January this year marked the start of the changes to educator qualifications requirements. Almost one year on, Camille Howard talks to some of the educators who gained qualifications following the introduction of the NQF, and found out they discovered more about themselves in the process than they thought possible.
(This article first appeared in Rattler 112, published by Community Child Care Co-operative (NSW). To purchase a copy, go to: www.ccccnsw.org.au/shop)
When the National Quality Framework was announced, particularly the changes to educator qualifications, it was backed by clear research: higher qualified educators lead to improved outcomes for children, with more highly qualified educators having a greater understanding of children’s development.
Even though quality is an important prerequisite for the sector, and for the services getting qualified staff, training can also bring some unexpected benefits to the individuals undertaking a course, such as gaining greater theoretical knowledge and confidence to back up practice, discovering learning difficulties, and uncovering a passion for further education.
But for many who undertook study to come in line with the NQF, it had been a long time since they last studied—20, 30 and even 40 years. Understandably for some, the prospect was daunting.
‘I worried about how I would find going back to study again after such a long time,’ says Julie Wightman, educator at Baulkham Hills Preschool Kindergarten, who completed the Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care through Community Child Care Co-operative (NSW).
Although Julie has been with the service for more than 11 years, she hadn’t studied since doing a secretarial course at TAFE as a teenager. ‘The older you get, especially with such a big gap between study, the more likely you are to feel apprehensive, I think.’
Julie says it helped having other team members go through the process together. ‘A couple of times we had a little group session, so we could bounce ideas off each other.’
And thanks to Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), where on-the-job knowledge and experience is matched to course competencies, Julie says the process was made less stressful. ‘I think if I didn’t have the Recognition of Prior Learning, and I had to go and study at night-time at TAFE, I would have been more apprehensive,’ she says.
Now the study is behind her, Julie certainly recognises the changes in her practices. ‘It made me stand back and reflect on our practices, right or wrong. For example, asking if we were doing something just because we’ve always done it, and instead reflecting on experiences with a better understanding on what the children will get out of it.’
For Tracey Stewart, another educator at Baulkham Hills Preschool Kindergarten, undertaking the Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care taught
her more about herself than she could have imagined.
Tracey hadn’t studied since leaving school over 35 years earlier, so was pretty apprehensive. In fact, she was so anxious about the prospect of studying that she went to a psychiatrist for help. ‘She suggested that I might have dyslexia, so I went to the Australian Dyslexia Association and did some tests and I discovered I have a mild form of dyslexia.’
Having the diagnosis was a huge relief. ‘That really lifted a weight,’ she says. ‘I didn’t feel so bad or that I was stupid. I’m more creative, and I think that’s how I’ve always compensated for not writing things down. Now everyone at the preschool is aware of that, which is good.’
Her confidence in her practice has increased, too, along with her responsibilities in terms of observations and other documentation. ‘Everything’s written down and I still struggle with that, but I’ll get there—it’s a learning experience, I think,’ she says. ‘But now I don’t feel embarrassed about having to write an observation about a child, or worry about getting feedback about making spelling mistakes.’
Tracey’s apprehension of studying stemmed from bad experiences at school, where if you weren’t any good at school you just sat in a room and read a book. ‘That was our special English class,’ she says. ‘I hated school, too, so perhaps that is why.’
System of support
Both Tracey and Julie also recognise how important it is to have support and encouragement, which they found in spades from their preschool’s director, Kim Anderson, who played an active role in getting the team through the training.
‘Kim was fantastic. She pushed me along, helped me and spent time with me after hours to help get me through,’ Tracey says.
Kim’s involvement started the moment the NQF was announced. ‘When we realised what was happening, we decided to do it sooner rather than later,’ Kim says.
The preschool staff had been in the sector for several years, so Kim researched the options and decided on a course through Community Child Care (NSW) that would allow for recognition of her staff’s years of work within her service.
Thankfully, Kim says, the committee is also supportive of staff training and professional development. ‘Our committee is very supportive of our training and making sure we stay skilled and improve our knowledge, so staff attend inservices throughout the year,’ she explains. ‘And in their staff appraisals, the staff identify the areas they’d like to improve on and then we find the courses to work to upgrade those skills and knowledge.’
Understanding that her team may have been apprehensive about studying, Kim says she wanted to remove as many obstacles as possible. ‘I thought that if they could do it all at the same time then they could support each other through that process and not feel so daunted by it.’
She also made sure cost wasn’t a factor, going to the committee to get approval for the course fees to be paid upfront by the preschool, with staff members given the option to pay it back in instalments.
‘Some paid for their course upfront, but others had payments deducted from their wage, and we let them choose the length of time they took to make payments,’ she explains.
‘Speaking with them afterwards, they were all extremely grateful of the fact that they could all do it together and they had that support,’ Kim says. ‘You hear stories of services that say “You have to do this, off you go”, and they don’t assist them in finding what course might suit their needs or other assistance to help them do the course. I certainly wouldn’t take that approach—if you want them to be able to change and embrace those changes with positivity, then you really need to offer that support, guidance and assistance as best you can. That’s the approach our service took.’
It’s an approach that has paid off. ‘We can see that in the greater awareness of different practices and procedures. So now when we review things, the thoughts and knowledge is coming from a different approach. And they are now more confident in their ability to make those decisions.
‘I think they surprised themselves that they really could do this and that they did have the knowledge,’ Kim says. ‘It was just refining that into the different units and being able articulate it better, and having a thorough understanding of how they could implement this into their practice. I think it really boosted their confidence and they had a real sense of achievement when they finished.’
Taking it to the next level
Kylie Streets, room leader at Billi-Lids Long Day Care Centre in Billinudgel, North Coast NSW, knows about this sense of achievement. Kylie left the sector after working as a special needs worker and in family day care, and upon her return some years later, she realised she needed a qualification.
It wasn’t exactly a welcome discovery. ‘I didn’t know what study was like, I went through high school doing the bare minimum and wasn’t sure I would know how to study, or what it would entail. I hadn’t looked into courses in about 20 years, so I didn’t know what TAFE was even like.’
Despite the nerves, she signed up to complete her Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care through North Coast TAFE. She was pleasantly surprised. ‘It was a lot easier than I originally thought,’ she says.
And although she had misgivings about her age, she believes it actually helped her get through. ‘Because I was mature-aged, it was really easy to wrap my head around stuff, especially with a working background. The writing wasn’t extremely hard—it wasn’t like essays that you have to do at university—and it was more relevant to what I was doing at work, so it made it really easy.’
Because of this, when she found that a role was coming up for a diploma-trained educator, coupled with fee exemptions on offer at the time, Kylie jumped straight into studying for her Diploma.
‘I’m really glad I did it, because there’s working knowledge and there’s theory knowledge and it takes a lot of both to do this job,’ she says.
Which is why she is now completing an early childhood teaching degree part-time (online), which has its own challenges. ‘The essay writing is like getting your head back around to being in school! I have friends that are doing the course at the same time so that makes it a bit easier.’
For Janice Dorrough, undertaking the Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care at North Coast TAFE was an easy decision. Looking for a change in career—more than 20 years after studying nursing—she says she would have completed the training even if it wasn’t an NQF requirement. ‘It was a new career for me and I wanted to get a good grasp of early education,’ she explains.
So much so, that straight after gaining her Certificate III, Janice went on to complete her Diploma. ‘There was constant study; I was obsessed with it!’
Completing the Diploma straight away turned out to be a pretty smart career choice. ‘I got a job straight away at the service where I was doing work placement for my diploma. I think having the diploma was a real bonus for them, as I had the current knowledge.’
Now employed as an educator at Bilambil Preschool, near Tweed Heads, Janice admits that while it wasn’t always easy, the effort paid off. ‘It’s really exciting learning something new all the time but trying to fit everything in can be a challenge,’ she says. ‘It was hard in that I had to study every day, seven days a week, doing assignments—I didn’t realise there would be that many, and due so close together.’
The full-time study meant some juggling of her family life, too. ‘My little boy was starting kindergarten and not being able to there totally for him was difficult,’ Janice says.
With full-time study over, for now at least, Janice is excited to be putting her training into practice. ‘This past year has been fantastic. It’s been challenging at times, but very exciting watching the children grow and learn, it’s very rewarding.’
Training through CCCC
Community Child Care Co-operative (NSW) is a Registered Training Organisation that delivers nationally recognised, accredited training. As a peak body for the sector, courses have been designed with an understanding of working within early education and care settings. All courses are designed to develop skills or gain a qualification that can help further a career, and many courses can be studied by distance education.
Qualifications available through Community Child Care (NSW) include:
- Advanced Diploma of Community Sector Management
- Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care
- Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care
- Diploma of Management
- Certificate IV in Training and Assessment
- Certificate IV of Frontline Management
To find out more, head to www.ccccnsw.org.au/rto