The Early Childhood Schools opened in 2009 and are located at Narrabundah, Isabella Plains, Lyons, Scullin (Southern Cross) and Franklin. The O'Connor Co-operative School continues to operate as a Preschool to Year 2 school. The schools are a highly successful model of early years learning that provide children with the best start to their early development and education.
The schools' foundation to early childhood education is that all children have the right to a safe and nurturing environment, where their capabilities are recognised and strengthened. Evidence from research into early childhood development, changing social structures, economics and the role of schools provided a strong case for using existing school sites as hubs for the creation of these integrated services for children (birth to 8) and their families.
Core Elements of the Model
Three elements formed the core of the model for early childhood schools as they developed as early learning and development centres. They are:
- high quality learning
- integrated service delivery
- family support and participation.
The following figure illustrates these core elements. The relationship between the elements is dynamic. These provide the basis for developing action plans and for monitoring and evaluating the outcomes of early childhood schools.
High Quality Learning
Learning commences prior to birth and families are children's first educators. Due to the critical nature of children's brain development in the first three or four years of life, the learning that takes place within families, communities and the formal arrangements of child care is of the utmost importance.
The Early Childhood Schools have developed to ensure continuity in curriculum and relationships over children's early years. Curriculum and pedagogy is based on up-to-date research into early childhood learning.
The Preschool – Year 2 curriculum is based on the early childhood band of the ACT Curriculum Framework, Every Chance to Learn and Australian Curriculum documents. Pedagogy (birth to 8) has been informed by the Early Years Learning Framework – Being, Belonging and Becoming.
Opportunities to forge links with the early childhood courses at Canberra Institute of Technology and University of Canberra, for example in staff recruitment and parenting education, have been successful. The Early Childhood Schools have also been well placed to support collegial professional learning across health, care, education and family support staff. In addition, successful partnerships with local colleges offer students apprenticeship placements at the Early Childhood Schools in courses relevant to children's services.
Integrated Service Delivery
An integrated service model places the rights and needs of children and their families at the centre. Families have access to a comprehensive array of programs that support children's early learning thus building family and community capacity.
Services from different government and community agencies (for example education, child care and health programs) are linked so that each child and family has easy access to the programs when required. Opportunities are provided for all families to access information, support and services so that the need for more intensive services is reduced. When specific needs are identified, support is readily available.
As a result the Early Childhood Schools successfully provide access to:
- child care services for children prior to school entry and after school entry (before and after school and vacation care)
- parent support and education
- targeted services for children and families with specific needs
Family Support and Participation
Families are central to children's development. The security, encouragement and responsiveness that families can provide enable children to grow emotionally, socially, intellectually and physically. In forming genuine partnerships with families, the Early Childhood Schools build and draw upon the skills and expertise of parents and carers. Families provide mutual support so staff and families learn from each other.
Each Early Childhood School provides physical and socio/emotional environments that are child and family friendly where children and families feel a strong sense of belonging to their early childhood community. Programs that are inclusive and sensitive to the diverse backgrounds and needs of children and families are more likely to succeed. Effective education, health, child care and other services for children and families are provided through collaborative partnerships with the communities they serve.
The ACT Early Childhood Schools deliver high quality early learning and have become hubs or integrated services centres for children from birth to 8 years, which are attractive to many families who live and work in the regions where they are located. Their development over time has strengthened school excellence across the ACT whilst helping build stronger families and communities. The Early Childhood Schools have provided insights and examples of good practice in early learning and family support that can be shared across the ACT and other states within Australia.
The long term educational, social and economic benefits of an increased emphasis on children's early years has and will be felt, not only by children and their families, but also by the wider ACT community.