The National Quality Standard (NQS) sets a high benchmark for all education and care services across Australia, encompassing seven quality areas that are important to quality outcomes for children and families. But how can we also think about the NQS and its focus on quality as the standard for a positive organisational culture that values, nurtures and supports educators and staff?
Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chief Executive Officer, Gabrielle Sinclair, debates this question and explores four focus areas that distinguish quality service cultures and support education and care teams to flourish.
A few weeks ago I was in Brisbane with teacher educators and higher education researchers from across Australia who are leading education and care research and practice. It was inspiring to hear about the range and depth of their research. During our conversations and discussions, a question was asked about the National Quality Standard (NQS) that really made me think.
“How can the NQS be changed to require services to look after their educators?”
Up to that point the conversation was fairly wide ranging, with the challenges facing education and care educators a common thread. Nothing that would surprise you, but the ongoing issues that continue to be challenging – professional identity and social standing, turnover rates, career pathways and choice, emotional and physical demands, isolation, work conditions, complexity of roles…
And yet… Every week, I have the privilege of meeting educational leaders, service directors or management teams who operate high-quality services where educators are supported and valued. These are the services which celebrate educators achieving 10, 15, 20 and more years of service.
I also have the opportunity to read applications from services rated Exceeding NQS seeking the Excellent rating. These services recognise and value the importance of children having happy, competent, committed educators and consistent relationships that enable trusted attachments to be made.
So what do these services do?
The NQS, of course, specifies the importance of a skilled and engaged workforce, collaborative relationships and effective leadership in building and promoting a positive organisational culture and professional learning community. Services that value continuous quality improvement all achieve these aspects, as well as creating positive environments and supporting educators to innovate and be great in different ways.
So, while there isn’t one easy checklist, there seems to be a common focus on four areas that distinguish quality services for me.
The first is the importance given by services to recruiting, supporting and growing the skills and experience of their educators. This is evident in the way they undertake attraction, induction, mentoring, ongoing professional development, and reward and recognition of team members. And the way in which the team profile of a service is considered in relation to the diversity of its families and community.
The second is in a service’s commitment to giving educators appropriate levels of authority, agency, leadership opportunities and decision making powers. The sense of professionalism, role clarity and degree to which educators have discretion seem to be closely associated with an educator’s job satisfaction and commitment to the organisation.
The third is workload. This is closely connected to the first and second areas in that stress and workload seem to go hand in hand when an educator feels ill-prepared, under-appreciated, under-resourced, overly directed or unfairly treated in their work ‘community’.
The last is the match between the service’s goals and an educator’s values and beliefs. When there is a mismatch between a service’s statement of philosophy, priorities and actions or when an educator feels there is a poor organisational culture, nobody benefits, least of all the children we are educating and nuturing.
Recently, Dr Marina Papic spoke to me about Blacktown City Council’s commitment to high quality, evidence-based education and care. Marina encourages teams to reflect on and share best practice within the service and across the sector, to try innovative ideas and, importantly, to care for and support each other as valued colleagues.
So, to answer the question, I don’t think the sector needs any more changes to the NQS at this time. The 2018 NQS and the recent changes to Quality Area 7 – Governance and Leadership clearly show the importance of investing in effective leadership, service management and professional development for creating learning environments where children, families, educators and staff feel they belong and can flourish. High quality services are showing us how they do this now.