the centre that’s just for parents with a computer in it, a phone in it, they often go in there and make phone calls or look up stuff if they haven’t got computers at home.
And there’s a 12 weekly meeting that we have on the plan for these, the educational plan for the child, and that involves the parents in that planning. And so they get to see how their child’s progressing, what are the goals, and how we translate that back into the home. There’s also lots of home visits going back to the home with the parents as well.
So there’s a real focus on building alliances with parents to sustain their participation, make them feel welcome and involved in the education and care of their child.
I just wanted to give you a little snapshot of Corey, his story, of the sense of the children who come into our service. So Corey is the youngest of three children. He was injured in a violent attack in his parent’s home. His parents were asleep due to being under the influence of drugs and alcohol. And the attack was witnessed by Corey’s older sibling, and all children then were placed in their grandmother’s care due to trauma, a mum’s inability to keep the children safe.
There were concerns regarding Corey’s psychological and emotional development due to the trauma.
Mum was given supervised access, and dad did not have access. I just need to say that grandma also had four children of her own as well, so there were three siblings, Corey and two other siblings who were in her care.
Mum also gave birth to another sibling while Corey was in grandma’s care, and was reunited with mum after 12 months in grandma’s care. The children then witnessed another incident of domestic violence and drug use in 2014, so all four children were placed in grandmother’s care by the Department.
And reunification occurred with mum in October 2015, and now Corey’s been in his parent’s care for almost 12 months, a bit longer now, and DHS were closing and have closed. So a lot of the work with Corey was involving grandma, but also mum in the centre as well, and working with Child Protection to do some of that supervised access at the centre rather than doing it in a DHHS office. A lot of work was also done with Corey. He was very untrusting of adults as you can imagine, because of the trauma he had been through. So that role of the key care giver in a room was really important with him. There was a real transition from - he was in a young room, into the kindergarten room, a purposeful transition, and then a very purposeful transition into primary school.
And I just also wanted to share with you Sonya’s story. Sonya’s one of our educators, and this is a short clip of Sonya.
“This is the privilege that we have when we work with vulnerable families, is they actually open up to us because they can feel that we are not judgemental, that they can trust us to hold confidentiality, that we’re there to love and care for their children in the best possible way.
A particular family for that comes into mind when I actually first started at the CPS Family Centre, was a little boy who had some very, very challenging behaviours, like smearing faeces on the bathroom wall, climbing, swearing, spitting, urinating on adults as well. Now it was pretty scary for me when I first met his mum because she was quite an aggressive mum. This mum couldn’t stand having her children around her at all. She would virtually throw them into the centre. Her child had already been rejected by two other childcare centres, and she was expecting the same judgement at our centre.
My first time in the room, when I was left for lunch, was really scary. Here I was, 30 years of early child experience, I had six children in the room, and when I turned around this little boy was climbing up the wall, trying to pull down the phone, and the other children in the room were hitting each other. So that first week it was very overwhelming for me, and I wondered if I’d be able to manage working at the children’s centre.
But when we learned his story and why he presented this way, we came to understand that he really needed our care and our support to help him grow, and to help him become a good learner later on.
And one of the ways that I helped this little boy was by giving him actually a head massage. And when he ever felt stressed he would just come and sit on my lap, and then we would pretend that he was at a hairdressing salon, and I would ask whether he would like warm water, or cold water, firm massage, gentle massage, the smell of the shampoo. And then I would actually then give him a head massage over and over until I could actually feel his body had really relaxed. And then he would be able to go off and play.
This head massage could happen at least two or three times in the five hours that this child was at our centre each day.And over the course of four years with this little boy, we were able to integrate him into school.He was then able to learn to manage.
The mum changed. She actually started to value the children. And just recently she came back to visit, and she gave us a big hug, because she never felt that anybody loved her children. And we eventually became her family, and somewhere where she trusted us and felt safe.
And I’m here now five years later, still working at the children’s centre, and I’m finding it very, very, very rewarding.”
I think with Sonya what, in the five years that she’s been there, or a bit longer now, is that that work that she did was made possible by the infant mental health consultations, looking at what was happening for that child, looking at what was happening for that family. The supervision that she received weekly, supporting her in dealing with some of the issues, other issues that were happening with the children in the room, and also that low ratio of educator to client, so they were some of the things that have aided her to be able to work with those children but to get the great outcomes that we’re starting to see.
So we’ve also got a randomised control trial which I mentioned at the beginning. So there’s 145 children who participate in the program and the research, and that makes 99 families. The intervention group, so the children who are in the centre are 72 children from 50 families. And the control group is 73 children from 49 families, so, 64 girls and 81 boys.
What was interesting is that those parents really want to be involved in the research. They really thought that they wanted to do something that would make it different for other families like them. And the control group, the group who aren’t in the centre have stayed intact for the whole time of the research which is quite extraordinary. Researchers have gone and travelled interstate to go and see those families and connect with them as part of the research trial, and they’ve all stayed in contact which is quite amazing.
We also, not only the randomised control trial, we did an ethnographic study, and I just want to show you the results of this now in a very short video.
“Changing the lives of future generations of Australia’s vulnerable children, is the steadfast commitment of the Children’s Protection Society. To achieve this we provide new research evidence that can be of practical benefit to the early childhood education and care sector.
In 2010, CPS pioneered an early years education program at a purpose built child and family centre in a low socioeconomic high needs area of north east Melbourne.The EYEP targets children under the age of three who are experiencing significant family stress and social disadvantage.
To test the efficacy of the program, CPS commissioned both an Australian first randomised control trial and cost benefit analysis alongside an in depth ethnographic study into its three year minimum early years education program. Commencing in 2014, in partnership with Charles Sturt University, the purpose of the 83 participant, two year ethnographic EYEP:Q Study, was to examine the relationships and lived experiences of all EYEP staff, parents and children, as well as describe, translate and disseminate the day-to-day activities of the education and care models.
Using five data collection methods, the EYEP:Q Study pinpoints sustained parental engagement as the most important feature of the program. Parents are very positive about the program, and report increased confidence and skills including understanding and responding to their children’s emotions and feelings. Evidence from the study suggest three distinct practice implications for early childhood services working with children and families experiencing vulnerabilities.
One, take time and offer intensive support to gradually orient families into the program. Two, foster a welcoming environment for parents and include them in their children’s education and care plans. Three, provide high quality training for staff and educators pertaining to attachment theory, effects of trauma on children’s learning and development, and holistic approaches to curriculum and relational pedagogy.
For further information about the EYEP, please visit the CPS website or contact Aileen Ashford.”
So the outcomes of that study weren’t really rocket science, but really the strong part of that study was how involved and accepted the parents felt.
The randomised control trial, I’ll give you a very quick snapshot of this, commenced in 2011 and will be completed in 2020. It’s a long journey. The data time points are enrolment into the EYEP, the end of the first year, end of the second year, end of the third year, and then also researching the children as they go into prep.
There’s a range of measures, I won’t go through them, that the researchers are using with evidence-based tools, to look at the results.
There’s a background report that’s on our website. It gives a pretty good detailed analysis and characteristics of the families and children in the program. And it compared it with representative samples of children from all households and low socioeconomic status households in Australia. And the findings highlight that even relative to children living in low SES households, the children participating in the trial are really significantly highly disadvantaged, that was a surprise to us.
The first 12 months report is also being released and that’s on our website. And the main findings indicate a large estimated impact on the IQ for boys, but there’s absence of any other outcomes in the other areas that I went through before. But it’s consistent with evidence that came through the abecedarian project from those previous trials. So we think that the findings, although there’s a bit of caution about those findings, is that they’re encouraging. And we think that the second year report will be the report that really gives us a lot more data.
These are our learnings so far. The second year research is currently being analysed. The centre is where families come together, it’s their first port of call. Feedback from families is that they feel safe and welcome, and many families come back after the children have left and visit us. They begin to understand learning for their child. They take the strategies home, so all the activities are done in the centre or from all - there’s no new jazzy toys and things like that, it’s recycled things. It’s things, you know, cardboard boxes, those sorts of things. And they value the research which is what I said before.
There’s a high participation rate, so families keep coming, and children feel safe and nurtured.
And we know from our observations, is that children are learning self-regulation, and you heard that when Sonya told her story about that young boy. Relationship skills, a lot of self-confidence, many of the children increase self-esteem and they feel valued.
That’s me. Thank you very much everyone.
Mark Baigent: Thank you Aileen for that wonderful insight into CPS. Now, would you help me welcome to the stand Professor Kerry Arabena from University of Melbourne.
Professor Kerry Arabena: Good morning everybody. My name is Kerry Arabena, I am the Chair for Indigenous Health at the University of Melbourne, but also the Executive Director for First Thousand Days Australia, and so I’m going to really focus on that element of the conversation today.
My grandmother is from Murray Island up in the Torres Straits and great grandma is from Mabuiag, so as is our custom I too would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, acknowledge other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here, and also then to acknowledge all of you, our fellow Australians. Thank you so much for walking alongside us in these journeys forward and really putting at the forefront of our minds about the importance of early years, and the future legacy for our children.
So I’m going talk with you a little bit about the work that we’re doing around using culture and aspirations to both facilitate and protect the identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, particularly through time specific interventions.
And I was really interested by the keynote presenter today who talked about all of these different megatrends that are happening across both Australia within this region and globally.The other piece of work that I do is related to the doctoral piece which is focusing on human ecology, which is basically looking at human health and wellbeing in the context of ecosystems in which we live.And all of those things are situated within the context of the fact that we’ve actually transitioned to a new human epoch.So we’ve moved out of the Holocene which was around about 12,000 years long, and in 1945 a whole range of civilisation drivers including population growth, acidification of oceans, environmental impacts, means that the ways in which we’ve educated ourselves and things that we’ve aspired to, have had a geological impact on the planet and our planetary systems.And so for all of us all bets are off.
This is actually a prescient time in human evolution. We’ve never had to face these kind of complex issues or problems before. There have never been the manifestation of these civilizational drivers that should be at the forefront of our thinking through educational practices and what it looks like to be a competent adult coming into the future. So I’m going to just do a little bit of reflection around that.
So whilst I work in a university, I really do do place-based interventions. I was a social worker who did a lot of child protection work, moved into sexual and reproductive health. I did that for about 20 years of so. Ran a lot of community controlled health organisations, understood the importance of governance, and then moved through into setting up political organisations, and have now moved into a professorial role both at Monash and Melbourne University.
And so I think that one of the things that I do incredibly well is just sit in between all these different spaces and use them to leverage some good energy.And I’m also very much into co-creating with families and their children, this ability to imagine, to think critically about themselves and how we’re positioned in the Australian nationhood, as well as within the context or our own first nations.And so I’m cultivating subversive and undutiful behaviour wherever I go, and it’s good fun.But it’s really at the fundamental of participation and democracy.
And I want to make a reference here to the Victorian Government, who in the Lower House today, has acknowledged and is progressing through with the idea of Treaty. And I think that that is an incredible step in this stage to make those kind of associations and treatied, power-balanced relationships with first nations in this state. And I think it’s just a tremendous way forward.
These things are not easy to negotiate but they are important and they are legacy leaving, and I am so proud of this community here, and what it is that they’ve been able to garner and use to strengthen their position in navigating their ways, and negotiating good outcomes for all of their peoples, it’s just wonderful.
So I really do look at how, not only we can transform our lives, but understand how we become transformed in the interaction with them and those videos that you showed I think was a really beautiful way of being able to express that.
All of our work through First Thousand Days Australia is under the governance of some wonderful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander thought leaders.And this is a really critical point for us, is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are not just clients of services, or we’re not aspiring to citizenship in an Australian nationhood sense.What we’re really interested in is being thought about and conceived of as thought leaders, wisdom holders, who have been able to maintain ecosystems on this continent in a managed state of equilibrium for over 60,000 years, that’s no mean feat considering the environmental impacts now of 200 plus years of Australian nationhood.
And I’m really interested by the fact that the first institution that created the Australian nation was in fact a penal colony, and that your ways of being represented in that at the beginning outset of the Australian nation was to have to both children, women and men well represented in penal colonies. And now for our communities who had no need for prisons, or being imprisoned, that we’re now as represented in that really important piece of nation building infrastructure in ways that have been unprecedented. And what we’re really deeply concerned for, and one of the genesis points of conceiving of this way of thinking through these big issues about time-specific interventions, is that we’ve got a lot of our children now who are highly institutionalised all the way through their lives. So from early childhood service centres all the way through to aging, and gerontology and being cared for in the facility of institutions that is new and unprecedented for our families. We did all of our care within the context of extended families, non-biological extended kinship systems. And then the other thing that’s really critical about that is a point that I’ve just forgotten.
Oh well, it’ll come back to me and I’ll share it perhaps later.
The other thing that’s really critical for all of us is this idea of elder wisdom, and elder-led traditions.We do not privilege the leadership of young people as much as we do privilege the idea and the incredible through leadership of our elders.
So I am very happy to be amongst this incredible group of people leading this conversation, and the ways in which they’ve been able to gift us some tremendous pieces of work has been very profound.
So the way that we think about our vision is that all children have a right to be cared for through culture, connection and love. We’re not talking about vulnerable children, we just say that this is what it is. And in terms of the equity, and the purpose of being a parent, is to be able to provide these sorts of circumstances.
Every child is a gift to their family and future elder, so we talk to people about - we’re not just birthing babies we’re actually birthing elders. The way that we carry our children in our bodies is a sacred responsibility. And the way that we engage with our partners and our men during that period of time, actually determines for us all the characteristics and qualities of our future elders.
We’ve got a Charter for the Rights of Children Yet to be Conceived, which is very much focusing on the preconception phase, so thinking about what kinds of things will facilitate and enable good, strong cultural parenting, that’s going to give our children the best opportunity to engage with their culture in a powerful way.
And then the other thing that I am completely sick to death of, is the ways in which our men, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, are often reported in the public policy and affairs that are not our own. And that is often as perpetrators of violence, people who leave their partners, gamblers, people who harm their children. And so, a lot of the short courses that we do, we’ve written about the role and responsibilities of our men, and we’ve called them back to us and we’ve really talked about our hopes and aspirations for their roles and responsibilities, and how actually it wasn’t all women’s business during this period of time, that there were very important roles that men played in making sure that these first thousand days were beneficial to everyone involved. And that came about from providing lean protein sources of meat during the pregnancy. They also carved coolamons and sang it full of good songs and strong wishes for their children, when those children were carried out of the women’s camps and they were presented to their grandfathers who had the responsibilities and roles of welcoming them to their families. And so there is this incredibly important gendered response that is often made invisible when we talk about child and maternal health services, when we really focus on and privilege the biological carrying of children in women, without understanding the social and cultural contexts of their relationships in a home. And so for us, these sorts of things have come through really powerfully, and they provide for us the principles upon which we do our work.
The other thing is that’s really important for us, is not only are we evidence-based, but we’re generating a lot of evidence as well. So recently The Lancet came out with an important paper on the power of adolescent health, and the powerful impact that good adolescent health has on early childhood outcomes. And so what we’re doing is really focusing on this period of time preconception, to help facilitate the best and optimise adolescent’s health, so that when they become parents they are really prepared for that.
We also heard this morning again, about the powerful neuroscience and other biological and genotype and other kinds of emphasis that happens during this very important first thousand days.And what we’re doing now is really supporting families to focus on this period of time as a way of laying the future health and wellbeing for their families.We know that children need early stimulation.
They need to be played with, some read to, to build that cognitive capability.And we also acknowledge and build on the International First Thousand Days Movement, which is focused specifically around nutrition.And we understand then though, that this period of time and the combination of impacts has a lifelong consequence.
And so I first came into this period of time when we were talking about early onset dementias for people who were living in the Kimberley region and in a suburb out - on the outskirts of Sydney. And like many people I had an incredible amount of stereotypes. I thought it was all alcohol-related dementias, that’s what was going on. Yeah, everyone’s drinking and that’s what’s happening. Highly embarrassed by the stereotypes that I had. I had to go back and really revalue them, because it was all vascular-related dementias, it wasn’t alcohol-related dementias. And in fact, the best optimised way of being able to think about long health, and good quality health when you’re old, was to do work around what happens in utero, and the vascular development during that period of time.
So whilst we are focusing on this very important age, what we’re looking is the lifelong and life course consequence to that. So what we also do is a range of other activities to both stimulate and excite. So again, we heard from the plenary session this morning, think big, think different. We went all right then. And I also happened to have been on a number boards. I own a number of businesses. I do research. And, so what’s happened now is that this has become a way of being able to conceptualise of household level determinations of what those families look like. And we’re mobilising all these other resources in to facilitate an achievement of mastery within those families that give them confidence and capabilities to then look after children.
We also then only recognise culture as the policy that needs to be implemented to keep our families strong and well. We don’t need any other reports or anything like that, we just need an articulation of culture.
We also then have regional committees, and ultimately what we’re facilitating is self-determination. And we do homes, particularly in our partnerships with Aboriginal Housing Victoria, and the other housing cooperatives in different regions. We don’t worry too much about programs and services, where we actually go to is homes. And what we do then is use that, because we premise that our families are the sites for developing and protecting culture and identity, and the health and wellbeing of our children.
Very sadly, none of us are going to close the gap, we’re just not. It’s actually going to be the parents of the children who have the ultimate responsibility to close the gap. And we need to be able to give them as much care and support, and love them, so that they know how to love their children.
What we’ve got then are a range of different MOUs that are being developmeed with the Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Service up in Townsville, with [0:37:09] in Caboolture.Here it’s with Aboriginal Housing Victoria.And we’re currently negotiating with other places in Healesville and down at Mornington Peninsula.We have a range of regional implementation coordinators funded through from NH and MRC and the Queensland Government.We also then mobilise and use peer researchers to do the household level survey development and engagement.And what we’re not focusing on is the deficit discourse, I don’t care.I really don’t care about what people need.
What I’m much more interested in is what they aspire to and what kind of hopes and dreams they have for their kids. And then what we’re doing is actually working to hook people up with life coaches and mentors to help them to achieve their goals as they’ve stated it.
In order to build this work we’ve got entrepreneurial activities. So as a result of a number of our short courses now, we’ve got at least seven businesses on the go in Townsville. And this is really exciting because not many people want to engage with racist organisations, or go into spaces where they experience discrimination. And some people have told us that it’s been very difficult for them to get their children to early childhood centres because of the disenfranchisement that they feel within their own neighbourhoods. It’s actually difficult for them to leave their houses to get to you. That’s what’s happening for some of our families. And so we’re really looking to mobilise the $100 million that’s available through the Indigenous Business Association, for developing businesses, and particular around family empowerment strategies for that. We’re also then looking to take advantage of the 2% procurement law changes that have been legislated within state governments now, where all of the state budgets have got at least 2% of their entire state budget, that needs to be procured to, and given to indigenous businesses. So this is one way that we’re really starting to mobilise outside a welfarist response through service delivery activity, where we’re only recognised as clients of services, through into working on developing up businesses where we’ve got some control.
We’ve got a whole range of research activities, but predominantly we’re focusing on this multigenerational dynamic expression of family. And in amongst that we’ve got national and international programs. So I was again very pleased to hear that mapping against the sustainable development goals is important around being innovative. And we’re also then looking at some of the intergenerational work around where trauma exists and how it manifests, and particularly through microbiome studies, and looking at the influence of gut bacteria and health and wellbeing, and then across and between different generations.
We’re also looking at those epigenetics markers of trauma that travel through families. This has become very important for us.
So we’ve got an Australian/Norwegian collaboration with the Sami people up in the Arctic Circle. We’ve going up there on a number of occasions now, and they’re looking to build early life strategies which really focus on household homes, where people during their extended period of time during parental leave, can go for help and support. What I love about Norway is that they’ve got the ability to have a 12 week period where men themselves, have to care for their children on their own while their women can return to work. So they use these neighbourhood homes as ways of being able to access and get support with each other.
This is our Indonesian collaborators and team, and we’re looking at sustainable development goals in this first thousand days.
This is some of the work that we’ve done with More than a Landlord Project here in Victoria, where we’ve now got a Certificate II and a Certificate IV in Peer Researching. We take householders and tenants themselves, single mothers, people who have had compromised lives, and we give them a chance to come and do work. And it helps them transition into full-time work. They also now come and teach into my Masters courses. We’ve done media training with them. They meet politicians and they represent and help us interpret the data that we’ve got.
We also invest in regional research literacy.And this is some of the work that’s going on up in Caboolture at the moment, where we’re exposing people to engage with the workforce, and we provide families with maintenance support and life coaching as a result of doing this piece of work.
And what we’ve been able to do through Aboriginal Housing Victoria, is help 37 families achieve 200 life goals in a four month period, and that’s been an incredible way of being able to facilitate mastery.
What we also do then, is after we train peoples we give them reference reports. They give them ABNs, they get CVs, and it’s been a transformative experience for them and their children, and now the first year’s worker coming back to train and coach the next group of peer researchers.
We’ve done this work now all over Australia. We get invited to go out. And, we’ve trained up a whole range of people in First Thousand Days, and all of the different kinds of interventions that can happen in that.
And we’ve also changed our language.And, I kind of get a bit triggered now every time I hear it.But people, there is no such thing as a vulnerable child.No such thing.None of us should be in the business of giving anyone an identity.What we can do though is empathetically engage with the experience of vulnerability.
And we can also then resource them to transform it for themselves, that for us, is what it means to be self-determining. And this idea then around we’re not birthing babies, we’re birthing elders, and that life course approach about this period of time is really important.
As I’ve said, we work across multiple different generations, and we’re tracking through these intersections between residential schools, holocaust victims, that’s a piece of work that’s being done by a career researcher overseas. What she said was the survivors of those experiencing their first generation seemed to be okay, but the second generation, so the grandchildren of those people, are high in their suicidality. And so when we think about the experiences of the stolen generations now, and the high expression of suicidality amongst our adolescents, there might be something in that that we need to think about for trauma and how we do it.
We also, like I said, do this in biological and environmental work. We’re working with 12 families across three different generations to talk about the dynamic consent process, and what would happen if we actually had biological samples given the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics. But again, this is future proofing a range of work that we’re doing in this field. And what we’re really interested in then is how do we create confident adults? And confident adults, in our view, are those who can live, learn, love, and leave their legacy. And in terms of some of the Anthropocene in this transition into a new human epoch, what we’ve got to think about now is that our children born in 2017 are going to be 33 in 2050.
There is going to be 12½ billion people alive, most of them adolescents. What will their world look like? What’s their legacy? What will work look like? How will they be able to earn money? How will this experience health and wellbeing? What will families look like, and how will they be experiencing their lives? And they’re some of the things that we’re trying to get people to do that future proofing work on.
We’ve got a range of different strategies, and you can see there early life investments, particularly through abecedarian work, and accessing a whole range of different services.
And that’s it for me. Thank you.
Mark Baigent: Thank you Kerry. We’d now like to invite Dr Kerry Bull, Senior Manager of Noah’s Ark. Thank you.
Dr Kerry Bull: Thanks Mark, and thank you for the opportunity to talk with you about something that’s very dear to my heart, that is welcoming, including and supporting all children, particularly those children with developmental delays and disabilities, which I’ve been asked to talk with you about today.
By way of further introduction, this is me, top row, second to the left, when I was in a Victorian kindergarten back in the sixties. That’s my good friend Goori on the far right looking pretty surprised about the proceedings.
I show you this photo to reference that in a Victorian kindergarten in the sixties, this was a time when children with disabilities were largely not enrolled in these early childhood programs. Children with disabilities at that time were largely at home or in institutional settings.
The woman on the right is my mother.She was the kindergarten teacher, as I became myself in due course.Mum went on some, probably 15 years later in the eighties, to work in one of our state-wide early childhood programs, specialist programs for children with disabilities.And she was involved, along with her colleagues, in deinstitutionalisation.
The children at that time in that service, were living in residential settings, in a large institution. And my mother’s work, along with others, was to support those children to be back with their families, back in the community, living, learning, playing with their peers and colleagues.
So we have come a long way in my lifetime, but I think you will agree with me, that there’s a way to go. That we still have children in Victoria, in Australia, with disabilities who are eligible to attend local early childhood services but are not accessing that opportunity.
Inclusion now is clearly seen as a right, and this is in our legislation and charters both nationally/internationally. But it’s also seen as an intervention strategy. We know that when children are playing with, learning alongside their peers, this is improving outcomes both for those children with disabilities and for their peers.
I want to talk a little bit, and it fits in somewhat with the keynote, where we need to thank of a range of things about strategies and programs, and about systems and policies and so on. And I want to draw your attention to some work that was done, I think in 2012, where our two peak bodies, Early Childhood Australia and Early Childhood Intervention Australia, came together to develop a joint position statement. This was a really important piece of work, where the sectors came together to think about what is it that’s important in terms of inclusion and participation for young children in early childhood education and care. And how can we pull a position statement together that will help drive policy?
So this is a very important piece of work. The recommendations at the end of that paper were that it was reviewed in 2015, and that has still not being done. So I draw that to your attention partly to say it’s time for us to be coming together again and looking at this, to help drive policy and thinking about service provision.
I was asked when I was invited to speak with you today to talk in 10 minutes about the current evidence-base. So I’m going to give it a crack.
I want to draw your attention primarily to the strong evidence we have now for this understanding that little children learn through every day activities in natural learning environments. And this seems self-evident to us. But it really must be brought to our attention, because this has been a real shift in the way services have been provided for young children with disabilities. That is that the evidence is telling us that children don’t learn by being segregated from their peers in clinical settings, having treatments and interventions done to them. Rather they learn by being with the people who care and love for them by their daily interactions, by the daily activities they do at home, they’re learning at bath time, at meal time with family, at play time, as they’re getting ready for kinder, these are the rich learning opportunities. They’re also learning when they’re in with their peers in early childhood environments, when they’re down at the park, when they’re in swimming lessons, when they’re doing their ballet lessons. This is how children are learning. And it’s really important that we hang onto this when we’re thinking about inclusion and participation.
That is my son’s first painting. So because I have just a short period of time to talk with you about the evidence-base, I want to draw your attention to two documents that I think pull it together nicely for us. One comes from the early intervention field, and the other from the early childhood sector, and I think that’s kind of nice too, because we should all be working together when we’re thinking about this.
The first one is a document that was developed just last year, and it’s the Best Practice in Early Childhood Intervention National Guidelines. This was a piece of work that was done through Early Childhood Intervention Australia, and they very wisely went and talked to the sector, listened to them about what was important to them in terms of best practice guidelines. They also looked at the empirical literature, and they brought together a very nice piece which gives us guidance about the things we should be thinking about. And why I say it’s important that they talked to the sector is, that our understanding of evidence-base is not just about the literature, the research, it is about this triad isn’t it, where we think about what’s the literature telling us or the empirical research? What’s the wisdom and professional expertise of the sector? And, what’s the family’s preference and values that they bring to decision making about the kind of supports that they are wanting to access and participate in? So it’s that triad really that I think has been an important piece for this work.
So the Best Practice Guidelines, and I’ve given you the link there if you want to dip into it, is importantly they’ve got family right up there.This is what we need to be thinking about as our collaboration with family.
Inclusion and our participation, engaging in natural environments is one of their other key elements.
Teaming, this is about teamwork both within services and the kind of relationships that we have with each other, Early Childhood Education and Care, Early Intervention, Maternal and Child Health and so on. We need to be working together and we need to be focusing on building the capacity, both of each other, but also the families that we’re working with.
And lastly, universal principles, that having a strong evidence-based, and an outcomes-based approach is important to our work. And for those of you that are hear from the Early Intervention sector, this is utmost in our minds because we’re all in the middle of pretty rigorous accreditation processes at the moment, where we’re ensuring that we’re meeting the Victorian Early Intervention Standards, an important thing for us to be doing.
So that’s one piece of work I wanted to draw your attention to in terms of the evidence based around early intervention. And now I want to draw your attention to some work that’s coming from the UK primarily, Elena Soukarkou has been doing some work, thinking about what are the evidence-based practices for early childhood education and care settings. So, she’s thinking in particular about three to five year olds in terms of developing this tool, the Inclusive Classroom Profile.
Elena is based in the UK but she’s doing a lot of work with colleagues in the US at the Frank Porter Graham Centre in North Carolina that I’m sure some of you are aware of. They have a rich array of resources for us to be thinking about that evidence-based inclusion for children with developmental delays and disabilities.
The Inclusive Classroom Profile was developed as a quality measure really, to be helping us understand quality inclusive practices. But I think it’s got utility for us in terms of really digging in and seeing what are the practices that we know work, those high impact strategies? And here’s her list of 12, and I think it ain’t rocket science is it in terms of what’s there. This is stuff that we’re pretty familiar with and know is effective.
But what I want to draw your attention to is the family professional partnerships which just comes up time and time again. The evidence based around the work that we should be doing with families is so very strong, and we need to be doing it well. It needs to be the focus of all the work we do.
It would be remiss of me not to talk about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, because we are currently in this rapidly changing environment for people with disabilities, including young children. So for those of you who are working with young children with disabilities, this is a time when our service system is changing.
We can see just from this graph, about the number of participants as they’re called in the NDIS, that are entering the scheme as it progressively rolls out across the nation.And the COAG’s report that came out just last week that’s giving us data about how many young children are entering the scheme, is telling us that at the end of March there were about 33,000 referrals in Victoria for young children to the early childhood, early intervention pathway.
This is a lot of children and families that are negotiating a new service system. And it’s important for us to know a little bit about this wherever we are in the sector, to help support children and families navigate it.
So I mention the National Disability Insurance Scheme because it’s the system, the climate that we’re currently in.And I think when we look at the number of children and families that are now interacting with the NDIS, this appears to be a high risk situation in terms of how we support children and families.But I’d like to suggest that it’s also a high opportunity for us, that one of the core pillars of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is community and mainstream.
This is about inclusion and participation, and it’s really important that we hang on to that, and we fight hard for the things that we’ve been doing so well in Victoria, in terms of having a really solid, universal early childhood platform that interacts so beautifully with the early childhood intervention field.
So I would like to close on that note to say let’s keep working hard as we’re transitioning into the National Disability Insurance Scheme so that we can support children and families and each other well.
I thank you for your time.
Mark Baigent: Thank you Kerry. Last but not least, Miranda Edwards, Director of Lulla’s Child and Family Centre. Please welcome Miranda.
Miranda Edwards: Thank you. I firstly would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we’re here on, and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging leaders.
My name is Miranda Edwards, and I am a Noongar woman from Western Australia. I am from the Wiilman tribe of the south west of WA, and I am married to a Bangarang man in Shepparton and have three beautiful children.
Because of her I can, what a great theme this year for NAIDOC.My grandmother was part of a generation that was not acknowledged, had 17 siblings that were all part of the stolen generation.She shared with me recently a story that shocked me, that she worked on a farm for years for 50 cents a week.As I sat there horrified, she also shared with me her journey.
She was a foster parent for over 120 Noongar children. She was the Chairperson for the Catholic Education Office in Perth, and an advocator for our rights to a better future. And because her I can.
As you look at this slide, this family is amazing. The story that I’m talking about is Lulla’s Children and Family Centre. Esmerelda Bamblit and her daughters on this slide, and I love this picture.
The next picture is of Esmeralda and all her children and her husband. Lulla’s has been going for 10 years, but for 36 years Lidje MACS Childcare Centre and Batdja Preschool joined to become one of the first birth to kindergarten program in our region for indigenous children, a one-stop place.
The children of Esmerelda wanted to acknowledge their mum by naming our centre Lulla’s as she was funnily called as a nickname. This was because their mum always told them that education will get you out of poverty. Some of the children only went to year five, and now they have gone on to become CEOs, doctorates and amazing people of our state.
I’d also like to acknowledge Geraldine Atkinson in the room, she’s the Chairperson of Lulla’s Children and Family Centre. She’s the President of VAEAI. She’s the Vice Chair of SNAICC, and she’s an advocate for all Aboriginal children in Australia, so thank you Aunty Gerry.
I’d also like to acknowledge the Bangerang people and the Yorta Yorta people for allowing me, and give me the strength to teach and learn on their land.
Lulla’s Children and Family Centre has been going for 10 years. We have 13 staff, 11 of them are indigenous and two are not indigenous; 120 children. The vision is that all Aboriginal children have the best start to life. What we know is that high quality early intervention and education improves children’s lifelong outcomes across all areas, education, health and wellbeing.
Early intervention education is more effective, particularly for vulnerable families, when it’s a holistic approach, addressing children and family’s learning needs, taking into account the context in which they live.
Closing the gap in outcomes between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, requires a focus on early intervention and education of indigenous young children from birth and their families and communities.As you can see, these are all key aspects of our centre, that we have to have involved.
The Annual Health Day started eight years ago, where a mum came to me very concerned about a Centrelink benefit that she needed, and also an immunisation requirement to go off to school, that she said, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this’. So we got thinking, and I said, ‘I’ll organise it here at Lulla’s. I’ll get the immunisation nurse in and we’ll have a day to make sure every child is checked and that they don’t have to go through this stress.’
The first year we had 10 children complete a 3½ to 4 year old check with an MCH nurse and an immunisation team come and just do a check.The next year I thought well, we could do better.We could do better and invite the community to come along and make sure our children have this thorough check.The second year we completed 20 kids from our service complete the 3½ to 4 year old check.Over the years, this year’s our eighth year, but last year we successfully completed 78 indigenous kids from our community, not only Lulla’s kids, complete a 3½ to 4 year old check.
This form now goes off to any specialised service that’s involved in that day, or anyone that needs to be involved, and then it continues with their journey onto school. Some of the people involved in that is dental, hearing, optometrists, dieticians, doctors from the Melbourne Rural Health, Rumbalara Co-Op, and families - and MCH and the immunisation team, they’ve always been a part of the journey.
Some of the mums that come on these days say Lulla’s is a place where they feel culturally safe and not judged. Last year a Maternal Health Nurse shared with me, she’d never stepped in Lulla’s before, and she’d never dealt with any Aboriginal families, and it was a learning curve for her. She then said to me, ‘one mum came in and shared her story with me’, and I knew that this mum was very scared about going to see the MCH nurse. She was 21, pregnant and she’d had two children. None of her kids had been checked. And she said, ‘I wasn’t going to come but Miranda gave me the encouragement to come because she shared with me how important the developmental checks were, and so I knew coming to Lulla’s I’d feel culturally safe’. So that Maternal Health nurse walked away with, I can make sure that any mum comes to me, and in that situation, make sure that she feels culturally safe. So I’m doing a lot of work in Shepparton around the Maternal Health Nurses in their offices, to make sure when any family, Aboriginal family walks in their doors that every family feels culturally safe.
Our meals night, another parent - and when I look at all these services they’re around family-led and children-led, so our meals night, a mum came to me in a need of food. And of course, you know, we do whatever we can. And then I started to think, well hang on, one night a week at Lulla’s we can open the doors and feed our families.
And so I put on a meal - well I did a barbeque and I actually said to our staff, ‘I don’t think many people are going to come’. 50 families rocked up that night. So three years on it is a need. We have families saying to us we budget around that night. So in order of us having that night we can buy other things for our kids. It’s a social night. It’s where they can come. They don’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning at home. It’s a socialised - we’ve had families that have come and said can I bring my aunty, uncle, nans and pops? There’s been a night where I’ve just had the elders there and no kids. So it really is a key part of our service and a need for our families.
So you’ll see there we’ve had a range of services that we have in our centre, Communities for Children, the HIPPY Program, the Closing the Gap Worker. The Closing the Gap Worker was a key part of our organisation where not every Aboriginal child comes to Lulla’s. So we know that there’s children out there that are not attending an early year service or a kindergarten. The Closing the Gap Worker is based at Lulla’s but she works for the whole of the community. So this was an initiative from Communities for Children and myself, to make sure that families knew that they could access this worker and get them in the doors of anywhere that they could. Now we didn’t know how this was really going to work, but the first family she worked with was nearly on the brink of homelessness, had not accessed a kindergarten service. And the outcome four weeks later was, because of this Closing the Gap Worker, a home, the child’s in Lulla’s, and now getting all their key checks from immunisation and Maternal Health. So this lady, if this didn’t - if this worker wasn’t there we don’t know what would have happened with this family. She would have fell in through the gaps.
What works? Services are more effective for indigenous children and families when they are aware of, and address of their cultural competency, and cultural safety in our service delivery.
A key component of our cultural competency is the safety and often rests on employing indigenous works. It is critical that non-indigenous staff have the awareness on how to engage and support all of our cultures. Honest engagement and building trust, working with community, and a focus of empowerment and working from strengths makes a difference.
I just love these pictures and what we - it’s embedded into our curriculum. It’s embedded into our every day. And it shares that our children have a sense of identity.
So some of the key people that we work with with SNAICC - SNAICC, an organisation that is a resource to have, and are the advocates of the voice of our children.VAEAI - VAEAI is another key organisation, the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association.It advocates from birth to tertiary on education, and is key support and advice for Aboriginal children and education.
I am also the local Aboriginal Education Consultative Chair that feeds back key information to VAEAI, and works in partnership with the Department of Education and Training.
This is another project that I’ve been involved in, the Kaiela-Dhungala First People’s Curriculum.Five years ago a teacher from a primary school in Shepparton came to me with an idea, and I shared with him that I thought he was crazy.He said to me, ‘I want to embed local indigenous curriculum into our schools’.And at that time our two local groups, you know, they had their differences.And I said to him, ‘I love the idea but how can I help’?And he said, ‘let’s get together and consult’.Now consult took three years, three years of us to consult with our elders and our community.I’m not from Shepparton, so I knew how important that key aspect of getting this in.Again, with Tim as well, a non-indigenous person, he said, ‘if it’s not right we don’t go through with it’.
But after three years we were successful with having a group of teachers come on board voluntary to develop a curriculum and show our community, and show our elders, that if we embedded this into the schools, that our children would feel a sense of pride and identity, and our non-indigenous students will also be learning about the first people’s nation of Australia.
So now today we have over 300 teachers in our region that are champions. I call them champions because they all turned up to a training session. They’ve embedded into their school and they’ve asked for local knowledge. And we have 58 schools in our region that have committed by embedding this into - so principals have embedded this into their programs.
We’re now in the stages of putting an early years aspect in. We’ve concentrated on primary school to high school, and now I’m really excited to be a part of the early years being my passion. So stay tuned for that because it’s in the next couple of months that we’ll be putting an early years aspect into it.
So what needs to change? We cannot assume what works with families from non-indigenous can be used to successfully shape our indigenous programs. Mainstream services offering support without consulting or taking into account our cultural competency, cultural safety for our indigenous children, developing a one size fits all, assuming that as we as outsiders to participate in community know what will work best in our community does not result in programs that meet the community needs. And I read that to myself last night, and exactly, I, you know, I’m not from Shepparton, but I’d always respect and consult my community, my Chair, my board, the staff, they know the community.
How to significantly increase indigenous workforce in the early years, and in saying that train them, support them, and hopefully they will stay and remain in our community.
How do we develop unique indigenous service for indigenous families? How do we increase trust of indigenous families in the mainstream services? How do we support indigenous and non-indigenous people to move forward together in partnership in service delivery?
I will leave you with these questions, but also by sharing our culture and our story, hopefully these questions can be answered.
Mark Baigent: Now just bear with us, because we’re a little tight on time, but I’m going to, out of the plethora of questions that have been prepared for this incredible panel, ask one question.
And you’re going to have 15 seconds of fame each to respond to this.
So the entire focus of this session was around welcoming, including and supporting all children. So how do we build the capability of the early childhood workforce to respond to the needs of all children, to ensure that early childhood services are welcoming and inclusive? What’s the one thing that you would suggest? And I’ll start at the far end, Aileen.
Aileen Ashford: I think the common theme across everyone is that you work with family, and you include family.
Mark Baigent: Work with families, thank you.
Kerry Arabena: I’d have to agree, just - and all manifestations of family, so not just biological parents but those who actually are caring adults who want to be responsible for growing up children safe and strong.
Mark Baigent: Fantastic. Kerry?
Kerry Bull: For me, this is something that we need to be striving for. And there’s words that I’ve been hearing from all four of us around being respectful, trusting, non-judgemental, those words are the ones that we need to bring to our work with children and families.
Mark Baigent: Thank you.
Miranda Edwards: Yeah, building relationships and trust are the key with everybody, you know, in the sector, and the services as well, the Allied services.
Mark Baigent: Four 15 second bites of wisdom. Thank you so much. Would you join me in thanking our extraordinary presenters?
Being an agent of change
- A better early years system: towards holistic policy and practice - Charlene Smith, Policy Program Director, Mitchell Institute.
- Empowering professional to be advocates of change - Catharine Hydon, Early Childhood Consultant.
- Excellence in Australian schools through early childhood interventions - Professor Deborah Brennan, Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales
Voiceover: Our breakout session on being an agent of change will feature the following speakers:
- Charlene Smith, Policy Program Director at Mitchell Institute
- Catharine Hydon, Early Childhood Consultant
- Professor Deborah Brennan from the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW, Sydney
Ideas discussed during this session will cover:
- The importance of creating a more coherent and connected early childhood system
- The latest research and policy findings of the Lifting our Game Report and links with the Through Growth to Achievement Report, as well as how to empower professionals and leaders in the sector to work together to advocate for change and improve community awareness and understand of early childhood.
Jane Hunt - CEO, The Front Project: Good afternoon and welcome to the final session for today, and I have to say the best session for today. Yeah, see that’s good.
So my name is Jane Hunt and I’m the CEO of The Front Project. And I’m really delighted to be with you here this afternoon.
Now first I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners on the land which we meet on today, and that’s the people of the Kulin Nation, and I’d like to pay my respects to their elders past and present and the elders from other communities that are here today. I also want to acknowledge the emerging leaders that we have in the audience. So welcome.
It is absolutely fabulous that you are joining us for a session on Being an Agent of Change. Around this time last year the Victorian Government released the Education State Early Childhood Reform Plan, and it presents the government’s vision for early childhood. But to achieve that vision we need every single person in this room. We require that all parts of the system work together whether you’re delivering services, leading and managing services, whether you’re a policy maker, a researcher, an advocate, we all need to work together.
Some of the ways that we can work together towards that reform are by improving community awareness and understanding of early childhood, which is why at The Front Project we ask people to boldly advocate for the early years. And we all need to do our bit to deliver services that are connected and accountable and based on best practice.
In this session today we’re going to hear from three fabulous women who have very different perspectives on how we can do that. Now feel free to Tweet. You can follow at @detvic on Twitter.
And I also encourage you to spread the conversation far and wide, that’s what we’re here to do, using the hashtags #realisingthepotential and #earlychildhoodau, and #vicedu.
So we have three fabulous speakers as I mentioned. We’ve got Charlene, or Charly, Smith who is our Policy Program Director at the Mitchell Institute, give a wave Charly. We’ve got Catharine Hyden who is the Director of Hyden Consulting. And we have Professor Deb Brennan who is from the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW, and fabulous co-author of Lifting our Game, for which I think has been one of the most fabulous reports Deb.
Now to maximise time, and so that you get to hear from our speakers, I’m going to leave the mic to them. And so each will present, for about 15 minutes, and then we’ll be joined back together to have some questions and discussion.
So I’d first like to ask Charly to join us, and make her very welcome.
Charlene Smith - Policy Program Director, Mitchell Institute: Thanks so much Jane. My name is Charlene Smith. And I’m an Australian woman of mixed European decent. I was born on Bundjalung country in North Eastern NSW. And I grew up mostly on the Kamilaroi Track. And I now live and work on the traditional lands of the Kulin Nations. And I would just like to express my gratitude and how humbled I am to be standing here on those lands that the people of the Kulin Nations have cared for for so many generations and that they continue to hold with such beauty and such respect at I thank them.
So my role as the Policy Program Director at the Mitchell Institute involves heading up our policy team. The Mitchell Institute is an education policy think tank at Victoria University. We look at the research evidence and the policy landscape, and we work to improve access and opportunity for all young Australians to high quality education.
So this graphic shows us how important it is to improve the responsiveness of our education system. Around a quarter of our young people fall behind or disengage at some point in their journey through the education system. And for too many of them this continues through into adulthood. At the Mitchell we’re driven by the goal of an Australian education system that is excellent, inclusive, and provides young people with pathways towards future wellbeing and success.
When we’re thinking about policy solutions it’s with the lens of how to improve educational opportunity for all. How to identify and assist those who are missing out. How to ensure children are kept in mind. And how we can better design and resource policies and programs throughout the system so that children at risk of falling behind can be picked up and be given the chance to get back on track.
In the early years, from conception to school, children’s development is at the centre of a complex intersecting web of interests. I think everyone in the room can probably find themselves in one of these circles. Which part of the stakeholder landscape do you occupy? Are you a policy maker or a policy thinker? Do you make decisions about funding? Are you a philanthropist? Are you a bureaucrat in the government? Are you a researcher? Are you a part of the service system? Are you a part of Allied Health? Are you an early childhood education and care provider? Are you an advocate? Are you a worker? Are you all of the above? Are you a parent? Are you a grandparent?
The question about where we sit in this landscape that I think is really important, is are we going to be a sector or tit for tat? Or are we going to be one that has strength in numbers?
The Australian Early Years Policy landscape is almost as complex as the stakeholder landscape. This is just a little quick, really high level snapshot, of the Early Years Policy context at the Federal level, and it’s not even exhaustive. We’ve got Education, Health, Social Services, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Human Services, all of whom have explicit responsibility for some part of policy and program funding and delivery in the early years.
In the Education space this includes paid parental leave provisions, financial supports for families to access early education and care, provision of universal childhood - universal childcare in the year before compulsory schooling, as well as the National Agreement that codifies our efforts to ensure all children are accessing quality environments. These provisions reflect the evidence that in order for early childhood services to fulfil their promise, they need to be accessible, equitable and high quality. And that they also reflect the role of early childhood education and care in scaffolding children’s learning and development, relying on responsive engaged educators, and providing appropriate opportunities for children to learn as they grow.
We want to see ongoing improvement in early learning opportunities for Australian children, and one of the key ways to ensure this is to make sure we have policies in place that focus on maintaining and improving the quality of life that young children experience. But it’s also important, not just to think of the sector or the departmental string that we sit in, but to consider what programs and services are going on in other areas of government. Where are the boundaries between what we’re doing and the areas where slippage might be occurring?
At the state and policy level we see another complex area. There’s overlaps and intersections between different departments and portfolios. Here in Victoria there’s a great example with maternal and Child Health System which sits within the Department of Education and Training. In other states it might sit within the Department of Health. Our amazing MCH nurses provide support for families and children’s health, their learning and their material wellbeing. They have a complex role to play that cuts across different areas. It’s not just about early learning, it’s also about child health and development. It’s also about social services, and keeping an eye open to the holistic wellbeing and development of children.
One of the great advantages of having so many stakeholders, and such a high level of interest and investment in early childhood, is the potential for powerful collaboration and cooperation. The multidisciplinary approaches that can give us insights that isolated silos might not be able to achieve. But some of the risks are in the overlaps and the gaps. Are we making assumptions about other people’s activity? Do we assume another department is doing things we know need to be done? Or do we make sure? What are our lines of communication? We know no system is perfect, but we also know that shifting systems is the only way to shift outcomes for whole populations. And that’s why I’m really excited at the potential in the information sharing arrangement that the Victorian Government has recently passed. I think this has great potential to benefit children and their families, to save them having to tell their story over and over and over, and hit up against the barriers of access and engagement that can so often stop people from accessing services at all. And it’s going to be important that that’s implemented carefully, with consideration for all of the important protections and privacies that we know are so vital.
I believe that if we can shift from fragmentation to collaboration we will build towards growing impact and powerful, sustainable systems.
I think everyone in this room knows what young children need. I’ve just kind of summarised it here. All young children need to be provided with care and communication, with safety, with health and nutrition. And they need to be protected from abuse, neglect, toxic stress, poverty and environmental hazards. And you can see in this list of the things that children need, that none of these things are something that one service, or one service provider can deliver. We need to be working together across our disciplinary boundaries to make sure that children are met where they have needs.
A recent report from the World Bank says children’s early years offer a rare window for societies to make investments with extremely high returns. Efforts to improve children’s lives can significantly increase individual and societal productivity while reducing inequality. We know from the research of amazing people like Sean Coffin and Heckman that investing in the early years is going to have amazing returns if we can just get it right.
From the perspective of policies and programs we know what works in the early years. The strongest evidence-base is for pre-school programs, for home visiting programs, and for parent education interventions. Based on a huge bulk, you should see my desk, it’s covered in piles of paper. Like I’m very old school and I kill too many trees. There are decades and decades of research demonstrating to us that high quality early learning interventions help children. That high quality home visiting interventions help children. That improving the home learning environment helps children. But we also know that none of these programs in isolation can be a silver bullet. All of them have small to moderate affect sizes, which means that although they may make a difference, and they do make a difference on average for all children, they won’t necessarily revolutionise that child’s life. You’re not going to have a child in abject poverty suddenly hitting the absolute top of the class because you gave them a one year home visiting intervention. We need to work on joined up approaches to consolidate the gains and to sustain the benefits. We know that these interventions by themselves are not enough to close gaps. We need ongoing joined up efforts.
But the things that these programs can contribute to is better educational outcomes, better social and health outcomes, higher parental workforce participation, and better long-term prospects for children in their employment in justice, in health and wellbeing.
I’m a strong advocate for universal provision of these services, and why, because all children benefit from high quality early childhood - high quality early childhoods especially in early learning. Ensuring that there’s a high quality pre-school program available in every local area is the best bet we have to make sure all children have access to high quality early learning regardless of their circumstances.
All children need support and care to develop, and that doesn’t change just because of who their parents are and what their parents do. We know that targeting is an imprecise science. There’s always a risk if we only deliver targeted programs that will exclude children who should be included. Based on the AEDC findings from its inception and continuing to now, we know that about half of those children who are developmentally vulnerable at school entry come from the top three SES quintiles in terms of the numbers of children who are developmentally vulnerable.
SES does not equal disadvantage and vulnerability. Participation in early childhood education and care is one of the best bets we have for levelling the playing field and ensuring that all children have the opportunity to learn as they grow.
But do we need targeted approaches too? Yes, I think we do. But they need to be responsive. They need to be strategic. And they need to be child centred. It’s vital when we’re thinking about targeted programs that we maintain developmentally appropriate practice. The last thing we want is for children who we know are experiencing disadvantage, and who are in the greatest need, to be pulled out of our high quality services to give them their special targeted thing.
Some children will need to be provided with additional wrap around services at their point of need. Some of them will need more of the service they’re currently getting in a proportionate universalist response, same service, more intensity, higher dose. One service or program will never be enough. Some children have more complex needs and require responses from other providers and sectors. It’s so important that we know what those of our colleagues in the other sectors are doing and providing so that we can join people, and children and families up with the services that they need.
When a child comes into your kinder it may be the first time they’ve come in contact with services outside their home since they had their MCH home visit when they were a newborn. It’s a great opportunity for you to recognise their need and join them up with the services that can help them. We know that families at risk of adversity are less likely to seek help for their health, for development and for educational outcomes.
So ideally what we want to see is the child kept in the universal service and provided with additional provision, but also linked up with parenting programs, with Allied Health, with behavioural interventions if needed, social work, housing, mental health, alcohol and other drug counselling, making sure that we’re not expecting ourselves to be all things to all people, but working with the people who are expert in those areas to make sure that families are met at their point of need.
I am optimistic that this sector is on the cusp of lasting, powerful reform. There are shifts in policy and systems on their way, and they’re going to benefit out children into the future. I believe we can move from isolated initiatives toward united strategies, from competition to cooperation, from uncertainty towards confidence. Big reforms can happen. They can stick. And with vision and commitment, and working together, we can make change for all children.
Professor Deborah Brennan: Well good afternoon everybody. It’s wonderful to be in the great state of Victoria, the home of so much progressive change in so many areas, and fantastic to be in a session about being an agent of change.
I’ve been around this sector for a very long time, actually more than 40 years now, and I think I’ve been called a stirrer and a troublemaker and all sorts of things, but I’m definitely happy to embrace Agent of Change and be part of this discussion with you all this afternoon.
So Charly’s given us a fantastic overview of why a holistic approach is so important in the early years. And it’s really brought home, I think, the complexity of the early childhood policy landscape, and the need for so many people to play a part in advancing the cause.
So I’m also really pleased to have an opportunity to talk about Lifting Our Game, which is the report that I recently completed with Susan Pascoe. And I’m going to build on Charly’s theme of the importance of system change, and the importance of holistic approaches to early childhood education and care.
I’m just going to - so I’m not going to assume that you’ve all heard of let alone read Lifting Our Game, so what I’m going to do is say a little bit about the background to the review and its process. What we focused on in the review, what our key recommendations were, and then I want to introduce the theme which Catharine will continue, that Lifting Our Game as a report is just going to sit on the shelf and gather dust unless there’s some action behind it.
So let me then say a little bit about the review. So Susan and I were commissioned late last year by all the states and territories combined, which is a wonderful thing in itself, to lead a review into achieving excellence in Australian schools through early childhood interventions.
So the states and territories wanted a report that would really bring the early years, before compulsory schooling, into the debate about education. So this was occurring at a time when there was a lot of focus, and of course there still is, huge focus on school education. And David Gonski was completing his second report. And so what we were asked to do was in parallel to Mr Gonski’s report, and that was to look into the policy and practice interventions that would be most effective in contributing to children’s school performance, taking into account the range of context in which children find themselves in the years before school.
So this is not to say that school performance is the be all and end all of early childhood education and care, it’s most certainly not in my view or in Susan’s view. But it’s a very important piece of the puzzle, and it’s an aspect of policy that’s very salient in the Australian context at the moment. So it was wonderful to have an opportunity to think about it.
So the process of the review was quite a whirlwind but we managed to get around to all the states and territories. And we met with individuals and organisations representing parents, educators, unions, employers, providers, advocates, health and welfare providers. We also met with senior officials from all the relevant jurisdictions. And we had the opportunity to meet with them and gain advice from some fantastic experts. And we also met twice with Mr Gonski to keep him informed about our work.
In preparing our report Susan and I benefited from the assistance of a fantastic secretariat led by Victoria, but with input from other states as well. And with the support of the secretariat we were able to look at a vast amount of national and international data and research, to help us to develop a picture of what’s happening internationally in early childhood education, and to show in very practical terms how Australia could improve.
So our review recognises that really huge strives have been made in this country in respect of early childhood education and care, particularly over the last decade. But we found that the evidence from around the world about the benefits of high quality provision in this space, firstly is absolutely compelling, and secondly really points out that Australia needs to do a lot more to lift its game to take the title of our report. We really need to do a lot more if we’re going to give all children a great start in life, to prepare them well for education, but not only for education but for a happy and solid foundation for the rest of their lives. And throughout the day we’ve heard some incredibly compelling presentations about how the world is going to be different for young children, and why we really need to start early and make sure that all children are included.
So our report summarises a lot of the latest research on the importance of the early years and the benefits of high quality early education. We also look and provide evidence about the return on investment that is possible for governments. And I think it’s important that we take on board notions such as return on investment. If a government invests in early childhood education and care, they want to know what they’re going to get back. So we’ve put our toe into those waters though in a relatively tentative way.
And we also emphasise in our report, the opportunity for what we call a double dividend from high quality early childhood education and care. And by that we mean the opportunity firstly to generate improved outcomes for children; but secondly to support increased workforce participation. Setting those two up as alternatives or setting them up as childcare versus early education is so counterproductive, and we really don’t want to go there.
So I’m not going to speak today about our findings around the benefits of high quality early education. I know this is a very informed audience. But I would suggest that if you’re interested you might like to have a look at the report, because as I say, we did benefit from a wonderful support team that helped us bring together a lot of very current research.
So I’m going to just briefly speak about the recommendations we made in Lifting Our Game. And I think we made about 18 or 19 recommendations. I’m not going to talk about them all, but I’m going to talk about the big themes that we’re putting forward.
So the first big theme that we’re emphasising in terms of our recommendations, is imbedding foundations for future reform. So I mentioned a moment ago, and you all live this in your daily lives, Australia has made some great advances in the last decade or so, especially through the Universal Agreement on Pre-School Education for children in the year before school, and through the National Quality Framework, and National Quality Standard. But we certainly can’t be complacent about what we’ve done. And it’s time now, we argue, to consolidate our achievements, but not only that, also to build on them and extend them.
We heard this morning, and these figures are in Lifting Our Game as well, that Australia ranks 24th out of 26 OECD countries for our investment in pre-primary education. Australia invests less than half of a percent of its gross domestic product in early childhood education and care, which is well below the OECD average. So it’s time for governments to commit to permanent and adequate funding, both for universal access and for the national quality framework. As you know Australia went backwards in the recent commonwealth budget, when the Commonwealth withdraw from the National Partnership Agreement, on the national quality agenda, and that was very disappointing.
A second big theme of our report is the importance of moving to early childhood education for all three year olds. The research about the importance of more than one year is now absolutely overwhelming. And moving to this standard would make a significant contribution to educational outcomes, as well as having many other benefits for children’s wellbeing. Two years is now the international norm, and that’s our recommendation in this report.
But saying that all children should have access doesn’t mean that all children should get the same. And I really endorse the arguments that Charly has made, about the importance of additional support for some children and families. We know that the children who start school behind stay behind, so it’s really important that we invest additional resources in those children and families.
We think it might be possible to consider, as we’re moving towards with the school system, an approach that ensures that every child receives a baseline of support and access to high quality programs, while some children receive additional or more intensive, or more specialised services.
I think, and I think this is consistent with the way Charly expressed her opinion, I think that the debate about universal and targeted is, to a large extent, old hat. We actually need both.
Quality and workforce, now these issues are very important in the Lifting Our Game report, and we see them as two aspects of the same thing. There’s widespread agreement that a skilled and valued workforce is the major contributor to driving positive outcomes for children. But we’re simply not doing enough to make this a reality. And especially we’re not doing enough to support our teachers and educators.
In addition, some 25% of services in Australia don’t meet the National Quality Standard. And we’ve put forward some suggestions about how government might address that issue, particularly by using its funding levers to really ensure that all services do at least come to meeting the standard.
We’ve also suggested that considerable emphasis needs to be put in formulating policy on the development of a workforce strategy. And that would be concerning both pre-service training, but also professional development and in-service education and training. It’s really a terribly - it’s really a scandal actually, that Australia does not have an early childhood workforce strategy, and that’s something where we really need to pay attention.
Parent and community engagement also looms in our report. Parents, as we all know, are absolutely vital to their children’s early development and education, and also need to be informed participants in the service landscape. So there’s a lot that, not only governments, but other players in the field could do to improve parental and community understanding of the vital importance of the early years, but also to provide opportunities for genuine forms of engagement.
Under the theme of transparency and accountability, we’ve put forward a number of suggestions about data and evidence, and how we could strengthen the data and evidence base for the early childhood realm.
Now in terms of implementation, I think in the report as a whole we’ve taken quite a long view. And we acknowledge that good policy takes time to conceptualise and to implement. But we don’t have a lot of time to - we need to get started quickly. We need to recognise what things need to be developed slowly, and what things we can move on really quickly. And I would suggest that workforce is one of the things that’s absolutely urgent.
So this slide says discussion, but I couldn’t change it, I wanted it to say time for action, so really that’s what I’m saying. It’s time for action. Over the 40 plus years that I’ve been involved in this sector, I have seen enormous change. But the one consistent thread that I do see, as I look back over that period, is that change does not come about until there is determined action and sustained political pressure. So I think is the moment now for me to talk - to handover to Catharine who is going to give you her perspective on being an agent of change in this sector.
Catharine Hyden - Early Childhood Consultant: Thank you very much Deb. Thank you very much Charly.
I’m very conscious of the fact that I stand here before you talking about being an agent of change. And I know that I stand on the shoulders of amazing giants. And we’ve heard from those today, and we started today by hearing from an amazing giant, Aunty Joy Murphy who welcomed us to country. And all the way through today there’s be an opportunity to hear from incredible people who can help us understand the landscape that we work, and teach, and learn in. And I’m conscious of also the fact that we are gathered here with a whole bunch of people who have great expertise. So can I start by thanking you for all of your amazing work and contribution in this space?
Deb is right. I’m going to take a slightly different perspective on this conversation, and perhaps a little bit of a personal conversation with you about being an agent of change as a professional person, and thinking about how we can empower ourselves as professionals, to become strong advocates, and indeed activists in relation to the change that is before us.
I’m struck in this conversation today, and you’ve just heard a few little hints of it today, by the need to start action now. Now of course this does not suggest that you haven’t been acting all the time up ‘til now, but I do feel that we are now faced with this amazing need to act really quickly. And here I’m going to quote the amazing Martin Luther King. Last year I had the very good fortune of going to an early childhood conference in Atlanta, the birthplace of Martin Luther King, and to go to his burial site. And it was an incredibly moving opportunity to see how a man had taken significant action. And how he had gathered together the men and women of his own community to take action. I think his words ring true now. “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are now confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum”, and isn’t early childhood education as we’ve heard a bit of a conundrum, “of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for empathy or - apathy or complacency - definitely a time for empathy - this is a time for vigorous and positive action.” And I want to talk to you today a little bit about how we might undertake that process, and acknowledge the work, the fine work, that is happening now.
My heart sank a little bit when Karen Lynn Kagan said that we were taking baby steps, and that we’d been taking baby steps for some time. And part of me wants to acknowledge that, that we’ve doing some things but perhaps we could be much better at taking more vigorous and immediate action.
And I want here also to engage with you in a bit of question and a conversation around our professional identity. I’m a fellow early childhood educator. I began my career as an early childhood teacher, what seems like a very long time ago now, but not really in the great big scheme of things. As I’ve said, there are giants amongst us who’ve been working and thinking about early childhood for more time than me. But I wanted to suggest to you that a new thinking around our identity as professionals is absolutely required. And some of you have already crossed the threshold into thinking about yourself like this. But I do continue to meet early childhood educators who say it’s somebody else it’s not me. It’ll be someone, it’ll be Deb, get Deb to do it. Charly will do it. Somebody else will do it. But I think now we hear from Jill, particularly in relation to the conversation around systems, that we need everybody to come together and think of a new way of professional being, a new way to understand ourselves as professionals.
Thinking about how we take the rigorous conversations we have about our work with children and their families, what we know and understand about what makes a difference, and start to have very different conversations with people perhaps who haven’t heard from us yet. And also to talk to each other in different ways about what we know and understand about our professional identity.
And here I just want to beg your indulgence a little bit, and reminisce a little bit on my professional journey. And I was thinking to myself, and having a bit of a chat to my husband about, so when did I feel like I had a level of professional agency? And when did I feel like I could be an agent of change? My husband thinks I just always have had that, and maybe that’s true. But I do want to recall a time in my own professional career where I started as an early childhood teacher in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, in sunny Broadmeadows, you’ve heard from Broadmeadows today.
And it was a time when, I think, I graduated into a space, and some of you sitting here will remember this space, where I think I had a perception on graduation that everybody thought we were great. There was no question about whether we would be funded into the future. No-one ever mentioned it in my pre-service education that there might be an issue with funding. Everybody got us, everybody loved us, we were untouchable. And everybody would come along to kindergarten, it’ll all be rosy, and it’ll would fine and nothing would change.
And in the first year that I began teaching, the then Victorian government, began a conversation around funding cuts to early childhood. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. Like, hold on a second, no-one told me this was happening.
And this is a photo that I’ve dug out, from a 125 years ago, of myself and my amazing colleague, Shirley, who is an extraordinary woman, no longer working in early childhood, but led me and another giant in early childhood. And I said to her we’ve got to do something Shirley. And she just thought I was a bit nuts. But we gathered together, and worked with the parents, and we made a big sign, and we stuck it on the fence, and we stood out there and the local paper came and took our photo. And that’s that photo.
But, you know, I look at the photo and I think would I say some of those things now. I would, but I’d probably change the kindergarten part and just say early childhood education, a right not a privilege. And I spelt privilege right just so you know, ‘cause you can’t see that there. Like, my husband asked me that question, did you spell it right? Yes I did. But I wanted to say to you that I think - that was my first year of teaching. And from that moment I thought, you know that notion of myself as an early childhood educator that I came into this early childhood space with, I think it’s now outdated. I need to reinvent myself. And ever since then I have thought of myself as an agent of change, as an advocate, at times an activist, and I know there are people sitting in this room who have done that work with me. And I’d like to personally thank you for that work because I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you. And I know that some of you are doing that in really amazing ways in your own spaces.
And I want to beg your indulgence here, by suggesting to you that there five things that you can do in terms of thinking around about yourself as an agent of change, as a professional who sees themselves as empowered to go out there and sell an amazing message. I’m not suggesting by any means that this is the be all and end all list.
And if you go and speak to some of the people sitting in this room about what does it feel like to be an agent of change, they are going to have different takes on this and I encourage you to do that. But it’s my little collection.
So here we go. First to become knowledgeable; second to understand your context; third to build a really strong network; fourth to create opportunities wherever you are; and last to speak in your own voice.
The first one I want to talk about is building your knowledge. Now I think we’ve done a bit of a good job of that today. And Deb said, I’m not sure whether you’ve downloaded or read the report, but if you haven’t do it. And I think it’s a really important thing that we do to become agents of change, is to actually know what we’re talking about. Some of you I know are eloquent and you have a really strong understanding of what we understand about the work that we do, and the data and the evidence and all of that work. If you don’t what is going on about early childhood, we have to build that knowledge base first so we can start to talk about that message in a really strong way.
Now it’s not like the olden days where you have to go to a library. You can use the worldwide web to find out a whole lot of things about early childhood education. And what an amazing thing that’s happening in terms of our global conversations that we’ve heard today about what the OECD is doing, what we know is happening in the United States and across the globe. So if you are thinking that I’m saying to you start reading, start learning about the world of early childhood, then that’s exactly what I’m saying, start to know your stuff.
The second one is to know your context. And I’ve had the enormous privilege of working with early childhood education and care services around the country, who I think are deeply tuned into their context. This is the front door of Clare Court Children’s Services, children’s centre in Yarraville. And I know that they know their context well. They know the creek next door. They know that community garden. They know what those families and those children want and believe in. And one of the things that is inspirational when I go and meet early childhood educators, is the more you know your people, the more you can speak in a way that makes sense to them. Some of your communities will want to know lots about literacy and numeracy. And others will want to know what it’s like for out their children - what it will be like for their children in the future. Others want their children to grow up as sustainable human beings who look after the planet. Know your community so that you can advocate in ways that make sense to your local context. And, you know, one of the great ways to do that is to go out and talk to people, listen to what families are telling you.
The other really important thing for me is to build a coalition, build a community. These are two of the people who I count in my amazing network, the incredible Dr Lennie Barblett and now Dr Sandra Cheeseman. And these are people who I hold in deep regard. And I’ve built a group of people around me who I feel I can call on. They hold me to account, but they also have my back. So when I stand up here, and when I stand in front of other opportunities and talk about early childhood, I feel like I’ve got peeps behind me. If you feel like you haven’t got any peeps, and you don’t have enough people around you, then go find them ‘cause they’re here. They’re all the people here who will have your back in the conversations you want to have with the communities that you’re part of. And indeed, we’ve got to find new coalitions, new guiding connections. We’ve got to make friends with the person next door who can come and be a peep for us. And we in turn can have their back in this conversation.
Those networks become incredibly powerful as we start to create opportunities for thinking and learning, and also how we can build strength of our convictions. It’s not possible, and you’ve heard this multiple times, to do this thing alone, we need to build these coalitions.
I’m also interested, and I might just sort of slide away from this conversation for a minute, to say that in those networks, and those relationships that we build, those professional relationships, we will not always agree. And this is good. It’s the lively culture of professional enquiry that we want engage in. But at times we do need to stop talking about the things we disagree on, and start talking about the things we agree on, because too often our community of learners, our community of practice looks divided. So hang out with each other, have the robust debate, agree on some things and start talking turkey.
The next thing I want to say to you is that all of the things you’ve heard today, and as Deb had said, the reports remain on shelves, they have a lovely lifespan, you can download them, you print them off etcetera, etcetera. You read them, you might put them on a shelf etcetera. But they will come to nought if we don’t create opportunities to talk them up.
And I think it’s an absolute requirement of us to go out and find opportunities. I know you’re busy. And I know you don’t get paid enough. And I know you’re overworked and stressed. Stop doing something else and start doing this. Let’s think about where our opportunities lie for advocacy and conversations with our community, internally, in our own - with our own educator teams, with our professional teams, but also in our broader community.
And I’m struck by the examples that I see out there. Melbourne City Council did an amazing project of children’s rights and had an exhibition and invited the community. I’m not sure how many people came, but it’s not the point. You make the invitation.
And sometimes you have to go to the community and start talking up what we do. And I went recently to a community event in my own local neighbourhood, and there was an early childhood service there. And I went up to them and said what are you doing here? And they said we invited ourselves. And I went well done you.
And I know there are people sitting in this room who have been brazen enough to invite a politician to their front door. And guess what, they come. So please be brazen. Go and seek out opportunities, ‘cause you’re very lovely, and who can say no to you. And we know that there are people who are knocking on Coles’ door, they are knocking on Woolworths’ door, they’re knocking on the people next door’s door, and they’re finding opportunities. Don’t stay in your bubble. Get out there and talk it up.
And lastly I want to say that this is not an intellectual conversation only, it is, and we need the voices of academics who can talk to us about really strong ideas, and help us understand really amazing statistics in great graphs, and great images, thank you very much, and we need those voices. But we also need yours. We need you to be able to speak in your own voice about the things that are important to you, in your own community. You work with children every day. You can tell incredible stories in your own voice that I can’t tell, Deb and Charly can’t tell them, you can tell them.
And here I have to do a really bit shout out. Who speaks a language other than English? Put your hand up and yell out how great you are. Hello. I can’t really see you. Well done you. Can you give him a clap? Thank you.
I’d just like to say that the advocacy and activism that sometimes happens in the Australian context happens too much in English. It needs to be in languages other than English. And those of you who speak a language other than English, and are in your local communities, please use your knowledge and understanding about the world of early childhood and speak in your first language to the children and families in your community about what you know about early childhood. I think we’ll be the better for it.
And I remember distinctly a conversation with Janet Gonzalez-Mena, some of you will know her work, and she came to the FKA Multicultural Resource Centre when I worked there, and told us that we needed to hear more of the voices of our diverse community of early childhood education, in order for us to truly embrace what it means to be a welcoming and inclusive early childhood community. So talk it up.
And I want to end today by suggesting to you that all of these things are immensely doable, maybe not tomorrow, but maybe next week, maybe the week after. Maybe in our coalitions we can get together. One of you might do one, somebody else will do something else, and together I think we can join forces to become incredible agents of change.
And can I leave you with a bit of adoption for me, a bit of an adaptation, and with thanks to Moira Rayner, an amazing giant who I got the good fortune to meet in a whole lot of campaigning that we did around real rights for refugee children, about children in immigration detention, probably something we need to continue to do as we speak. And she said this, and I offer the words to you as a way of moving forward from today. “As you leave this meeting, remember the children and their families, and the communities of which you are a part. Think of what they hope for, and what they are heading to, and what they see their future to be. When you get home consider yourself their ambassadors and speak on their behalf in your own tongue. They are our fellow citizens of our republic of conscience. Your embassies are everywhere, but they operate independently, and no such ambassadors will ever be relieved.”
Jane Hunt: How fabulous were our three speakers? And I also feel my jetlag going away with your energy. So fabulous. One thing I wanted to mention, I was flying home and I was in LA airport and I opened up the newspaper and in the newspaper was an article based on some data from Germany that talked about Universal access not being substantiated by evidence. So I know Debbie you said that that debate is old hat but what would the three of you say that each of our change agents could take away about that debate of universal vs targeted?
Deborah Brennan: Well I guess I would invite people to have a look at the evidence that is the exercise that I have recently engaged in. I found the evidence absolutely compelling in support of a universal platform of Early Childhood education.
I think that once we start slicing and dicing and categorising and putting families and children through all sorts of hoops, requiring them to make declarations about their inadequacies or their incomes or their what’s going on in what many perceive to be their private family business, we inevitably exclude children and we give the message that this is a service only for a special group. So I think that every child is special enough to be entitled to high quality early education, for at least two years, but I do think that there is a lot that needs to be done to make that possible for some children. And that’s where I think that some of the points that Charley made are really, really important.
Charlene Smith: Yeah, I would just add that I think, you can read research evidence through certain lenses and there are ways to read some of the reports that have come out in recent years as evidence against universal provision because they might show that, for some children, the difference that’s made isn’t enough to justify the cost.
But what we know to be true is that all children benefit from high quality early learning, we know that the children at greatest risk of falling behind benefit the most, but just because children who aren’t at great risk don’t benefit as much as those who are at great risk doesn’t mean that they don’t benefit at all. And we need to remember what some of these studies are comparing their outcomes to. So a lot of the studies that are held up to show that universal provision doesn’t work, what they’re making the comparison to might be full day versus half day provision of free pre-school programs or it might be about expanding from targeted to universal access of people who were already accessing services, but who were paying for them, and now they’re being provided by the state.
So, it’s important to know the details of these studies are not just taken on face value oh that says it made no difference. Who did it make no difference for? Compared to what? In what context?
We need to be clever in the way we read these things and not be disheartened when a report comes out that says that it makes no difference, because if you tease them apart, almost all the time you’ll discover that actually they’re founded in this given knowledge that high quality education makes a difference for all children and does a bit extra make enough of a difference to invest in it? They are not asking that base question anymore.
Catharine Hyden: And I think it might be a trap, it’s a trap that stops us generally who think, oh jeepers is it universal, or what is it, I can’t really answer that question. I think don’t engage. I resent being asked the question to some extent. I think stop talking about that and let’s talk about children’s rights, let’s talk about what they deserve, let’s talk about equity, let’s talk about the way in which we know that children get what they need and don’t trap me in a conversation about that.
Although, I would then say, then, go and speak to the experts. So you’re not off the hook.
Jane Hunt: That is actually a really great point about using each other. Isn’t it? And how important that is for us to be part of a community of people absolutely arguing for two years of universal access to pre-school for all children.
Now one thing Catharine, you touched on a little bit, in the way that you work. So there has been some research done around how you bring about systems change, like two years of universal access of early learning and care and this report identified people who act as agitators, innovators and orchestrators in that movement of change are really important.
And so I was wondering your perspectives, and that article was in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, but I’m wondering, for the three of you, what would you see yourselves as or what do you think is really important in us bringing about this change?
Catharine Hyden: Well I think I have been all three at various times and I think maybe again, do I have to choose? And I think at various times you decide whether you need to be an innovator and other times you need to be a major agitator and you know, you choose the ones you think are appropriate at the time based on the experience and where you happen to be and who your community is, how much that is going to sail in your community or not. I would encourage all of us to think about how we can be all three at different times and figure out which one works in which context.
Deborah Brennan: Yeah, I think that’s pretty much the way I feel. I think for myself my roles have changed over my life. I spend less time now painting placards than I did when I was a student but when I was painting placards for free 24 hour childcare in the 1970s, we didn’t have very sophisticated sense of policy change and advocacy and it was the thing we could do - placards, marching, chanting and so on. I’ve had other opportunities to do research and connect with policy makers and I guess fall into the innovator category and what we are doing now I guess is a little bit of orchestration, trying to get people active and think about the roles each one can play. I think the point that comes through in that article is the importance of all of those roles and I really agree with that point that you can take different roles at different times and not everyone has to do all three.
Charlene Smith: Yeah and I would just add, that I think, and as one of my early slides shows, this landscape that we are working in, it’s highly populated and we can convince ourselves that because early childhood education isn’t necessarily a vote winner in the minds of politicians, that it’s not front of mind for many people, when actually, it’s the livelihood of pretty well everyone in this room. It’s the future of our children. It’s the future of our society. And I think it’s really important to remember that although you may not personally be able to play an orchestrating role, that you may well be able to be agitating, you may well be able to be advocating. There is something that you can do and I loved what Catharine had about getting your peeps around you. And knowing who else is out there. This day has been inspirational for me, both to hear people from around the world who know stuff I can’t imagine being that clever to know and meeting other people who have on the ground, day to day child experiences that I’m not equipped to do. I’m in absolute awe of you people who go and work with children all day every day – I find it hard enough with my own two. So Hats off, I think it is remarkable, invaluable work that you are doing and you have access to families in a way that those of us working in the policy and systems thinking space, just don’t have. You’ve got the opportunity to build momentum from the grass roots in the communities that you are working in. And I just really encourage you to do so.
Jane Hunt: So building on that Charley, what would be something that people here can do? That they can go away and do? As an Agent of Change? Or any of you.
Charlene Smith: I think, I really just refer you all to Catharine’s presentation that was so inspirational for me. It’s my job to be informed. It’s not necessarily your job to know all of the evidence but people like Deb have done an incredible job translating the piles and piles of paper on my desk into something succinct, cut through, practical, pragmatic, and convincing. Arm yourself with that knowledge.
I think there is a lot to be said for believing what we know to be true about this work. This morning when we were hearing that in Findland they don’t collect data the way they do in England and why don’t they do that. And I was just saying to Jane before this session, I suspect that the reason they don’t do that is because people just know that this is important work. People just know that early childhood education and care is important and valuable and needs to happen. And children have rights and it follows that child. And there was also that comment about individualised learning approaches. So is there a need to be doing data collection to figure out that a child has needs if you’ve designed their learning journey around that child? Perhaps it’s not as important in that context, but in this context we’re still building that belief in our population and amongst ourselves.
Catharine Hyden: I think I’d like you to remind us of Anne Stonehouse, many of you will know Anne Stonehouse and one of the things I thought about in preparing my presentation is her amazing work in the early 1990’s when she talked about ‘not just nice ladies’, you will remember this. One of things she said in that nice ladies conversation was that we need to throw off the mushy and fluffy language that surrounds our work. In more recent times she made a presentation to the Early Childhood Australia Conference in Darwin and she asked us to stop using the word passionate because it had served us not very well because if you’re passionate, we can pay you crap.
So, I think one of the things for me is let’s take all of the things we heard from Charley and Deb today and all the other presenters and the language that we now have access to within our frameworks and reports and the data and all this amazing thing and start to craft really clear scripts that help us work and whenever we are anywhere, start talking up our work and you know, I in jest, I sometimes say to people, don’t say you’re just an early childhood just, that just early childhood educator. Ban that language! Ban the girls in the babies room! Ban that! And instead say I’m a professional who is instrumental in brain architecture.
And we want to have very different conversations, because that makes someone like George Megalogenis stand up and take notice and say ‘you’re a what, you are an architect in brain what? What are you? So this changes the landscape. But that is something we can all do individually and I get who you are talking to. You can be talking to a parent who comes in and wants to enrol their child. Or you can be talking to somebody at the pub. I don’t mind where it is but it’s got to be a conversation that shifts the language that we have inherited, I think, over a long period of time, and we’ve all been part of that and I think there is a real opportunity there for shifting that language.
Jane Hunt: Oh look I could not agree more. At the Front Project we engage with business and we have over 88 very senior business leaders who think what you all do is amazing and they know the link between what you do and the future prosperity of this country and the wellbeing of our children. So if you need help translating for business, let us know because we have done quite a lot of work around that. But be prepared to have conversations around this people outside your area. When you go to a BBQ and you meet with someone who works in a business context, tell them that that’s what you do. Because you would be completely surprised how many people do not know anything about this area and we need to change that. Because we need the community absolutely understanding that children need access to early learning and care.
Now can you all please, warmly thank our three wonderful presenters?
From global perspectives to local action: the future of early childhood in Victoria
- From global perspectives to local action - Experiences from Norway and the OECD - Tove Mogstad Slinde
- Welcome – George Megalogenis, Master of Ceremonies (MC)
- Keynote address – Tove Mogstad Slinde, Senior Adviser in the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research and Chair of the Network on Early Childhood Education and Care, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
- Plenary address – Gill Callister, Secretary, Department of Education and Training
- Armchair discussion – Tove Mogstad Slinde and Gill Callister, with MC George Megalogenis
Voiceover: Our afternoon plenary session is themed From Global Perspectives to Local Action - The Future of Early Childhood in Victoria.
MC, George Megalogenis welcomes us once again, followed by a keynote address by Tove Mogstad Slinde, Senior Advisor in the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, and Chair of the Network on Early Childhood Education and Care, Organisation for Economic Corporations and Development. A plenary address by Secretary of the Department of Education and Training, Gill Callister, will follow before finishing with an armchair discussion between Tove Mogstad Slinde and Gill Callister.
This session will explore ideas such as how Australia compares internationally, insights into the Norwegian early childhood system, and future reform vision and pathway for Victoria’s early childhood sector.
George Megalogenis: Welcome back to the afternoon plenary.And I always take the conversation in the room as a positive sign that you’re doing well, and you’ve actually enjoyed yourself up until this point, quite a stimulating morning and concurrent session.We are back on the horse now this afternoon.
Now to begin this afternoon, it’s my great pleasure to invite Tove Slinde to the stage. Now Tove is a Senior Advisor in the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, in the Development of Kindergartens and Schools. And since 2012, she’s also been the elected Chair of the Network of Early Childhood Education and Care in the OECD. So we are very, very top shelf in our speakers. And we’ve got 20-odd minutes for a keynote, or close to 30 minutes for the keynote, and then we’re going to have a bit of a conversation after the second speaker. Bringing Tove to the stage, thank you.
Tove Mogstad Slinde: Thank you all. And thank you Victoria for inviting me here - over here, or down under, or up on the top, depending on your perspective.
I will join previous speakers and extend my respect to the land and the history of this community.I’ve been fortunate enough, through this week, to be able to connect with different people, both in services and in government, and even having the chance to meet with your Minister Mikakos.
You need strong advocates to get systems and policies in place, as indeed Professor Kagan was showing this morning.And I think that you are in a moment of time where these things actually come together.
As you heard I come from Norway.We are 5.3 million inhabitants, including our indigenous people, the Sami, which constitutes around 1.8%, so quite comparable to you.
In fact when I was little I thought that if I drilled just through the globe I would end up in Australia, and I believe I have.
So dear colleagues, and it is indeed colleagues. I’ve been working in the early years sector for many years, both in the kindergarten on the local level, on the regional level, in the government, working with teacher education and other stakeholders, and now internationally these last years. So it’s been really, really a learning journey. And I’m joining you now on your learning journey, and I hope that we can - I’m learning from your local action, adding to my global perspectives, and I hope that it will work also vice versa.
The Early Childhood Education and Care Network of the OECD has, with the Secretariat, produced a number of reports called Starting Strong. In Starting Strong II, which explored the relevant policy areas, proposed 10 actions, and one of them was to ensure equitable access so that all children should have equal opportunities to attend quality, and to place wellbeing early development and learning, at the core of the early childhood education and care work, with respect to the child agency and national learning strategies.
In the common understandings that we have developed together in the network, we formulated this conclusion. When children are recognised as competent, curious, capable of complex thinking and reaching potential, then policies, programs and services that build on children’s strengths and abilities are more likely to be developed.
The strength of international cooperation and care learning is equal to what you are going to experience locally actually, if you meet across services and when you try to interact.It will help you see yourself better in the light of others.Norway has twice had the OECD review team coming over to look at our policies, and that includes having an expert group scrutinising policies and delivering a device or conclusions for reflection which is another way of putting it.
The first policy review, and even the second, gave praise to how Norway values childhood and our view of the child. They commented on the role of outdoor in learning. We are proud of this holistic view on learning, that recognises what research also explicitly makes clear across disciplines, namely that learning starts even before birth, and that it takes place in the (inaudible) with the surroundings, whether that is in the family, in the kindergarten, or early learning services, or in the local society, whether it is indoor or out.
The researchers visiting Norway at that time described our Nordic model and contrasted it with lead learning traditions in other places of the world, where teachers were seen to be filling empty heads with knowledge. The active exploring child that is co-creator of knowledge is visible in our Curriculum Framework. In reports from out public commission, and by researchers and teacher educators, are listening to the praise to the Nordic model, we could end up believing that we are alone in this. This is however not the case.
This is a picture from Japan, an open kindergarten where they are exploring, playing outdoor digging channels.This is a picture from New Zealand, they are also outdoor exploring, learning.And curiosity exploration and learning communities are descriptions that you could make fit all over.
You have had too good weather.The sun has been out all week not - well until today.So I couldn’t sort of find the mud playing children in your kindergartens, but we were fortunate.I was fortunate enough to be in one of your kindergartens on Monday, and I could see the children outdoor, exploring, learning, communities.
I’ll continue my little description, and the reason is because when I came to this kindergarten in Shanghai, it was the OMEP Conference, a world conference. You know OMEP, it’s the oldest international pre-school organisation, and it’s really made an impact on the discussions.
Anyway, we came there and I was thinking aha, this is the Chinese kindergarten. Look, they put them up one by one, that is totally neat and no mess. But coming indoors I found this. So it means that even in China they lose their teeth at the same time as most children do, and that is - and they are preoccupied with it. And for the pedagogs working in the kindergarten they also make it visible, and as you can see it’s highly individualised.
In the toddlers classroom we found this.They make use of recycled material to illustrate how the young children are coming to kindergarten.And they make it a starting point for conversations about transport, obviously about themselves and how they relate to the ones who follow them there, but also about counting as you can see.
So coming back to kindergartens here, these are the climbing trees at Bridgewater. And I was talking with the Head and asking her, okay, have these trees been here all the time? And by the way, there was a child coming over, and she was telling us that this was the climbing tree. So I asked if they had been there all the time. And the Head said no. Unlike the big trees you saw in the last picture, this was planted. And that means you have to have stamina in order to develop what you want. Stay on there and suddenly you will have the climbing trees you need.
Okay. So this is kindergartens in Norway. They are based on the holistic pedagogical philosophy with care, play and learning at the core of the pedagogies. It’s an edu-care model combining education and care. It highlights the intrinsic value of childhood. It’s play-based, child centred and challenging and safe. And I have to mention this because a couple of weeks ago I went into a conference that was discussing the future of education, and they were looking at digitalisation. There was one other topic also emerging, and that is the possibility to play in a challenged area. If we are too preoccupied with safety how will it work when we need to develop 21st century skills to explore and go into the unknown? So this is kindergartens at the ground.
Okay, I’ll have to just to bring you to it very quickly because my time is running out. Okay, we have the ordinary kindergartens. That’s how our kindergartens are. They are centre-based, and 98.5% of children are attending an ordinary kindergarten. And kindergartens are for children from one to five years of age. And they have a statutory right from one year of age. We have family kindergartens also, but they comprise only 1.5% of the children attend them. And we have open kindergartens, what you will call playgroups, supportive playgroups.
Most of our children go full-time, 95.5% of the children do that, and that is actually - they have the possibility to attend over 41 hours a week, but they normally don’t. It’s a divide, public/private, and they are equally - so it means that when we are developing our sector we can look at both. There’s a diversity and pedagogical profile. And we have staff - that is comprised of kindergarten teachers, child and youth care workers (which is diploma), and assistants. Our proportion on manning kindergartens is nine. And it’s been hard work getting there, but actually compared to a lot of countries it’s quite high. And this is for children aged one to five.
Teacher/child ratio is one to seven for children under three years of age, and one to four for children over three years of age. And we have a staff/child ratio of one to three and one to six. Normally a kindergarten teacher will work together with two assistants, and one of the will be hopefully trained at a diploma level, and so that is how they work.
Okay, publicly funded, it’s 86.3% of the public purse, and parental fees only cover now 13.7% of the cost. We also have a system municipal child health service, and it is becoming increasingly so that they acknowledge the role of child health service, not only in preventing disease, but in promoting better lives. So social emotional wellbeing, and broad development, and attending to families that is something that is put into the politics and the policies that we are developing.
Collaboration with ECC, with schools on the broader strategies for early intervention, for targeting dropouts and for preventing violence, all of that brings together the health service, the school nurses, the youth stations, and our institutions of education. Fifteen consultations with specialised nurse from birth to five years of age, it’s a bit more than you, but it’s group and individual in between, and it’s, you know, like you have coming also to the home when needed, and especially at the first time when they are coming back after hospital.
Okay, so key messages for policy reforms, I was asked to do that once, to formulate them. And this is what I came up with, a number of Cs. So it’s conviction, commitment, collaboration, competence or capacity, curiosity, and then there’s the last one about being child-centred. If we are to have the policy reforms we want, this needs to acknowledge the child as being at the centre of the policies developed.
So about conviction, this is about research evidence that is now put out again and again, showing why it is so important to invest in the early years. You’ve seen it probably a number of times. It is about the sensitivity and the development, and Professor Kagan was also so expertly put the pointing out that this goes out throughout the one to five years of age.
So a number of countries are excellent knowledge in that, and we see an increase in the participation rates all over the world. This is the picture for Australia and Norway. And you do better in this slide than you did in the other one. And the reason is you have already started school when you’re five, so you are top of the list because you are 100% at five years of age. You struggle a bit more for the four and three year olds and even for the under threes, but okay, it’s possible actually to do politics in order to lift it.
Okay, so early competencies are linked to a range of important outcomes later in life, and research has absolutely now put this out. It means that it will increase your general wellbeing, life satisfaction, your physical and mental health. It will influence also your citizenship and how you will act actively in the society. And as you can see it is a complexity of the village surrounding the child that is providing this kind of development and learning.
We were looking into what affects learning most, and how it is with the process quality. We think it’s important but do we have the facts to point it out. Yes, a math analysis and literature study was recently published by the OECD and it clearly indicates the importance of staff qualifications. And staff qualifications are actually the one thing that is amendment to policy, so I will come back to that.
Okay, years ago, in 2012, we published a report pointing out the policy levers. And these five policy levers now have been influencing how we are going about systematically exploring what policies we are developing around the world, and they are also influencing how now the EU is setting out their curriculum framework.
So the first one of these levers is to set out clear policy goals and regulating.I am going to tell you a story about how setting out care roles and regulating affects the situation in Norway.Based on both the unfairness on the system.For a long time there has been a lack of places in kindergartens in Norway.Female employment was very high and everybody was trying to get a place in kindergarten, they were competing for it.So the inequality and access was striking.
The inequality and parental fees was also very, very strong as was the equal treatment regarding to funding across the services. This issue, together with the issue of equity, and the research that we saw coming about from Heckman and from Shonkoff telling us that we really need to invest early, came together in what happened in our parliament.
What happened in our parliament was that across the political parties they joined forces. The ones that were for parental choice joined up with the ones that were for social equity, and they made reform happen. They decided that it’s now time to end the unfairness. It’s time to invest so that we will get into a universal situation, a situation where everybody can choose, and where it is a possibility for everyone and for everybody.
From our own Norwegian research that early childhood education and care levelled the playing field, so we needed to do things. So when putting investment into the picture, when putting money and resources into finally reaching that welfare reform of having access for all, this is what happened.
The blue line shows you where it was in 2000, and the red line shows you where it is in 2016. As you can see it’s been a massive change in participation and access to early childhood education and care in Norway, lifting it from around 35% for one to two year olds, to now 82% in 2016, lifting it from around 70% for three year olds to 97% as it is now.
Parental fees are important to access. It means that you have to bring them down in order for it to really be accessible. And this is what they did, we increased your maximum parental fee and we tried to bring it down so much that everybody could access it. But we didn’t succeed. So we need to amend our reform, we need actually to be more targeted, to put in other types of regulation, and that was putting in a maximum of 6% of family income, or/and for the low SES family, in addition putting 20 hours free for three, four and five year olds. And our research is very, very evident. In the areas where we have had this as a pilot, we could see that it is affecting child outcomes later in school.
This universality has also affected attending. It means that we have lifted minority language children in early childhood education and care, going from 25% of one to two year olds in 2005, to now over 62%, or 75% for the three to five year olds in 2005 to now over 92%. So it’s possible, and this is in a short amount of time. I think perhaps the speed dependent on the investment.
Okay, if these changes take place then you need to pay attention to curriculum. So you need to put emphasis on how you develop your content. It needs also to be accessible. It needs also to be inclusive. And that is what also is happening around the world.
In the early childhood education and care network we are now looking into the revision and the redesign of curriculum frameworks in early childhood education and care for the 21st century. So next week we will meet up and discuss. We need to have better understanding of what it is, and what type of elements needs to be in a curriculum framework in order to holistically support a child.
So we know already that it helps ensure even quality. It gives guidance to staff. It informs parents and public. And we know already that children learn best when they are actively engaged and interactions are frequent and meaningful, and curriculum builds on prior learning. What we also need to find is the right balance between the child initiated and the teacher initiated activity, and to have a clear understanding of the broad concept of learning, cognitive, social and wellbeing.
Norway revised its curriculum in 2017, last year. And as you can see, the areas that we need to strengthen was democracy, diversity and inclusion. And you could read the numbers and the increase of the participation rate, it absolutely means that we need to pay attention to being truly inclusive in order to have good pedagogy. We also put emphasis on life skills and health, language and transition, and more attention to the very youngest children.
Policy lever, I told you already, is the one that is most possible to affect through policies. It’s the staff competence and qualifications, and it needs attention. And we are trying also - you are trying to build - we are trying to get out the research that tells us how investing early is important. We also need to pay attention to quality because we know that quality is high investing is necessary - no - the other way around. Unless you pay attention to quality then your investment will fail, that is the right way to put it. It can even be detrimental if you have bad quality. So that is why you need to pay attention to this.
And the most important factor in order to have equality, and I think that goes for every type of service you put out there, it’s the competence and qualifications of the staff.They need to know how to interact with children, with parents, with the surroundings.So it’s even been shown by research, this graph is in that report I referred to earlier that was launched in March by the OECD on the process quality and the effectiveness of it.It shows that staff interactions with children, are associated with emerging literacy and numeracy skills.And this goes across study, across countries, both in Germany, US, all over, it’s really, really broad knowledge that has brought us there.
And what are the lessons learned for the policy makers. Well the lessons learned should be that workforce development and working conditions can improve staff/child interaction, and consequently also affect children’s literacy skills; that both vocation pre-service can help prepare staff to become emotionally, educationally, and developmentally supportive for children; that staff qualifications, well the research, the evidence that staff qualifications matter more for settings for children aged 0 to two. I don’t know whether that is really the right conclusion to draw, but at least it means that you can’t just look at the 0 to two and say it’s babysitting. Staff qualifications matter from the start, as does parental understanding of how a young child develops. And it’s not only the kind of, you know, diploma or paper you get, but it is important that what you provide, when it comes to the competence raising, it needs to be ECC specific. It needs to the content that will support child development, team collaboration and leadership. And I guess I heard that in the parallel session, these are topics that you have been treating.
Okay, policy labour form, it’s engaging with parents and local communities. These are pictures from Canada, but they could have been taken here, because it’s in Toronto, they have a full day kindergarten, and they had a big program in order to improve access and the possibility for children to attend those. But visiting the schools over there I saw the type and schools and settings that I visited here on Monday. It means it comprised both schools, and kindergarten, and maternal and child healthcare, and open kindergartens in one facility. And I think that when you get that right then you get the possibility to create something that is really, really good both for children, but even for the local community.
The gentleman at the end side over on the left side is for you, he’s been coming and following his grandchildren to that school for over 12 years, so it’s one of his youngest that he’s following this time. But for him of course, it’s also the same as being included in the community.
I haven’t talked enough about the municipalities. You have 70 and in Norway we would - perhaps some in Norway would envy that situation. We’ve had a reform and it’s going to bring us down from 428 to 336, but it’s been highly debated. And just regardless of what is the result, what is really important in the discussion of the municipalities is their role. They are responsible for their population, so they need to bring together on the local level, the different services in order to provide for their population. And they are well-placed to actually develop what you need on the ground. When I was reading your reform plan I was actually - I was seeing that, okay, you’ve been consulting with the sector. It means that when you are developing your solution it is in consultancy, developing what is the problem, developing what needs to be done, and then when you are going out to put something into action follow through, follow up, see how it works. So not being specific and not saying the plan that you should do A, B, C, but rather that you need to develop the measures on the local ground, that is perhaps a good strategy in order to find good solutions.
Okay, so I can’t go on and on talking about the local authorities, but it is important and it is where lives are lived, and where you need to pull together the services in order to succeed.
I’d like to sort of nearly end my presentation by presenting our system for quality parental portal. I was sort of choosing between what I wanted to show you, the whole system, which is comprised of three parts. One is research and knowledge, the other is tools for quality dialogue, and in between there is the partners that are going to have that dialogue. On the right-hand side and on the left-hand side this parental portal is actually important.
The parental portal provides information about every early childhood education and care setting with indicators and data. You were telling that data is important in order to develop the kindergartens. Making data evident and visible to parents means that they can engage in the communication with the setting, with the staff that are there, with the owners, and with the local municipalities in developing quality. So part of this, it’s not sort of a kind of a temperature, it’s not what you call a kind of a benchmarking, it’s more a kind of part of a system that wants to enhance the dialogue around quality and bringing the parents in. So this parental portal is getting the parents to engage, and then there’s other tools also that will follow up.
So developing data research and monitoring, they are important for any policy maker.And we need them in order to formulate good policy.Sometimes we get exhausted institutions and practitioners, and even in the international setting you get also the exhausted countries because they have to deliver data.
But we be aware that when you do you actually help lay the foundation for good discussions on policy development on the ground.
So in Norway we are creating a longitudinal study, that’s one of them we have, we have a number now, that is looking into process quality. We are participating in policy reviews, research and we are doing both research and data development on the international area now. The OECD Childhood Starting Strong Survey is going to help us understand better on the ground both internationally and nationally what is happening. And there will be, and this is because I’m the Chair of the OECD ECC Network, I have to inform you that we are also now on the verge of developing a policy review on process quality in early childhood education and care called Quality Beyond Regulations. So it means things are ongoing. And it is ongoing both in the local, national and international level.
In year 2000 looking into our state budget, we had 10 million Norwegian kronas, which is around 1.8 something Australian dollars, for quality development work. Now we have 40 million Australian dollars to do the same. At that point we had only one research project, and it only looked at the structure. How many children were in ECC and who were not. And now we are looking into the quality of process.
Okay, so this is the Quality Beyond Regulation, we will be looking at the curriculums standard and the pedagogy. We’ll be looking at the workforce and what happens there. We will be looking at the topic of engaging families and community. And we hope to a new report coming out in the Starting Strong series on those topics in a couple of years.
So thank you for your attention, and just one final picture, it is contextual, it is different across the world, but actually there are some similarities, so I couldn’t resist having this final picture from Japan.You can see the children in the snow.They are playing with the snow in Norway.In Japan they are making sandballs.So thank you.
George Megalogenis: Thank you for that. That’s marvellous to get Norwegian perspective. We had a global perspective with a bit of an American bent in the morning, so that just leaves us with the home turf. So Gill Callister, Secretary of the Department of Education and Training, it’s your turn to tell us about the Australian context. Thank you.
Gill Callister: Thanks George. Afternoon everybody. I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional of the owners of the land on which meet, the people of the Kulin nation, and pay my respects to elders past and present, and all other Aboriginal people who are with us today.
And before I begin I did want to acknowledge someone who is not with us today. Professor Collette Tayler. When we speak of the importance of early childhood education and care, we are standing on the shoulders of Collette. She was a pioneer and a leader and a friend, and she was very brave.
I remember speaking to her last year, she was unwell but she was still working.And when I asked her to come and speak to the Board of the Department about Year for Kids Survey a Study, she agreed, but she said make it soon I don’t think I have long.
So we made it soon and she was brilliant. And unfortunately she was right, she didn’t have long. But I know that she would be absolutely delighted and thrilled that we are continuing her work and that we’re holding this forum today.
So thank you all for being here, much nicer to be in here than outside this afternoon.I wanted to talk about some particular aspects of early childhood.According to the Bible in the beginning was the word, which sounds a bit like an Origin story for a marvel superhero movie doesn’t it?But in terms of human civilisation there is truth in that statement.There’s truth because as historian you all know how Harari puts it, “Homo sapiens conquered the world thanks above all to its unique language.”In other words the creation of the word or language marked the beginning of human ascendancy.It enabled us not just to communicate but to form groups and ultimately civilisations.It gave us the ability to envisage and articulate abstract legal, mathematical, scientific and philosophical concepts.In a sense it made us who we are.Without language there’d be no Pharaohs in pyramids, nor jets in the sky, nor teenagers on the internet.
And that’s why paleoanthropologist, Ian Tattersall, has said that language gave us a competitive advantage because it enabled symbolic thought. Language, Tattersall writes, “is indeed the ultimate symbolic mental function, and it is virtually impossible to conceive of thought as we know it in its absence.” And what does that mean for early childhood learning? Everything.
It means everything because kinder aged children of today face a brave new world of disruption and change. There are predictions that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in types of jobs that right now don’t exist, due to a convergence of a whole range of changes, but particularly artificial intelligence and robotics. And, the industrial and urban revolution underway in Asia in general, and China in particular, and the middle class of 3.2 billion that that is creating.
The point that I’m making is that we have a duty to ensure that the young children of today have the resilience and the cognitive capability to cope with the rapid and radical change that they will face tomorrow.And not only that, that we have to realise that tomorrow is right here and right now, there is no time to waste.
Now I realise that innovation is one of those words worn thin by overuse, but innovation is in fact what the workforce of tomorrow needs. And if innovation is what the workforce of tomorrow needs, then language development is what young children of today need, because language development and cognitive ability are inextricably linked.
Early language development is a driver of life-long achievement. If a child has good language skills they’re more likely to go onto further education and employment and earn a higher wage. Children with low language skills are more likely not to finish school, not be employed, and not earn a higher wage. But they are also more likely to be arrested, face court, be imprisoned, that’s how important early childhood development is. Put this way, early childhood development is to innovation what the split atom is to nuclear fusion. And let me take that simile one step further. Early childhood development has the atomic power to move mountains and language development is the key to unleashing that power.
The case and the need for investment in early childhood in general, and language development in particular, is overwhelming.Consider the facts, we know there is a link between language and cognition.We know cognitive abilities like literacy and numeracy are important aspects of future success.
We know that by age three the brain has 1,000 trillion connections, which represents 80% of a child’s brain development. And by age five 90% of a child’s brain development has occurred. We know that by the age of four, a child from a low income family, or a disadvantaged family, will have heard 30 million fewer words than a child from a high income family.
We know that the surest, most cost effective way to improve the future prospects of a child, is to go hard and go early at strong educational intervention. We know from the Australian Early Development Census that one in five children start school vulnerable in at least one of the five domains. And we know that children vulnerable in language and cognition domain are especially at risk. And that when they get to school they are five times less likely to be in the top two bands of NAPLAN. We know the social, emotional and neurological effects of witnessing violence at a young age, significantly impacts on learning. In fact analysis of the Department’s school entrance health questionnaire and NAPLAN results, show that children who have witnessed violence before starting primary school are significantly, statistically less likely to be in the top two bands of NAPLAN performance, and that’s with other factors separated out.
And yet despite all of this pretty powerful evidence, Australia invests half of one percent of its GDP in early childhood development. The children born when Heckman published his work, and produced pretty compelling evidence, are now 19, and we haven’t yet embraced his work fully.
So here are some of the things that I think it’s important that we do. Clearly we shouldn’t be thinking about turning early learning into an extension of primary school. Early learning is about developmental play, but it is also about appropriate pedagogy, and as Tove so eloquently said, this is about the importance of the workforce in this area.
In the E for Kids Study, led as I said by Collette Tayler, which is Australia’s largest longitudinal research project into the quality of early childhood, that project found that early childhood services are quite strong on care and emotional support. They’re quite strong on well organised space. They’re less strong on intentional teaching.
So educators with an explicit focus on supporting children’s language development and cognition, is one of the areas where we need to invest. And one of the best ways to improve the future prospects of children, of course, is to improve their language and cognitive capability. We need to be paying more attention to learning and language well before children commence four year old kindergarten. And this is where our whole early childhood system has the opportunity to play a part, including our wonderful maternal and child health system, and our parenting and playgroups.
Thirdly, I think as a society we need to stop viewing childcare and early learning as separate things. Children don’t understand they’re not meant to learn until they get into a place with a teacher in it. They try and learn anyway.
We see kindergarten as an educational opportunity, but we consistently fail to take advantage of the critical learning opportunities that exist before kinder and in all settings. And we need to understand that care and learning go together.
And we’ve started to see a shift in some of that language, but we need to make it a reality in the various settings that children spend time.And that’s why in Victoria we’re implementing the Early Childhood Reform Plan, and I’m sure that most of you should be aware of it.
It is all about making the systemic investments that are necessary to bridge the widening gap between our most advantaged and our disadvantaged children, covering everything from workforce development, to infrastructure, to additional services. And the last two state budgets have invested $338 million in that system.
And I just want to highlight a couple of the initiatives from the plan, because I think they lead the nation.Starting next year, kindergartens in 25 local government areas, will have access to innovative programs, and a range of additional services through the $58 million School Readiness Program.And by 2021, that will have rolled out to the whole state.
It is essentially needs-based funding for kindergarten. We’ve had needs-based funding in schools for a long time. But the very same children that go into a primary school where there’s additional funding for them, went through kindergarten without that additional funding, so we are making some significant changes there.
In essence, Victoria’s position is simple.We want every child to have high quality, integrated learning and care experiences.We want every child who needs additional help to get that help.And we want to see measurable improvements in language.And particularly, we want to see improvements in the language and cognition domain by the 2021 Australian Early Development Census.And it’s really not too much to ask.We have the basis on which to do this.
But for that to occur I think we need the sector to become a system, and to work in partnership with each other and build relationships into the primary education system. And for that, we need leadership, and we need advocacy, and we need unity.
We owe it to the children in our care to give them the best possible start in life. That is that moral purpose is unarguable. But make no mistake, the future prosperity of our community and our economy, in a very, very dynamic and changing international world, to a great extent turns on what we can do in this frontier in early childhood education.
George Megalogenis: Sorry, we always lose a minute when we go back and forth across the runway.
We’ve got time before we wind up the plenary session, the afternoon session, for a quick question and answer. I’m tossing up who to go for first. But Tove, I wanted to ask you to paint a picture for us of Norway before the big coming together of the equity and the private choice factions, if we could call them that, in the political system? And whether Norway before the reform reminds you of Australia now?
Tove Mogstad Slinde: Yes.
George Megalogenis: And taking from that point, explain to me how it was fixed in Norway and without commenting too much on the specifics of Australian politics, I might then switch to Gill about what lesson we can draw from Norway in the Australian circumstance.
Tove Mogstad Slinde: So actually it’s been a journey of development ever since the - you could say 1988 they made the first white paper on the kindergartens. And they said, okay, going towards year 2000.
And at that time they thought that if we get to the point where you have 40% participation of children under three years of age, and yeah, well, some more for children over three years of age, you would be there. And there was part-time and ownership diversity, and there was a lack of places consistent. And the municipalities rule were a bit unclear, we’re they responsible for it or not, and how sort of responsible should they be for planning and having things in place.
So over the journey, since the beginning of the nineties, there were measures put in place, and different types of reforms getting there. So actually, I think that making do with what you have and go from there, but go with a kind of an urgency, and pushing, in order to get somewhere. I think that is the way to go. And I think that what happened when we were entering the year 2000, it was becoming evident because there was many enough inside the sector, to have a strong enough voice in order to be heard by politics.
So getting the volume is actually quite effective in terms of having the topic put on the agenda. And we are seeing now, as we have had now a universal kindergarten in place, that again discussions are being changed. So now we have the parents very much engaging in the topic of quality. And it’s put high - it’s in the parliament.
So last week when we passed the regulation on the ratios, and it’s actually putting a regulation on what we think has been there all the time, but should not be sort of compromised, there were big, big debates on whether that was enough in order to ensure quality. And that’s why I think that the volume, and the developments, they bring the type of public conversations that you will have. And they will also pull together the political parties in order to engage in that type of a debate.
George Megalogenis: Yes. The framing of a debate wasn’t here’s the golden reform package, and we’ll wait for delivery date and then everything is fine. What actually happens is it kept raising the bar.
Tove Mogstad Slinde: It’s true.
George Megalogenis: And the evidence on the ground posed new questions and new answers came from them.
Tove Mogstad Slinde: It’s true.
George Megalogenis: Gill, can I just get you to reflect on the Australian scene, ‘cause it’s interesting to hear why you think we are still lagging? But also what we might be learning, ‘cause there’s been a sort of an acceleration of activity around the world, and also an acceleration of recognition in Australia. I think that’s fair to say.
Gill Callister: Yeah. I think there’s an acceleration, and I think the investment and work happening in Victoria is really a big, big step change. I think we’re often held back by the fact that we have two levels of government involved in this. So we don’t always start this from the perspective of what’s happening for children, we start from the perspective of which tier of government invests in which type of service or setting.
So we start with an institutional argument about whether it’s childcare for workforce participation or kindergarten for learning, and we get, you know, I think that has held us back, the idea that the Federal Government’s responsible for one area and the State Government’s responsible for another.
We have made progress particularly around the national quality standards, the nation law on quality, the progress to have services meeting and exceeding the quality standards. But it’s interesting that in Norway you’re having a discussion about quality, because I know that what Collette would have said if she was here, was eventually those quality standards have to meet themselves, we could even do better.
But yeah, I think we’ve made progress. I just think we don’t talk about - we talk childcare or learning, we don’t have them in the same place nearly enough, and we don’t organise around that enough.
George Megalogenis: Tove, just give us - you were alluding before to some local examples that you’ve witnessed here in the past week, did anything jump off the page for you that was - you loved, can’t wait to take back to the OECD and share with everybody else?
Tove Mogstad Slinde: I must say I was so happy with the indoor/outdoor learning. I think it was so evident in the centres that I visited, that you really have understood something about having the learning environment, and doing it intentionally. And I met with wonderful practitioners and leaders, that really wanted to do well and to provide for the children in their service.
And also the combination with the mother, maternal child healthcare and the kindergartens. In Norway, we have in the last budget, actually - no, not in the last - no, but in the program for this government that was a platform that was developed together across the parties that now form this government, they have put out one point, which is that they want to put the child health - they want to do a pilot which child health controls, of four year olds in kindergartens taking place there. So it means that the idea that you are creating here, combining the two, are also something that we are looking on back in Norway, so good I’m actually going to take that back and say okay, there are examples out there that are really, really good. Yeah.
George Megalogenis: So that’s a pleasant surprise Gill that we’re actually ahead of the game on some things? Because we do have to walk out of here inspired.
Gill Callister: I think the quality of the work in the settings, I visit lots of early childhood centres, and I think the, you know, you can see the curriculum in action, you can see the indoor/outdoor, you can see the intentional work that’s being done. I think the setting, a lot of the settings that we have are truly wonderful.
But it is quite a fragmented sector. You know, we’ve got not-for-profit, we’ve got for-profit, we’ve got council run, we’ve got school and kinder together, we got a very, very mixed way which makes it harder to translate and have a way of translating and helping people build on each other’s practice and have the sense of system.
George Megalogenis: Tove, how would you break that problem? How would you deal with that problem?
Tove Mogstad Slinde: Actually I must say that this is one of the most important things. Because fragmented sector, that’s our norm. In the international collaboration, in the OECD they say - they write big reports on education. And they say, okay, it’s about governing a complex sector, a complex educational, yeah, anyway, systems is what they call it, governing complex educational systems.
In this sector it’s even more complex. And that goes across countries, so it’s really true for all. I think that the key mover is actually to agree on the goal. So being - be clear about where one wants to go, then you can bring together the different fragments in going somewhere together. And I think that that is evident in your plan.
And I like the way it is formulated that it opens not only to being created together, but to being again, developed together when you are putting things into action. So that is my sort of take on that.
George Megalogenis: You can’t see my timer but it’s a whole lot of red zeros. So I think - I am mindful that this conversation could go for another hour, trust me. But we had a bit of a conversation last night, and there’s about another half dozen questions I wish I could ask. But for the time being could you please give your respect to our two speakers. Thank you.
Reviewed 12 October 2022