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.

The role of the educational leader: Part 3

During the month of October, We Hear You will be showcasing a three-part series exploring the development of ‘The role of the educational leader’.

In the final instalment of the series, we turn our focus on the way educational leaders work with teams to set goals for both teaching and learning that help bring the program to life.

Part 3: Setting goals and expectations for teaching and learning

The final instalment in our educational leader series focuses on how leaders work with teams to set goals for both teaching and learning that help bring the curriculum to life. The expectations in Standard 7.1 of the National Quality Standard include establishing a positive organisational culture and creating a professional learning community. This involves recognising and acknowledging leadership as a collaborative endeavour. It is about building the capacity of educators through developing trusting relationships where teams work together and support each other to improve outcomes for children (Thornton, 2010).

The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care acknowledge an important consideration when considering goals and expectations for teaching and learning:

Children are receptive to a wide range of experiences. What is included or excluded from the curriculum affects how children, learn, develop and understand the world (p. 9/6).

What is the best way to go about setting goals for teaching and learning?

Just like other aspects of the educational leader’s role, there is no one right way. The Guide to the National Quality Standard (p. 87) provides some examples of strategies that educational leaders might use. Developing a strong understanding across the service of the principles, practices and learning outcomes in the relevant learning framework is a great starting point to collaboratively decide on teaching and learning goals.

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belonging_page10The collective knowledge about pedagogy; child (and/or adolescent) development; the relevant learning frameworks; the service’s philosophy and policies; National Quality Standard and underpinning legislative standards and most importantly the collective knowledge about individual children, families and the community is a strong foundation for determining relevant goals and expectations for teaching and learning. It is essential to think about the service context in the process of identifying relevant goals and expectations.

It is worthwhile, spending some time thinking about:

  • additional strategies the educational leader could use to build educators’ understanding of teaching and learning
  • how the educational leader works with other educators to support and extend children’s learning
  • how new ideas and research are incorporated into the educational program and practice
  • what opportunities are available for discussion and reflective practice
  • what aspects of the service philosophy guide goals for teaching and learning.

When the organisational climate promotes respect, collaboration, reflection and  exploration of new ideas, theories and strategies, issues relating to program quality, environment design, equity and children’s wellbeing can be raised and debated (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 13).

The role of the educational leader connects across many quality areas and will involve the educational leader navigating and linking a range of systems, processes and policies across the service’s operations. In addition to the standards and elements in Quality Area 1, the following are particularly relevant when thinking about the support and mentoring role of the educational leader:

  • Standard 1.2: Educators and co-ordinators are focused, active and reflective in designing and delivering the program for each child.
  • Element 4.2.2: Educators, co-ordinators and staff members work collaboratively and affirm, challenge, support and learn from each other to further develop their skills and to improve practice and relationships.
  • Element 7.2.2: The performance of educators, co-ordinators and staff members is evaluated and individual development plans are in place to support performance improvement.

Educational leaders are encouraged to reflect on how they are supporting critical reflection with teams in ways that encourage teams to work together and challenge each other. When setting goals for teaching and learning, ownership and commitment are more likely to be built if children, educators and families are involved in the process. The process of identifying and prioritising goals and expectations is also likely to assist in identifying professional development priorities and goals.

What is the best way to document goals for teaching and learning?

While there are no specific requirements on how to implement or document the way the educational leader guides the curriculum and sets goals for teaching and learning, it makes sense to have a plan that links to what the service already has in place. Suggestions include making links to the service’s Quality Improvement Plan, Strategic Plan, Reconciliation Action Plan and Strategic Improvement Plan to make explicit the strategies the educational leader is implementing to support continuous improvement and outcomes for children. The goals may also be woven through, reflected in, or align with the service’s philosophy and program planning and evaluation documents.

It is important to remember that the most effective and sustained changes and enhancements occur when teams work collaboratively to research, negotiate, shape and implement reform. Take it slow, collaborate with others, learn from experiences and don’t forget to celebrate the achievements along the way.

Further reading and resources

  • Green, J. & Bickley, M. (2013). Developing a Learning Community for Educational Leaders, Reflections, Winter: 51, Gowrie NSW
  • ACECQA – National Education Leader resources
  • Thornton, K. (2010) School leadership and student outcomes: The best evidence synthesis iteration: Relevance for early childhood education and implications for leadership practice, Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice, 25(1), pp. 31-41

Read the complete series:

Part 1: The role of the educational leader: aims, objectives and intent

Part 2: Leading the development of the curriculum

Part 3: Setting goals and expectations for teaching and learning

The role of the educational leader: Part 2

During the month of October, We Hear You will be showcasing a three-part series exploring the development of ‘The role of the educational leader’.

In the second instalment, we look at the ways educational leaders use their skills, knowledge and understandings to lead the development of the curriculum/program and consider how the service context influences the development of the curriculum.

Part 2: Leading the development of the curriculum

In this second part of the educational leader series, we follow on from exploring the why, what and how of educational leadership in education and care services to considering how leaders use their skills, knowledge and understandings to meet the requirements of National Quality Standard (NQS) Element 7.1.4, relating to leading the development of the curriculum/program.

In unpacking this component of the role, it is important to identify the relevant standard and elements of the NQS and consider strategies to ensure each member of the team is supported to build their capacity and feel empowered to contribute to rich and meaningful learning and leisure experiences for children. In particular, educational leaders can support educators to understand and implement:

  • Standard 1.1: An approved learning framework informs the development of a curriculum that enhances each child’s learning and development.
    • Element 1.1.2: Each child’s current knowledge, ideas, culture, abilities and interests are the foundation of the program.
    • Element 1.1.6: Each child’s agency is promoted, enabling them to make choices and decisions and influence events and their world.

Some questions to prompt discussion and reflection include:

  • What are the team’s current understandings of the approved learning frameworks and in what ways are they informing educator planning and practice?
  • How do the principles and practices outlined in the learning frameworks inform our work with children and families?
  • What could the team do to further build this knowledge and understandings to enhance practice?
  • In what ways does the program reflect the view promoted in the learning frameworks of children as capable, competent learners, active contributors, agents of change and co-constructors of knowledge? How might this aspect be strengthened and shared with families?

How does the service context influence the development of the curriculum?

The approved learning frameworks remind us that:

Curriculum encompasses all the interactions, experiences, routines and events, planned and unplanned, that occur in an environment designed to foster children’s learning and development (Early Years Learning Framework p. 9; Framework for School Age Care, p. 6).

A strength of the learning frameworks and the NQS is the recognition of the importance of the context in which the service is being delivered. The curriculum is influenced by the children, families, educators and community as well as the hours of operation, service type and learning framework implemented. The service philosophy, policies and procedures and the theories that inform educators’ thinking and practice will also shape the curriculum.

These factors influence the uniqueness of each service. You would not expect, for example, the curriculum in a sessional preschool or kindergarten implementing the Early Years Learning Framework to look like the curriculum in an outside school hours care service, as, apart from the difference in children’s ages, a strong focus of the Framework for School Age Care is on leisure and recreation. Educational leaders, in collaboration with educators, are empowered to use their significant knowledge and understanding of the service context to guide the development, implementation and evaluation of the curriculum. The context is also an important consideration for educational leaders when thinking about what mentoring, support and guidance will be most beneficial to assist educators to reflect on and enhance their practices.

The Educator Guides to the learning frameworks – Educators My Time, Our Place and Educators Belonging, Being & Becoming –  are invaluable resources for educational leaders providing helpful examples, explanations and reflective activities.

What are some effective strategies to inform and guide the development of the curriculum?

Engaging in professional conversations with educators across the service is an effective strategy to encourage continuous improvement and has the potential to inform enhancements to the curriculum. A professional conversation is ‘the formal and informal dialogue that occurs between education professionals including teachers, mentors, coaches and school leaders, which is focused on educational matters’ (AITSL, 2014).

The following diagram may be helpful in thinking about the key elements of an effective professional conversation.

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‘Professional Conversations’, Professional growth

When considering the opportunities for an educational leader to engage in professional conversations with educators across the service to lead and guide the development of the curriculum, the following questions may be useful to prompt discussion and reflection:

  • What do educators talk about professionally?
  • Where do these conversations happen, when do they happen, and are they effective?
  • What is the impact of the discussions the educational leader has with educators on developing expertise and improving outcomes for children?
  • What opportunities exist or can be created for educational leaders to enable, encourage and participate in professional conversations between educators that result in continual improvement of the educational program?
  • What strategies could educational leaders implement to keep abreast of developments and research in early childhood and share this information with educators?
  • What opportunities exist or can be established for educational leaders to link with the broader community, including other services, professional groups and, most importantly, other educational leaders, to learn and discuss and share information?

Some educational leaders have also engaged with educators in action learning or research projects. Action learning or research is carried out in the course of a professional environment, typically in the field of education, using research and inquiry to improve the methods and approach of those involved to address issues or challenges which have been identified or seek out opportunities for improvement. Action learning or research projects support educators to reflect on and enhance their pedagogy and practice. They can also link to Element 1.2.3 and critical reflection, which is, according to assessment and rating data, the most challenging of all 58 elements.

Further reading and resources

  • ACECQA – Information sheet: The role of the educational leader
  • ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Standard
  • AITSL (2014). ‘Professional conversations’, Professional growth
  • Rodd, J. (2012). The role of effective leadership in achieving high quality provision in preschools and early learning centres, Association of independent schools of South Australia (AIAAS).
  • Rodd, J. (2013). Leadership in Early Childhood: The pathway to professionalism. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin.
  • Siraj-Blatchford, I. & Manni, L. (2006). Effective Leadership in the Early Years Sector (ELEYS) Study. London: Institute of Education, University of London.
  • Waniganayake, M., Rodd, J. and Gibbs, L. (2015). Thinking and learning about leadership. Sydney, Australia: Community Childcare Cooperative.


Read the complete series:

Part 1: The role of the educational leader: aims, objectives and intent

Part 2: Leading the development of the curriculum

Part 3: Setting goals and expectations for teaching and learning

The role of the educational leader: Part 1

During the month of October, We Hear You will be showcasing a three-part series exploring the development of ‘The role of the educational leader’.

In the first instalment, we consider the history of the role, the reasons behind its introduction as well as the aims, objectives and intent of educational leadership.

Part 1: The role of the educational leader: aims, objectives and intent

When speaking to the education and care sector and in our collaborative work with regulatory authorities, we often are asked about support to assist educational leaders better understand the role and how the role supports quality provision. The scope of the aims, objectives and intent of the role is our focus in this first of our three-part series addressing the why, the what and the how of educational leadership.

At this stage, it might be useful to recap why the role was introduced and what the requirement of having an educational leader aims to achieve.

In the development of Belonging, Being and Becoming: Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF) there was much discussion about (and recognition of) the role of pedagogical/educational leaders in supporting educators in the process of planning, implementing and evaluating quality programs in early childhood education and care services. Similarly, the significance of the role was acknowledged in the development of the My Time Our Place: Framework for School Age Care in Australia (FSAC).

The importance of this role was also recognised in the development of the National Quality Standard (NQS), which was informed by national and international research. In particular, the OECD Starting Strong II Early Childhood Education and Care report identified the importance of paying attention to both structural and process quality to ensure quality outcomes.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard identifies the key aims and objectives of the role, noting that:

Effective curriculum development requires ambitious goals and clarity of purpose. It requires attending to the principles, practice and outcomes of the approved learning framework. The role of the educational leader is to work with educators to provide curriculum direction and to ensure children achieve the outcomes of the approved learning framework (p. 178).

Educational leaders play an integral role in mentoring, guiding and supporting educators. As part of continuous improvement, the educational leader of a service may reflect on the strategies needed to develop the curriculum and the educational program in the service. The most effective educational leaders work collaboratively with educators, children and families to decide ambitious goals for the curriculum as well as the focus and purpose of the educational program.

Effective leadership creates a positive organisational culture that values openness and trust, where people are motivated to ask questions, debate issues and contribute to each other’s ongoing learning inquiry (Guide to the National Quality Standard, p. 165).

The educational leader’s role in a service will contribute to the organisational culture and develop a professional learning community across a service and potentially more broadly by networking with other education and care services and professionals from other disciplines. This approach involves conceptualising the role, not simply as one concerned with checking educators’ and children’s records, but instead, as a leader who supports educators, families and the community and builds their understanding of early and middle years pedagogy. This involves building capacity to discuss and engage in a cycle of planning for play and leisure based learning. Research highlights the link between quality and educator understanding of pedagogy, relationships, sustained shared thinking as well as assessing and planning learning (Siraj-Blatchford and Manni, 2006, p. 6).

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A lively culture of professional enquiry is established when educators, co-ordinators and staff members are encouraged to build their professional knowledge, reflect on their practice and generate new ideas (EYLF, p. 13; FSAC, p. 11).

ACECQA’s information sheet about the role of the educational leader summarises the requirements under the National Quality Framework (NQF). Beyond the specifics outlined within the NQF, the educational leader has a role to play in guiding the service and its educators through self-assessment processes, supporting educators to self-assess their own skills, knowledge and understandings and to plan (using mechanisms such as the service’s quality improvement plan or performance plans)  strategies to develop the areas that need strengthening.

Questions for educational leaders to guide self-assessment:

  • What are my understandings of leadership?
  • What theories of leadership guide and inform my practice?
  • What strategies could I implement to strengthen my own communication and interpersonal skills?
  • Am I confident in my understandings of the approved learning frameworks?
  • How does the service’s philosophy guide the implementation of the educational leader role?
  • What ongoing learning do I need to engage in to strengthen my abilities to lead and guide the curriculum and educational program?

Further reading and resources


Read the complete series:

Part 1: The role of the educational leader: aims, objectives and intent

Part 2: Leading the development of the curriculum

Part 3: Setting goals and expectations for teaching and learning