The hardest question in early childhood: Raising the profile

ACECQA’s General Manager, Strategy, Communications and Consistency, Michael Petrie, explores the importance of early childhood education and care and reflects on the communication challenges impacting the public value of the sector and its educators.

Educators always ask a lot of questions.

At a recent workforce conference on the importance of quality vocational training in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector I was asked a number of questions about changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) and National Quality Standard (NQS), the rate of assessment and rating of services across the country, plus the ongoing training provided to the jurisdiction-based authorised officers who make those assessments.

All good questions.

However, there was one question which I found the most difficult to provide a clear answer to: “Why aren’t early childhood educators valued in Australia given the importance of the early years in the development of children?”. This issue has come up in multiple forums where my colleagues and I have spoken on the subject of the ECEC workforce.

Now, everyone reading this article will probably have an opinion on the above question. And I think there are multiple factors at play here. However, I want to focus on a high-level factor which I believe significantly influences how the public perceives and values ECEC. And it relates to the communication ‘messages’ the Australian community receives, or doesn’t receive, about ECEC.

In this regard, I want to focus on three key communication challenges I see impacting on the profile of the ECEC sector in Australia and, by association, the public value of early childhood educators.

The challenges

The first challenge is that the overarching narrative in the media and community tends to reinforce the concept of ECEC predominantly being about workforce participation and the high-level language used about the system infers it is about having your child ‘cared for’ or ‘looked after’.

For the benefit of national productivity, there is absolutely no doubt getting parents back into the workplace is a critically important outcome and the provision of subsidies, whatever the quantum, greatly assists in achieving this.

However, this is a short-term economic argument and neglects that the billions of dollars in investment being made in ECEC also has a medium to long-term economic benefit for the country – it develops children’s social and communication skills, helps them learn about and interact with the world around them, assists in the early identification and intervention options for children who are experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage, and ultimately, it provides a critical transition step for entry into primary school.

Unfortunately, there is no agreed or consistent message for the Australian public which reinforces these benefits of ECEC. Nor is there any national message for new parents regarding the importance of brain development in the first five years and the role that they as first teachers, or ECEC, can play in this phase of a child’s life. And for the economically minded within our society, who often question the level of taxpayer investment in ECEC, there is no reference or targeted messaging about the medium to long-term return on this investment for the nation. Perhaps we can do more in this area and highlight the arguments of scholars like American economist and Nobel Laureate Professor James Heckman who has argued that a dollar invested in an ECEC program can return itself more than six times.

Secondly, if it is not a workforce participation matter, the narrative tends to focus on the perceived problems associated with the regulatory system and the NQF rather than any positive contribution the ECEC sector makes to our children and society.

As we all know, bad news sells and as a sector we can be our own worst enemy in highlighting issues which are great material for news outlets. This in turn leads to the Australian community only reading or hearing about problems and issues with ECEC and the NQF, instead of the progress being made and the positives being achieved by the national quality system.

For example, ACECQA’s four regulatory burden surveys have consistently highlighted over 95% of the sector supports the NQF. So why is it then we tend to turn small administrative matters into some form of crisis that leads to a nationally syndicated news article or segment on the nightly television news? All this does is perpetuate negative connotations in the public mind about the NQF and the ECEC sector.

Finally, research that ACECQA and governments have done over the past few years has highlighted there is a language challenge between what parents think and want from early childhood, versus how we communicate with them as a sector.

Since the introduction of the NQF in 2012, a great deal of work has been undertaken with the sector and governments to communicate and educate on the national regulatory system. This has been critically important given we replaced nine different jurisdictional systems and evolved to one national law and set of regulations for ECEC.

However, ACECQA’s inaugural Annual Performance Report to the COAG Education Council highlights the challenge we all continue to have in communicating with parents.  As a sector we have tended to use professional terms like programming and practice, scaffolding, pedagogy, quality and, dare I say it, ‘education’, when communicating with parents. Many parents don’t readily relate to this terminology and, in some cases, they actually find the terms incompatible with what they expect to occur in the birth to five age group. They prefer happy, safe, playing, growing and learning. The research would suggest it is as children move into the year before formal schooling starts that most parents start to really engage and think about ‘education’ and ‘school readiness’.

We know how important language is in reaching and engaging with new parents. On ACECQA’s Starting Blocks website, we took the decision a few years ago to use the term ‘child care’ on our home page. We did this because we knew from research that this was the term parents and the community readily associated with and would therefore engage with. It is not ideal and we would like to be in a position to only use terms like ‘early learning’ or ECEC. However, our view is that at this point in time, it is more important to have new parents interact with the site and receive information about ECEC and the NQF, rather than not engage simply because they don’t initially understand what we are talking about.

Once parents move within the site, Starting Blocks deliberately introduces terms to educate the reader and reinforce alternative terms such as ‘early learning’ and ‘early childhood education and care’. However, while parents continue to hear the term ‘child care’ being used via our media and in the community, changing the terminology in Australia will be a gradual process – but it is important to work towards this outcome.

The Impact

At this point, I am sure you are wondering how these communication challenges impact on the original question about the lack of public recognition and value of early childhood educators.

Well, they have a direct impact.

If the messages being delivered and received by the broader community about ECEC are negative in tone, this in turn means there is no additional public value being created. Therefore, the community will not fully engage and educate itself to understand the importance of early learning for their children, nor the role that ECEC plays in development and supporting families and communities. This means we will not get to a point where the public values the system enough to demand continued improvement and investment in all aspects of the system, including the workforce and its educators.

Moving forward

So, how can we create a ‘step change’ in thinking regarding the broader public value in ECEC?

There is no doubt it will continue to take time. However, with the national system now embedded across the country there is an opportunity for us all to re-frame the high-level messages we want the Australian public to hear and, ultimately, understand about ECEC. Collectively we can start by:

  • focusing on positive messages, whether social or economic, to the appropriate audience that promote the benefits of ECEC for children and our society
  • partnering with each other, to stretch our limited resources, in commissioning research and developing campaigns to raise the profile of ECEC
  • re-framing our language when communicating with the community about the NQF and the NQS so they can start to appreciate how it will help parents and children
  • acknowledging where we have issues and concerns but pausing and thinking about the impact to the broader agenda of creating public recognition and value in ECEC before choosing to make public comments on secondary issues.

For our part, ACECQA will continue broadening our communication activities beyond the sector and continue to explore new channels where we can provide more information directly to parents. We already do this in a number of ways:

  • via a dedicated family website (Starting Blocks), posting on social media, engaging bloggers, attending and speaking at conferences and exhibitions
  • partnering with non-sector related groups, like Maternal and Child Health Nurses Associations and Playgroups, to provide information to families not yet in the ECEC sector and inform them of the benefits and choices available to them
  • introducing NQS rating logos so services can promote their rating to the community (to date, over 3000 services across the country have signed up to this scheme)
  • actively promoting the information of other relevant organisations, so we can help get information about early childhood into families and the community
  • undertaking and releasing more and more analysis and research reports on the NQF and the sector.

In 2018, we will continue to focus on parents and look to new initiatives for communicating the benefits of early learning plus the key aspects of the NQS in everyday language they will connect with.

There is a lot more that can be done by all of us to raise the profile and value of early childhood educators in this country. Getting the high level communication and messaging focused on the benefits of quality ECEC might just be the first step in raising public value.

Review, reflect and celebrate: A story from the sector on celebrating children’s achievements

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

In early October, I was fortunate to present at and participate in the 2017 Australian Council of Educational Leaders (ACEL) National Conference, and meet with Rosanne Pugh from KU Ourimbah. Rosanne was the well-deserved recipient of the ACEL Leadership Award for 2017. The prestigious award recognises Rosanne as an educational leader who has made a significant contribution to education, educational leadership and improving outcomes for children.

During our catch up, Rosanne shared a wonderful story about how she reflected on the purpose and intent of her service’s end-of-year celebrations, as well as the collaboration with children and families to create a more authentic and meaningful coming together centred on sharing of learning and driven by the children.

Rosanne shares her story with us this month and takes us through the celebrations and ‘ceremony’ at KU Ourimbah.

~o~

As we prepare to celebrate the capacity and competence of our children, now is the time to challenge some of our embedded cultural practices we might take for granted as children embark on their school careers and families together take a moment to reflect upon their children’s rich, early childhood experiences.

At KU Ourimbah ‘Graduation’ has been replaced by ‘Ceremony’. Children are not expected to perform for their parents but rather share their learning with them in ways they have devised for themselves. It is ceremonious because this is an occasion for shared celebration. Children direct the day for their families and we ask families to reserve this day, well in advance, rather than have children exhausted by ‘evening do’s’.  This is after all, about children and families. It is not a marketing exercise or crowd pleaser, this is a child-led event and as such, there is a big difference in how we express our values. In how we place children’s interests at the centre of all that we do. We can of course be pleased, delighted, joyful and nostalgic. We can be moved by the magnificence of our children and how we choose to illuminate this.

Families overwhelmingly have embraced this approach and our event looks like this:

The children invite their parents for a tour. In our space in KU Ourimbah this involves children acting as tour-guides for their families and walking their favourite routes across The Central Coast Campus of The University of Newcastle, together. It is an everyday happening for our children that they walk on campus and having already discussed their personalised map and the places of importance that they want to share with their families, the children take charge, with map at the ready.

Parents, too, are complicit. They have already seen the map and understand through our on-line communications that they are in for a walking treat, with stations where they can pond dip, make natural art, litter pick and to be prepared. As families opt in and out of these activities we know the children are explaining what they have learnt about the surroundings, sharing their ecological citizenship and talking, talking, talking as they walk, revealing what they love about their life in early childhood. A communal family picnic precedes the ceremony held in a familiar lecture theatre.

Each year the ceremony is different. This year, the children choose their favourite memories for our PowerPoint images backed by music from one of our Indigenous families. We are welcomed to Country and the children co-sing. Some of the music is in language and there has been a song written in language for this moment and will be shared for the first time when we are all together.

Our ceremony finishes with an afternoon tea, fruit platters, cold drinks, a cake made by our cook skilled in the art of representing each child artistically through decoration.

We want to celebrate our children and in so doing we are showcasing what is important to them and what they want their families to appreciate and know about. It is a celebration of their voices. If we can do that, we have contributed to a new culture with parents, their children and extended families and friends.

~o~

I hope Rosanne’s story inspires and motivates you to consider a different approach to ‘doing things the way we always have’. The New Year, with a revised National Quality Standard, may be just the place to start thinking about challenging these views and looking to a new approach!

What is research telling us about children’s physical activity in the early years?

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

In the November ACECQA Newsletter, we featured the release of the first national 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years. The guidelines take a more holistic view of children’s experience as they reference a 24-hour period, recognising that each movement behaviour is interlinked and integral to health. The guidelines also provide an opportunity to work collaboratively with families and the child at the centre of decision-making about how much time is engaged in sedentary pursuits or physical activity at the service and the home.

In this month’s blog, we share examples of the research being undertaken around the country, with our focus on how best to support Australian children to engage in recommended levels of physical activity.

Research from around the globe is pointing to strong correlations between physical activity and learning. As Pasi Sahlberg, the educator and author who specialises in the progressive approaches undertaken in Finland notes, ‘We also know from research that children’s brains work better when they move’. An experienced Finnish teacher put it this way: ‘Not only do they concentrate better in class, but they are more successful at negotiating, socialising, building teams and friendships together’ (Doyle in Sahlberg, 2018, p.23).

Below is an overview of some of the research and initial findings, as well as questions to prompt your own investigation and practice.

Early Start – University of Wollongong

Early Start is a strategic teaching, research and community engagement initiative from the University of Wollongong. The research associated with Early Start is diverse and focuses on a number of different themes, including physical activity.

In 2017, Early Start was commissioned, in collaboration with researchers from Canada, to develop the new Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years. Researchers from Early Start, namely Professor Anthony Okely, are now working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Kingdom working party to develop similar international guidelines.

Early Start has been involved in a number of other significant research studies focusing on physical activity in the early years. For example, between 2014 and 2016 Early Start conducted a multi-component physical activity intervention known as Jump Start in 43 NSW early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings from areas of disadvantage. This study, which aimed to increase physical activity during the preschool hours, comprises five components broadly focusing on gross motor skills, facilitation of active energy breaks and incorporating physical activity into other curriculum areas. Data from the study is currently being analysed. Additional information can be found in this recent research paper on increasing physical activity.

Myrto-Foteini Mavilidi and Early Start have recently investigated the effect of incorporating integrated physical activity into learning experiences facilitated in ECEC settings. Irrespective of focus area (numeracy, language, geography etc.), the study found learning was enhanced when integrated physical activity was part of the learning experience. They have published a number research papers, including one on the immediate and delayed effects of integrating physical activity.

Other studies, conducted by Y.G. Ellis and colleagues, have looked into the time children spend in sedentary behaviour in ECEC settings and the potential effectiveness of environment-based interventions on reducing sedentary time.  Their results show children in ECEC spend approximately 50% of their time sitting and that a simple environmental intervention has the potential to modify the amount of time children spend sitting.

Some of the most recent research on the early years facilitated by Early Start focuses on improving the quality of the environment of ECEC settings in relation to movement-play and physical activity. This research involves professional development for educators and uses the MOVERS environmental rating scale.

A critical area of research within Early Start focuses on the role of educators in physical activity learning experiences. K.L. Tonge and colleagues are interested in how high quality interactions between children and educators can enhance physical activity experiences in ECEC settings.

PLAYCE – University of Western Australia

The Play Spaces & Environments for Children’s Physical Activity study (PLAYCE) is a four-year Healthway funded study (2015-2018). PLAYCE is investigating a range of features, including indoor and outdoor space, play equipment, and natural features of the environment, to determine which have the most influence on children’s physical activity and health whilst attending ECEC. The research team is working with the ECEC sector in Western Australia and nationally to develop a checklist to assess whether services are meeting the standards detailed in Quality Area 3 of the National Quality Standard. This will help services identify what they can do to improve the quality of their physical environment to better support children’s physical activity, health and development.

So far, over 115 long day care services and 1400 children (2-5 years) and families have taken part in the PLAYCE study. Preliminary findings show less than one third of children meet the recommended three hours of physical activity per day and less than 8% achieve this recommendation in an average day while attending ECEC.

Physical health and wellbeing project – Gowrie Training and Consultancy and Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Gowrie Training and Consultancy (Tasmania) are collaborating with the Faculty of Education, QUT, in an Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) funded research project – Physical health and wellbeing: innovative approaches in an inner-city community. Project leader Dr Megan Gibson from QUT, together with Professor Andrew Hills from the University Tasmania, will be working with Gowrie Training and Consultancy and educators from the Lady Gowrie Integrated Child and Family Centre in Tasmania.

The AEDC is a national, population-based evaluation of child development in the first year of full-time schooling. AEDC data can help professionals working with children and families to think critically about how to effectively support children’s development. Early childhood educators are well placed to proactively use AEDC data to support and enhance children’s learning and development.

The project applies action research to support and enhance children’s physical health and wellbeing through:

  • building educator capability in relation to using AEDC data sets to inform professional decisions
  • enacting pedagogical practices that afford children opportunities to engage in challenging physical play, and
  • measuring and communicating about the effects of intentional, sustained and contextual practices to families, the local community and other ECEC services.

The overarching research question is:

How can early childhood educators enable children to flourish in the area of physical health and wellbeing?

The project involves educators applying key elements of action research to explore possibilities for children to flourish physically. Pedagogical documentation is central to the project as a tool for reflective practice that enables different ways of thinking about physical development. Examples of key areas of focus include: physical literacy, risk, the use of the outdoor environment, innovative ways to use equipment and resources, and educator decision-making.

Across the course of the project, educators are exploring resources to inform and shape their thinking about physical health and wellbeing, with examples including Active Healthy Kids Australia and Gooey Brains.

Early research findings have seen enhanced experiences and opportunities for children in the area of physical development.

For further information on the Physical health and wellbeing project, you can contact: Dr Megan Gibson, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, QUT – ml.gibson@qut.edu.au. You can also read about the range of AEDC projects currently funded in Tasmania.

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Now we have taken you through examples of the latest research and studies, how might you engage with their findings to improve quality outcomes for children?

Conducting an action research project at your service is one way to incorporate some of the ideas. The prompt questions below are another means of reflecting on physical activity at your service. You could also use some of the specific questions from any of the above studies or findings.

Questions for further investigation:

  • What innovative ideas could you incorporate into your environments to increase activity? For example, Duplo boards on the walls for construction or taking away chairs from the art area.
  • What skills and knowledge do educators have about physical activity, recommendations and fundamental movement skills?
  • How is risk aversion impacting physical activity?
  • What impact is the provisioning of outdoor environments having on children’s physical activity?

References

Sahlberg, P. (2018) FinnishED Leadership: Four big, inexpensive ideas to transform education, Corwin, California.

Family day care services: How using only one brush can unfairly taint all

Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chief Executive Officer, Gabrielle Sinclair, reflects on the quality ratings of family day care services and looks beyond the headline figures.

The family day care sector is in the spotlight regularly, but sadly often not for the right reasons. Family day care has been, and remains, a preferred and appropriate option for many Australian families. The latest Early Childhood Education and Care National Workforce Census, undertaken by the Australian Government, estimates there are more than 30,000 educators working in the family day care sector.

Our most recent NQF Snapshot (Q3, 2017) shows that, as at 1 October 2017, 78% of approved family day care services have been quality rated, equating to some 664 individual services. Less than half (43%) of these are rated Meeting National Quality Standard (NQS) or above.

It would be wrong not to acknowledge that, as a service type, family day care services need to improve their quality ratings. More than three quarters (76%) of centre-based care services are rated Meeting NQS or above, with a third (33%) of these rated Exceeding NQS or above. In contrast, only 16% of family day care services are rated Exceeding NQS or above. However, this is not the complete story. To take the headline figures and then conclude that all family day care services are poor quality is misleading for families.

At the top end of performance, three family day care services have achieved an Excellent rating. To be eligible for this rating, a service must first be rated as Exceeding NQS and then demonstrate how they are promoting exceptional education and care that improves outcomes for children and families, and showing leadership and a commitment to sustained excellent practice through continuous improvement.

One of the three Excellent rated family day care services, Wynnum Family Day Care in Queensland, received the rating for the second time late last year (the Excellent rating lasts for a period of three years), having been the first family day care service in Australia to receive the rating in 2013.

There are then 106 family day care services rated Exceeding NQS and 175 rated Meeting NQS. To be rated Meeting NQS, a service needs to meet all of the quality areas, standards and elements of the NQS. This is a high bar and means that a service may be rated Working Towards NQS based on not meeting only one (or all 58) elements of the NQS.

We want families and the general public to understand what Working Towards NQS means and to look below the overall rating so that they are well-informed about their choices.

Almost 100 (96) family day care services rated Working Towards NQS do not meet seven or fewer elements of the NQS. At the other end of the spectrum, a similar number (94) of family day care services do not meet 27 or more elements of the NQS.

By examining the element level performance of all services rated Working Towards NQS, families will have a much better idea of the range of quality and how close, or far away, individual services are from meeting all of the requirements.

It is also the case that individual services can be rated Exceeding NQS for one or more of the seven quality areas without achieving an overall rating of Exceeding NQS. This could be because they do not receive enough ratings of Exceeding NQS across the seven quality areas or because their performance is below Meeting NQS in one or more of the quality areas.

While only 109 family day care services are rated Exceeding NQS or above overall, a total of 215 services are rated Exceeding NQS for one or more of the quality areas, with 28 services rated Exceeding NQS for all seven quality areas.

While the National Quality Framework is committed to shining a light on poor quality and taking swift action in response to fraudulent behaviour or practice that poses a significant risk to children, we should also ensure that the efforts of the majority of family day care providers and educators are not disregarded or diminished.

One of ACECQA’s roles is to promote and foster continuous quality improvement and to support parents and the community in understanding what quality means. It will always be important to provide a balanced and accurate portrayal of performance across all service types. One of the most important aspects of the quality rating system is that it provides freely available information to assist the decisions of parents and carers when considering which education and care service would best suit the needs of their children.

I would encourage educators to help families to be aware of, and understand, their service’s quality rating and to explain how they are tracking on their journey of continuous quality improvement.

Viewing excellence as a process, not a result

How can we think about excellence as an enriching process rather than a final result?

As the first family day care service in Australia to be awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA under the National Quality Framework in 2013 – and re-awarded the rating in 2016 – Wynnum Family Day Care is passionate about sharing high quality practice and implementing a range of collaborative initiatives. This month on We Hear You, Wynnum FDC’s Educational Leader, Niki Kenny, explores some of the processes that drive the service’s exceptional practice and the principles behind them.

As passionate advocates for high quality children’s education and care, the educators and staff at Wynnum Family Day Care place great importance on collaborative partnerships and relationships with the sector, as well as sharing processes, practices, attitudes and ideals that are central to continuous quality improvement and excellence.

Relationship building

As a relationship-based service with a focus on positive workplace culture and organisational values, Wynnum FDC has developed an interview and orientation process for prospective educators that goes beyond the checking of minimum qualifications and legislative requirements, giving educators an opportunity to assess their ‘fit’ with the service’s culture.

Relationships with families are also prioritised: while it would be possible to conduct all enrolments online, the service invites all new families to attend the family-friendly office space for a face-to-face interview to build their understanding of the coordination unit and educators’ distinct, but intertwined, roles in supporting them and their child (or children).

Inclusive practices that enhance relationship building include:

  • conducting regular surveys of educators and families
  • keeping regular communication via email
  • phone and face-to-face contact, and
  • involving families in decision-making for the service.

One of the rewards of strong relationships and teamwork is longevity of educators, staff and families within the service. The sense of trust that develops over time allows the service to operate in a responsive and proactive way, as opposed to a reactive compliance model.

An example of this is when educators and coordinators work together to solve problems and overcome challenges, with honest and respectful communication. Team members are able to listen to and learn from each other, and view challenges as a learning opportunity.

Another benefit of having long-term team members is the sense of stability that leads to confidence to think outside the square and try new ideas.

Innovation and expectations

Innovation and high expectations go hand in hand at Wynnum FDC: “We set high expectations for ourselves every day – not to achieve a particular rating but in order to deliver the best service we can to our community,” said Manager Cathy Bavage.

Whether writing a new policy, changing a practice or facing a challenge, team members focus not only on what is required by legislation and regulations, but what is current best practice. For example, coordinators tend to be qualified above and beyond the minimum requirements, and have all received additional training in adult learning, to enhance the delivery of training and communications.

“We recognise that children’s learning, development and wellbeing are directly associated with quality professional development,” added Cathy.

There is therefore a strong focus not just on children’s learning but on adult learning as well. The innovative programs and business practices that arise from setting high expectations for early education and care are perhaps the most visible component of Wynnum FDC’s journey to excellence.

Reflective practice

Forward thinking and innovation are enabled by reflective practice. Daily  ‘mini’ team meetings are held in the office as a way for coordinators to share not only practical information about tasks to be completed, but also to ‘check in’ with each other about workloads and the best way to manage.

A weekly team meeting allows for extended time to review current happenings in the service, discuss how any challenges will be managed and by whom, and to reflect on practice by giving and receiving feedback. Due to the trusting relationships between educators and coordinators I mentioned previously, questions about practice can be posed without evoking a defensive response, and instead taken on board as a valuable part of continual professional development.

Bi-annual reviews of the service by an external consultant ensure reflection remains robust and critical.

Other rewards of reflective practice, apart from leading to innovative programs that enhance children’s learning and growth, include being able to constantly align actions with philosophy and to have confidence the service is working towards its vision to provide quality outcomes for children.

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An Excellent rating can be compared to an iceberg, in that the visible part (the rating) is held up by the processes and practices, which are in turn supported by the deeper underlying principles or beliefs that form the service’s philosophy.

Therefore the first steps for services seeking to enhance their rating is to develop a philosophy including the values that are most important for your context and community, followed by the processes that will best enable you to put your philosophy into practice.

Stories from the sector: Changes to the National Quality Framework

We Hear You in name and nature! We know the children’s education and care sector is always keen to hear from other educators about their practice, how they work on continuous quality improvement and the way they manage change. This month we talk to four educators about how they are responding to the changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) at their services.

Tracy Cripps and the children from Bees Creek OSHC and Vacation Care
Tracy Cripps and the children from Bees Creek OSHC and Vacation Care
Su Garrett, Explore and Develop Annandale

As the approved provider and director/nominated supervisor at Explore and Develop Annandale in NSW, Su Garrett is passionate about creating an environment where the needs and development of each child is a priority and educators are valued as central to children’s learning. For Su, the changes to the NQF present an opportunity to reflect on programs and refine the specialty areas of her practice.

Information and resources

“The first thing we have done to familiarise ourselves with the NQF changes is to access the resources, information sheets and FAQs available on the ACECQA website and Facebook page. One resource we have found particularly interesting was the comparison between the current and revised NQS. We used this while looking at our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and considered how the current goals align with the changes.”

Revised National Quality Standard (NQS)

“Our educational leader has been participating in networking meetings that have focused on the NQF changes, in particular highlighting key wording changes in elements and standards in the revised NQS.

“As a team, we have started to critically reflect on a number of questions and think about whether we really doing and what we should be doing. For example, we have closely looked at the changes to the element relating to critical reflection because the new wording speaks to critical reflection driving the program. We have also thought about how we articulate this and trying to make it more explicit.”

Quality Improvement Plan (QIP)

“It has been a little bit tricky to keep working on the current QIP while also looking at what we might want to focus on as we reflect on how we are meeting the revised standards. We definitely find the revised NQS easier to read and easier for educators to engage with it, for example Quality Area 2 is just health and safety, which is simpler and easier to understand and think through with the concept.”

Practice and reflection

“We have three specialty areas that we are very passionate about: critical reflection (as I have already mentioned), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and sustainability. We are looking at the NQF changes and thinking about what has changed in relation to sustainability and cultural competence and what this means for our practice.”

Martina Hribar, All Areas Family Day Care

Martina Hribar, one of the managers and the educational leader at All Areas Family Day Care in NSW, is a keen advocate for high quality programs and practice that are respectful and responsive to the unique needs of children and their families. The changes to the NQF have allowed Martina and the other educators at her service a chance to streamline processes and establish collaborative networks.

Support and guidance

“We started our preparations for the NQF changes by linking with ACECQA about the changes to the National Quality Framework. We feel it’s good to reach out for extra support and guidance. We have followed this up with some internal meetings to answer any questions and to give educators a copy of the changes.”

Policies, forms and reports

“One of the first things we did was to head to the ACECQA website and get all the information about regulatory changes and think about what policies, forms and processes needed to be updated. One of the changes we have made is to our educator reports that support officers fill in when they conduct service visits. We have included information that sets out the service expectations, which they sign off once they have read and understood the changes. The report has been updated to reflect the language of the Early Years Learning Framework and concepts such as play-based learning – we find this helps to keep the language more consistent.”

Streamlining processes

“We have also taken this as an opportunity to look at streamlining our processes, including developing a new webpage with both an educator and a parent portal. This means that all educators have access to information – we receive a report that details who has accessed the portal. We find this really helpful as we can follow up with anyone who hasn’t logged in via email.”

Collaborative networks

“Lately, we have established a partnership with Miller TAFE. This is a really exciting collaborative network as they hold discussions to help unpack the Framework for School Age Care, which is relevant for the educators at our service who cater for school age care.”

Lisa Reidy, Uniting Frederick Street Preschool

Uniting Frederick Street Preschool’s director/nominated supervisor, Lisa Reidy, heads a team of educators who are passionate about creating a range of experiences and learning opportunities for children that encourage and foster investigation and imagination. At her service, the changes have opened up a space to discuss and reflect on planning and practice.  

Discussion and exchange

“Uniting is hosting a practice forum in October to discuss the NQF changes. I will be attending this forum along with 60 service directors and coordinators across our NSW and ACT network, where ACECQA Deputy National Education Leader, Perry Campbell, will be speaking. We will then network and think tank each quality area as a way of exchanging ideas about implementing change and continuing to enhance practice across our services. I plan to take these ideas back to my team at our next staff meeting and plan what our next steps will be as a group. Our main focus will be comparing the current and revised NQS and what this means at a service level.”

Tracy Cripps, Bees Creek OSHC and Vacation Care 

Director/nominated supervisor of Bees Creek OSHC and Vacation Care in the Northern Territory, Tracy Cripps, thrives on the philosophy, values and programs of her service where children are encouraged to build relationships and explore and extend interests and hobbies in an outside school hours context. For Tracy, the October 2017 changes have resulted in effective and active participation.

Embedded and effective change

“Our first thought about the key changes to notifications, incidents and complaints was we needed to make them a priority. We knew it was vital to embed them into our service before 1 October and to rethink the traditional method of ‘informing’ educators at team meetings (as it would no longer be the most effective method). I felt our educators need to not only be informed about the changes, but also know how they apply to our practice and where to find them in our guidance and policies.”

Active participation

“After some brainstorming with our educators, we agreed educators would create a before and after table/fact sheet showing the key changes to notifications, incidents and complaints and identify where our policies will be changed specific to our service – for example, our child safe environments policy and OHS Handbook. We wanted this to be a point of reference available in an accessible format to both families and educators. For me, when educators are active participants they are able to connect, retain and apply the information in daily practice.”

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We hope you have found these examples of interest and they have sparked some ideas to support your own service.

What will your first or next step be?

Some starting points might include:

  • discussing the changes at your next team meeting
  • reviewing your service’s Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and considering what might be relevant for future quality improvement goals
  • unpacking what might need to change in your service as a result of the changes
  • reviewing the new Guide to the National Quality Framework and other information sheets and resources.

For more information on the changes to the NQF, head to the ACECQA website.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – NQS Knowledge game – The Quest for Quality

We Hear You – Leaders as agents of change

We Hear You – Leading through change

The revised National Quality Standard: Key concepts

The revised National Quality Standard (NQS) will come into effect on 1 February 2018. For the first time, the NQS introduces key concepts for each element and standard to help support the children’s education and care sector unpack the central ideas. This month on We Hear You, we look at these key concepts and the important role they play in continuous quality improvement.

A key feature of the changes agreed to by education Ministers earlier this year is the revised National Quality Standard (NQS) which will commence for all states and territories on 1 February 2018. This builds on other changes to the National Law and Regulations commencing 1 October 2017 in all states and territories, except Western Australia which will come into effect by 1 October 2018.

For the first time, the revised NQS introduces key concepts for each standard and element. These have been developed to support the sector unpack key ideas related to the NQS, as well as offering greater clarity that will strengthen quality outcomes for children. The concepts also provide a bridge between the current and revised NQS.

The revised NQS retains the seven quality areas, with a small change to the title of Quality Area 7 to Governance and Leadership. The streamlining of the NQS has minimised conceptual overlap and duplication, resulting in a reduction from 18 to 15 standards and 58 to 40 elements while retaining the current features that promote quality.

Key concepts

The concepts will support services to collaborate to identify strengths and opportunities for quality improvement, including engaging families and others in the community (such as local schools) in the process. They also provide clarity for both services and regulatory authorities about what is being measured or assessed in each of the standards and elements. Educators, educational leaders and service leaders can use the concepts to assist in the self-assessment process, as well as in critical reflection and professional conversations.

We have been working with all state and territory regulatory authorities to develop resources to support education and care services to understand the changes and what they need to do to ensure they continue to meet legislative requirements.

These resources include:

Familiarising yourself with the revised NQS

The best place to start is by familiarising yourself with the legislative changes and the revised standards and elements in preparation for your annual self-assessment and review to update your Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). To ensure your service is meeting all regulatory requirements, think about the need to reflect these changes in the following:

  • current service QIP (think about undertaking a self-assessment against the updated legislative standards and the revised NQS to inform the required update of the QIP)
  • policies and procedures (for example, there is a new requirement for a sleep and rest policy)
  • communication materials for families.

If you are looking for an engaging and interactive way to learn more about the revised NQS, we have developed The Quest for Quality game – a capacity building tool that integrates an element of fun into professional discussions and critical reflection. You can download the game from the ACECQA website or order a copy to be delivered.

For more information, visit Changes to the National Quality Framework on the ACECQA website.