Leaders as agents of change

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

Leaders within education and care are widely acknowledged as change agents, working with educators, families and communities to interpret and implement policy changes designed to raise the quality of early childhood and outside school hours care services. With the upcoming changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) coming into effect on 1 October 2017, what better time to consider how the leadership structures within your organisation are supporting an effective transition to the revised National Quality Standard (NQS) and regulatory standards?

The NQF is a framework that reflects a commitment to continuous improvement. Recent changes represent the voices of educators, families, communities and other stakeholders, responding to aspects of the NQF they believed could be improved to allow education and care services to focus on what matters – providing high quality programs and practice. The revised NQS represents a more streamlined set of quality standards that have been refined to reduce overlap and provide greater clarity and guidance.

One of the areas that has been streamlined is Quality Area 7, now titled Governance and Leadership. There is increased clarity about the expectations relating to governance and how philosophy, systems, and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities support a strong foundation for leadership.

The revised standard also refines expectations of the role of educational leader. The new 7.2.2 element states: The educational leader is supported and leads the development and implementation of the educational program and assessment and planning cycle. This change acknowledges the role requires support in order to effect positive changes and the significant role the educational leader plays in supporting educator understandings of the assessment and planning cycle.

Professor Joce Nuttall, a renowned academic, recognised authority in education and care leadership and member of the ACECQA Board shares some important messages that can prompt you to consider what this may mean for the way leadership is enacted in your service. In the first video Joce speaks about the context for leadership in education and care, particularly the difference between positional or hierarchical models and relational and distributed approaches.

In this next clip, Joce unpacks what support for the educational leader might look like, recognising this will be unique to the context of the service and the needs of individual educational leaders. She goes on to discuss the often opposing dynamics of positional and distributed leadership and poses some ideas for moving forward.

In order for the educational leader to be successful in generating quality outcomes, they must receive support from the approved provider and nominated supervisor. Joce discusses some of the theory and research as well as practical ideas about how this might happen.

Joce goes on to speak about the important role educational leaders play in building educators’ capacity to engage with and demonstrate knowledge of the assessment and planning cycle, by reflecting on children’s learning as individuals and groups as well as the effectiveness of the program as a whole.

In the final video, Joce encourages educational leaders to consider their own learning and professional development. This is essential if educational leaders are to support the development of others.

Questions for further reflection:

  • What is the collective understanding of leadership within your service?
  • How is the educational leader supported? What supports are needed?
  • How effectively are educators engaging with the planning cycle?
  • How is the educational leader leading the evaluation of the whole program?

For more information on the NQF changes, visit the ACECQA website.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – The role of the educational leader

ACECQA – National Educational Leader presentation – Educational Leadership

We Hear You – The role of the educational leader series

We Hear You – Unpacking the planning cycle series

We Hear You – Uncovering the layers of reflective practice series

Start a conversation about quality

In this month’s We Hear You blog, we look at how children’s education and care educators can shine as professionals, translate the sometimes complex language of the sector, help families better understand their child’s potential and explain how this work supports children’s physical, emotional, social, language and cognitive development. 

The education and care sector has demonstrated professionalism and dedication embracing the concept of continuous quality improvement and new national standards introduced under the National Quality Framework (NQF) in 2012. Over the years, the commitment shown by the sector has opened up a community dialogue about the importance of education and care for children’s holistic development, and the progress the NQF has made in raising the professional status of educators.

Why is it then that relatively few parents and carers know about the commitment to quality in early childhood and outside school hours care services?

We are providing families with information about the wide range of services in Australia and the importance of quality through Starting Blocks, our family-focused website. We also publish the ratings of services on the national registers and the Starting Blocks website. This empowers families and carers to make informed choices when selecting a service for their child and helps them to understand the critical elements that make up a good quality service.

Recently, we collaborated with states and territories to develop new logos to help services and providers promote their commitment to quality and their overall rating to families. We want the new logos to help parents and carers to be more confident in their selection and to appreciate the professional role of educators in meeting the needs of their children as unique learners.

NQS quality areas and quality ratings

Educators are the vital first point of contact for families seeking education or care. They trust you to look after their children – to keep them safe, happy and developing skills appropriate to their age and interests.

Building close relationships is what great educators do really well – engaging with families about their expectations, providing regular updates and sharing children’s experiences – and is a key component of the National Quality Standard. These close relationships present opportunities to discuss the importance of quality practice and how a high quality service, in turn, contributes to their child’s smooth transition to, and success at, school.

Your service’s rating logo also provides a chance to educate families and the community about the wonderful work you do in your service as a professional educator. These are opportunities too good to miss.

Visit the Starting Blocks website for fact sheets and infographics to share with families. Like the Starting Blocks Facebook, Instagram page and ACECQA Facebook page for regular updates and information.

Documentation – Are we there yet?

In this month’s We Hear You Blog, we encourage educators to develop confidence in their own decision making.  

Do you sometimes feel you’re on a never-ending quest to identify the best way to document the cycle of planning?

In the search for the ultimate template which specifies what to document and when, how will you know when you have arrived at the strategy that works best for your service, children, educators and community?

While there is a lot of guidance available to support providers, educational leaders and educators to make informed choices about meeting the requirements of the National Quality Framework (NQF), there is no magic template that will suit all educators, services and contexts.

Educators reflecting on their practice, who constantly strive to ‘do it right’, may ask questions such as ‘how much information is required and what methods should we use to collect information about children’s learning?’ There is often a call for a template or a list of ‘must haves’.

It is a myth that the answers to these questions might be found in a template or a prescriptive list.

A strength of the NQF is that it supports educators to feel empowered and develop confidence in their own professional judgement and decision making. One of the best ways to know if we are on the right track is to consider the outcomes of our practice for children and families.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) helps to focus on outcomes, and acknowledges all children as capable and competent learners. It requires educators to draw on their pedagogical knowledge, the legislative framework and quality standards, as well as the understanding they have of the children, families and communities within the unique context of the service.

The approved learning frameworks encourage educators to draw on their own skills, knowledge and understandings. In making professional judgements, they weave together their:

  • professional knowledge and skills
  • knowledge of children, families and communities
  • awareness of how their beliefs and values impact on children’s learning
  • personal styles and past experiences.

Educators also draw on their creativity, intuition and imagination to help them improvise and adjust their practice to suit the time, place and context of learning. (Early Years Learning Framework, p.5/ Framework for School Age Care, p.7)

So the answer isn’t in a template, but instead will be based on your knowledge of the National Law, National Regulations, NQS and the approved learning frameworks. It will involve discussing, questioning and reflecting as a team and considering how you are working to improve outcomes for all children, families and communities. This should be happening as a part of your service’s continuous improvement journey.

By adopting a more analytical approach it actually has a win-win effect. As educators develop confidence in their own professional judgement, they are more likely to critically reflect on and question statements like ‘this is the way we have to do it’ or ‘that’s the way we have always done it’.

Connecting with the intent and rationale behind practice assists in the process of articulating to families, the community and authorised officers, why and how professional judgements are made and how they support quality outcomes for children.

Further reading and resources    

Review and reflect on the new version of Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics.

Exploring professionalism: Will you ‘interpret the rules’ or ‘debate the intent’?

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

I thought it would be timely to explore how education and care professionals have grown and developed since the introduction of the National Quality Framework (NQF). Given that we are about to embark on the next stage of the continuous improvement with a revised National Quality Standard (NQS), I would like to open a dialogue that may spark some conversations with your teams as you ponder the questions:

  • What is your approach to the changes to the NQS?
  • Will this be an opportunity for innovation and change in the ways you look at quality improvement?

Sims, Forrest, Semann and Slattery (2015) raise the issue that whilst the intent of policy changes might be to empower educators to consider how the standards apply to their context, the result could in fact be that educators are disempowered. This thinking is based on the idea that educators may fear straying too far away from accepted ideas and practice due to a strong focus on accountability.

The article goes on to say that there can be a tendency to simply focus in on understanding and interpreting the ‘rules’ rather than debating the intent of the ‘rules and experimenting with a variety of ways relevant to context’ (p. 150).  So how do we as a profession begin or escalate the discussion about the intent of the NQS and build professionalism and confidence?

I reflected back on my involvement in the development of the NQS. We set out to develop an aspirational standard that was predominantly outcomes focused, not prescriptive and had inputs embedded within the minimum legislative requirements set out in the National Law and Regulations.

The exciting thing about this shift in focus from being told what to do and how to do it, is it empowers educators to draw on their pedagogy, knowledge of child development, the approved learning frameworks, the NQS and underpinning regulatory standards. This combined with their knowledge of individual children, families and communities empowers educators to make informed decisions about how they meet the standards in ways that are contextually relevant for the families and communities of their service.

I believe the revised NQS could be the catalyst to start such the discussion. To engage in critical inquiry, action research and professional conversations about what are the outcomes for children when these standards are met or indeed when they are exceeded. An example could be opening up a professional dialogue about why the planning cycle is important to facilitate children’s learning.

Some questions which may prompt reflection and discussion in your service:

  • What opportunities exist for educators to engage in professional conversations, critical inquiry and investigations?
  • How do you create and promote a culture of innovation within your service?
  • How open are educators in your team to trying different approaches?
  • Throughout the self-assessment process, how do educators unpack the ‘why’ behind practices, in particular those identified as strengths?

Reference

Sims, M., Forrest, R., Semann, A. and Slattery, C. (2015) ‘Conceptions of early childhood leadership: driving new professionalism?‘ International Journal of Leadership in Education: Theory and Practice, 18 (2), 149-166.

Further reading and resources

NQF Changes Information sheets and resources

Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework

Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care

Effective Professional conversations

We improve what we measure

In her first We Hear You blog as the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chief Executive Officer, Gabrielle Sinclair shares her thoughts about the National Quality Framework and a recent visit to the Northern Territory.

One of ACECQA’s functions is working with regulatory authorities to educate and inform services and the community about the National Quality Framework (NQF).

Since 2012, educators, services, schools and governments have undertaken a significant journey in implementing the new laws, regulations and the National Quality Standard.  While it took time to get across the detail of the new national system, over 88% of services have now been assessed and rated, with 73% rated Meeting National Quality Standard or above. Over the next five years, our challenge is to continue the quality improvement journey and support parents and carers as well-informed consumers of education and care services for their children.

In my new role as ACECQA CEO, I am learning a great deal from you about the diversity of communities across Australia; the unique circumstances in which services operate; the rich experiences of families; and the way we all respond within a national framework.

Recently, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to meet with the Northern Territory Minister for Education and speak at the 2017 Leaders’ Conference in Darwin. I was impressed by the determination to raise quality in the NT and the unique way leaders in both sectors were enriching children’s experiences and improving learning outcomes.   The continuous quality improvement journeys shared by Principals Leah, Joe and Graham, highlighted the critical fact that good leadership is all about results.  To achieve better results, they spoke of giving a voice to the expertise and knowledge of early childhood educators, teachers and local families.  They reflected on the immense value of listening to and understanding the perspectives of children.

During my visit to local services, I met with very insightful educational leaders who were deeply connected with their local communities.  At Nightcliff, there is a strong partnership between the early learning centre and the school with the aim to give young children a seamless experience from long day care to preschool and on to school and outside school hours care. The results are tangible. The physical and sector barriers are being removed; the early learning centre and the school are sharing quality resources; families are welcomed; and the focus is very much on building confident, enthusiastic young learners.

In both education sectors and in every jurisdiction, we are listening to inspiring educational leaders who share their stories.  Although each experience is unique, a common reflection is that improved, sustained results are unlikely to happen without a commitment at the highest level; a deep understanding of the NQF and the roles we all have; a determination to improve beyond a single point in time; respect for the early childhood profession; and genuine partnerships with families and the community.

We have learnt so much since 2012.  It is worth sharing our own NQF journeys with others – across services, sectors and borders – and with our families.  It is a truism that everything that gets measured gets better and, as Joe reflected, do our children deserve anything less?

Leading through change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating the climate for change

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

Engaging and enabling the organisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implementing and sustaining for change

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

Additional prompts for reflection:

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

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

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Quality Area 7 – Leadership and Service Management

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Quality Area 7

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

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

TEDxPerth – Jason Clarke – Embracing Change

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.