2022 was a huge year for the early childhood education and care (ECEC) system, not only for the Front Project, but for the amazing teachers, educators and sector professionals who continue to provide Australian children with the opportunity to engage with quality early learning during the earliest stages of their development.
Meaningful conversations were held across the sector about ways to deliver better outcomes for children and families throughout Australia — and how best to support the dedication that we see from ECEC professionals. The Australian Government responded with an ambitious (ECEC) policy agenda; creating a whole of government approach to the ‘early years’ by developing an Early Years Strategy — in which a range of affordability, accessibility and transparency measures will be included.
With recent changes to the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) and reform to the Paid Parental Leave Scheme (PPL) in front of the House of Representatives, we approach 2023 with hope for continued focus and reform in the sector. As we march toward a new year in Australia, the road is signposted with momentum for change and ambition for workforce sustainability.
'Across Australia there are thousands of children whose learning, and life trajectories, have been brought on track by quality ECEC.' Supporting Children to Thrive, 2022
The future of the early years system is now firmly on the national agenda; the ECEC community is a rich tapestry of members from government; early intervention; research, early childhood settings, educators, teachers, playgroups; First Nations; CALD, health; disability; LGBTIQ; and children.
The Front Project hold children at the centre and recognise the need to authentically listen to and include the voices of children and their families in decisions that emerge from the changing context in which they live. 2022 has seen us continue to support universal access to two years of funded ECEC before school for all children, targeted funding for ECEC services for children experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage, and a deeper investment in a quality, sustainable workforce to further address the needs of children, families, and the sector in Australia.
Some activities that we are particularly proud of this year include:
- Welcoming our 2022 Apiary fellows was a highlight — after a pandemic hiatus, our new cohort came together at a pivotal moment in time. Inspired to promptly apply collective action, the new fellows joined a catalytic core of Apiary alumni at the October 2022 inaugural Transforming Early Learning summit.
- Transforming Early Learning summit — The Summit was attended by around 100 participants from the ECEC system. Their contribution to visions for early learning in Australia will enable us to develop strategies and pathways, build shared aspirations, and work together with a shared sense of purpose and connection, transforming the early learning system into one where every child, family and community can thrive.
- The EDGE study was launched this year— The Educational and Development Gains in Early Childhood (EDGE) study is a partnership between The University of Melbourne (UoM) and the Front Project, working closely with the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET). The study is a five-year evaluation of the rollout of three-year-old kindergarten in Victoria. This partnership reflects a shared, multi-disciplinary commitment to an evaluation that will deliver rigorous evidence, insights for policymakers, and practical information for early childhood teachers, centre leaders and providers. It runs from 2022-2027, delivering interim findings at regular intervals.
- A Funding Models and Levers paper which discusses the system-wide change for all families and the effectiveness of a mixture of different ECEC funding models that currently operate across the country. This is especially important for children and families experiencing disadvantage and vulnerability who need additional support to access quality ECEC.
- The case for system stewardship in Australia’s Early Childhood Education and Care System — Drawing on peer-reviewed literature, international and intersectoral case studies, as well as more than 40 consultations spanning experts and leaders across systems thinking, public administration and ECEC, this report examines the current challenges and significant opportunities available to the Australian ECEC sector.
- Supporting all Children to Thrive report — In 2022, we saw the consequences of COVID-19 across the workforce. There is considerable evidence mounting about the disruption to care, diminished family functioning and relationships, and poorer child mental health and wellbeing.
'Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) plays a profound role in the learning and development of children in Australia. It also makes significant contributions to workforce participation and social equity.' The Case for Systems Stewardship, 2022.
Through this work and the work of many others aiming to make a difference in children’s lives, we are seeing a real impact for children, families and the sector at large. To this end we are committed to continually iterating and refining our activities to ensure that they serve children and families and the emerging and persistent needs of the sector.
This year we saw Australian voters voice their expectations of more support for our ECEC sector, particularly as more employers, business leaders and economists joined families, early learning professionals and early childhood advocates in calling for a stronger system.
Next year, we are looking toward our next phase of work. Through whatever comes in 2023, we remain committed to addressing the systemic barriers that impact children’s outcomes.
Projects underway for 2023 include:
- Continuing to increase the number of people in the Upskill Program who are undertaking a Bachelor of early childhood and extending this initiative to more universities with new levels of support to meet different needs.
- 2023 Victorian Department of Education Upskill Program recruitment.
- Visioning Conversations with Children on the future of early learning.
- Welcoming the 2023 Apiary Fellow cohort.
- Continuing to raise children’s voices to the centre of national conversations to inform discussions about improving early childhood experiences.
- Launching an exciting new Impact Foundry, led by our newest member of the team, Dr Chris Mason. The Impact Foundry will comprise of an Evidence to Action Lab and an Innovation Lab. The Evidence to Action Lab will generate new evidence and convert this to actions for government, business and the sector.
- Contributing to consultations on the 2023 ACCC Childcare Inquiry, and Productivity Commission review of the ECEC sector
- Barriers and facilitators to a system stewardship model in Australia’s ECEC system
- Modelling of Upskill program
- Summary of children’s voices/participation methodologies and models
- ECEC Jurisdictional Comparison Research
- Families research: population and multi-year surveys
- Deeper analysis of ECEC funding models
- Continuing the EDGE research project
To everyone who connects with our work, thank you for your continued support of improving early learning through what has been another difficult year.
We hope everyone enjoys safe and restful holidays and I look forward to an exciting new year.