A professional career structure – we need to start the discussions to get it built.

Imagine for a moment, we wake up tomorrow morning and Australia has no Educators. Imagine every education and care (child care) service is closed.

Imagine they all got a job as, well, lets look at that – if they left for more money, what might they choose? One example:

1st year Educator

Children’s services employee level 1.1 on entry $771.00$20.29
Source: Pay guides – Minimum wages – Fair Work Ombudsman

Call Centre employee (a role with less responsibility)

Customer contact trainee$805.10$21.19
Source: Pay guides – Minimum wages – Fair Work Ombudsman

Suddenly, the prospect of Educators choosing other work doesn’t seem so improbable, does it?

Why do Educators choose their current role?

I asked 5 Educators:

  • ‘I wanted to work with children’ (Educator 22yr old)
  • ‘I wanted to do something like this – I may go on to teach’ (Educator 20 yr old)
  • ‘It was available’ (Educator 54 yr old)
  • ‘My school sent me here for work experience’ (Educator 18 yr old)
  • ‘I really love it – I thought I might, it’s working out’. (Educator 23 yr old)

All of these Educators agreed on one thing – if money elsewhere gets much better, they would definitely leave early childhood. ( Meeting: Educators, various employers November 2019)

The question then is …

What would make it worth staying?

Is it just the money?

No, but the money is critical. I am sick of people saying we get a reward from loving the job. No-one asks Nurses to accept loving the job as payment! I have responsibility for a room of 20 children. Their early learning here is in my hands. If I don’t do this right, each child suffers. If I do it wrong, I get prosecuted under our law. Teachers and nurses have a great rate, and a great career. I want that, but right now, I have to leave to get it.” (Educator 23 yr old)

The structure of a career in early childhood

A career must have a pathway, that pathway is a structure. The structure guides the careers of everyone in that profession, and it has an impact on everyone who interacts with that profession – and so their perspectives must be considered:

What needs to be considered in the development of a career structure?

For the Educator

  • Qualifications – Requirements for entry level and advanced practice; Supported by an ongoing pathway of ongoing professional learning that is research based, specialty specific, quality assured, credited and cumulative.
  • Career structure – Entry level, Specialization (Practicing), and Advanced practice; Supported by staged qualification requirements; Stage specific salary levels to draw practitioners forward
  • Remuneration – Developed around expert level with beginning practitioner below that and advanced practitioner above that; Portability across the profession to like positions; Parity with comparable level positions

For the community

  • Reassurance of quality – Research base; Regulatory Framework; Standards of Practice; Guidelines; Positions statements; Practice support; Related agency consideration
  • Protection – Regulation; High shared expectations; Quality monitoring and assurance
  • Accountability – Linked research, qualifications, and professional learning with practice, requirements and accountability all well understood; Clear Educator identity and shared understanding of purpose; accountability mechanisms well versed in the profession.

For children and families

  • Focus on the child – Research based; Democratic; Rights framed; ‘That the rights and best interests of the child are paramount’1
  • Seamless care and education pathway – 0 to 18 focus; Research based; Linked communication between agencies (with parent or child as the vector); Respected and supported transitions.
  • Supported parenting pathway – Pre-birth to 18; Research based; Linked communication between agencies (with parent or child as the vector); Respected and supported transitions.

What does a career structure actually look like?

A broad career structure

Next week:

The one element that must be considered before all others.


  1. National Quality Framework: Education and Care Services National Law Act 2012
  2. Career structure | Queensland Health
  3. Career Structure — Teaching Service: Overview | education.vic.gov.au
  4. CHAPTER 5 – Parliament of Australia (aph.gov.au)

Professional Recognition – beyond recognition – it needs structure – and we need to discuss this sooner rather than later

To date in this blog series, we have discussed the definition of a profession (see earlier posts), the conclusion – the Early Childhood Educator role has all of the characteristics as a profession – but it has none of the structure.

Famously fractionate, early childhood in Australia is spilt by the characteristics of ownership type, service type, location, federal and state funding policy and a range of funding models. Children (and their families) in the 0-8 years age group that are subject to these services, face what can only be described as a complex system access profile that does not support parents to ask the question “What is best for my child?”, instead parents can only ask “What can we afford?”

“Over the years the early learning system has become complex and outdated… ”

Jay Weatherill CEO Thrive by Five

An Educator seeking to work in this system chooses from ownership type, service type, salary level and role – with wild variations in role, salary and accountability. Why would this be the case? If the role of Educator fits the agreed definition of professional, why is there no complementary salary and recognition profile that meets that definition?

There are many inputs into this situation, most are historical, but all act as a brake on systemic and individual role development and all hold back the individuals in that role.

If we look at it from a structural perspective (it is after all structural solutions that we need), professional recognition is usually systemic and reaches across a profession – see nursing for one example – but within this there is individual recognition – which comes on the back of a professional structure including a qualifications framework, individual ongoing professional requirements, and individual accountability.

Early childhood has a relatively new qualification framework1 that has its own structural issues, it has limited ongoing professional requirements, and it has a differentiated individual accountability (see the difference between those placed on registered Teachers as opposed to those placed on unregistered Educators) all filtered through a heavy organisational accountability framework.

Nurses, who work across a range of employment types and roles have professional recognition across the community, are regulated as professionals, and are paid as such. The expectations on each individual Nurse, to meet practice standards, are high.

The structure of nursing warrants consideration. I use the example of nursing as a predominantly female, care labeled profession that has, in relatively recent times, won a career structure. It is also useful to step back from the Teacher – Educator scenario and look to other professions for a hint of what is possible:

“There are two levels of regulated nurses in Australia – Registered Nurses (RNs) and Enrolled Nurses (ENs). Enrolled Nurses have completed a Certificate IV or a Diploma in Nursing from a registered Vocational Education and Training Provider (VET). EN’s are then registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Board (NMBA) to practice.

An EN usually works with a RN to provide patients with basic nursing care but do less complex procedures than RNs.

Registered Nurses are nurses who have completed a minimum three-year bachelor degree in nursing and have passed a national licensing exam to obtain a nursing license and is registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Board (NMBA).

RNs work independently and in inter-dependent teams. RNs are accountable and responsible for their own actions and the delegation of care to ENs and other healthcare workers.

To maintain registration, both RNs and ENs are subject to a ‘practice’ standard and continued professional development standards, as set by the NMBA.

Advanced Practice Nurses or Nurse Practitioners – Nurse practitioners are the most senior clinical nurses involved in diagnosing and treating patient illnesses. Registered nurse educated to a master’s degree level or post graduate qualifications. Both are able to work autonomously and collaboratively in an advanced and extended clinical role.

You will find them working independently, while alongside other doctors and health care professionals, to assess, diagnose, treat and manage patient illnesses.”2

The role of Nurses and the professional claims of Nurses did not progress until the career structure was put in place in 1986-67.

Educators need a professional structure independent of the diaspora of ownership type. We need a career structure.

More on a potential professional career structure, and what is needed to build it, next week.


  1. The National Quality Framework. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-03/Guide-to-the-NQF_0.pdf (ACECQA)
  2. https://www.health.qld.gov.au/employment/work-for-us/clinical/nursing-midwifery/career-structure (QLD Government)

We are not alone

In her report, Re-imagining Childhood: The inspiration of Reggio Emilia education principles in South Australia , Prof Carla Rinaldi challenged:

“What is our image of a child?

What is the relationship between childhood and society?

What is the role of school in society?

What does it mean to be an educating community?

Why do we separate education and care?

Is it possible for early childhood services to be places where the educational quality and the rights of children are given priority rather than the needs of parents to work?

These are big questions that challenge our common perceptions of children and invite us to open dialogue about the culture of childhood.”  

The South Australian Collaborative Childhood Project

When I read this for the first time I cheered! [Note: This is behaviour is not warmly received on a QANTAS flight.]

On the second and subsequent reads I began to wonder if the discussion of ‘education’, while valuable, hasn’t limited our thinking and kept us away from having a deeper understanding of the other professions that have a close impact on a child’s life?

I wondered if Prof Rinaldi’s question (echoed by others) ‘Why do we separate education and care?’ could be the key to starting some thinking about what a new early childhood approach might look like, and if it is in the phrase ‘education and care’ that we might start?

What, I ask you, would be the change in your thinking if I told you that we were changing the phrase ‘education and care’ as Professor Rinaldi is referring to it, to for example, ‘guidance and wellbeing’? Would something like this place the emphasis back on the child and de-emphasize the structural impact of divided ‘education and care’ systems? If we did that, would we be able to more closely integrate the health and education professions into our work, and create an expectation that we would all work together for the child?

What skills and knowledge would we need to act as a professional guide for the child in such a system? Hold that thought!

At conferences, round tables, webinars and Zoom meetings, the gatherings of other professions talking about early childhood rarely have a practicing early childhood Educator as the headline speaker.

At a gathering earlier this year, I remarked to an organiser that it was wonderful to be at a meeting with so many other professions and to hear from their multiple perspectives. I was, at the time consulting to an early childhood service who were taking their first steps toward an equal partnership with occupational therapy, physiotherapy, child and family psychology and speech pathology. The meeting topic was case communication and management and how can we all talk together. I had stretched the budget to almost breaking point to travel to the event and was keen to learn. I asked when the Early Childhood Educator would be speaking. The organiser smiled at the remark and said ‘What would they have to say to us?’

I would have responded but could not. How could I respond in a busy meeting hall that the division between early childhood education and care and the school system was a structural problem that broke the idea of early childhood into pieces without regard for the individual child who should flow seamlessly through the system – but that while this division was capturing attention, it could not be said to be resolved until all of the professions working for the child communicated and planned together – for the benefit of that child.

Weeks later I wrote to the organiser and responded ‘I don’t know, I don’t even know if they would understand the early childhood experience in a Centre, but we have to try and we have to be given opportunities to discuss what we do and can do’. I finished by saying that one of the units of study in the Diploma for Early Childhood Education and Care required the student develop their professional knowledge to work in partnership with families, communities, and other services and agencies.

The problem is, we can’t grow those skills and that knowledge, until we have opportunities to do so…

” I worked with these other professions in regards to children in my class on a limited capacity. I believe we should have more visits, time for consultation with Educators and more correspondence between the two services. … I would say Educators need to stand their ground and request those professionals if needed, they’re often keen to do so. It’s sadly our Centres that wont give the time or support needed to work with other professions”

Educator 2020

Re-read the quote above again.

Did you see it?

She said ‘these other professions’, in other words she sees herself as a professional and requires the structural resources to support this area of her professional practice. In the discussions on professionalisation of the sector, there is an argument to be made that Educators are there – that it is external parties that need to catch up.

Going back to the question posed earlier – ‘What skills and knowledge would we need to act as a professional guide for the child in such a system?’ She already has the skills and knowledge – but is being artificially held back by a limited view of Educator professional practice, and by limited support, and so doesn’t get the chance to grow and be recognised in this area.

I have recommended that the next event consider the stream – ‘Working together – The collaborative requirements of professionals working with children’.

Next week in discussing the professionalisation of the Education and Care sector: Mapping one role across 3 professions – The professional role of the Educational Leader in Early Childhood settings – what we learn when we view the role in comparison with other profession’s leaders.

Don’t be afraid of complexity

I am crazy about my hairdresser. As the lifelong possessor of unruly hair, I treasure the hope giving skills of that woman – although the family tale that I moved suburbs because she did, is untrue (I am happy to travel) .

At the end of each cut she stands back, looks at her handiwork and says ‘that looks professional’. Each time I respond ‘It takes a bit more than that’.

Want to build a profession? First understand what a profession is.

AN Educator, Diploma qualified, 7 years Experience

I have been working with some Educators on professional identity and what it takes to build a profession. Why? It is their profession and if it is built around them and not with them, it wont be theirs and they wont be motivated to build it and protect it.

In 1952 Ernest Greenwood published what was to become the seminal definition of a profession. It has gone on to be refined and redefined by a multitude of perspectives, but in essence his principles remain to provide a valuable framework for us as we consider how we may finally, and after a great deal of growth and doubt, build the early childhood profession that we need.

Let’s play with that:

  1. A profession has systematic theory. This can be seen in the way that the profession’s knowledge is organised. Look over your shoulder and you can see behind you, supporting your work, a body of knowledge that is organised and translated in a way to make it possible (for the most part) for the theory to become your practice guidance. One of my favourite examples of this is the work developed by the incredible folks at Evidence for Learning, but the principle is built on and kept alive by every Certificate III Educator when they open the Early Years Learning Framework and then walk out of the staff room into the children’s area. We have some work to do here – including rethinking how the knowledge scaffold is build and how it is organised, recognised and transmitted.
  2. A profession has authority. Greenwood says here that ‘professional authority’ stems from the contrast between the extensive education required for the professional and the comparative lack of knowledge held by a lay person. Now before you imagine this is a slight, understand that doubting the knowledge level required to do the role is a reflection on the commentator who fails to instruct themselves on the professional expertise of the Educator, not on the professional Educator. Our job – we need to think about the purpose and content of courses, the accessibility and quality of delivery, and the need for knowledge maintenance over the life of the career. We also need to think more about how that ‘authority’ is to be protected.
  3. A profession has community sanction. A chance conversation with a policy advisor some years ago resonates here. The early childhood profession has a framework called the National Quality Framework (NQF) [for early childhood education and care]. The policy advisor was dismissive of early childhood as a profession citing services who had been found to be below standard. I countered that a prosecution is evidence that the framework and the community sponsored sanctions available within the NQF were working – that is what happens in a profession. Our task here that we need to work on – licensure for practitioners is only partially covered across early childhood and for the safety and wellbeing of our children we need it to be well thought out, comprehensive, supported and respected.
  4. A profession should have ethical codes. I am a big fan of the Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics (which I see as ahead of its time and not acknowledged enough for its power, impact and leadership) and the implementation materials they have developed. The work here – the Code has never been operationally aligned with the Codes for other professions, so an Educator will struggle to get a picture on how their role compares with and intersects with, other professions. There is also a gap between the requirements of the Code and the operational base of the service provider. Shouldn’t they be responsible for facilitating the Code? The requirements of the Code should be a line item in the budget.
  5. Culture is the last point he raised in his initial list. Here he says, that a profession has ‘social value’ . The service that the profession provides to the society is such that regulation is required to prevent unqualified persons performing them. This culture includes the rules on how practice is conducted, that is how people behave as they practice. In this we must go back to needing a clear understanding of what we do and how we do it. As a registered nurse I was once told that I was overpriced, and that most of what I did could be done by anyone. A lengthy description of what I was doing at that time changed the journalist’s mind, and they began to see the value of an enclosed profession, but that journo’s argument is more pervasive through society when it comes to early childhood – too many confuse parenting/caring with the role of Educator [BTW – Do you have 20 x 2 year old’s at home?] The messages of the Thrive by Five campaign and its partners must come to the fore here.

I was once told as a registered nurse that most of what I did could be done by anyone … that journo’s argument is more pervasive through society when it comes to early childhood

Doreen Blyth educator, [Former] registered nurse

The steps above to professional recognition are each large pieces of work that intersect and interconnect. Each exists in its own historical context as well as in the contexts of other professions and legislative frameworks. We know that. The thing is, finishing building this profession isn’t hard, it is just a big piece of work. [How do I know that? Now that IS simple – Other professions have achieved it!].

We know what we need to do – we just need to do it.

Next time – We are not alone – How all of the early childhood professions need to work better together as we go forward