Play matters: UN

This weeks blog post is from Robyn Monro Miller who recently attended meetings in Geneva in her capacity as International Vice President of International Play Association (IPA). Network of Community Activities has a long and proud history of support for the UNCRC and enshrined in our constitution is a commitment to advocacy on Article 31 and Article 12.

Article 31

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

In February 2011 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, announced its decision to draft and adopt a General Comment on Article 31.  Article 31 is historically one of the least understood areas of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)  and contains a number of themes that draw in the interests of people from across the spectrum who may work in widely diverse settings. This is why the development of a General Comment on this article is so significant.

The General Comment will be issued to every government of the world, which has signed up to the Convention, which includes Australia.  The General Comment provides further guidance to world governments on implementation of Article 31 and highlights the important role of play and access to cultural life and arts in children’s healthy development.

The International Play Association received funding from the Bernard Van Leer Foundation for the development of the draft General Comment with a cross sectoral team of experts from across the world. As a working document of the UN, the draft was required to remain confidential and was not released for public consultation.

At the end of September, International Play Association representatives and the expert panel assembled met in Geneva to finalise the document ready for presentation to the UN committee. The Article 31 ‘Working Group’ consisted of 15 people from 12 countries who met with the UN Committee’s focal group chaired by Awich Pollar (Uganda).

This was the final stage in a long process that involved a core team, the expert working group and child consultation processes across the world.

The child’s voice was included in the document with special consultations held in selected locations across the world.  These locations included Brazil, Italy, Scotland, and Kenya. Children in post conflict situations and conflict situations in Lebanon and Sierra-Leone were also engaged in consultation as well as children in refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border.

The final draft of the document was given to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in early October with formal adoption likely at the January 2013 meeting of the Committee. The draft cannot be released until the UN officially adopts it. However it has been identified as a comprehensive one that is inclusive of the issues and challenges associated with play and important considerations for implementation.

Once released, the children’s services sector will be in a position to use the General Comment to inform our work with children and highlight the valuable role of play and access to culture and the arts in the healthy development of all children. It will be an opportunity for Governments across Australia to take shared responsibility for reflecting on how their own planning and processes support Article 31.

As educators working in children’s services we have an important role in supporting children’s opportunities to engage in play and a responsibility to advocate on its benefits to families and the community.

Representatives from Brazil, Turkey and Mexico who will be leading Article 31 projects in their home countries with Robyn Monro Miller (2nd from right) and International President Theresa Casey from Scotland (right) outside the UN.

About the Author

Robyn Monro Miller attended meetings in Geneva in her capacity as International Vice President of IPA. 

Robyn is the Executive Officer of Network of Community Activities in NSW, Australia. Network is an organisation with a long and proud history of advocacy for children and has embedded in its constitutional objectives the requirement to promote and support Articles 31 and 12 in the UNCRC. 

Robyn has represented the Out of School Hours Care (OSHC) at a State and National level for the past 20 years as a member of the National Out of School Hours Services Association (NOSHSA). Most recently she was on the steering committee for the development of the first Australian school age care framework “My Time, Our Place.”

For more information please email Robyn Monro Miller through play@netoosh.org.au

This article may be reproduced with written permission, please email play@netoosh.org.au.

Communicating with families

Recently on the ACECQA Facebook page we asked how services communicate with families, and what works best.

Communicating with families can develop strong partnerships and help families to feel connected to their children’s experience in education and care. Having open and two-way communication forms an important part of NQS QA6 – Collaborative partnerships with families.

The daily interaction that occurs when families drop off and pick up children is often supported with daybooks, noticeboards and newsletters. Increasingly more and more services are beginning to introduce a range of electronic communication platforms to share and discuss information with parents.

But every service is different and unique, and the discussion on our Facebook page captured some great methods for family communication:

“Day book, newsletter, mainly face to face. I find that the most effective and makes the connection more personal.”

“We use all sorts of communication styles. From emails, newsletters, day books, display board, online survey tools, face to face discussions, phone calls and texting.”

“One of the ways my centre communicates with our lovely families is through a daily blog where they can check out what their children have been up to, can comment on activities we have done or provide suggestions. We provide upcoming events on there, recipes of the children’s favourite food that they are enjoying, anything that we think the parents might find interesting and could possibly try at home as well. We generally get great responses from the families and it’s easy as they can access the blog at work.”

Has your service recently introduced a form of electronic communication for families? If so, we would love for you to share your experience by writing a guest post for the ACECQA blog. If you are interested please send outline of your blog post idea to news@acecqa.gov.au and we will be in touch shortly.

If you would like ideas or want to share how your service communicates with families, please join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Our Journey to date – The Assessment Process

This month on the blog, director Julie Dowling of Discovery Early Learning Centre, Lauderdale, Tasmania, writes a personal account of the assessment process.

Julie talks about how she led her staff and families to develop the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and how the educators became comfortable with the assessment process.

Our assessment went for three days, which included the centre based long day care centre and the outside school hours care programs which are facilitated on site at the school next door.

Our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) is viewed and acted upon as a living document. It is freely available on all computers and is updated on a regular basis. We also have a whiteboard in the staff room that was used to document processes and change, this became the template for the QIP. There is no such thing as a silly question and educators were encouraged and supported to ask ‘why?’. As not everyone in our centre was computer literate the use of the whiteboard created an inclusive process for all educators. All stakeholders were involved in the development of the services self-assessment and its QIP including the children, families, community, school community and educators.

The QIP was completed in April so by the time the assessment visit occurred in June; some of the areas of the QIP had indeed changed. We had implemented plans, some were still progressing and other areas were added. Progress notes were added to the QIP as evidence of our continuous improvement journey, but also as a reminder of the distance we had travelled in supporting better outcomes for children.

The assessment day began with a tour of the service where the educators and children were introduced to the Authorised Officers. This provided the opportunity to talk about our processes, our people and our curriculum. The educators began to relax into the process as they were advised to ‘do what they normally do’ and to be confident in their practice. It was also important for them to understand that this is a continual improvement process and it was important to reflect on everyday practice with a goal of improving practice.

The officers visited each of our program areas, including before school care and two outside school hours care sessions. During the visit the educators were involved in non contact curriculum planning and the assessors asked whether they could sit with them as they did this. Although the educators were confident in their abilities, the actual thought of having an assessor ask them questions was initially ‘a state of panic’. As the centre director, I stayed with the educator. After some initial trepidation the educator articulated the planning process and spoke about the context of the room’s curriculum and planning cycle. This was a positive experience and enabled the educator to celebrate what was happening each and every day for children and families within the education and care environment.

As the officers walked through the service they spoke to the educators, viewed practice in the indoor and outdoor environments, viewed displays in the centre and room routines. As the director of the service the officers spent a lot of of time talking to me about Quality Area 6 and 7, and also asked questions about things that may not have been visible in the rooms at the time. They took lots of notes, which we unanimously decided was a good thing to ensure a transparent and robust process.

The officers chatted amicably to the educators and to the children and I must say the whole process was very unobtrusive. The visit was authentic and the experience was a positive one for the centre’s team.

The centre supports and is committed to continuous improvement and ongoing learning and this is what we strive to do each day. The assessment process has helped us build on our strengths and reflect on things we can learn more about. It was a great team building experience. Critical reflection played a major role in the process and we were able to show the officers our reflections which demonstrated our journey and the reasons behind any changes made to everyday practice.

By the second day of the visit the educators were very relaxed about the whole process. The unknown was now the known. The only thing that the team found difficult was the wait for the draft report and the final rating but we understand why it has to be this way to ensure a credible system has been implemented. We now know the visit isn’t scary and our doubts and apprehension have been put to rest. We wait in anticipation for our rating and are committed to this journey of continual improvement and growth as a service.

About the author – Julie Dowling is the Director of a 76 place long day care centre, 20 place After Kinder Care and  60 place outside school hours care in Lauderdale, Tasmania. Julie has worked in the sector for 18 years, firstly in Family Day Care and then in Outside School Care and centre based care.  Julie has a degree in Early Childhood education and care.

National Quality Framework Conference 2013

The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) will host the first official National Quality Framework Conference in Sydney on 12-13 September 2013.

The conference will bring the children’s education and care sector together to focus on the themes of quality, consistency and excellence.

Chair of the ACECQA Board, Ms Rachel Hunter, said the conference is an important step in the implementation of the National Quality Framework.

“As the national authority ACECQA works to achieve better educational and developmental outcomes for children,” Ms Hunter said.

“The conference will provide an opportunity for experts, peak bodies, service providers and educators to discuss research, practice and look at how the National Quality Framework is improving quality outcomes.”

Those who are interested in attending, presenting or sponsorship opportunities can register their interest here.

Quality Improvement Plans – Supporting the process at a local level

This month’s feature post is by Gaye Stewart. Gaye is the Senior Consultant Planning and Review at Glen Eira City Council. Gaye’s article shares the process Glen Eira used to develop Quality Improvement Plans with their services.

The City of Glen Eira (VIC) is located 10 kilometres south east of Melbourne’s CBD. While we have no direct role in the management of many local services, as a planner of the physical environment, facilities and services Council seeks to promote partnership, improve the health and safety of children and build community connectedness.

Our local government area has 52 early years education and care services, 46 of these run funded kindergarten programs. As a local Council we manage three long day care services and a Family Day Care scheme with 38 carers.   Our Family Day Care Scheme has recently gone through the Assessment process.

In Glen Eira early years education and care services have a variety of management structures; community management, school, cluster management and private providers.  At the beginning of 2011 we began convening monthly network meetings [Kindergarten and Early Years Alliance] for service leaders.  The focus of these meetings is professional conversations where we hope that early years education and care services will be able to share practice, challenges and ideas for the National Quality Framework and network to support each other.

At a recent meeting we shared the process undertaken with our managed services to develop Quality Improvement Plans (QIP). The idea was to use our story to begin a professional conversation.

We started the process in Glen Eira’s services by printing out the summary table of quality areas, standards and elements [on page 10 of the Guide to the National Quality Standard].  We made it A3 size so it was really easy to read and we put it up on the wall in the staff rooms. The idea was for staff to start talking, making notes and ticking the areas and elements they felt they did well now. Writing a note beside ones they didn’t really understand or wanted to talk further about lead discussion in staff meetings.

After reflecting, having some informal conversations with parents and reviewing annual survey results in detail, the team leaders from each service came together to collate and discuss elements for their QIP. The important first step was focussing on our strengths.

The QIP template provided by ACECQA was projected up on to a screen and we worked through each quality area.   As staff talked about the things we did well, there was a need to jump between quality areas because some examples of good practice applied in different quality areas.  This is where we found that converting the QIP template to excel was useful. Each quality area was made a different tab. Having it in excel made it easier to navigate around the different quality areas as we worked.

Sharing our approach resulted in a productive professional conversation. Some useful tips for services in the development and ongoing interaction with their QIP were collated from the discussion.   Below are tips that were shared at the meeting:

  • If possible work with others to identify your strengths and improvements.
  • Be kind to yourself.  Tick off the things you feel confident about. (the summary table can be useful to do this)
  • Make an A3 copy of the summary table of quality areas, standards and elements on page 10 of the Guide to the National Quality Standard, and stick it up on the wall in the staff room. It’s a good reminder and discussion point.
  • Remember your QIP does not have to have actions in every quality area.
  • Identify quality areas and elements that you need to work on and plan in stages. Be realistic about what can be achieved, timelines and resources you need.
  • Use the Assessment and rating instrument to help you to define your improvement goal and success measure.
  • Once you have completed your QIP remember to update it regularly.  It should be a living document. Write down progress notes and date them.
  • Keep everyone engaged with the plan. One centre has a copy in the staff room and in the foyer for parents to access.
  • Have the plan on the agenda of every staff meeting
  • Every 6 months or so do a ‘save as’ of your plan and update it. For instance; if your first plan is saved at QIP 2012 towards the end of the year you might save it as QIP 2012-Oct. When you do the ‘save as’ process update it with new actions and identify emerging issues.
  • Implement an annual satisfaction survey that details quality elements. This can help you to measure success and identify areas for improvement.

Note: We are happy to provide the Excel format of the QIP to others. It was useful for us and while it has some limitations in terms of formatting, once you work them out it’s easy to insert text.   Each sheet is protected so you can only add text to the cells that change.  You can easily take protected off by going into the review tab and clicking protect sheet off. It is not password protected. Please send an email to mail@gleneira.vic.gov.au with QIP Excel file in the subject line to request the file.

About the author – Gaye Stewart is the Senior Consultant Planning and Review at Glen Eira City Council. Gaye has worked in and around early years services for more than twenty years. Over the past 10 she has consulted across a broad service area with a focus on evaluation.  Gaye has a Masters in Evaluation, a Bachelor of Education, Graduate Diploma in Special Education and a Diploma of Teaching in Early Childhood Education.

 

 

Overseas Qualifications

If you hold an overseas qualification and would like to be recognised as an early childhood educator under the NQF, your qualification will need to be assessed for equivalence by ACECQA.

Application process

Qualification levelling

The National Regulations require you to first have your qualification levelled by either the Overseas Qualification Unit or the Australian Education International – National Office of Overseas Skills Recognition (AEI-NOOSR). They will determine what your qualification is comparable to in the Australian Qualification Framework. A certified copy of an Australian Teacher Registration would also meet this requirement.

If an applicant holds Registration with the New Zealand Teachers Council they may be eligible for Australian teacher registration under Mutual Recognition. A certified copy of the Australian teacher registration would meet the levelling requirement.

Assessment of equivalence by ACECQA

Once your qualification has been levelled by an appropriate body, you will then need to apply to ACECQA to have the content of your qualification assessed for suitability to work in the children’s education and care sector.

The guidelines for the determination of equivalent qualifications explain the ACECQA application process and the criteria that ACECQA will consider in deciding if your qualification is equivalent. You should read these guidelines together with the application form for more details about the process and the supporting documents that will be needed.

Timeframes

Qualification levelling assessments are not completed by ACECQA and can be a lengthy process. Once a completed application for assessment of qualification equivalence has been received by ACECQA, the assessment process can take up to 8 weeks from the date your application is received. If your application is incomplete, this may cause delays in the assessment process.

Submitting your application

To make an application to ACECQA, you need to:

  • complete the application form
  • attach the necessary certified documents and
  • pay the AUD$110 (incl. GST) fee.

Completed applications can be sent to ACECQA:

  • By email: apply@acecqa.gov.au
  • By post:
  • Qualifications Assessment Team
    ACECQA
    PO BOX A292
    Sydney NSW 1235

Waivers for service providers

Waivers can be granted for certain staffing arrangements. Please see Regulations 41 and 44 of the National Regulations and contact your Regulatory Authority if you have questions about your eligibility.

Questions about your application

Please contact apply@acecqa.gov.au for questions or concerns about your application for assessment of equivalent early childhood educator qualifications.


 

Questions from ACECQA/NSW DEC Forums

ACECQA and NSW DEC regional forums

ACECQA and the NSW Department of Education and Communities have been hosting a series of regional forums in NSW. The forums provide an opportunity to discuss the National Quality Framework. ACECQA is sharing some questions from these forums that may be of interest to others.

Q: When do you expect all services to be assessed under the new National Quality Framework?

A: Regulatory Authorities plan for all services to have had at least one quality assessment and rating visit completed by mid-2015.

With around eight weeks between the visit occurring and services receiving their report and rating, it is expected the quality rating of all services will be determined within months of this date.

New services will be assessed as they enter the system.

Q: What happens if a service is assessed as being below the standard?

A: This will depend on the degree to which the service is assessed as below the National Quality Standard (NQS), and the approach of the provider. The two levels below ‘Meeting the National Quality Standard’ are ‘Working Towards the National Quality Standard’ and ‘Significant Improvement Required’.

Working Towards the National Quality Standard

‘Working Towards National Quality Standard’ will be the overall rating if one or more of the seven Quality Areas is rated ‘Working Towards’. This means some services will receive an overall ‘Working Towards’ rating for receiving ‘Working Towards’ in every Quality Area, while others may only have ‘Working Towards’ in one Quality Area.

In either scenario, the service can use the information in its detailed ratings report to update its Quality Improvement Plan and focus on areas to improve over time.

Significant Improvement Required

If a service is assessed at the lowest rating level – ‘Significant Improvement Required’ – the Regulatory Authority has found that it fails to meet a Quality Area or a regulation in a way that constitutes an ‘unacceptable risk to the safety, health and wellbeing of children’.

In this case the authority will most likely take some formal enforcement action to require the provider to urgently rectify the problem.

The type of enforcement action will vary and might range from a written direction to comply or the suspension of approval to operate.

 

In general, the higher the quality rating, the less often a service will be reassessed.  If a service is assessed as ‘Working Towards National Quality Standard’, then another assessment is likely to occur within a year. A service rated ‘Exceeding the National Quality Standard’ might not be assessed for another three years. Read more.

Q: What kind of complaints from parents does a service need to report?

A: A parent complaint needs to be reported if:

  • a complaint alleges the safety, health or wellbeing of a child was or is being compromised or
  • a complaint alleges the Law has been breached

For example, a complaint about pasta being on the menu every week would not need to be reported to the regulatory authority. A complaint about a child not being offered an alternative meal when they have a food intolerance should be reported.

If you need to report a parent complaint to your regulatory authority, use form NL01 Notification of complaints and incidents (other than serious incidents).

This form is also to be used for:

  • incident that requires/required the Approved Provider to close, or reduce the number of children attending the service for a period
  • a circumstance that poses a significant risk to the health, safety or wellbeing of a child attending the service.

If you have a question for ACECQA you can post it here on the blog, email enquiries@acecqa.gov.au or call 1300 4 ACECQA (1300 422 327)

Tackling the NQS – how our management team met the challenge

This month we have a guest post by Anna Johnston, Practice Manager Early Childhood for UnitingCare Children’s Services (UCCS).

UCCS is the approved provider for 52 services in NSW and the ACT, including long day care, preschool, out of school hours care, occasional care and an integrated service. 

Anna discusses the ways the management team worked with services to help them adapt to the new National Quality Standard.

Tackling the NQS – how our management team met the challenge

The management team of UnitingCare Children’s Services (UCCS) has worked together to ensure our services have emerged confident and prepared for assessment and rating with the National Quality System (NQS).

UCCS is the approved provider for 52 services in NSW and the ACT, including long day care, preschool, out of school hours care, occasional care and an integrated service. Services are managed directly by Central Office or by local management committees linked to Uniting Church congregations.

UnitingCare Children’s Services was previously a stand-alone organisation that was linked to the Uniting Church in NSW/ACT. Following a re-structure in 2010 a new management team was assembled, under the leadership of Trish Brown and UCCS became a service group of UnitingCare Children and Young People and Families. At the beginning of 2011 we comprised a team led by the Director , Trish, with two Operations Managers, one training and resource officer, two Practice Managers, and administration and inclusion support officers.

The team faced many challenges but fortunately we are committed, experienced and enthusiastic people and we all agreed on an approach to support UCCS through this transition phase, both at organisational and regulatory level. A multi-pronged approach was needed to many tackle the many heads of the beast in 2011 :

  • Director met with every management committee about the new requirements and the role of UCCS as the Approved Provider.
  • Policy and Quality Practice Manager began reviewing all current policies, assessing compliance with the National Law and Regulation and where required developed new policies, procedures and forms with appropriate consultation.
  • Management team delivered the National Quality Framework training package developed by Community Child Care Co-op in 22 convenient locations.
  • Operations Managers visited services to identify their needs.
  • The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and My Time Our Place were in use at our services, the engagement and understandings varied greatly. Again our management team encouraged and supported services to incorporate the practices, principles and learning outcomes into their programs.
  • Our fortnightly newsletter, UCCS express, contained regular updates regarding training and policy development.
  • The Training Officer developed a training calendar, in addition to the NQF training package. In 2011 UCCS delivered our own training to our staff in Introduction to EYLF, EYLF documentation, Philosophy and Transition to School
  • Mock assessment visits were conducted to 15 preschools to assist in developing the QIP.
  • Combined directors and co-ordinators meetings were held three times a year, including practical sessions around the QIP or EYLF which leaders could take back and use in staff meetings to share understandings.

By December 2011 we were exhausted but confident our services were informed about the changes coming in 2012.

For 2012, our training calendar reflects the gaps identified in service Quality Improvement Plans – principally documentation and links in Quality Area 1, community connections, staff inductions, sustainability and health safety and supervision.

We continue to support individual services as they work through their QIP’s and we are currently piloting ways to support services as they begin to undergo the “real thing”, – assessment and rating.

We look back to where the management team and the services and educators and even the sector was at the beginning of 2011 and feel great pride that we have grown and become so informed and confident.

Taking parents along for the NQF journey

This month we are featuring a guest post by Emma King, CEO of Kindergarten Parents Victoria (KPV). In this post, Emma discusses the unique circumstances KPV faced to support both early childhood professionals and parent volunteers to implement the NQF.

The article examines how this peak organisation is working with more than 200,000 children and their families, to keep them informed of changes under the NQF.

The implementation of the National Quality Framework at the start of this year was a great cause for celebration in the early childhood education and care community.

The new framework, by putting quality at the centre of everything we do, is a long overdue recognition of the role our early childhood educators play in setting children up for lifelong learning. It recognises that quality early childhood education and care is a game-changer – that it can help children overcome disadvantage and consolidate the positives.

At Kindergarten Parents Victoria, we are enthusiastic advocates for the NQF, which we believe sets Australia on a path to delivering the highest quality early childhood education and care services.

Parents are passionate about the quality of their child’s education.  In Victoria, this passion is demonstrated by our unique early childhood management models, where kindergartens are run primarily by volunteer parent committees or Kindergarten Cluster Managers.

Close to 50 per cent all kindergartens in Victoria are run by independent standalone kindergartens and managed by volunteer parent committees. These parents are responsible for the complete operations of their services, from establishing the philosophy and values of the service to appointing staff and directors and making all financial decisions.

Parents volunteer to take on these roles because they understand the value of a quality early childhood education.  The majority also understand that the NQF will help create a better early childhood education system for their children.  However, there is some anxiety about the NQF and what it will mean for the ongoing management of kindergartens.

While many of the parents on kindergarten committees are well educated, enthusiastic and accomplished in many areas of professional and community life, they are rarely professional early childhood educators.

The majority of Kindergarten Cluster Managers are Not for Profit organisations or run by local government and are driven by a strong sense of community and collaboration.  While the engagement of parents may vary, they also play an important role within this early childhood management model.

The National Quality Framework – with a new national law, regulations and National Quality Standards (which in itself contains seven quality areas, 18 standards and 58 elements), a new assessment and ratings system, regulatory authorities for each state and territory and the establishment of ACECQA – can seem overwhelming to someone from outside the sector.

At KPV, our advisory team takes more than 13,000 calls annually from members about kindergarten management and governance issues.  In the past 18 months or so those calls have increasingly been about the NQF, and this has intensified recently with the start of the assessment and ratings process.

At KPV, there has been strong demand from members for our NQF information sessions and workshops. Our PolicyWorks Manual – NQF, which helps services develop policies to meet the requirements of the NQF – has also been extremely popular.

We were also fortunate to receive funding in the recent Victorian state budget to continue to support services to comply with the NQF.

But this support is needed not only by our standalone parent committees, but also by our cluster managers who need help and advice and about how to best engage their parent communities as part of the NQF process.

There are some great sources of information on the NQF. At our recent Early Childhood Education Conference – Together We Grow, esteemed educator Bridie Raban urged the assembled crowd of early childhood professionals to treat the ACECQA website as their ‘Bible’.  However, there is also a need for practical on-the-ground support for services, particularly those managed by a volunteer parent committee of management.

At KPV, we are excited about the many opportunities presented by the NQF and our role in supporting parents and services and enabling them to make the most of the quality reforms.  Because regardless of how a service is managed, it is vital that parents are part of the NQF journey.

Would you like to submit an article for our blog? We’re interested in hearing about your experiences, please email your topic or idea for an article to news@acecqa.gov.au