A decision to stop university students from taking on paid teaching roles in early childhood centres next year may backfire on the government and force some centres to close.
From January next year, Queensland will become the only state that won’t allow early childhood learning (ECL) students to work as paid teachers while studying.
The Australian Government expanded the current student opportunity until 2023 in other jurisdictions after state and territory governments pushed for the extension.
Georgiana Karam, who runs the Adam and Noah Early Learning College in Browns Plains, said the new rule will make it harder for employers to meet essential child to teacher ratios.
“This is a recipe for centres closing,” she predicted.
When Georgiana opened her centre in 2014, she was allowed an equal split of paid qualified teachers and paid ECT students to make up a teaching ratio.
“Once I made them paid employees, they counted within the ratio because they were working towards the qualification next year,” she said.
This helped her create an employment pathway for more than 80 students in their final years of study.
That was critical for maintaining child to teacher ratios, which have moved since Georgiana opened.
“The ratio has changed twice since I opened, in the past it was one to 12 for kindergarten, now it is one to 11,” she said.
That means for a typical kindergarten class, she needs two qualified teachers instead of one.
“The second one is impossible to recruit in the current climate,” she said.
“The turnaround around of staff is extraordinary in childcare.”
Goodstart Early Learning Director John Cherry agrees that teachers are hard to find.
“This is probably the worst crisis in terms of childcare workforce that we’ve seen in probably a decade in Queensland,” he said.
“We’ve had people leaving, not enough people coming, and disruptions to the university and TAFE system because of COVID, which means our pipeline of new graduates has been disrupted.”
“We’ve also had immigration turned off, so a lot of overseas workers who would have come into the industry are not entering the country.”
The federal education department reports a national shortage of 4,500 teachers.
The Australia Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority estimates the sector could require another 39,000 early years workers plus an extra 9,000 teachers by 2023.
Queensland’s Department of Education defended its ruling on student employment.
In a statement to Park Ridge News the department said early childcare providers have had ample time to comply with the incoming regulation, including two extensions between 2017 and 2019.
Any providers who cannot meet the requirements should apply for a waiver, decided on a case-by-case basis.
Logan MP Linus Power said the Queensland Government’s stance on the issue is about setting a high standard for teaching in early education.
“We want to set standards so that you know that when you drop your child off at a childcare centre that they’re going to have someone who really understands what it takes to develop a child’s brain,” Linus said.
“We want to encourage the industry to actually push people to get that education, especially because we’ve got those programs free at TAFE.
“If there’s workforce issues, that’s something we’ll work through with the industry.”