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.

What does it mean to be ‘Working Towards’ the National Quality Standard?

we-hear-you-blog-karen-curtisAustralian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chief Executive Officer Karen Curtis addresses a number of questions on what it means when education and care services are rated Working Towards the National Quality Standard.

Are 30% of education and care services ‘failing’ the National Quality Standard (NQS)? Are they underperforming? Making progress? Or are they working towards meeting the NQS?

Depending on what you read and who you speak to, you may well get a different answer.

Of all the rating levels given to services, it is the ‘Working Towards’ rating that has generated the most discussion and conjecture, partly due to the ambiguous nature of the words themselves.


With the introduction of the National Quality Framework (NQF) on 1 January 2012 came a new, challenging and comprehensive system of assessing and rating the quality of education and care services around Australia.  All long day care services, preschools/kindergartens, family day care and outside school hours care services approved to operate under the NQF would be assessed and rated against the NQS.

The NQS sets a high, national benchmark for education and care services and encompasses seven quality areas that are important to outcomes for children. Services are rated against the quality areas consisting of 18 standards and 58 elements.

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More details about the NQS quality areas and quality ratings
are available on the ACECQA website.

This system of assessment and rating began in July 2012 and ACECQA publishes quarterly updates about progress and performance against it.

Our latest NQF Snapshot, based on data as at 30 June 2016, highlights a couple of milestones. Of the 15,417 services approved to operate under the NQF, 80% have been assessed and rated, and 70% of those are rated at Meeting NQS or above.

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More details and an interactive version of the graph
are available on the ACECQA website.

we-hear-you-ceo-blog-working-towards-graph-2To be rated Meeting NQS, all 58 elements of the NQS must be met. This is a high bar and means that a service may be rated at Working Towards NQS if they are not meeting anywhere between one or all 58 elements of the NQS.

There are over 1,000 services rated Working Towards NQS because they are not meeting three or fewer elements of the NQS. And over 2,000 services receive it due to not meeting seven or fewer elements. At the other end of the spectrum, 300 services receive the rating due to not meeting 24 or more elements of the NQS.

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Detailed results are available on the ACECQA website.

By examining the element level performance of services rated at Working Towards NQS, we get a much better idea of what, and how much, work needs to be done, and how close services are to meeting the high standard set by the NQS.

Over the years, ACECQA has published more information about the assessment and rating process. We do this for a number of reasons, including to help families and carers make informed decisions, and to educate and inform the sector about performance against the NQS.

In addition to our NQF Snapshots, we also publish comprehensive service level data on NQS performance. This allows anyone to look at the quality area, standard and element level performance of any service that has been assessed and rated.

As the assessment and rating process is designed to be comprehensive and transparent, the state and territory regulatory authorities provide detailed assessment and rating reports to services, which includes examples of the evidence that led to their rating decisions.

Services will also have a Quality Improvement Plan in place. This plan will identify the work that the service is doing to achieve a rating of Meeting NQS. Alternatively, if the service is already performing at that level, the plan will outline how it will continue to build upon its high performance and look to achieve a rating of Exceeding NQS. For the 29% of services rated at Exceeding NQS, the plan will summarise how that level of quality will be sustained and continually improved.

So, returning to the questions that I posed at the start of this article. In my opinion, a rating of Working Towards NQS is not a failure. Not least of all because the assessment and rating process was not designed to be a pass-fail system. Rather, it is a system that examines a broad range of quality measures and encourages continuous improvement. Working Towards NQS is also very far from being a one size fits all rating, as you can see from the figure above. Because all of the relevant information is readily available, I would encourage anyone to look beyond the overall rating, check which aspects of the NQS a service is finding more challenging, and ask the staff at the service what work they are doing to improve on these.

A notable aspect of the assessment and rating system is the process of reassessments, particularly for encouraging and fostering continuous improvement, and this will be the topic of my next article in November.

Using digital touch technologies to support children’s learning

1519 Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQAACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, explores education in a digital world.

Digital touch technologies such as tablets and smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives. As educators we are sometimes concerned about children’s use of technology and the effects it may have. Educators need to be mindful that technology is a tool and the implications for children will depend on how we use it.

Although excessive or inappropriate use of digital touch technologies can have a negative impact, they also offer many opportunities for extending learning and development. When used effectively and appropriately, children’s learning and development can be enhanced by it.

Outcome 4 of the Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care is that children are confident and involved learners, including that they resource their own learning by connecting with people, places, technologies and natural materials. Outcome 5 of the frameworks promotes support for children to become effective communicators. This includes guiding children to express ideas and make meaning using a range of media, and supporting them to use information and communication technologies to access information, investigate ideas and represent their thinking.

When providing opportunities for children to interact with digital touch technologies there are many points to consider, such as time spent using technology, privacy, appropriateness of content and how the use of technology may be incorporated into the educational program. Given this, it is important that educators are not only familiar with the use of technologies, but also critical in how they support children to use them.

Using digital touch technologies in your program is optional, and you need to think about the best way to use these technologies to support each child’s educational program. Although many educators are more familiar with traditional pedagogical practices it is important to remember that introducing touch technologies does not mean replacing our current pedagogy, rather using them as a tool to support our current work with children.

Digital touch technologies can be used with a range of other teaching strategies. For example, if an educator is promoting children’s understanding of sustainable practices, they might sing a relevant song, read a story which links to an area of sustainability, and then use the camera application (app) with children to identify and capture images of sustainable practice or issues in the community. The educator might further engage children’s learning with technology by using the images to create a digital story with the children, using voice recording apps to capture children’s voices and ideas. There are many possibilities which can be explored and many digital touch technology apps to choose from.

Understanding how different apps operate helps educators to choose which ones best support different areas of pedagogy.  In 2012 Dr Kristy Goodwin and Dr Kate Highfield sorted apps into three broad categories based on the actions the user can take, and the amount of cognitive investment required by children to use them. The categories are Instructive, Manipulable and Constructive.

Instructive apps align with rote learning approaches and require a low level of cognitive investment. They operate on a drill and skill principle, requiring children to achieve a specific goal, and they usually offers extrinsic rewards. Many of these apps promote repetition learning of basic skills and knowledge, and there is limited opportunity for creativity. The majority of marketed educational apps are Instructive apps.

Manipulable apps provide guided learning through structure, yet there are possibilities for children to make choices, use problem solving skills and explore their options. They allow children to manipulate and experiment by testing the success of their ideas. Goodwin refers to these as cause and effect type apps.

Constructive apps are designed for creative expression. They are open-ended and allow children to use different literacies, for example music, images, video, audio and drawing tools, to explore their ideas and create their own work. These apps require a high cognitive investment by the child and there is usually no reward other than the finished product.

Educators need to remain critically reflective and consider the value of the apps being used to support learning and development. Although Instructive apps can be helpful to memorise concepts and skills they are comparable to worksheets so educators should balance their use, and consider what apps might better support their current pedagogical practices with children.

There are many resources to support educators’ work using digital touch technologies with children, including:

  • Every Chance to Learn. In these YouTube videos, Dr Kristy Goodwin explains Instructive, Manipulable and Constructive apps and provides real app examples.