Where the research takes us

Almost 10 years on from the original agreement to introduce the National Quality Framework (NQF) to children’s education and care in Australia, the sector has seen substantial progress and quality outcomes for children. But how can the NQF continue to help improve quality as well as the public knowledge and access to information about that very quality?

ACECQA’s General Manager, Strategy, Communications and Consistency, Michael Petrie, discusses this question and where recent research needs to take us.

The recently released Lifting Our Game report by Susan Pascoe AM and Professor Deborah Brennan is a timely reminder of the importance of early childhood education and care (ECEC), the positive advances we have made since the introduction of the National Quality Framework (NQF), as well as the areas where we still need to work on to improve outcomes for children.

Almost 10 years on from the original agreement to introduce the NQF, the system is now well and truly in place:

  • Almost every eligible service has had at least one assessment and rating visit.
  • As evidenced by the data, the sector is taking the quality agenda seriously and we continue to see the majority of quality rating improvements at reassessment.
  • There has been a growth in the qualification level of educators across the country.
  • The first iteration of legislative and regulatory reforms has just been implemented.

While progress has definitely been made, there are still some big questions to be answered as to whether the NQF has, and will continue to, deliver ongoing outcomes for Australian children.

In this regard, ACECQA’s research and evaluation strategy and NQF Evaluation Framework, approved by the COAG Education Council in 2017, provide governments and researchers with a pathway for the types of medium and long-term strategic questions that need to be answered against the five objectives of the NQF.

It is important to note that the evaluation framework is not focused on assessing the benefits of early childhood education, but rather the system, both policy and regulatory aspects, which underpins the delivery of ECEC in this country.

For example, an objective of the NQF is to improve the educational and developmental outcomes for children attending ECEC.

Over the next few years, governments and researchers will be in a position to link NQF service rating data against a child’s results in the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) and NAPLAN. That is, for children who attended a service under the NQF, we will soon be able to see and evaluate whether attending a high quality service has had a corresponding impact on the education and developmental outcomes of children as they progress through the education system. Just as importantly, it will allow us to see the impact of ECEC on families and children, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances or from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Another objective of the NQF has been to improve public knowledge and access to information about the quality of ECEC services. Research continues to be undertaken in this area, which ACECQA reported in its inaugural Annual Performance Report. (I outlined a number of the challenges in my previous article about raising the profile of ECEC.) Understanding quality continues to be an area of concern and, as highlighted in the Lifting Our Game report, it is one that governments and the sector need to collectively focus on, and invest in, if they expect to see greater engagement from parents and families.

As a national organisation jointly funded by all nine governments to deliver specific functions, ACECQA is in a unique position within the federated model of governance and administration that oversees ECEC in this country. We are able to identify issues and track trends, provide insights and advice to support further efficiencies, and reduce regulatory burden across the sector.

Our recent submission to the Australian Senate Inquiry into The effect of red tape on childcare highlights the work that has been undertaken by all governments to drive efficiency and reduce red tape across the NQF while protecting children’s safety, health and wellbeing and supporting quality practice. The Lifting Our Game report identifies a number of areas where further research and analysis can assist, and ACECQA will work with its government partners to ensure the system continues to evolve and improve.

Overall, evaluating the NQF should not be seen as confronting, or viewed as an attack on the national system or how things are done. Rather it is an opportunity to assess what has worked well and what needs to change.

At the end of the day, the NQF was designed as a dynamic system to meet the changing needs of children and to continuously improve outcomes for them and their families.

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