Stories from the sector: Changes to the National Quality Framework

We Hear You in name and nature! We know the children’s education and care sector is always keen to hear from other educators about their practice, how they work on continuous quality improvement and the way they manage change. This month we talk to four educators about how they are responding to the changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) at their services.

Tracy Cripps and the children from Bees Creek OSHC and Vacation Care
Tracy Cripps and the children from Bees Creek OSHC and Vacation Care
Su Garrett, Explore and Develop Annandale

As the approved provider and director/nominated supervisor at Explore and Develop Annandale in NSW, Su Garrett is passionate about creating an environment where the needs and development of each child is a priority and educators are valued as central to children’s learning. For Su, the changes to the NQF present an opportunity to reflect on programs and refine the specialty areas of her practice.

Information and resources

“The first thing we have done to familiarise ourselves with the NQF changes is to access the resources, information sheets and FAQs available on the ACECQA website and Facebook page. One resource we have found particularly interesting was the comparison between the current and revised NQS. We used this while looking at our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and considered how the current goals align with the changes.”

Revised National Quality Standard (NQS)

“Our educational leader has been participating in networking meetings that have focused on the NQF changes, in particular highlighting key wording changes in elements and standards in the revised NQS.

“As a team, we have started to critically reflect on a number of questions and think about whether we really doing and what we should be doing. For example, we have closely looked at the changes to the element relating to critical reflection because the new wording speaks to critical reflection driving the program. We have also thought about how we articulate this and trying to make it more explicit.”

Quality Improvement Plan (QIP)

“It has been a little bit tricky to keep working on the current QIP while also looking at what we might want to focus on as we reflect on how we are meeting the revised standards. We definitely find the revised NQS easier to read and easier for educators to engage with it, for example Quality Area 2 is just health and safety, which is simpler and easier to understand and think through with the concept.”

Practice and reflection

“We have three specialty areas that we are very passionate about: critical reflection (as I have already mentioned), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and sustainability. We are looking at the NQF changes and thinking about what has changed in relation to sustainability and cultural competence and what this means for our practice.”

Martina Hribar, All Areas Family Day Care

Martina Hribar, one of the managers and the educational leader at All Areas Family Day Care in NSW, is a keen advocate for high quality programs and practice that are respectful and responsive to the unique needs of children and their families. The changes to the NQF have allowed Martina and the other educators at her service a chance to streamline processes and establish collaborative networks.

Support and guidance

“We started our preparations for the NQF changes by linking with ACECQA about the changes to the National Quality Framework. We feel it’s good to reach out for extra support and guidance. We have followed this up with some internal meetings to answer any questions and to give educators a copy of the changes.”

Policies, forms and reports

“One of the first things we did was to head to the ACECQA website and get all the information about regulatory changes and think about what policies, forms and processes needed to be updated. One of the changes we have made is to our educator reports that support officers fill in when they conduct service visits. We have included information that sets out the service expectations, which they sign off once they have read and understood the changes. The report has been updated to reflect the language of the Early Years Learning Framework and concepts such as play-based learning – we find this helps to keep the language more consistent.”

Streamlining processes

“We have also taken this as an opportunity to look at streamlining our processes, including developing a new webpage with both an educator and a parent portal. This means that all educators have access to information – we receive a report that details who has accessed the portal. We find this really helpful as we can follow up with anyone who hasn’t logged in via email.”

Collaborative networks

“Lately, we have established a partnership with Miller TAFE. This is a really exciting collaborative network as they hold discussions to help unpack the Framework for School Age Care, which is relevant for the educators at our service who cater for school age care.”

Lisa Reidy, Uniting Frederick Street Preschool

Uniting Frederick Street Preschool’s director/nominated supervisor, Lisa Reidy, heads a team of educators who are passionate about creating a range of experiences and learning opportunities for children that encourage and foster investigation and imagination. At her service, the changes have opened up a space to discuss and reflect on planning and practice.  

Discussion and exchange

“Uniting is hosting a practice forum in October to discuss the NQF changes. I will be attending this forum along with 60 service directors and coordinators across our NSW and ACT network, where ACECQA Deputy National Education Leader, Perry Campbell, will be speaking. We will then network and think tank each quality area as a way of exchanging ideas about implementing change and continuing to enhance practice across our services. I plan to take these ideas back to my team at our next staff meeting and plan what our next steps will be as a group. Our main focus will be comparing the current and revised NQS and what this means at a service level.”

Tracy Cripps, Bees Creek OSHC and Vacation Care 

Director/nominated supervisor of Bees Creek OSHC and Vacation Care in the Northern Territory, Tracy Cripps, thrives on the philosophy, values and programs of her service where children are encouraged to build relationships and explore and extend interests and hobbies in an outside school hours context. For Tracy, the October 2017 changes have resulted in effective and active participation.

Embedded and effective change

“Our first thought about the key changes to notifications, incidents and complaints was we needed to make them a priority. We knew it was vital to embed them into our service before 1 October and to rethink the traditional method of ‘informing’ educators at team meetings (as it would no longer be the most effective method). I felt our educators need to not only be informed about the changes, but also know how they apply to our practice and where to find them in our guidance and policies.”

Active participation

“After some brainstorming with our educators, we agreed educators would create a before and after table/fact sheet showing the key changes to notifications, incidents and complaints and identify where our policies will be changed specific to our service – for example, our child safe environments policy and OHS Handbook. We wanted this to be a point of reference available in an accessible format to both families and educators. For me, when educators are active participants they are able to connect, retain and apply the information in daily practice.”

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We hope you have found these examples of interest and they have sparked some ideas to support your own service.

What will your first or next step be?

Some starting points might include:

  • discussing the changes at your next team meeting
  • reviewing your service’s Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and considering what might be relevant for future quality improvement goals
  • unpacking what might need to change in your service as a result of the changes
  • reviewing the new Guide to the National Quality Framework and other information sheets and resources.

For more information on the changes to the NQF, head to the ACECQA website.
Further reading and resources

ACECQA – NQS Knowledge game – The Quest for Quality

We Hear You – Leaders as agents of change

We Hear You – Leading through change

Transition to school: a collaborative effort

Why is the process of transitioning to school from early childhood education so important? How can educators, families, schools and community members collaboratively develop useful and meaningful strategies to help children? Why is this collaboration essential?

This month on We Hear You, we look at the latest OECD Starting Strong V report on this transition and explore what a quality transition to school looks like.

The latest OECD Starting Strong V report – Transitions from Early Childhood Education and Care to Primary Education – recognises transition to school as an integral component of quality educational provision. It highlights that a commitment to equity and excellence in the development of transition programs, evident in the engagement of children, families, professionals, educators and community members, is key to developing appropriate and meaningful approaches.

The report also acknowledges the central role of relationships in positive transitions and opportunities for those involved in building and maintaining these relationships. The importance of community engagement in supporting effective transitions is also recognised. The report also notes ‘the benefits of early learning can fade during the first years of primary school if the transitions between early childhood education and care and primary schooling are not well-prepared, or if continuity in quality is not ensured’ (p. 5).

This has major implications for school and early childhood education and care (ECEC) sectors, if the benefits of continuity of education and development for children are to be realised. Both have a responsibility of working collaboratively to ensure a smooth transition to schools and ensure our schools and early childhood services are responsive to individual children and their families.

The OECD report identifies findings from international research that the following key indicators support successful transitions (p. 23):

  • shared views between early childhood education and care and schools on transitioning
  • alignment and balance between what and how children learn in early childhood education and care and primary school (i.e. curriculum and pedagogical practices)
  • shared understandings on individual differences and how each child learns differently
  • collaborative practices between preschool and primary school teachers, such as sharing written information on child development and children’s experiences
  • alignment of pedagogical understanding of preschool and primary school teachers through training
  • alignment of working conditions of preschools and primary school teachers
  • flexibility and responsiveness to individual communities, families and children
  • collaboration among staff, managers, parents and the community based on reciprocal communication, inclusivity, mutual trust and respect.

The report also highlights some challenges that are worthy of consideration including:

  • lack of coherence across regions in transition approaches, for example education and care services and schools with different approaches across regions may result in inconsistent quality
  • difficulty engaging all actors, for example the communication about transition approaches that schools, early childhood education and care services and communities receive may be different
  • weak collaboration amongst stakeholders (is this a priority for all parties and has the transition process been adequately resourced?)
  • inequity in transitions, for example children and families may require additional support.

The importance of smooth, collaborative transitions that support continuity of learning is recognised as a key concept of Quality Area 6 – Collaborative Partnerships with Families and Communities in the revised National Quality Standard (NQS). This is part of the changes to the National Quality Framework agreed by Education Ministers earlier this year.

With the implementation of the revised NQS from 1 February 2018, it may be timely to undertake a self-assessment against the revised standards, considering your service’s approach to supporting children’s transition to formal schooling and school age education and care. How does your service approach fare against the success indicators highlighted above? What enhancement strategies could be included in your Quality Improvement Plan (QIP)?

When we think about collaboration between education and care services, schools, school age care and communities as an ideal opportunity to improve lifelong outcomes for children, we should also consider it an exciting and productive way for communities to work together as agents of change. This collaboration presents an opportunity for your service to demonstrate how you meet or exceed the NQS.

The current Guide to the National Quality Standard is a useful resource to review when thinking about the roles that each of the key stakeholders might play. Some examples could include:

  • Early childhood education and care services:
    • sharing strategies that were effective in preparing children and families to transition to your service
    • sharing information with parents/carers and other services children may be attending  to support them  in preparing to  transition to school or  school age care
    • collaboratively developing coherent goals and expectations about learning, and understanding the links between the approved learning frameworks and the Australian Curriculum
    • understanding the AEDC data for the community
  • School age education and care services:
    • seeking out connections with early childhood services, local schools and families
    • understanding the AEDC data for the community
  • Schools:
    • drawing on information from education and care services (such as transition statements) to gain an understanding of each child’s strengths, history, culture and identity
    • collaboratively developing coherent goals and expectations about learning, and understanding the links between the Australian Curriculum and the approved learning frameworks
    • understanding the AEDC data for the community
    • engaging in respectful, collaborative partnerships and networks to build understanding and knowledge
  • Community:
    • supporting an inclusive environment where services and agencies, cultural groups and community elders are welcomed and involved in supporting children’s effective transitions from home to early childhood and onto school.

What opportunities exist for your service, as a key stakeholder, to take the initiative in improving connections or developing/enhancing the procedure for transitioning children to formal schooling?

In your quality improvement planning processes, you might consider strategies to build and maintain respectful, collaborative partnerships to support continuity of learning and effective transitions.

Further reading and resources                                       

ACECQA – Approved Learning Frameworks

Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia

My Time, Our Place: Framework for School Age Care in Australia 

Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework

Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care

ACECQA National Educational Leader – Transition to School

Australian Government Department of Education – Continuity of Learning: A resource to support effective transition to school and school age care

Early Childhood Australia and Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority – Foundations for learning: Relationships between the Early Years Learning Framework and the Australian Curriculum

OECD – Starting Strong 2017: Key OECD Indicators on Early Childhood Education and Care

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?