The revised National Quality Standard: Key concepts

The revised National Quality Standard (NQS) will come into effect on 1 February 2018. For the first time, the NQS introduces key concepts for each element and standard to help support the children’s education and care sector unpack the central ideas. This month on We Hear You, we look at these key concepts and the important role they play in continuous quality improvement.

A key feature of the changes agreed to by education Ministers earlier this year is the revised National Quality Standard (NQS) which will commence for all states and territories on 1 February 2018. This builds on other changes to the National Law and Regulations commencing 1 October 2017 in all states and territories, except Western Australia which will come into effect by 1 October 2018.

For the first time, the revised NQS introduces key concepts for each standard and element. These have been developed to support the sector unpack key ideas related to the NQS, as well as offering greater clarity that will strengthen quality outcomes for children. The concepts also provide a bridge between the current and revised NQS.

The revised NQS retains the seven quality areas, with a small change to the title of Quality Area 7 to Governance and Leadership. The streamlining of the NQS has minimised conceptual overlap and duplication, resulting in a reduction from 18 to 15 standards and 58 to 40 elements while retaining the current features that promote quality.

Key concepts

The concepts will support services to collaborate to identify strengths and opportunities for quality improvement, including engaging families and others in the community (such as local schools) in the process. They also provide clarity for both services and regulatory authorities about what is being measured or assessed in each of the standards and elements. Educators, educational leaders and service leaders can use the concepts to assist in the self-assessment process, as well as in critical reflection and professional conversations.

We have been working with all state and territory regulatory authorities to develop resources to support education and care services to understand the changes and what they need to do to ensure they continue to meet legislative requirements.

These resources include:

Familiarising yourself with the revised NQS

The best place to start is by familiarising yourself with the legislative changes and the revised standards and elements in preparation for your annual self-assessment and review to update your Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). To ensure your service is meeting all regulatory requirements, think about the need to reflect these changes in the following:

  • current service QIP (think about undertaking a self-assessment against the updated legislative standards and the revised NQS to inform the required update of the QIP)
  • policies and procedures (for example, there is a new requirement for a sleep and rest policy)
  • communication materials for families.

If you are looking for an engaging and interactive way to learn more about the revised NQS, we have developed The Quest for Quality game – a capacity building tool that integrates an element of fun into professional discussions and critical reflection. You can download the game from the ACECQA website or order a copy to be delivered.

For more information, visit Changes to the National Quality Framework on the ACECQA website.

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.

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a three-part series exploring reflective practice.

The series will address some of the challenges educators face around reflective practice and critical reflection. We explore what it is and how it informs your work, practical strategies and what to record while sharing some quality practice examples.

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Current data identifies Quality Area 1: Educational program and practice as one of the most challenging quality areas for services to gain a rating of Meeting or Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS). In particular, Element 1.2.3: Critical reflection on children’s learning and development has been at the top of the ‘not met’ list for some time. When critical reflection is embedded naturally in the practice at a service, educators engage in critical reflection as part of their daily routines.

In this series, the diagram representing the multiple layers of reflective practice will help us think through and visualise the way it connects and impacts all aspects of our work, from self-reflection to reflecting on teaching and learning and, finally, reflection that informs continuous improvement. The approved learning frameworks refer to reflective practice as a ‘form of on-going learning that involves engaging with questions of philosophy, ethics and practice. Its intention is to gather information and gain insights that support, inform and enrich decision making about children’s learning’(Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11).

Throughout the series we use a range of terms interchangeably such as reflective practice and critical reflection. There is a common misconception that critical reflection is about finding fault or criticising an event or the actions of those involved. The reality is critical reflection involves reflecting on experiences, posing questions, sharing ideas and respectfully considering different perspectives. It allows us to develop deeper understandings, explore concerns, improve the program and raise the overall quality of education and care experiences of children. It also supports educators to develop confidence in professional judgement.

All aspects of your work are supported by critical reflection, including engaging with the NQS. The NQS is intentionally not prescriptive to empower educators to draw on their pedagogy and knowledge of child development and the learning frameworks, and to make decisions based on their unique knowledge of the children, families and communities in which the service operates. Remember, there’s no one set way or approach. Your process of critical reflection is unique to you and your service context.

Wherever you are at with your reflective practice journey, we challenge you to go deeper and consider how critical reflection fits in with the professional learning community within your service context.

What you need to begin or strengthen your reflective practice:

  1. A safe respectful, ethical space where everyone’s ideas are valued and heard
  2. A willingness to continue learning, growing and changing
  3. A commitment to improving outcomes for children
  4. A refresh of the approved learning frameworks to support the process and the research
  5. TIME! Set aside some time to meet, think, read and reflect.

Remember the end goal is to improve outcomes for children, families and communities!

Next week, we will begin the series with part one and explore the way self-reflection is the key to growth, continuous improvement and quality outcomes.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet: Developing a culture of learning through reflective practice

Early Childhood Australia – Thinking about Practice: Working with the Early Years Learning Framework

Early Childhood Australia – Reflection as a tool for quality: Working in the National Quality Standard

Children’s Services Central – Reflective Practice

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?