Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

The Quality of Early Childhood Education and Care Services in Australia

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

The Quality of Early Childhood Education and Care Services in Australia

Article excerpt

Introduction

In 1993, Australia became the first country to compel providers of long day care (i.e. child care centres) to complete a quality accreditation process known as the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System (QIAS). This country-wide system of quality assurance was later extended to family day care, outside-school-hours care and occasional care. In 2012, a more extensive and innovative national quality assessment system commenced for all services, including preschools. There have been differences of opinion about program quality and the success of the Australian quality-assurance system to date, but no direct empirical tests of its effects across service types. The system was lauded internationally (Love et al., 2003; OECD, 2002), but domestic opinion has been mixed (see Harrison, Skouteris, Watson & Ungerer, 2006, for a positive view; and Ishimine, Tayler & Bennett, 2010 and Rush, 2006, for critiques).

This paper is based on the first year of data from a large-scale longitudinal study of the effects of early childhood education and care experiences on the development of Australian children as they mature from age three to eight years. The study follows a stratified random sample of 2596 children who, in 2010, were engaged in approximately 300 ECEC classrooms in two Australian states--Queensland and Victoria--and another randomly selected sample of 162 children who were not in an ECEC program in the same year. The quality of the education and care in each of these classrooms is assessed using two instruments--the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) (Pianta, LaParo & Hamre, 2008) and three subscales (Space and Furnishings, Personal Care Routines and Activities) of the Early Childhood Environments Rating Scale-Revised (ECERS-R) (Harms, Clifford & Cryer, 2005).

The data from just over 250 classrooms analysed in this paper provide evidence about several aspects of the distribution of quality scores in Australian early childhood education and care services, prior to adoption in 2012 of the new, higher-level National Quality Standard. Three main research questions are addressed in this paper:

1. What is the average value and range of quality levels observed in 2010 ECEC services used by three-and four-year-old children in (two states in) Australia?

2. How does observed quality vary by the type of early childhood education and care service provided; are there significant differences in measured quality by ECEC type in Australia?

3. How does the quality of ECEC found in Australia in 2010 compare with observed quality in other countries?

This paper explores the variation in average quality by type of early childhood education and care service. Funding, regulation and participation in accreditation were different for preschools versus long day care versus family day care homes. We find evidence in the E4Kids 2010 data that quality in preschools is higher on average than in other services.

There are three main types of ECEC services in the study--long day care, family day care, and kindergarten. Long day care provides centre-based care (similar to child care centres in the United States), for-profit or not-for-profit organisations providing full-day care throughout the year to children below school age; however, many Australian children are in care programs for only part of the week. Family day care is provided in the educators' homes; the educators are organised into care-providing licensed schemes that provide support and some monitoring. The 'kindergartens' are similar to American 'preschool' programs; kindergarten provides early childhood education aimed at children in the year or two before they commence full-time schooling (e.g. when a child is three or four years old). At the time of data collection regulations required teachers to hold at least a Bachelor's degree in kindergarten classrooms, a diploma (or equivalent on-the-job training) in long day care settings, and basic first aid and child care certificates or equivalent in family day care provision. …

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