Interview The EYLF at 10

‘Strong advocates for children’s rights and for educators’: Anne Kennedy on the EYLF consortium

To mark 10 years since the formation of the consortium of researchers, practitioners and experts that developed the Early Years Learning Framework, we spoke with many of the original members of that consortium to hear their reflections on the EYLF.

Dr Anne Kennedy has extensive experience in early childhood education as an academic, researcher, advocate, writer, teacher, trainer and consultant. Anne is an honorary fellow of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne and was a member of the Charles Sturt University writing team that developed the national Early Years Learning Framework (2009).  Since the introduction of the NQS, and the EYLF, she has been involved in extensive resource development and advanced professional learning programs for childhood professionals.

The Framework: Dr Kennedy, what were you doing 10 years ago when it was announced you would be one of the consortium?

Dr Anne Kennedy: When I was invited to join the CSU consortium, I had not long left my position at Monash University and had begun working as a consultant.

Can you tell us a bit about how the consortium was put together?

The consortium, led by Professor Jennifer Sumsion from CSU, was a group of 29 academics, practitioners, peak body representatives and consultants from across Australia. The consortium was divided into five cluster groups tasked with supporting the process of developing the framework. Each cluster group was connected to stakeholders and critical friends. From the larger group, I was one of seven people who were identified as the core-writing group.

What are your memories of developing the EYLF with your consortium colleagues?

My first memory is of feeling very honoured to be part of this important project as well as excitement and nervousness in equal measure: Excitement about the fact Australia was embarking on a national reform agenda that included the development of a national Early Learning Framework and nervous about the formidable task ahead of us.

Australia is the only Federated nation in the world to achieve a national reform agenda on this scale and we were very cognisant of what was expected of us and the potential importance of this project for the education and care sector.

How did you find working with a large group to achieve this goal?

I have very positive memories of the outstanding leadership provided by Professor Jennifer Sumsion to the consortium and to the project overall. Jennifer’s academic credentials, wisdom, ethical approach and experience were essential to keeping the consortium on task, meeting deadlines and gaining the approval of the EYLF Working Party for the final draft. This was a significant leadership role as we were a highly experienced and diverse group of people with strong viewpoints on what we were embarking on, what the outcomes should be and how best to achieve them.

I remember the complexity of the project with the tensions inherent in competing perspectives or positions and the demands of short time frames and high expectations.  I also remember how much I learnt about curriculum and pedagogy throughout the process of negotiation within the consortium and beyond with the wider sector and with the EYLF working party.

For you, what was successful about the development of the EYLF?

I think the fact that we were able to work together as a team with diverse experiences, backgrounds, ideas and theoretical perspectives was a great achievement. Yes, there was much debate and negotiation, but there was respect for each other and for the project.

While there were some experts external to the consortium who argued for a single theoretical position to underpin the framework, Professor Sumsion, the consortium members and the EYLF working party agreed that responding to and embedding multiple theoretical perspectives into the framework would result in a more robust document that would encourage debate while reflecting the reality of educators’ work where decisions and responses are based on different theoretical perspectives even when these are not explicitly articulated or indeed well understood.

What are you proud of?

The processes we established for the writing, reviewing, testing, revising and trialing  of many drafts helped to ensure we remained collaborative and committed to our goals. Feedback from the sector indicated that they wanted the consortium to be ‘brave and bold’ in their work. While there were some constraints on this notion, I think we did achieve some ‘wins’ in being brave and bold.

Not separating children into traditional age groups, which was normal practice in early childhood education and inherent in the prevailing developmental approaches at the time, was a brave and bold move that challenged the status quo and has influenced and changed our image of children and our work with them.

Using terms like ‘educator’ ‘pedagogy’ and ‘ children’s agency’ are further examples of brave decisions. When a sector shifts from naming people as ‘childcare workers’ or ‘children’s services workers’, to calling those working with children educators, there is a flow on effect on how we see ourselves and how others perceive us, and the work we do.

Were there particular challenges you remember?

The consortium members revealed themselves as strong advocates for children’s rights and for educators throughout the project especially as they made a case for specific content inclusion in the face of media pressure and from others in the community. While some of the content was ‘softened’ as a result of this negative media attention, there is a focus on children’s rights and equity matters embedded in the framework.

I found working with two different sites that were part of trial of the first complete draft particularly helpful because it enabled me to ‘step back’ from the intense writing period and to gain insights into how different settings might respond to the EYLF. The 28 trial sites provided important feedback and information as we engaged in writing the final version of the framework.

What do you think could have been done better?

Along with many others, I would have liked to see a stronger focus on the EYLF as an Australian learning framework and especially the importance of the history, traditions and cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The writing team’s vision was that the EYLF would act as a catalyst for greater commitment to reconciliation.

Throughout the project we always wished there was more time, but looking back it’s difficult to say what impact more time would have had on the final document. There is something positive about the momentum created when working to shorter rather than longer timeframes.

How well do you think the EYLF has been utilised by the sector since its adoption?

While there was some resistance and criticism of the EYLF initially, overall the document was received well by the sector and has continued to be relevant and used in different settings across the country. In my work as a consultant, I find the content in the EYLF continues to inspire many educators as it supports deeper exploration of key ideas when used as part of quality professional learning programs.

Over time, I have witnessed how some educators shift their engagement with the framework from less sophisticated to highly sophisticated understandings that transform their practices.

There were unintended responses or misunderstandings and myths that were evident in the early stages of the EYLF being adopted but this seems inevitable given the diversity within and across the sector. I have worked with many, many services and educators since 2009 and I can see that there remains a strong commitment to the EYLF. I always feel a sense of satisfaction when I see dog-eared, worn and heavily highlighted copies of the EYLF being used in services.

If you were brought back in to review the EYLF now, what would you change/do differently?

I am anxious that the EYLF is reviewed and revised sooner rather than later so that it remains relevant as a core element in the quality reform agenda. I am disappointed that there doesn’t seem to be a plan for a review and revision process.

Ten years later, these are new times with similar and different challenges and new knowledge. I wouldn’t do anything different until there was a robust consultation process undertaken to ascertain what the sector feels needs to change or be added to the EYLF or if we need something very different.

I believe there also needs to be a review of international and state based early years learning frameworks and curriculum developed since 2009 to ascertain what or if we could learn from them. This review would include consideration of why or how a revised EYLF would connect with the Australian school curriculum.

A literature review of contemporary pedagogy research to inform the review, revision, and decision- making processes would also be of benefit, and a commitment from COAG and the Federal Government that a revised EYLF would be accompanied by significant funding for professional development and learning to ensure the sector is well supported to embrace a new or revised framework.

Unless there are comprehensive surveys, reviews and consultations, I would be concerned that a revision of the EYLF might be tokenistic (a tweaking) and not a value adding process that supports ongoing transformation of practice.

Thank you to Dr Anne Kennedy for reflecting on her experiences with the EYLF consortium for The Framework.

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