Embracing the assessment and rating process

0653

IMG_20150719_014608

Being assessed and rated can understandably be a nervous time for educators. ACECQA caught up with Vashti Hicks, an Authorised Officer with the Queensland Department of Education and Training, to discuss her role and how services can prepare and embrace the assessment and ratings process.

Tell us a little about your background

 I have been in the early childhood sector for 16 years. I started as an assistant in a privately owned service but soon discovered that I wanted to focus on teaching. I then completed my diploma before taking on a group leader role.

Following this, I had the opportunity to take on the role as a service Director, which I undertook for five years. I was lucky to stay at this service for 11 years and felt supported in my growth in the sector. After a short break, I took on a position with the department focusing on monitoring and licensing, I have been here for five years and am looking forward to many more.

How do you think the National Quality Standard (NQS) has improved quality education and care?

With the changes to the National Law and National Regulations and the development of the NQS, approved providers, educators and families have come together to ensure wonderful outcomes for children.

Services can think outside the box and engage their educators and children in new and exciting ways, which they may not have looked at in the past as early education programs tended to be structured and ‘one size fits all’.

Additionally, with the law and regulations looking at operational requirements, it’s positive to see a framework that has raised the benchmark and for services to focus on continuous improvement.

Can you describe some of the innovative ways you have seen services approach the Quality Areas or Standards?

Services are embracing being able to change their indoor and outdoor environments to feel more natural and homely. Many are sourcing design ideas from collaboration websites such as Pinterest and finding inspiration for using natural materials that allow children to explore living and non-living things.

I’m delighted when I visit services where the outdoor space has become equally as dynamic and important in terms of learning by using things like wooden materials, gardens and mud pits.

We have definitely seen an increase in services and families building stronger relationships, including families participating more in the program, giving feedback and services using families’ skills and incorporating these into programs. One service that I visited had moved away from displaying children’s artwork on the walls to photos of children’s families that created a homely learning environment.

What preparation do you do before a visit?

I try to develop a relationship with my services to ensure that they are ready for the assessment and rating process. Prior to visiting I read through their Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and identify strengths and improvements that they have highlighted and discuss these.

If I have additional time, I call the service and speak to the nominated supervisor and ask if there is anything I need to know for the visit such as: allergies, staff that may be away or any other major changes that have occurred. Asking these questions makes me aware of how the service operates daily.

I encourage services to make contact with their assessment authority before their visit as developing this relationship is an important step in ensuring the assessment and rating is as stress-free as possible.

If you could offer services a word of advice, what would it be? 

I would recommend services to:

  • embrace the process (see it as an opportunity to show your service off to the world)
  • breathe, discuss and reflect
  • ensure you’re prepared (knowledge is power, use the National Quality Framework Resource Kit)
  • highlight your service’s strengths.

Growing and learning with Amata Anangu Preschool

resizeACECQA met Tarsha Howard, Early Childhood Coordinator at Amata Anangu Preschool, in 2013 at the NQF conference in Sydney. Tarsha had some concerns at the time that working in a remote service might be a barrier to raising the quality of children’s education and care. This month we catch up with Tarsha after the preschool was assessed and rated to find out about their journey.

At the time of the NQF conference I was fairly new to teaching and working at Amata Anangu Preschool; a school based preschool on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia. I travelled to Sydney from the remote Anangu Community and learnt so much about the National Quality Standard (NQS), the quality areas and how to lead change and improve outcomes for children.

I realised that while remoteness and isolation certainly present their challenges, it is still possible to provide high quality education and care in our community regardless of our location. I left the conference with a strong resolve to achieve Meeting the NQS during our assessment and rating.

Culture and collaboration

I work with Josephine James, Amata preschool’s Anangu Education Worker, to develop and implement the programs at our preschool. Josephine is from community. Pitjantjatjara is her first language and she has a deep understanding of the culture, past and present. We see each child’s learning in the context of their family, culture and community and use local activities to help them develop a sense of belonging.

Culture is incorporated into everything we do. Different elements of the outdoor play area represent community and the environment of The Lands.

We’ve designed a rock creek that winds from one side of the yard to the other, leading down to a big mud pit and mud kitchen. When it rains in Amata, which isn’t very often, the natural creeks flood and the kids get straight into mud play.

Often the children, families and community members gather to share stories. Josephine leads group time with story wires; a popular cultural activity where children use curved wire to tell their stories in the sand. We also regularly hold family gatherings at the preschool fire-pit, where the treat is kangaroo tail (malu wipu) and damper. Josephine and I use this as a time to share information with families and discuss each child’s learning journey.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is seeing the children transition to school. Once a week, some of the children and I visit Amata Anangu School to develop relationships with teachers and get a feel for school-based learning.

The program is hugely successful. I’ve been in community for almost three years and I’ve had the opportunity to watch the children develop relationships at the school, build their problem solving skills and demonstrate independence. It’s a powerful reflective tool.

Challenges

One challenge we face in our remote setting is the children’s transience and sometimes irregular attendance. It is not unusual for children to miss preschool for months due to cultural and family obligations. This can make documenting the child’s assessments and evaluations hard, but honouring, respecting and valuing the families and home life is very important. This often includes allocating the time to make contact with teachers in other APY Lands communities to share information about children who are visiting a different preschool.

Assessment and rating – Term 3 2014

The morning of our assessment and rating visit I was terrified that we’d have to close the preschool for cultural reasons, or for an emergency like a snake getting into the outside yard. Thankfully there were no interruptions and the experience was a rewarding one.

Towards the end of the visit, Amata Anangu School principal Greg Wirth and I met with the assessor. It was our opportunity to lead the conversation and share our quality improvement journey. The feedback we received was really positive. Our Quality Improvement Plan effectively tracked our short and long term goals and illustrated our quality improvement story.

The following term, we received an overall rating of Exceeding the NQS in every quality area. We baked a big cake that had all the quality areas on it and invited everyone in the community to our outdoor yard for a celebration and BBQ. People from community spoke in language about the NQF. Everyone was incredibly proud of what we achieved and the role Amata Anangu Preschool has played in each child’s present and future health, development and wellbeing. We continue to grow and contribute to strong early education in the Anangu Lands Partnership.

Visit the Amata Anangu Preschool Facebook page, where the story continues.

Our Assessment and Rating Journey

This Justeene-McKnight-picweek on We Hear You, Justeene McKnight, Nominated Supervisor Education and Care Services at Campbelltown City Council, tells us about Amarina Early Learning Centre’s recent assessment and rating journey. 

Before the assessment and rating visit

On receipt of our letter requesting the submission of the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), we were nervous. However, as we thought about the process and the standards, we realised we didn’t need to be.

The more knowledge and information we gained about the process, the more we realised that we were already achieving many of the elements in each of the seven quality areas and we would just need to demonstrate this to the assessor.

We had been working hard to ensure many of our practices were embedded in our daily program and we needed to reflect this in our QIP. We held regular discussions during team meetings by making the assessment and rating process a static agenda item.

We used journals to assist us to reflect on how we believed we met each National Quality Standard within our service as a team. We discussed information such as what would an assessor be able to see, feel and hear within our service. Areas that we felt needed improvement were then included within the Quality Improvement Plan.

Families also had regular opportunities to share ideas and feedback through our monthly surveys and discussions at our flexible parent meeting. Each child regularly had the opportunity, both individually and in group discussions, to express their opinions, ideas and views about the service, how it made them feel and about the relationships that they had developed at the centre.

The children’s ideas and opinions were then included in the QIP as part of our strengths and areas for improvements. We also placed the plan in the foyer so families could track our ongoing improvement and provide feedback on any areas they would like us to focus on.

The visit

As soon as the assessor arrived, she made all the educators feel at ease. It was obvious through our conversations with the assessor that she knew our service philosophy and had spent some time researching to fully understand our beliefs and practices.

This allowed us to feel that the assessor, and the assessment process, was focused on ensuring our service had the opportunity to be unique and respond to our individual children, family and community needs. The assessor spent time discussing our current community needs and what strategies we utilise to support not only the children within our service, but the families and the surrounding community also.

She looked at our environment indoors and outdoors and asked questions as to why certain things were the way they were. For example, we discussed how we had created a kitchen in the 0-3 year room out of a recycled TV unit, as part of our sustainability management plan.

This opportunity to discuss our environment allowed the assessor to understand our practices, as well as the vision and philosophy of the service and organisation. She spent time interacting with the children and held several discussions with staff.

During the visit, we felt that we had the opportunity to showcase our service and point out what we feel we do well, what we would like to spend time working on and how we implemented our philosophy for the best interest of all stakeholders.

At the end of the visit, we had adequate time with the assessor to go through the report and a further opportunity to show or demonstrate any other information or evidence to support our assessment visit.

Post visit

When we received the draft report, we found it very useful to reflect on the assessment and rating process, as well as our practices within the service. The assessor provided feedback that we were able to incorporate into our QIP to ensure that we can continue to improve our practices and our service delivery.

Regular consultation with children has now become embedded into the practice at Amarina Early Learning Centre. This provides them the opportunity to have their voices heard and integrate their ideas and opinions into the philosophy and every day practices at the service.

The report also validated that the service’s philosophy was evident within our everyday practice and that what we had hoped to be evident to the assessor had been observed.

The Excellent rating application

Once our final assessment and rating report was received confirming our rating of Exceeding, we began gathering evidence to apply for the Excellent rating. It provided an unbelievable opportunity to reflect on our position within the community, as well as our practices within the service.

The application process was thorough and required us to gather examples of how we demonstrated excellence in three separate criteria, and that we had a clear vision for what we wanted to achieve within the service, the community and within the education and care services sector in the future.

As a team, we spent our time ensuring the application was the best it could be and included supportive attachments. The day that we were notified of our Excellent rating was rewarding – not only for the organisation and the staff members, but also for the families and the community. It validated that their contributions to our service were valued and noticed not only by the service and the organisation, but also by ACECQA.

Untitled

Embracing natural spaces and communicating with families

This week on We Hear You, Natalie Cowley from KU Lance Children’s Centre at Millers Point in inner city Sydney tells us about how her service has made plans for continuous quality improvement after its assessment. Natalie has been working at KU Lance for a year and a half and has been teaching in early childhood for almost eight years.

At Lance we have achieved a beautiful, calm and natural environment, using only natural materials and no plastic materials in any of the spaces. Our reasoning behind this is we believe children deserve to have beautiful things to engage with and to develop a respect for the world around them.

When I first started at Lance with Donna, the centre was very different. This was not the focus, as Donna and I had previously worked together at another centre where we incorporated the ELYF and used natural materials. Knowing what kind of positive effect this has on children and their development, we focused our time and energy on changing the focus of Lance.

Within a year, we had changed the environment to be more nature focused, plastic free and over all a beautiful place to be. Interactions with children and the quality of care & education greatly improved and become the focus. Many of the staff did struggle with this change, most being able to learn from it and finding a new philosophy. Our practices improved with these changes, which allowed for strength in particular NQF quality areas (1, 2, 3 and 5).

Our assessment visit was early to mid last year and we received a rating of exceeding standards overall. There were a few areas that we were recommended to further improve in as we received a meeting standard in two areas as opposed to an exceeding. From this we further developed our natural spaces, both indoor and outdoor. Focusing on children and family involvement in the program and room set up, ie asking for suggestions or parents to help bring things in or get involved in classroom experiences such as cooking etc.

An area we needed to spend more time on was parent and community involvement. A lot of the families in the centre are quite busy and work long hours and often do not have time to come and contribute to the program, be involved in centre happenings or have time to read the program, journals and documentation. I thought of ways in which I could improve this and get more parent and community involvement. Donna (our director) suggested that we email families the daily diary. We began doing this a couple of months after the assessment and the response was overwhelming. Families loved receiving the daily diary while at work and would respond via email or mention at pick up how great it was to get an insight into their day while they were at work. From this great response, I came up with the idea to start a centre blog. Updating every 2nd day with learning stories, photos and centre happenings. This has also had a great response, with the parents looking at it often and commenting on posts with ideas/suggestions or positive feedback. The quality of our family interactions improved greatly from these changes, being able to communicate through social media has allowed for a lot more family involvement and from families that may not of shown much interest (due to time restraints) previously.

Natalie Cowley
Natalie Cowley

I have been working for KU Lance for a year and a half now and have been teaching all up for almost 8 years. Our director Donna has been at Lance for over two years and teaching for over 20 years. Since our quality assessment, we feel our service has come far in providing an exceeding standard of care for all the children and families attending our service.

Images of KU Lance Children’s Centre’s natural spaces:

KU Lance outdoor space

KU Lance indoor space KU Children's Centre

Lead assessors

In this blog post, we hear from lead assessors Allison Young of Department of Education, Tasmania and Marilyn Visnjic from the Education and Early Childhood Services Registration and Standards Board, South Australia.
Allison and Marilyn recently attended an ACECQA training and workshop for lead assessors. We asked them to share their experience.

What is the role of a lead assessor?
Allison: The lead assessors train authorised officers but most people working as lead assessors also give day to day support to authorised officers with knowledge, current practice and research.

Marilyn: It was interesting to hear how this role is administered in the different jurisdictions, depending on each organisation’s structure. Some have a stand alone role, while others incorporate it as part of a bigger role. Even with the differences however, the role and focus of the lead assessors is very similar across jurisdictions. It includes:

  • supporting, guiding and mentoring authorised officers, both new and existing
  • responsibility for training of authorised officers as well as identifying training needs and training opportunities for all authorised officers
  • monitoring consistency, validity and reliability both at a state and national level
  • identifying potential drifting of reliability and/or consistency
  • moderating reports
  • conducting assessment and rating visits as well as accompanying other authorised officers on visits (co-visits).

What were the highlights of the recent workshop you attended at ACECQA?
Marilyn:  With all jurisdictions represented, it meant that we all had the opportunity to hear each other’s experiences and stories 12 months down the track. This allowed a cross section of experiences and practices to be shared and provided opportunity to identify and highlight what worked well and what needed more thought and discussion. It also allowed us to identify and highlight practices that may assist and support us in our own jurisdictions.

Allison: We looked at the content of the training, discussed what kind of information could be available nationally for authorised officers. We created material for fact sheets that ACECQA and jurisdictions will develop together.

What were the benefits from attending a national workshop?

Allison: It was great to share the successes, stories and surprises of the NQF over the last 12 months, and it was great to hear that everybody was experiencing similar things.

Marilyn: Very valuable. It was great to be exposed to the different backgrounds, roles and experiences we all brought with us and to be able to support each other as a community of learners. I came back enthused and looking forward to sharing information with authorised officers.
Professionally, I am excited about the ideas put forward for ongoing work and building the lead assessor community.

 

Family day care assessment visit

Nicole Vinken is the Acting Family Day Care Co-ordinator with the City of Greater Geelong. She has 20 years of experience in the early childhood sector in long day care and has been working in family day care since January 2012.

Nicole has worked with the City of Greater Geelong for more than 17 years as a qualified educator and as a centre director for 13 years before her more recent role in family day care. Nicole is recently married, in November, and has two teenage step-children.

The City of Greater Geelong Family Day Care Scheme currently has 50 educators and has been operating since the 1970s. It went through the rating and assessment process in July 2012 and in this blog Nicole shares the scheme’s experience of the process.

Initial contact
When we received our letter from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) in April 2012 notifying us of the commencement of the assessment and rating process and requesting our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) by 28 May, I must admit I nearly fell off my chair.

“How can we be first??!!!”

Once the initial shock wore off I was able to review the documentation provided to us. This included information about the rating process from ACECQA, what will happen on the days of the visits, the role of the authorised officers, a breakdown of the rating levels and details of the assessment and rating report.
I think I sat on this information for about four hours before sharing it with my team!

Once we provided our QIP and centre philosophy to DEECD in May, we received a letter to confirm receipt and were notified of the assessment and rating visit dates in July – six weeks after DEECD received our QIP and 12 weeks after the original letter requesting the QIP.

This letter outlined the breakdown of the days, e.g. when the authorised officers would meet with the Co-ordination unit, the number of eductors they would visit (five) and the days they would be visited, and a list of resources to support the service through the rating and assessment process. Again, they provided plenty of supporting documents to prepare for the visits.

DEECD made phone calls to the Co-ordination unit to support us through the process and to check if we needed any guidance.

Assessment and rating visit days
For our Family Day Care Scheme, we had a three-day visit, with five of our educators chosen to be assessed.

Day 1 and 2
AM – Co-ordination unit visit – About 2-2.5 hrs – we had an in-depth visit with the DEECD to discuss the roles of the co-ordinator, support officers and the administration team. We were questioned about the support/home visits, processes and procedures, service management, relationships with educators and parents, philosophy, governance, supporting vulnerable families/child protection processes etc. The authorised officers also spoke to the educational leader about her role and how she supports the educators.

I was then given a list of documents that DEECD would like to see on the third day when they returned to the office– enrolment forms, educator rosters, policies and procedures, excursions, professional development, evidence of recording police checks and working with children checks, newsletters etc.

We were then notified of the five Educators that had been chosen to undertake site visits. One educator was on leave so another educator was chosen. We had the opportunity to call the educators at that time and inform them how lucky they were to be chosen and when the visits would be occurring. Luckily, everyone seemed to handle the news well.

PM – Two educators were visited in the afternoon of the first day and three on the second day. As we were one of the first services to undergo the rating and assessment process, there were two authorised officers conducting site visits, and it was requested that a representative from the Co-ordination unit was also present to support educators. Although this made things quite busy in the homes, we were able to respectfully situate ourselves to ensure minimal interruptions to the children and the program.

Day 3
AM: DEECD spent about 3.5 hrs at the Co-ordination unit looking at documentation and then had a closing meeting with myself to discuss the three days and if there was anything else I would like to contribute. No feedback was provided by DEECD at this meeting on what our rating might be, which we understand is best practice, but it was still frustrating as we really wanted to know how we went.

Overall, the authorised officers were very professional and supportive from the initial contact made, throughout the three days undertaking the rating visit and the after support to clarify and discuss any details.

Educators all reported feeling comfortable and happy with the process. At no time were the authorised officers judgemental or invasive in their practices or questions. Questions were clear and concise and relevant to form an assessment.

Rating
We received a draft copy of our assessment and rating via email in early August, about three weeks after our visit. A meeting was co-ordinated with one of the authorised officers to discuss the report about three days later. At this meeting I was able to query any of the comments and ratings presented. We then had about three weeks to submit a response to any ratings to the regional DEECD office.

We completed a response email on behalf of the Co-ordination unit, and these items were taken into account, which we felt was a positive outcome. It showed how DEECD respected our feedback.

A final report was then submitted, and the rating confirmed. About two weeks later (early September) we received our rating certificate.

Support to Educators
Throughout the rating and assessment process, we maintained regular contact and support with educators. We did this in the following way:

  • Continued contact with our educators to keep them updated throughout the whole process.
  • Support home visits as key opportunities to support educators to ensure they had the required documents etc.
  • Mentor groups to support with any questions and assistance with program planning and the assessment process.
  • Regular email, newsletter and SMS contact.
  • Professional development.

Where to from here?

  • QIP working group formed between the Co-ordination unit and volunteer educators. We have formulated an Educator QIP. Educators will personally identify areas they would like to work on in their program, based on the National Quality Standards. This process is supported by the support officers, reviewed throughout the year, and updated every 12 months.
  • Professional development and Mentor groups – a strong focus on program planning, sustainable practices (and how this is embedded into the program) and child development.
  • Policy developments – continue with regular reviews and seeking feedback from educators and families.
  • Review service QIP every three months with the Family Day Care team and provide to educators for feedback.

Overall, we found the new rating and assessment process to be a positive one. We are committed to supporting our educators in providing a high quality education and care program and this process helped us identify where our strengths are and areas where we can build on. We don’t look at these areas as ‘weaknesses’, but opportunities to grow and improve.