In a panel discussion at South Australia’s inquiry into early childhood education and care, longtime preschool educator, director and now consultant Jane Lemon said fluctuating enrolments also added to complexities for pre-school centres.
“Recruiting and retaining staff is really hard,” she said on Friday.
“If you’re a centre with a small number of children and you’re only operating maybe two days one week and three days the next, that’s a big step for someone to move to the middle of the country to work in that kind of setting, for a half-time job.”
“Those kinds of issues are really problematic at the moment.”
Lemon said it was also difficult for those training to even “get a taste” of what working in the country would be like because of a lack of accommodation during placements.
She said the introduction of a pre-school program for three-year-olds could help provide more opportunities for staff to secure fulltime roles, perhaps by working at more than one location.
It could also help “smooth out” student numbers, helping avoid situations where small centres could have around a dozen children one year and then double that the next.
Former prime minister Julia Gillard is heading up the royal commission which was a key promise of the incoming state Labor government last year.
That included a pledge to deliver universal preschool for three-year-olds by 2026, provide better access to out-of-school care and increase workforce participation through improved access to child care.
Preschool director Catherine Cavouras said along with recruiting new staff, retaining expertise in the sector was also important.
“When you’ve got experts who hang around…continuity of educators is critical,” she said.
“Critical to sites but critical to the continuity for families. Having the same conversations, or threads of the same conversations, honours us providing a service to families.”
Lemon said in respect to adding a program for three-year-olds “one size won’t fit all”.
“Being able to develop a range of possibilities for different communities will be really essential,” she said.
Lemon said small country centres might have the capacity to do that, but larger centres were already struggling to meet the needs of the students they had.
“The bigger issue is around quality staff. Quality leadership and quality staff and the ongoing learning and reflection requirements for staff,” she said.
As well as hearing from academics, educators, and experts in the early education and child care sectors, the royal commission has already taken hundreds of responses from parents and other community members.
Gillard is due to present her final report to the government in August this year.
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