Gunnedah needs more early childhood teachers and space for children aged 0-2

Mary Ranken's early childhood teacher Fiona Langdon with Eleanor Guest, Annabelle Mitchell, Hazel Harbour and Pearl Meredith who are in the School Readiness program.
Mary Ranken's early childhood teacher Fiona Langdon with Eleanor Guest, Annabelle Mitchell, Hazel Harbour and Pearl Meredith who are in the School Readiness program.

NSW TAFE is predicting that child care teaching is set to become one of the fastest growing occupations in Gunnedah.

Mary Ranken Child Care Centre’s Fiona Langdon said there was currently a shortage of early childhood teachers who are required for school readiness or pre-school programs.

Th early childhood teacher said the programs were becoming increasingly popular, however, it is difficult to source suitably qualified staff. 

“We need more early childhood teachers in town,” she said.

“They are sought after.”

We're not babysitters – we’re out there teaching kids every day

Fiona Langdon, Mary Ranken Child Care Centre

Mrs Langdon said the majority of staff in child care centres were early childhood educators who had a certificate three in early childhood or a diploma but were not qualified to teach pre-school programs. To qualify as an early childhood teacher, people must complete a four-year degree through university, which also enables them to teach in primary schools. 

Regardless of their level of qualification, Mrs Langdon said there would only be change if the attitude towards child care staff as “babysitters” is addressed.

“We're not babysitters – we’re out there teaching kids every day,” she said.

“Everything we’re doing is helping kids in their development.

“I’m really passionate about doing the best I can to help them transition to school smoothly.”

The majority of the children enrolled in Mary Ranken’s school readiness program attend three or four days a week, with many parents now identifying the impact of early learning.

“There’s an increasing awareness of the importance of the first five years of development,” Mrs Langdon said.

“The learning children have between 0-5 is crucial. It paves the way for their learning in future life.

“They’re finding that kids that have had that grounding are better equipped, they’re doing better in school, they’re more confident, more organised and they’ve got better self-help skills.”

Mrs Langdon said while there was a shortage of teachers for ages 3-5, there was also a huge lack of child care places in Gunnedah for children aged 0-2.

“There is a constant demand for places for babies,” she said.

Gunnedah and District Chamber of Commerce president Stacey Cooke.

Gunnedah and District Chamber of Commerce president Stacey Cooke.

Gunnedah and District Chamber of Commerce president Stacey Cooke said the lack of places was one of the biggest hurdles in the skills shortage and an ongoing challenge for parents.

“When you have so many qualified, skilled people and they can’t get back into the workforce, it’s a problem,” she said.

“We could have more people get back to work if we had child care places.

“To have a wait list out here in a regional area, it just seems crazy.”

We could have more people get back to work if we had child care places.

Stacey Cooke, Chamber of Commerce

Due to the higher ratio of staff needed for children aged 0-2 (1:4), Mrs Cooke said it was not as economical for centres to cater to the demand.

“Child care centres aren’t going to be able to be profitable to address our need for 0-2,” she said.

Mrs Cooke said a potential solution was lifting the agricultural focus of the 417 visas to enable more au pairs to come to Australia and stay for longer periods to meet the demand for child care.

“I think they should take the restriction of agriculture out because regional areas are struggling with the skills shortage,” she said. 

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