New Educator Survival Guide

Newly graduated educators can face a daunting experience, navigating the complex ‘mini-world’ of a new workplace. Sally Burt, a recent teaching graduate and participant in the ACECQA Early Career Educators Program, writes about two key survival strategies for new educators to support this journey into the profession – teamwork and mentoring. Both strategies can be highly effective in supporting graduates as they transition into the workforce and ‘become educators’.

Educators are undoubtedly the greatest asset to quality education and care services. A highly qualified children’s education and care workforce is one of the most powerful influences on positive outcomes for children and quality early learning programs and environments. Stability and continuity of educators is also essential to quality practice and the profession as a whole. It makes great sense to ensure educators, particularly those new to the sector, are well supported and have maximum opportunity to be their professional best.

Be part of your workplace team 

Most great learning happens in groups. Collaboration is the stuff of growth.
– Sir Ken Robinson

Education and care services are diverse and complex workplaces that have people and relationships at their core and outcomes for children as their goal. The building and leading of a team to achieve this is usually the responsibility of the educational leader, manager or director. However, successful teams are comprised of individuals who are effective and engaged team members. This is particularly important in the context of a distributed or shared leadership approach where leadership is collaborative and responsibility is collective.

Participation in an effective workplace team has a number of well-known benefits, such as increasing efficiency, creating a positive culture and collaboratively solving problems. As a result, work environments are often more effective, harmonious and respectful. For new educators, teamwork has significant benefits both professionally and personally. These include:

  • enhancing a sense of belonging
  • providing social support
  • increasing commitment and job satisfaction
  • improving communication with colleagues
  • supporting professional development, through sharing and learning from others
  • boosting self-esteem and morale
  • reducing stress and burn-out
  • cultivating shared understandings and goals
  • developing ‘ownership’ of the direction of a service.

Contributing to the team

Your individual contribution to a team is unique. Every educator has their own strengths, skills, experiences, capabilities, values and beliefs. This diversity can greatly enrich the team as a whole. Effective leaders use a strengths-based approach to build and develop teams. New educators are, therefore, encouraged to embrace their capability and to feel confident in contributing. A fresh perspective, contemporary knowledge from recent study, and enthusiasm are just a few of the specific strengths of new educators.

Skills in being an effective team member should also be cultivated. Communicating effectively, being open to the perspectives of others, active listening, demonstrating respect, having cultural awareness and being flexible will all assist you to engage with your team. Participating in team-building activities will also be helpful. Suggesting innovative team building ideas will demonstrate your personal commitment.

Start a relationship with a mentor

Mentoring is a key survival guide strategy for new educators, supporting the transition to the workforce and enhancing job satisfaction, commitment and retention. Mentoring can boost teacher confidence and improve teaching expertise. Mentoring is also a highly effective leadership development strategy, increasing the leadership capacity of services. It supports the professional growth and development of all educators, as well as promoting outcomes for children by reinforcing Quality Areas 1, 4 and 7 of the National Quality Standard (NQS).

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is fundamentally a learning relationship that supports, strengthens and develops professional practice. Traditionally, mentoring is a one-to-one learning relationship between a novice (the mentee) and a more experienced practitioner (the mentor). Mentors guide, support, provide feedback and develop the goal-setting and critical reflection of their mentee.

How do I find a mentor?

When looking for a mentor, consider people both inside and outside your workplace. A mentor is ideally not a line supervisor, as a hierarchical relationship may not be a supportive environment for a mentee to be reflective. Ask your educational leader, manager or director for advice, as they will likely have some suggestions and contacts.

Potential mentors can be:

  • the educational leader (if not a line supervisor)
  • an educator working within another room at the setting or another setting of the same organisation
  • a previous university or vocational training supervisor, mentor or lecturer
  • an educator assisting with evidence-gathering for teacher registration
  • an educator met through an educator network.

The mentoring process

Mentoring generally involves distinct phases:

  1. Getting to know each other.
  2. Goal setting and action planning.
  3. Developing professional skills and tracking progress.
  4. Evaluating progress and outcomes.
  5. Moving forward – either completing the process, or returning to Step 2 to repeat the cycle.

Goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Goal setting and action planning should, ideally, be initially scaffolded by the mentor, but evolve to be intentional and self-directed by the mentee. A useful model for structuring goal setting and action planning is the GROW Model.

Five mentoring best-practice tips

  1. Remember, mentoring is a relationship.

Relationships require commitment and effort. Mentees and mentors must be interested and willingly committed to the mentoring process and the building of a learning relationship. Positive intent, trust, honesty, respect and responsibilities are inherent. If a successful relationship is not formed, alternative mentee-mentor pairing may be appropriate.

  1. Communication is key.

Effective communication underpins successful mentoring. Mentors will ideally have training and skills in communication, however, mentees may require support and guidance in some important communication skills:

  • active listening
  • open, reflective questioning
  • probing and paraphrasing
  • reflective conversation
  • evidence-informed conversation
  • goal setting
  • clear and shared understanding of roles, responsibilities and expectations
  • explicit, constructive exchange of feedback
  • negotiation and debate
  • non-verbal language recognition
  • cultural awareness.
  1. Leadership and positive organisation culture enable mentoring.

Mentoring requires time for regular dialogue and relationship building. As education and care settings are time-challenged, quality mentoring time needs to be scheduled. Scheduling requires a positive organisational culture and leadership to facilitate resource management such as staff coverage. One of the most powerful enablers for mentoring best-practice is a supportive workplace that values professional development.

  1. Mentor dispositions matter.

Mentors need training, however, disposition is also important. Ideally, your mentor has:

  • interest in lifelong learning
  • empathy and understanding
  • interpersonal skills
  • professional confidence
  • approachability
  • genuine interest in mentoring and nurturing others
  • emotional intelligence.
  1. Be open to the learning journey.

Mentoring requires choice and some bravery, on the part of the mentee, to start a relationship and open their practice to review, dialogue and development. Being open to the possibility of this learning journey will provide a positive foundation on which to build the relationship. Mentors are, likewise, encouraged to be open to share the contents of their ‘professional toolbox’ and join their mentee on the journey. Mentoring provides an opportunity for inspiration, growth and professional renewal for both mentee and mentor.

Transitioning into a new workplace and becoming an educator is a journey of discovery and challenges that all graduates face. Teamwork and mentoring are two strategies that can effectively support this transition and, importantly, equip new educators with lifelong skills and practices to be their professional best.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Quality Area 7: Educational Leadership and Team Building

Australian Institute of School Teaching and Leadership – Professional conversations

Community Child Care Victoria – Building a winning team

Early Childhood Development Agency – Mentoring Matters: A practical guide to learning focused relationships

Education Council New Zealand – Triangulated mentoring conversations

Murphy, C. and Thornton, K. (2015) Mentoring in Early Childhood Education, NZCER Press, Wellington, New Zealand.

MindTools – The GROW Model: A simple process for coaching and mentoring

Leading through change

When it comes to change, some will see the glass as half full while others will view it as half empty. This month on We Hear You, we look at ways your service can lead through periods of change.

The introduction of the National Quality Framework (NQF) and the National Quality Standard (NQS) represented a significant period of change for the education and care sector. There were new regulations, processes of assessment and rating, and policies and procedures requiring updating.

While this period of change was challenging at times, the reform introduced a successful national system – a system that formally recognises the growing body of research that the early years of children’s lives are integral to their learning, development and wellbeing.

Over time, the NQF and NQS will evolve, responding to the needs of children, families and an education and care sector driving quality practice and continuous improvement.

The recently announced changes to the NQF are a chance for education and care providers to think about change more broadly as well as the way change is approached and managed at the service level.

How will your service lead through change?
Will the glass be half full or half empty?

The upcoming changes provide a great opportunity to review current systems and processes.

Creating the climate for change

Change management theory can provide a useful framework for moving from being passive recipients of change to actively embracing change and growth in all aspects of your service. One possible approach is Dr John Kotter’s eight step process for leading change, which explores the notion of creating a climate for change, represented in this graphic. Kotter visualises the series of steps that can help you and your service respond to change in positive and empowering ways. While structured steps may not suit everyone, making change a positive experience by involving all service staff is the key.

Engaging and enabling the organisation

Thinking about what you want to achieve and opening up opportunities for all stakeholders to be involved can help support change.

Removing barriers such as inefficient processes and hierarchies provides the freedom necessary to work across silos and generate real impact. (Kotter, 2014)

Times of change are ideal for considering the way leadership is enacted across a service and how leadership impacts on change management. They also present the chance to empower action by considering a more shared approach to leadership.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard outlines key points for effective leadership (p. 165):

  • Effective leadership contributes to a positive organisational culture
  • Leaders must fully understand the education and care context
  • Good leaders empower others
  • Good leaders adapt to change and drive continuous improvement
  • Good leaders establish skilled workforces

These prompts can support your team to critically reflect on how to be effective leaders of change.

Implementing and sustaining for change

‘Implementing and sustaining for change’ is a way for your education and care service to focus on the big picture, consider the process of continuous improvement in your context and how effectively change is managed, implemented and sustained.

Additional prompts for reflection:

  • Do all stakeholders know about the NQF and why it is important?
  • What changes have occurred since the introduction of the NQF and how are these celebrated, communicated and built upon? Are you treading the same ground?
  • How are children, families and the broader community involved? Could this be extended?
  • Does your service have a vision for clarifying and articulating its purpose? Is the vision being realised?
  • How is your service vision and philosophy connected to the process of continuous improvement?

Along with these questions for reflection, opening up the space and taking the time to communicate and collaborate on how your service will lead through change could help you perceive the glass as half full and allow you to engage more effectively with continuous improvement.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Quality Area 7 – Leadership and Service Management

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Quality Area 7

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Change management in early childhood education and care

The World with Theory of Constraints – Overcoming Resistance to Change – Isn’t It Obvious?

TEDxPerth – Jason Clarke – Embracing Change

Leader as mentor

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, delivered a presentation for an Educational Leaders Association meeting in December.  The presentation is available to view and share with your teams.

Rhonda explores how educational leaders drive quality practice by working to lead, coach, mentor and inspire educators towards continuous improvement and delivering quality outcomes for children and families.

The presentation runs for approximately half an hour and includes audio and slide components. Rhonda references a workbook that contains activities and reflective questions to work through and discuss during the presentation. You might like to download and print the workbook before watching the presentation.

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Bush Kinder

Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, speaks with Tina Thompson, Koori Preschool Assistant at Berrimba Child Care Centre in Echuca, Victoria about their bush kinder program.

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Every Monday at Berrimba Child Care Centre, children aged three and above are taken into the bush for a three hour program of exploring and activities. These visits provide opportunities for children to connect to the land, live their culture and explore nature, as well as scientific and maths concepts.

Tina Thompson, Koori Preschool Assistant at the service, says the program fits well under the Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework by linking with the five learning outcomes identified.

Tina spoke to me about the smoking and Welcome to Country (in language) ceremonies that educators and children collaboratively participate in to recognise the traditional owners and to cleanse their spirits. She talked about the valuable opportunities for children as they play and explore in the bush, giving time to leave behind any troubles they may be experiencing. Tina explained how “children need to know their culture, identity and be strong and proud, knowing and valuing their rich culture”.

Science is a feature of these excursions into the bush with lots of discussion about the natural creations. For example, children were fascinated with the drying mud; Tina laughingly reported that children, at first, thought it was chocolate. The children talked and theorised about where the water goes. “It is really important to get our culture back and being out in bush kinder is a great way to connect with the ancestors and to thank Mother Nature for all the beauty around us,” said Tina.

img_0293An example of an effective learning experience occurred when children at the service learned how to make a canoe under the guidance of Uncle Rick, an esteemed Aboriginal elder and strong male role model in the community. Educators take iPads to record the rich learnings, and share these with families and others in the community. “Children are learning about sustainability. Aboriginal people for generations have only taken what they needed; it is important for children to learn to respect and care for nature and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors,” she added.

Last year, the children made a humpy (a shelter) in this beautiful natural environment. The educators were available to help and guide but the initiative, ideas and problem solving came from the children. “They are amazing,” Tina noted, explaining how they cooperatively gathered the sticks and worked out how to build it so it would stay up. During each visit, they would add to the structure, help each other, and play in and use it in a variety of ways, allowing each other space to explore, work and play.

“We might turn over a log and study the bugs, but we don’t take them away,” she said. “We talk about our totems and why we don’t eat our totem. We don’t take the bugs, insects, stones, sticks or anything we find, just study them and marvel in the beauty of nature.”

“We have a lot of strong leaders in our community and children in our service are showing skills that will make them great community leaders of the future, leaders who can advocate and fight for the needs and rights of our people. The children are teaching their parents and family members.”

The identified benefits of the bush kinder include:

  • increasing evidence that children’s inner wellbeing is benefitted by being outdoors as the natural environment enhances their health, learning and behaviour by supporting personal and social development, as well as physical and mental health
  • the sense of calm and restoration gained from spending time in the bush
  • providing children with a connection while they are young, and the hope they will build a sense of belonging and respect for the country as they grow.

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Back at the service, educators can regularly be observed putting ochre (traditional Aboriginal body paint) on the young children and babies, and singing songs in language and dancing along. Tina pays respect to her colleagues Leona Cooper (jokingly called Boss Lady) and Joyce Ward, two women strong in their culture and relentless advocates for their families and community. These women work long and hard to ensure no child falls through the cracks and to advocate for these opportunities to continue to enrich the lives of children in the Echuca community.

To finish, Tina draws my attention to a quote from Jenny Beer (from the Aboriginal language group Wergaia):

“…if we don’t learn our language, then our kids, in future generations will be like us, looking for our identity, going through that identity crisis.”

Further reading and resources

Nyernila – Listen continuously: Aboriginal creation stories of Victoria

Forever Learning – A digital story from Berrimba Child Care Centre

The NQF at five

we-hear-you-blog-karen-curtisACECQA Chief Executive Officer Karen Curtis farewells the children’s education and care sector, sharing her thoughts on the National Quality Framework’s successes and challenges. 

The end of this year marks the fifth anniversary of the National Quality Framework (NQF) and I have had the honour and pleasure of being ACECQA’s Chief Executive Officer since the beginning.

Although the NQF had a long and sometimes complicated gestation, its birth on 1 January 2012 was real cause for celebration, with the years since delivering both successes and challenges.

Everyone will have their own perspectives on the NQF: what’s worked well, what hasn’t worked so well; its strengths and weaknesses. I would like to share with you what I have seen and reflected on over the past five years.

Successes

The NQF has set our sector on common ground, allowing us to have truly national conversations about our work. It makes it easier to discuss and communicate about Australian education and care.

We should rightly feel proud about the achievement of taking nine different pieces of legislation and bringing them under one national law. The support of all jurisdictions has been remarkable and how well this implementation has gone, generally, should not be underestimated.

The quality assessment and rating process, newly introduced from July 2012, is now well established and quality is improving. Key strengths of the process include the way it mixes self-reflection with external assessment; the way the standards are descriptive without being prescriptive; the detail included as part of the assessment and rating report; the information made publicly available; the responsive and risk-based approach used by state and territory regulatory authorities to scheduling and undertaking quality assessments; and of course, the emphasis on continuous quality improvement and the absence of an overly simplistic pass-fail threshold. The NQF focusses on ensuring continuous quality improvement and the results of services going through reassessment are incredibly encouraging. These results and the presence of a Quality Improvement Plan in each service mean that families can trust they are entering a sector committed to continual improvement.

The NQA ITS has developed into an exceptional business tool for services and regulatory authorities, reducing processing and application times. ACECQA regularly hears from providers about how highly they value the system and ongoing improvements and enhancements will help further embed usage across our sector.

Some critics of the proposal to implement the NQF claimed it would stifle diversity and innovation, and enforce a one size fits all approach. The reality is that national regulatory reform is more than capable of accommodating and nurturing diversity and innovation. In my work I’ve come across the pedagogical led initiatives of the Montessori and Steiner sectors, new markets in education and care management support services across the commercial and not-for-profit sectors, as well as growth in employer sponsored education and care.

Services and providers feel supported by the framework and the level of investment in workforce development continues to grow, particularly among larger providers, in a way that could not have been possible without the NQF.

To build on these successes, we should also not take for granted the distance that we have come and must continue to promote and champion the importance of education and care. This will help to banish forever the archaic notions of ‘childminding’ and that ‘proper’ learning starts at school.

Core objectives

The NQF is still developing and needs ongoing commitment and cooperation between our nine governments at the policy and operational level. We should not lose sight of the core objectives of the NQF that:

  • children attending education and care services are safe, healthy and content
  • their educational and developmental outcomes are improved
  • families and carers are informed about the services they are using
  • services and providers are supported to go about their business without unnecessary red tape.

These objectives should be the reference point for our ongoing activities and actions – if we are not furthering the NQF’s objectives through aspects of our work, we must refocus and reprioritise.

Challenges

One of the challenges I have observed is the pace at which proposed reforms and improvements can sometimes take place.

We have learnt a lot over the past five years, moving between the critical stages of theory and practice. Sometimes what looked sensible in theory has proven impractical, clunky or unnecessary in practice. Equally, things that were not contemplated prior to the introduction of the NQF have surfaced as operational issues.

Stability and predictability are positives in any regulatory model; however the complexity of NQF governance has meant improvements that the sector and general public may expect should take months have, on occasion, taken much longer. This has the potential to be doubly disadvantageous as it can erode confidence in the efficiency and effectiveness of the national system and those that administer it. Also, the time elapsed between reviewing, consulting on and implementing proposed changes can mean that things have naturally progressed and evolved, making implementing the changes a lesser improvement.

Another challenge on the topic of speed relates to the system of quality assessment and rating. More than four years into the national assessment system, there are over 2000 services still to be rated, with more than 700 of these having been approved to operate for five years. On top of our existing challenge to accurately and effectively communicate about the value and meaning of quality assessment and rating, I am increasingly concerned that our next challenge will be defending the currency and meaning of that system if approved services have to wait four, five or even six years to receive an assessment or reassessment.

One more concerning challenge is the qualifications of educators. To help ensure the success of the NQF, we need to be able to rely on the quality of registered training organisations (RTOs) in the vocational education and training (VET) sector. If poor quality or fraudulent RTOs persist or flourish, potentially at the expense of high quality RTOs, we will face a significant challenge to the quality of NQF approved services.

I see similarities between some of the issues in the VET sector and the issues in the family day care sector. In both, there has been a proliferation of new providers, incentivised by government subsidies, with sometimes a sole focus on financial gain. Their behaviour is detrimental to the well-established, high quality providers who suffer from a loss of public trust.

While the issues in the VET and family day care sectors are not caused by the NQF, they are an issue and challenge for the NQF. Understanding that distinction and reality will help us all move forward together. The improved alignment between our sector and vocational and higher education will help, as we now have a number channels to engage with training and higher education providers at the operational and policy level.

Tackling these issues requires collaboration and a range of actions and responses. I would encourage the initial focus to be on guaranteeing a minimum level of quality and eliminating the fraudulent and very poor quality providers. I urge anyone with experience of poor quality or fraudulent RTO practice to provide ‘on the ground’ intelligence to the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) to enable them to effectively carry out their risk based regulatory activities.

2020 vision

By 2020 I think the key question will be: Is the NQF achieving what it intended?

We should not undersell the challenge involved in answering this question. In the short to medium term, we may only be able to answer particular aspects of it. ACECQA’s work to develop an evaluation framework for the NQF will hopefully establish a shared purpose among governments and researchers, against which a diverse range of research projects can be undertaken.

To sustain and build on the NQF, we must better understand how attendance at education and care services affects the outcomes of students in their early years of schooling, as well as the longer term effects on life outcomes. I would also like to see a continued focus on how early childhood education and care programs benefit different groups of children and families, particularly Indigenous children, children from disadvantaged backgrounds and the children of families who have recently arrived in Australia.

The focus over the past five years has been on implementing national reform. The sector, to its great credit, has risen to the inherent challenges of such large scale reform and significant quality improvements have emerged as a result. However, the value placed on children’s education and care in the wider community is lagging behind. We have an opportunity to advocate for the importance of quality education and care in the early years and build families and carers’ understanding of the NQF, in particular the National Quality Standard. In doing so, we can help shape the legacy of the NQF and better outcomes for Australian children.

Although I will no longer be part of the education and care sector, I will continue to take great interest in the progress of the NQF. We’ve come so far over the past five years and with the level of commitment I have witnessed across the country, I have every confidence that significant progress will continue to be made. And I know that ACECQA will stay true to its vision that children in Australia have the best possible start in life.

Read the other ACECQA CEO blogs:

What does it mean to be ‘Working Towards’ the National Quality Standard?

Failing services is failing to understand – the emphasis is on continuous quality improvement

Failing services is failing to understand – the emphasis is on continuous quality improvement

we-hear-you-blog-karen-curtisAustralian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chief Executive Officer Karen Curtis addresses the importance of continuous quality improvement under the National Quality Framework (NQF).

One of the most important aspects of our system of assessing and rating the quality of education and care services is its emphasis on continuous improvement. This is deeply embedded within the NQF, starting with the requirement for all services to have a Quality Improvement Plan in place.

ACECQA’s latest published Snapshot, based on data as at 30 September 2016, shows that, of the 15,429 services approved to operate under the NQF, 83% have been assessed and rated, with 71% rated at Meeting the National Quality Standard (NQS) or above.

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As you can see from the information above, most jurisdictions have assessed and rated more than 80% of services in their state or territory and the focus for some, particularly those that have assessed and rated more than 90% of services, is increasingly upon reassessing services.

When state and territory regulatory authorities undertake quality assessment, the goal is to drive the quality improvement of services, improve outcomes for children and make meaningful information available to families and communities.

To make the best use of available resources, regulatory authorities take a responsive, risk-based approach, focussing on services in need of quality improvement. This typically results in more frequent assessments of services that do not meet the NQS, as well as potential reassessments of services that have experienced significant changes or adverse events. As at 30 September 2016, a total of 1332 reassessments had taken place. Almost two thirds of these resulted in a higher overall rating being given, with the most common improvement being services moving from Working Towards NQS to Meeting NQS.

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The NQS is made up of a series of standards and elements and it is at the element level where we get a comprehensive picture of quality improvement. To date, 75% of reassessments have resulted in a higher number of elements being assessed as met. On around 100 occasions there has been a very notable improvement in performance, with 21 or more elements on aggregate moving from being assessed as not met to met.

In contrast, just over 10% of reassessments have resulted in a lower number of elements being assessed as met. On seven occasions, there have been marked deteriorations in performance, with 21 or more elements on aggregate moving from being assessed as met to not met.

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More than half of reassessments have resulted in between one to 10 elements on aggregate moving from being assessed as not met to being assessed as met. My previous article, which looked more closely at the nature and diversity of the Working Towards NQS rating, is relevant to this, in particular the high proportion of services that are rated at Working Towards NQS due to not meeting a low number of elements.

When looking at changes in performance at reassessment, it is also informative to examine individual elements to see which are most and least likely to exhibit improved performance. We can do this by looking at the number of times an individual element has changed from:

  • not met to met
  • met to not met, or
  • continued to be assessed as not met.

Of  the 10 elements most likely to exhibit improved performance at reassessment, two each are from standards 5.1, 6.2 and 7.1:

  • Element 5.1.2 (children’s interactions with educators)
  • Element 5.1.3 (support for children to feel secure, confident and included)
  • Element 6.2.1 (recognition of families’ expertise and shared decision making with families)
  • Element 6.2.2 (availability of current information about community services and resources to support families)
  • Element 7.1.2 (comprehensive staff induction)
  • Element 7.1.3 (continuity of educators and co-ordinators)

At the other end of the spectrum, of the 10 elements least likely to exhibit improved performance at reassessment, three are from Standard 2.1, and two each are from standards 2.3 and 7.3:

  • Element 2.1.1 (support for children’s health needs)
  • Element 2.1.3 (effective hygiene practices)
  • Element 2.1.4 (infectious disease control and management of injuries and illnesses)
  • Element 2.3.2 (protection of children from harm and hazard)
  • Element 2.3.3 (incident and emergency planning and management)
  • Element 7.3.1 (storage, maintenance and availability of records and information)
  • Element 7.3.5 (effectively documented policies and procedures)

Unsurprisingly, in the list of the 10 elements most likely to continue to be assessed as not met are five of the most challenging elements of the NQS:

  • Element 1.2.1 (ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation)
  • Element 1.2.3 (critical reflection)
  • Element 3.3.1 (sustainable practices)
  • Element 3.3.2 (environmental responsibility)
  • Element 7.2.2 (staff evaluation and individual performance development plans)

Also included in the list of the 10 elements most likely to continue to be assessed as not met are two of the elements from Standard 1.1:

  • Element 1.1.3 (program maximised opportunities for children’s learning)
  • Element 1.1.4 (availability of children’s documentation to families)

Reflecting upon these elements and considering why they appear in the respective lists will help prioritise and direct future quality improvement efforts. For example, it may be that efforts to improve performance against some standards need to be more intense, targeted and prolonged.

I also want to highlight that the consistent picture over the last four years is that Quality Area 1: Educational program and practice is the most challenging of the seven quality areas, with Standard 1.2 (focused, active and reflective educators and co-ordinators) and Standard 1.1 (curriculum enhances each child’s learning and development) the most challenging of the 18 standards, and Element 1.2.3 (critical reflection) and Element 1.2.1 (ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation) the most challenging of the 58 elements. Devoting dedicated time to discussing, reflecting on and prioritising aspects for improvement around the educational program and practice, particularly reviewing the feedback received as part of the assessment and rating process, will provide a solid foundation for continuous quality improvement efforts.

In my final blog post next month, I look forward to sharing with you my reflections on the last five years, a period of momentous change for our sector.

What does it mean to be ‘Working Towards’ the National Quality Standard?

we-hear-you-blog-karen-curtisAustralian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chief Executive Officer Karen Curtis addresses a number of questions on what it means when education and care services are rated Working Towards the National Quality Standard.

Are 30% of education and care services ‘failing’ the National Quality Standard (NQS)? Are they underperforming? Making progress? Or are they working towards meeting the NQS?

Depending on what you read and who you speak to, you may well get a different answer.

Of all the rating levels given to services, it is the ‘Working Towards’ rating that has generated the most discussion and conjecture, partly due to the ambiguous nature of the words themselves.


With the introduction of the National Quality Framework (NQF) on 1 January 2012 came a new, challenging and comprehensive system of assessing and rating the quality of education and care services around Australia.  All long day care services, preschools/kindergartens, family day care and outside school hours care services approved to operate under the NQF would be assessed and rated against the NQS.

The NQS sets a high, national benchmark for education and care services and encompasses seven quality areas that are important to outcomes for children. Services are rated against the quality areas consisting of 18 standards and 58 elements.

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More details about the NQS quality areas and quality ratings
are available on the ACECQA website.

This system of assessment and rating began in July 2012 and ACECQA publishes quarterly updates about progress and performance against it.

Our latest NQF Snapshot, based on data as at 30 June 2016, highlights a couple of milestones. Of the 15,417 services approved to operate under the NQF, 80% have been assessed and rated, and 70% of those are rated at Meeting NQS or above.

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More details and an interactive version of the graph
are available on the ACECQA website.

we-hear-you-ceo-blog-working-towards-graph-2To be rated Meeting NQS, all 58 elements of the NQS must be met. This is a high bar and means that a service may be rated at Working Towards NQS if they are not meeting anywhere between one or all 58 elements of the NQS.

There are over 1,000 services rated Working Towards NQS because they are not meeting three or fewer elements of the NQS. And over 2,000 services receive it due to not meeting seven or fewer elements. At the other end of the spectrum, 300 services receive the rating due to not meeting 24 or more elements of the NQS.

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Detailed results are available on the ACECQA website.

By examining the element level performance of services rated at Working Towards NQS, we get a much better idea of what, and how much, work needs to be done, and how close services are to meeting the high standard set by the NQS.

Over the years, ACECQA has published more information about the assessment and rating process. We do this for a number of reasons, including to help families and carers make informed decisions, and to educate and inform the sector about performance against the NQS.

In addition to our NQF Snapshots, we also publish comprehensive service level data on NQS performance. This allows anyone to look at the quality area, standard and element level performance of any service that has been assessed and rated.

As the assessment and rating process is designed to be comprehensive and transparent, the state and territory regulatory authorities provide detailed assessment and rating reports to services, which includes examples of the evidence that led to their rating decisions.

Services will also have a Quality Improvement Plan in place. This plan will identify the work that the service is doing to achieve a rating of Meeting NQS. Alternatively, if the service is already performing at that level, the plan will outline how it will continue to build upon its high performance and look to achieve a rating of Exceeding NQS. For the 29% of services rated at Exceeding NQS, the plan will summarise how that level of quality will be sustained and continually improved.

So, returning to the questions that I posed at the start of this article. In my opinion, a rating of Working Towards NQS is not a failure. Not least of all because the assessment and rating process was not designed to be a pass-fail system. Rather, it is a system that examines a broad range of quality measures and encourages continuous improvement. Working Towards NQS is also very far from being a one size fits all rating, as you can see from the figure above. Because all of the relevant information is readily available, I would encourage anyone to look beyond the overall rating, check which aspects of the NQS a service is finding more challenging, and ask the staff at the service what work they are doing to improve on these.

A notable aspect of the assessment and rating system is the process of reassessments, particularly for encouraging and fostering continuous improvement, and this will be the topic of my next article in November.