‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

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

Earlier in this series, we asked you to consider: Who or what is included in your service community? As this can be a challenging question, part three of the series explores six key questions to help you to identify your community members and create effective connection and collaboration.

1. What is our purpose?

Communities usually have a shared purpose. Taking time to clarify your own purpose is a vital, first step when identifying your community. A clear purpose gives you direction and enables you to effectively identify potential community members. Ideally, for a children’s education and care service, your primary purpose is promoting positive educational and developmental outcomes for children. Placing children at the centre of your community will ensure they are the focus of your efforts.

2. Who is in my organisation community?

Some community members are automatically part of your community as they are part of your organisation. The approved provider, educators and other service staff such as co-ordinators, cooks and office staff are all important members of your community. Individually and collectively, they help you to achieve your purpose. A sense of community within your organisation creates a positive organisational culture and can nurture a professional learning community. These both have significant benefits to the service, staff, families and children.

3. Who is in each child’s primary ‘people’ community?

Each child has their own unique ‘people’ community. Family and non-family carers, such as foster parents or guardians, are central to each child’s ‘people’ community and are, therefore, important members of your education and care service community. In some communities, extended family will also be a significant part of the community, as will carers who regularly drop off and collect children from the service. Families and carers will, ideally, also share your primary purpose of positive educational and developmental outcomes for children.

Other children attending the service will also be important members of each child’s ‘people’ community. Daily interactions and relationships with peers give children important social-emotional experiences that shape their development, wellbeing and learning.

4. Who else is in each child’s ‘people’ community?

Other people and organisations are members of your child’s community and share your primary purpose, so are a part of your service community. These could be oriented to:

  • Child education: e.g. education professions engaged with the child or service, such as Inclusion Support professionals; or education services that a child might attend or be planning to attend, such as other services or schools. For outside school hours care (OSHC) services, the school is an important part of your service community and vice versa. The school’s broader community beyond the school gates is, therefore, also a part of the OSHC community.
  • Child health: e.g. medical, child and family health, or allied health professions engaged with the child or service, e.g. speech pathologists, paediatricians.
  • Family support: e.g. parenting groups, playgroups, toy libraries.

Cultural and faith-based groups can also be significant parts of a child or their family’s community and, therefore, part of your community.

5. Where is our community?

Enabling children to connect and engage with the place of your community can promote positive educational and developmental outcomes for children. Some services will have very strong connections to the land or location of their service neighbourhood through shared culture, history and/or experience. For other services, and for those where staff and/or families are not local (for example, a workplace service in a city building), an understanding and connection to place may need to be developed.

To gain knowledge and understanding of your place, start by mapping your local community using paper or digital maps. Exploring and having experiences in your community will provide greater insight. Features that could be a meaningful part of your community may include:

  • Geography: e.g. beaches, mountains, rivers, lakes, gullies, paddocks, floodplains, bushland, caves, forests, trees.
  • Transport: e.g. streets, railway lines and stations, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, bridges, car parks, bus stops, footpaths, lifts, escalators.
  • Urbanscape: e.g. shops, shopping centres, offices, signs, recycling stations, fences, houses.
  • Community resources: e.g. the post office, parks, library, fire station, police station, hospital, health centres, sporting fields, schools and education and care services, council buildings, community gardens, halls, monuments.
  • Culture or faith: e.g. local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land council, churches, synagogues, mosques or temples.

Engagement with community places also enables social connections to the people of these places – for example, librarians, train station staff, pedestrian crossing volunteers, postman or the park ranger. These people have the potential to become a part of your ‘people’ community.

 6. Who could potentially be a part of our community?

Other people or organisations could share or support your purpose of promoting positive educational and developmental outcomes for children, but they may not have been identified in questions 1-5. Potential community members will be unique to your context, but could:

  • Support children: e.g. a local business that could donate recycled resources for construction play.
  • Support families: e.g. counselling or legal aid organisations.
  • Support staff: e.g. a wellbeing organisation.
  • Support the service: e.g. a professional development organisation.
  • Support your community: e.g. community gardens.
  • Promote your purpose: e.g. media organisations such as a local newspaper.

You may not be currently engaged with these potential community members, however, identifying them is the first step to connecting, collaborating and achieving your purpose.

Clarifying your purpose and identifying who and what comprises your community will enrich your understanding of your community. Your service is unique because of its community. I encourage you to talk with members of your community about your community and discover more about who and where you are. Such conversations are an example of valuable community interactions. Communities are not static and multiple, dynamic interactions, relationships and contexts shape your community and each child at its centre.

Reflective questions and activity for you and your team or service

At a staff, parent or community meeting, provide attendees with large pieces of paper and coloured pens and ask them to “draw the service community”. The drawing could be in any form – a list, a map, an illustration, a diagram… Encourage creativity.

Compare and discuss the similarities and differences. Is there collective agreement? As a group, brainstorm if there are individuals, groups, organisations or places not currently in your community that you would like to engage in your community?

~o~

To support you to develop relationships and collaborate with community members, to promote positive outcomes for children, parts four and five of this blog series will outline some key strategies.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Belonging, being and becoming for educators

KidsMatter – Creating an organisational culture of your dreams

Victorian Department of Education and Training – ‘Ecological model of child learning and development’, Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework

 

Read the complete series:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

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

In part two of our series exploring community in education and care, we identify why community is important to children’s educational and developmental outcomes.

Children experience and observe a ‘hub’ of relationships in an early childhood setting. Each type contributes to creating a sense of community because each facilitates feelings of belonging, connectedness and inclusion. (KidsMatter, 2012, p.11)

Why is community important to quality outcomes for children?

Community is essential to quality outcomes of children. A community provides an important relationship environment; promotes belonging, a sense of identity and learning; supports active participation in the world and continuity of learning; and connects children and families to supportive relationship and resource networks.

Positive relationships support children’s development, wellbeing and learning

Young children develop in an environment of relationships, with a child’s community providing a vital relationship context for their learning and development. This is particularly important during the early years when the foundations of brain architecture are being built. From birth, positive, responsive, consistent and secure relationships with others provide a supportive, growth-promoting environment for children’s development, wellbeing and learning. Children’s academic, social-emotional and mental health outcomes are built on this foundation.

A child’s relationship environment begins in the family, but then extends to adults and peers outside of the family who have important roles in their life. Educators and other education and care staff are a significant part of many children’s relationship environment.  Communities that foster positive interactions and relationships between children, peers and adults strengthen children’s outcomes.

A positive sense of community supports children’s belonging and learning

When children have a sense of belonging and feel safe, secure and supported, they have the confidence to play, explore and learn. A service that is strongly connected to the people and place of its community is welcoming, inclusive, connected to the culture and context of children’s families, while nurturing respectful and reciprocal relationships with children’s families. Connection to community creates a responsive, safe and stable education and care environment which, in turn, promotes children’s belonging and learning.

Positive relationships and a positive sense of community promote children’s sense of identity

Children’s understanding of their self is developed through relationships and in the context of their families and communities. ‘Relationships engage children in the human community in ways that help them define who they are, what they can become, and how and why they are important to other people’ (Center on the Developing Child, 2004, p. 1). Identity is a strong foundation for children’s social and emotional development as well as their sense of agency.

Participation in a community supports children to contribute to their world

Having everyday experiences and participating with the people and places of a community enables children to observe, engage, understand and actively contribute to their expanding world. This supports children to live interdependently with others, be decision-makers and have influence. The ability to participate in different communities – a central element of citizenship – helps young children to respond to diversity and become socially responsible.

Community connection and collaboration supports continuity of children’s learning

Transitions between education and care services, or between services and school, can be challenging for children and families. If transitions are not well-prepared or if continuity of learning is disrupted, the benefits of early years education can be diminished and children’s later life outcomes, such as resilience or perception of themselves as a learner, may be affected.  Children from disadvantaged backgrounds or with additional needs are at particular risk. To support continuity of children’s learning, connection and collaboration between education and care community members is essential.

Connection and collaboration with families supports children’s development, wellbeing and learning

Families are children’s first and most influential teachers (Early Years Learning Framework, 2009, p. 12; Framework for School Age Care, 2011, p. 5). Reciprocal and respectful relationships between families and educators strengthens the connection between children’s education and caregivers and promotes positive child outcomes. Through these relationships, educators can gain understanding and build on the strengths, resources, aspirations and priorities of children and families to ensure education and care programs, practices and policies are meaningful, inclusive and child-centred. Family-service collaboration also enables knowledge and resources to be shared and built upon. Positive relationships between a family and a service also provide a powerful role model for children.

Community connection and collaboration supports families

When families are well-supported, they are better equipped to nurture their child’s development, wellbeing and learning. A service that is connected and collaborates with support organisations can be instrumental in facilitating targeted support for families. Child health, child education, family and community organisations support families and children.

Reflective questions

  • How do you know children and families have a sense of belonging at your service?
  • How do your service practices and policies support positive relationships between:
    • educators and children?
    • educators and families?
    • children?
    • the service, families and local schools?
    • the service, families and community/support organisations?
  • What opportunities do children have to engage in their community beyond the service gates?

~o~

In the next instalment of our five-part series, we help you to identify your community.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Relationships with children

Center on the Developing Child (2004) Young children develop in an environment of relationships: Working paper 1, pp. 1-8.

KidsMatter (2012) Literature review: Creating a sense of community, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

KidsMatter – Webinar – Protective factors that support transition

 

Read the complete series:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

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

‘Community’ is an everyday word in children’s education and care services, with the concept embedded in National Quality Framework legislation and National Quality Standard (NQS) practice guidance, resources and professional development. Collaborative partnerships with families and communities is the focus of NQS Quality Area 6. But what is community? Why is a sense of community so important to positive developmental and educational outcomes for children? Why should services be connecting and collaborating with their community? In this five-part series, I explore community and its important role in delivering quality outcomes for children, while helping you identify who and what is in your community and giving you some key strategies to engage and collaborate with your community.

In this first instalment, I explore the ‘sense of community’ and the way it is connected to place, people and shared purpose.

What is community?

The word ‘community’ can mean different things to different people and/or groups of people, depending on our perspective and the unique context of our own community. For example, an education and care service community in a remote part of Australia will be quite different to the service community in a high-rise commercial building located in a CBD. This may be different again to a family day care community in the country and an outside school hours care community in suburbia.

Even within one service, the children, educators, families and approved provider may have different viewpoints on ‘community’. For some, community might mean the educators and families connected together by children in a room or year group. For others, community might mean ‘the neighbourhood’ – the whole service extending to the local streets, park, library, train station and shops. In a remote region, community might encompass different, individual, kinship communities and extend hundreds of kilometres. One person’s community, or their understanding of what community means to them, may be quite different from another person’s.

People can also belong to multiple communities. They could simultaneously belong to a children’s education and care service community, a hobby-based community, a cultural or faith-based community or even a virtual community connected online or through social media.

What is a ‘sense of community’?

Having a ‘sense of community’ is generally thought to be when members of a community experience four, positive feelings:

  • Belonging: Feeling you are part of the community, are accepted, safe, and identify with the community.
  • Influence: Feeling you ‘matter’ and can make a difference to the community and the community can have influence on you and its members.
  • Integration and fulfilment of needs: Feeling your needs can be met by the community.
  • Shared emotional connection: Feeling attachment or bonding between community members through shared experience, place or history.

Connecting to place and to people

Community has many dimensions, but is often thought of as meaningful connection to a place, or to people, or to both. Community members focusing on place might define their community by its location, having strong connection to the physical or geographical context. A people-based community is primarily driven by relationships.

Ideally, an education and care service community involves meaningful connection to place and people. Community members are valued and, through strong, positive relationships and shared decision making, they feel a sense of belonging and connection to the place and people. Both dimensions make positive contributions to feeling a sense of community.

Communities share a purpose

A community is usually driven by a shared purpose – the tangible reason for connecting and working together. Ideally, in children’s education and care, this shared purpose is promoting positive educational and developmental outcomes for children. Individual community members, such as educators and families, will already have this singular purpose; but, when a community works together on a shared purpose, greater outcomes can often be achieved.

Strengthening relationships between community members will strengthen outcomes. Therefore, if educators, service staff, families, community organisations, schools, neighbourhoods, councils and other community resources connect and collaborate, positive educational and developmental outcomes for children can be achieved.

Reflective questions for you and your team or service

  • What are my personal understandings of the word ‘community’?
  • Do members of my team or service have similar or different understandings of community?
  • What does ‘a sense of community’ feel like to me?
  • Ask each staff member to identify what they believe the purpose of the education and care service to be.

~o~

In the next instalment of our series, we explore why community is important to children’s educational and developmental outcomes.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Building partnerships with families

KidsMatter – Video 1.3: A sense of community

 

Read the complete series:

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 1

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 2

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 3

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 4

‘It takes a village to raise a child’: The role of community – Part 5

Quality Area 7 – Something in it for everyone

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

When we have good governance we free ourselves to perform the important work that we do with children and with our team.– Leanne Gibbs (Waniganayake et. al., 2017, p. 64)

Good governance is essential in any organisation as it supports effective and ethical management and provides leadership and direction to operations. Governance of Australian children’s education and care services can be complex and multifaceted, particularly given the inherent diversity of the sector. According to the 2016 Early Childhood Education and Care National Workforce Census, the children’s education and care service workforce is diverse in age, qualification level and experience. Numbering nearly 200,000, the workforce is employed in more than 15,700 services with varying provider ownership and management structures. While more than 80% of approved providers only operate one service, nearly a third of approved services are operated by approved providers managing 25 or more services. Varying hours of work – from part-time to full-time and sometimes involving split-shifts – add to the complexity of operations.

Effective governance provides a firm foundation for the organisational landscape and supports the operation of quality services. Standard 7.1 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) focuses on the important issue of governance and articulates three elements that contribute to the standard being achieved. Element 7.1.3 identifies the key influence that clearly defined and understood roles and responsibilities support effective decision-making and operation of a service.

Roles and responsibilities

Typically, you will find role and responsibility statements are part of an organisation’s recruitment, induction and performance appraisal processes. These work best when they clearly define the expectations of the approved provider and are understood by the employee. This ensures an approved provider is clear about how the role is positioned within their organisational structure and the service’s operation; and an employee has a clear understanding of their work role, the responsibilities the position entails and the expectations for their performance. Roles and expectations are transparent and understood, and there is less opportunity for misalignment.

As many children’s education and care service roles have legislated responsibilities, including those required under the National Law and Regulations, clearly defined roles and responsibility statements can provide clarity for compliance responsibilities. Consider: Do role and responsibility statements include the requirements for a nominated supervisor as stated in Regulation 117A, or the responsibilities in ensuring the policies and procedures as required by Regulation 168? Are they followed by staff as required under Regulation 170?

There are also other obligations to be considered, such as child protection laws or workplace health and safety laws and codes of practice. Remember to likewise be mindful of ethical responsibilities like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics, which may also be embedded in role and responsibility statements.

The educational leader role

Educational leaders can also be supported by a clearly defined and understood role and statement of responsibilities. The educational leader role was formally introduced with the 2012 NQS and has been further defined in the 2018 NQS. The broad responsibility of the role is to lead “the development and implementation of the educational program and assessment and planning cycle” (Element 7.2.2). However, defining this significant responsibility and how it might be enacted will provide clarity and transparency for the approved provider, the educational leader and the educators they will lead. This detail may include:

  • identified outcomes for the education program
  • resourcing the role
  • reporting responsibilities
  • mentoring responsibilities
  • professional development opportunities
  • the support that will be provided by the approved provider.

Likewise, the role description for an educator could detail the support to be provided by the educational leader.

Induction process

Induction supports an employee to undertake their role and responsibilities. Taking many forms, induction is generally described as the formal training and socialisation process a new employee undertakes when they join an organisation. Importantly, it is much more than a one-off orientation or checklist. Induction designates the transition from beginning at a service to confident and full, professional engagement and belonging in a community of practice. Consistent with our understanding of transition processes for children, transition into a new workplace also has challenges and opportunities, with relationships at its core.

Induction is often integrated with mentoring: high quality induction/mentoring has been shown to improve attrition, strengthen skills and knowledge, improve job satisfaction and commitment, and support the wellbeing of early career educators. While induction programs are well-established in the Australian school system – representing the transition from graduate to proficient teacher –less is known about children’s education and care sector experiences. Whatever the context, induction is a process of professional development, at its most effective in settings with a positive learning culture and strong professional relationships. Quality induction and mentoring will build confidence and enable professional growth – they are essential supports for an educator undertaking their role and responsibilities at their professional best.

Reflective questions:

  • If you are an approved provider or service leader, have you clearly defined all service roles and responsibilities? How do you know these are understood?
  • If you are an employee, do your service roles and the associated responsibilities match your position description? How could you align these?
  • Do you understand the role and responsibilities of the educational leader in your service? If not, could this be discussed at a team meeting?
  • How is induction conducted at your service? How could mentoring further support induction at your service?
  • How are the three Exceeding NQS themes reflected in your practices for Quality Area 7?

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – The role of the educational leader

AITSL – Graduate to Proficient: Australian Guidelines for teacher induction into the profession

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

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Talking about practice: The role of the educational leader

Waniganayake, M., Cheeseman, S., Fenech, M., Hadley, F., & Shepherd, W. (2017) Leadership: Contexts and complexities in early childhood education, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.

We Hear You – New Educator Survival Guide

Breaking down inclusion barriers and myths

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

Inclusion involves taking into account all children’s social, cultural and linguistic diversity including learning styles, abilities, disabilities, gender, family circumstances and geographic location in curriculum decision-making processes. (Early Years Learning Framework, p.24; Framework for School Age Care, p.41)

During 2018, ACECQA is working with Inclusion Agencies and a number of regulatory authorities to deliver a series of forums and expos for children’s education and care educators to meet and discuss inclusion.

Together we explore how the National Quality Framework (NQF) and National Quality Standard (NQS) support inclusion, what rich, inclusive practice and environments look like, the use and value of Strategic Inclusion Plans (SIPs), Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) and community engagement strategies and resources. It is expected that more than 6000 educators will attend the forums and expos.

One noteworthy piece of feedback that we have received from many participants is the way they now understand inclusion underpinning all of the quality areas rather than a practice exclusively embedded in Quality Area 6. This is especially interesting when we consider that the words ‘each child’ are intentionally used throughout the NQS – 18 times to be exact – to promote the inclusion of every child.

In this month’s blog, I would like to share some of the myths that emerged in discussions at the forums and expos that Inclusion Professionals dispelled:

1. Inclusion is about disability – UNTRUE!

Inclusion is about including every child holistically. As Adrian Ashman and John Elkins (2009) remind us, ‘Inclusion enables access, engagement and success for all learners’. Considering the definition of inclusion in the approved learning frameworks, we can see inclusion is broader than simply providing for children with a disability. Rather it is about embracing diversity and providing opportunities for all children to participate and benefit. The NQF promotes the valuing of diversity, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people with a disability, as well as people from diverse family compositions.

2. The rest of the children will ‘miss out’ if you include a child with additional needs – UNTRUE!

Sometimes we hear that this is the perception of some families where a service educates and cares for a child or children with challenging behaviours or additional needs. Contrary to popular belief, we know from solid research that all children benefit from inclusive environments.

An educator’s image of a child is influential in the environments they create. Loris Malaguzzi (1994) advocates that the environment and the image you have of a child are strongly connected. Therefore, the environment you construct around children is a reflection of the image you have of the child. Creating an environment that supports the inclusion of every child means each child can be supported to thrive and build a respect and valuing of diversity.

3. Funding always improves inclusion – UNTRUE!

Funding can be a useful resource to support the implementation of inclusive practice, but sometimes it can hinder inclusion. Without critically reflecting on practice, employing an additional educator in the room does not always support inclusion and sometimes may exclude children from participating with their peers. For example, a support educator may unintentionally isolate other children in the room when preparing an activity for a child with additional needs.

Inclusive practice occurs when educators make thoughtful and informed curriculum decisions and work in partnership with families and other professionals. This helps ensure children – including those with a disability – to have equitable and genuine opportunities to participate. (Early Childhood Australia, Curriculum decision making for inclusive practice)

4. Inclusion and early intervention are basically the same – UNTRUE!

There is a belief that inclusion is the outcome of early intervention. Although these concepts interrelate, they are separate outcomes. The definition of inclusion in the approved learning frameworks refers to all children holistically. Early intervention relates to children who require additional support and involves the support of early childhood intervention specialists.

5. Inclusion is a charitable thing to do for children – UNTRUE!

Inclusion is a basic human right. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all children have the right to an education (Article 28) that develops their ability to their fullest potential, prepares children for life and respects their family, cultural and other identities and languages (Article 29). This is reflected in Regulation 155 of the National Regulations: “An approved provider must take reasonable steps to ensure that the education and care service provides education and care to children in a way that maintains at all times the dignity and rights of each child”.

6. Inclusion is about everybody being treated the same – UNTRUE!

Article 23 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children who have any kind of disability should receive special care and support so that they can live a full and independent life. With this in mind, if everyone was treated the same, would this be fair or equitable?

Image source: NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency

Reflective questions

Below is a sample of questions from the Inclusion extension pack for ACECQA’s The Quest for Quality knowledge game. The questions are intended to prompt open, reflective and collaborative discussions among providers, educators and students. They are also useful as a starting resource for critical reflection and when planning your Strategic Inclusion Plan (SIP), Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and Quality Improvement Plan (QIP).

  • What is inclusion?
  • When was your inclusion policy last updated?
  • Does your inclusion policy reflect current research?
  • How does your service embed and reflect on children’s culture and abilities?
  • What are the benefits of mainstream services for children with additional needs?
  • How do you communicate this to families?
  • Where would you start the collaborative process of developing a RAP?

Where to from here?

Further reading and resources

Ashman, A. & Elkins, J. (2009) Education for inclusion and diversity (3rd ed.), Pearson Education Australia, Frenchs Forest, NSW.

Early Childhood Australia – Code of Ethics

Early Childhood Australia – Curriculum decision making for inclusive practice

National PSC Alliance –Fact sheet – Understanding Inclusion

Loris Malaguzzi (1994) ‘Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins’, Child Care Information Exchange, 94.

Where the research takes us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More than a worm farm: Supporting children to be environmentally responsible

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

Young children have the greatest stake as citizens in the future. ~ European Panel on Sustainable Development (2010)

Viewing children as agents capable of being active participants and enacting change in their world is integral to the guiding principles of the National Quality Framework and the approved learning frameworks. Children’s rich potential as active agents of change for their environment is integral to 2018 NQS Element 3.2.3 – The service cares for the environment and supports children to become environmentally responsible. Research and NQS assessment and rating data indicate that some services can find aspects of caring for the environment, and supporting children to become environmentally responsible, challenging. This month, I step you through a number of strategies to support this quality practice.

What does ‘environmentally responsible’ mean?

Environmental responsibility builds on the important foundation of children’s care, wonder and appreciation of the environment, and fosters accountability, agency and advocacy. Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child reminds us that:

  • education should prepare children to live responsibly and peacefully in a free society
  • education should teach children to respect the natural environment.

Responsibly is not passive; it requires engagement and the potential for action. Supporting children to become environmentally responsible requires meaningful opportunities for children to engage in authentic experiences and to be active participants and decision-makers. Responsibility is, therefore, more than physical resources, such as a worm farm or a set of recycling bins. While these can be wonderful experiences for children, responsibility engages at a deeper level. For example, decision-making about maintenance of the worm farm or monitoring of the amount or type of paper going into paper recycling to understand its source.

Responsibility engages children in critical thinking, problem solving and action. It might invoke questions such as: What does this mean? What do you think? What could you/we do or change? How could you/we do it? How will you/we know it has changed?

Education FOR the environment

Associate Professor Julie Davis (2015) from Queensland University of Technology describes meaningful environmental education opportunities as more than education ‘IN’ the environment – nature education experiences in the outdoors – or education ‘ABOUT’ the environment – children engaging in the natural sciences, recycling or conservation. Education ‘FOR’ the environment is about understanding human-environment interactions and interdependence and their impact on sustainability. Environmental responsibility focuses on the child and their potential role as citizens and agents of change for sustainability.

It is important to also consider that ‘the environment’ is your service and the interconnected environment which may be beyond your doors or gates. The broader geographical, social and cultural environments in your community are fundamentally connected to your service environment. In a rural community, this may include a local water catchment, while in an urban community this could be your neighbours on other floors of the building. Providing children with experiences that allow them to make connections between these environments will enhance their understanding. For example, exploring where a service’s waste water drains or what native bird habitats are available beyond a service’s garden.

Education for sustainability

Environmental responsibility and educating FOR the environment are central to the concept of sustainability. Sustainability has been described as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ or ‘enough for all forever’.  However, depending on your personal understanding, experiences, philosophy, values and beliefs, sustainability can be a complicated concept to define. Sustainability will have different meanings to different people.

As the environment and sustainability involve ‘big ideas’ and thinking on a scale beyond one’s usual context, it can pose intellectual and emotional challenges. This can be exacerbated when engaging with children, families and colleagues. If personal knowledge, beliefs and values are still forming, how can we confidently support and educate others?

Recognising that different individuals will have different understandings and perspectives on the environment and sustainability is a useful starting point for critical reflection.

Supporting environmental responsibility

In ‘Inspiring environmentally responsible preschool children through the implementation of the National Quality Framework’ (2017), Krista Pollock, Jane Warren and Peter Anderson from the University of Wollongong have proposed three key ways to support children to be environmentally responsible.

1. Involve children authentically

It is essential that children are considered as capable change agents. ‘Transformative pedagogies’ that value and build on children’s knowledge and experiences, and provide opportunities for them to participate in real life issues that are important and relevant to them, provides empowering opportunities for decision making and problem solving.

Educators who listen to and respect children’s ideas recognise children’s capabilities and help them develop the sense that their ideas and opinions matter. They support children to explore their world, to ask questions, to express ideas and to learn from their mistakes. When children are supported to develop decision-making skills and to make appropriate choices for their own wellbeing, they realise the choices they make may impact on others. When children are given choices and control, they begin to understand the connection between actions and consequences.

2. Collaborate with families

A ‘whole-of-setting’ approach that involves meaningful collaboration with children, families and community enhances the potential for quality practice. Welcoming, respecting and drawing on the voices, priorities and strengths of all community members will ensure practice is relevant and tailored to the service context.

Drawing on sociocultural theory, the researchers suggest encouraging families ‘to reflect on their own early childhood experiences with, and connections to, the natural environment’. Reflecting on personal influences can highlight their potential impact on children’s foundation knowledge and experience. Drawing on home experiences and culturally-valued knowledge can also build communication and connection between home and service practice. This can, in turn, provide insight, perspective, sharing and feedback on environmentally responsible actions.

3. Engage in critical reflection

Reflect on your own understanding of environmental responsibility and sustainability and how this has been informed. Reflection can enrich decision making, increase awareness of influences and bias and provide goals for continuous improvement. Supporting your own, ongoing learning journey through professional development, and accessing resources to foster a deeper understanding of sustainability, are also highly recommended.

A good starting point for reflection is to undertake a sustainability audit to help you assess your service’s current practices and contribute to a Quality Improvement Plan. Cool Australia has a number of resources, which can be found through a search under the keyword ‘audit’

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We hope this month’s blog has given you some starting points for your own learning journey. Please access the many resources on the new ACECQA website and those recommended below. We would also love to hear about your own experiences supporting children to be environmentally responsible. What have been your challenges? What are your successes? How have children been agents of change? I encourage you to leave a comment or share your story below.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Framework

ACECQA – Guide to the NQF reference list – Quality Area 3: Physical Environment

ACECQA – We Hear You – Sustainability blogs

Cool Australia – Educator and student resources

Davis, J. (ed.) (2015) Young Children and the Environment: Early Education for Sustainability (2nd ed.), Cambridge University Press, London.

Early Childhood Australia – Talking about practice: Embedding sustainable practices, NQS PLP eNewsletter (67).

Pollock, K., Warren, J. & Anderson, P. (2017) ‘Inspiring environmentally responsible preschool children through the implementation of the National Quality Framework: Uncovering what lies beneath theory and practice’, AJEC, 42(2), pp. 12-19.