202 – The key to retention in early childhood education

Presentation - ECV2022-202

The key to retention in early childhood education

Belinda Downey, Charles Sturt University, Australia (bdowney@csu.edu.au)
Will Letts, Charles Sturt University, Australia (wletts@csu.edu.au)
Sharynne McLeod, Charles Sturt University, Australia (smcleod@csu.edu.au)
Leanne Gibbs, Charles Sturt University, Australia (lgibbs@csu.edu.au)

Background: Retention of early childhood educators has become a ‘wicked problem’ with a prediction that the Australian early childhood profession will need approximately 39,000 additional educators by 2023. Attrition and high staff turnover can negatively impact children, families, other educators and the quality of the service, as well as exacerbate existing supply shortages. While pay and conditions are one concern, there are other pervasive issues impacting early childhood educators’ retention, including the highly gendered nature of the profession and that early childhood educators’ work is often invisible in terms of skill set and pay. High staff turnover has compounding effects, including job dissatisfaction and burnout. However, supportive, collaborative relationships between educators, children, and services may be key to retention. Connection can assist with greater well-being and retention of educators and higher quality care for children.

Aim: What influences early childhood educators’ retention and what impacts educators’ decision to leave their service or the profession?

Method: Participants were 34 early childhood educators working across the ‘top end’ of the Northern Territory in Australia. Yarning sessions (cf. focus groups) were undertaken, discussing the Australian early childhood profession, national sector reform and retention. A constructivist grounded theory approach was used after a constant comparative analysis.

Results: Two main categories were generated suggesting the key to attrition and retention in the early childhood profession: (a) Hopeful educators felt connected to their role, their service and the policy and legislation of early childhood education, (b) Struggling educators felt disconnected from either their role, their service, the policy and legislation of early childhood education or all three.

Conclusions: The influences and impacts that led to educator retention, turnover or attrition were grounded in educator connections that were or were not developed. (a) Hopeful educators were identified as those with intrinsic motivation in their role, a sense of belonging within an organisational culture, and engagement with early childhood policy and legislation. These educators had built connections in their role and discussed remaining in the sector (retention). (b) Struggling educators were identified as those who felt uncertain or highly stressed in their role or role expectations, disconnected from the educational philosophy or values of the organisational culture, or disengaged from the early childhood education policy and legislation. These educators had not built connections to their role, service and/or policies and discussed leaving services (turnover) or their intention to leave the sector (attrition).

Implications for children and families: For children and their families to receive the best possible care and education, the early childhood services need engaged educators who are excited to come to work and teach.

Implications for practitioners: As early childhood educators, you are more likely to remain in the early childhood profession if you (a) feel intrinsic motivation in your role, (b) feel a sense of belonging within the service and (c) engage with early childhood education policy and legislation.

Key words: professionals’ voices, workforce issues, wellbeing, communication, education, policy, government, vulnerable communities, regional/rural communities, qualitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:


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