Assessment visit – what is it like?

In ACECQA Newsletter Issue 19 we featured an article on authorised officers. A key element of the National Quality Framework is the introduction of ‘authorised officers’ who fulfil the same role in all states and territories under the Education and Care Services National Law.  Authorised officers may have different job titles and carry out a variety of functions from state to state.

This week’s blog post is from Kerry Gardner, an Acting Senior Assessment Officer for the Education and Care Regulatory Unit in Western Australia. In this post, Kerry writes about what it is like to carry out an assessment and rating visit to a service, and how impressed she has been by the efforts of services to meet the National Quality Standards.

I feel very privileged to have been involved in eight assessment and rating visits to services throughout Western Australia with one country service and one Outside School Hours Care service included in these visits.

My first Rating and Assessment visit was a bit daunting but due to the intense training and testing and my prior experience as a Licensing Officer I felt well prepared. I was accompanied by an equally experienced Assessor which provided the opportunity to discuss observations made, paperwork viewed and further information we required from the service. This visit was conducted over two days of intense observation and note taking to ensure we collected enough information about the service’s practices to make an informed decision regarding their meeting of the elements and standards of the National Quality Framework.

At the conclusion of the two day visit we came back to the office where we wrote the draft report for the service. This was completed over two days with many long discussions about what information, from all that was collected, was needed to justify the rating. These reports were then reviewed and moderated by the Assessment Team Leader and the Quality Manager before being sent to the services for review. Once reviewed by the service the report was finalised and a final rating given.

I have especially enjoyed the interactions with the children, educators and management at the services and some of the innovative ways services have found to meet the elements of the National Quality Framework. I am excited to be involved in this ground-breaking work in ensuring continued improvement in the care of children.

My position at the Education and Care Regulatory Unit also involves ensuring service compliance with the law and the associated regulations and occasionally investigating complaints.

All assessment officers are also responsible for assessing new service applications, amendments to service applications, notifications of serious incidents and other notifications, and answering phone calls from the general public and services.

About the author

Kerry Gardner is an Acting Senior Assessment Officer for the Education and Care Regulatory Unit in Western Australia. Previously, Kerry was employed by the Western Australian Child Care Licensing and Standards Unit as a Licensing Officer for six years. She has a child care background having been employed as a qualified Educator and Director of Child Care services over 16 years. She also has three grown children and four grandchildren.

Communicating with families

In Issue 15 of the ACECQA Newsletter, we called out for ideas and suggestions on electronic communication with families. We had a great response, including a post on the ACECQA Facebook page from Joanna O’Brien of Platinum Pre School in Randwick, NSW.

While these methods may not be for everyone, it was clear that Platinum had embraced electronic communication and social media in a big way. We asked Joanna to write a guest blog to hear first hand what has worked for Platinum, and whether any of these tools might help other services communicate with parents.

In this post Joanna writes about the reasons her service embraced electronic communication, benefits to the parent community and professional development for staff.

Since opening our doors in mid 2010 at Platinum Pre School in Sydney’s East we’ve spent a considerable amount of time experimenting and developing techniques that would allow our love of early education to fit with the changing lifestyles of the families in our community.

To give a brief overview of our pre school, we are located at the heart of the Sydney suburb of Randwick. Due to the relatively high socio-economic nature of our community, most of our families consist of two parents working full-time, many of whom have little to no family support in the area. As our Directors were previously primary school teachers they knew that we would have to take a unique and well targeted approach when communicating with these very busy people.

So, from the outset we identified that social media and other technology based communication services would allow us to clearly and effectively communicate with our time-poor families in an efficient and interactive way. It is an important balance for us; our parents need to be integrally involved in their child’s education, however we also need to ensure that time spent on communication is streamlined ensuring that our students’ contact time with their teachers isn’t compromised. To manage this, earlier this year we introduced Online Portfolios for our students, which allow parents to log on to a secure portfolio dedicated to their child’s development at preschool. In the portfolios parents can view photos, videos and audio posts related to the daily educational programmes that their child experiences. Our teachers can quickly and easily post observations, learning stories or simply photos directly to any child’s portfolio via their group’s iPad.

Our Online Portfolios combined with our use of FacebookInstagramYouTubeTwitter, our Blog and eNewsletter Weekly Email mean that we make our voice heard! And the response has been nothing but positive. We’ve found that using these technologies, particularly social media, has brought our busy parent community much closer together. We see more discussions between parents at drop-off and pick-up about things that are going on at the pre school and within our community, we have built professional relationships with local and international people and organisations, and we are able to keep our finger on the pulse by following industry leaders in early education.

We currently lecture our practices at two universities and we also take part in conferences held by Electroboard and TAFE. We are passionate about developing the holistic child and to do this we find it imperative to be co-educators with our children’s families and parents.

To see examples of how we currently use technology check out our website www.platinumpreschool.com and we’d love to ‘connect’ with anyone else out there who is interested in the new world of early education. 

Joanna O’Brien is co-director at Platinum Pre School, Randwick NSW. Joanna is a trained primary school teacher with over 15 years’ experience in face-to-face education and education management.

Communicating with families

Recently on the ACECQA Facebook page we asked how services communicate with families, and what works best.

Communicating with families can develop strong partnerships and help families to feel connected to their children’s experience in education and care. Having open and two-way communication forms an important part of NQS QA6 – Collaborative partnerships with families.

The daily interaction that occurs when families drop off and pick up children is often supported with daybooks, noticeboards and newsletters. Increasingly more and more services are beginning to introduce a range of electronic communication platforms to share and discuss information with parents.

But every service is different and unique, and the discussion on our Facebook page captured some great methods for family communication:

“Day book, newsletter, mainly face to face. I find that the most effective and makes the connection more personal.”

“We use all sorts of communication styles. From emails, newsletters, day books, display board, online survey tools, face to face discussions, phone calls and texting.”

“One of the ways my centre communicates with our lovely families is through a daily blog where they can check out what their children have been up to, can comment on activities we have done or provide suggestions. We provide upcoming events on there, recipes of the children’s favourite food that they are enjoying, anything that we think the parents might find interesting and could possibly try at home as well. We generally get great responses from the families and it’s easy as they can access the blog at work.”

Has your service recently introduced a form of electronic communication for families? If so, we would love for you to share your experience by writing a guest post for the ACECQA blog. If you are interested please send outline of your blog post idea to news@acecqa.gov.au and we will be in touch shortly.

If you would like ideas or want to share how your service communicates with families, please join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Our Journey to date – The Assessment Process

This month on the blog, director Julie Dowling of Discovery Early Learning Centre, Lauderdale, Tasmania, writes a personal account of the assessment process.

Julie talks about how she led her staff and families to develop the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and how the educators became comfortable with the assessment process.

Our assessment went for three days, which included the centre based long day care centre and the outside school hours care programs which are facilitated on site at the school next door.

Our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) is viewed and acted upon as a living document. It is freely available on all computers and is updated on a regular basis. We also have a whiteboard in the staff room that was used to document processes and change, this became the template for the QIP. There is no such thing as a silly question and educators were encouraged and supported to ask ‘why?’. As not everyone in our centre was computer literate the use of the whiteboard created an inclusive process for all educators. All stakeholders were involved in the development of the services self-assessment and its QIP including the children, families, community, school community and educators.

The QIP was completed in April so by the time the assessment visit occurred in June; some of the areas of the QIP had indeed changed. We had implemented plans, some were still progressing and other areas were added. Progress notes were added to the QIP as evidence of our continuous improvement journey, but also as a reminder of the distance we had travelled in supporting better outcomes for children.

The assessment day began with a tour of the service where the educators and children were introduced to the Authorised Officers. This provided the opportunity to talk about our processes, our people and our curriculum. The educators began to relax into the process as they were advised to ‘do what they normally do’ and to be confident in their practice. It was also important for them to understand that this is a continual improvement process and it was important to reflect on everyday practice with a goal of improving practice.

The officers visited each of our program areas, including before school care and two outside school hours care sessions. During the visit the educators were involved in non contact curriculum planning and the assessors asked whether they could sit with them as they did this. Although the educators were confident in their abilities, the actual thought of having an assessor ask them questions was initially ‘a state of panic’. As the centre director, I stayed with the educator. After some initial trepidation the educator articulated the planning process and spoke about the context of the room’s curriculum and planning cycle. This was a positive experience and enabled the educator to celebrate what was happening each and every day for children and families within the education and care environment.

As the officers walked through the service they spoke to the educators, viewed practice in the indoor and outdoor environments, viewed displays in the centre and room routines. As the director of the service the officers spent a lot of of time talking to me about Quality Area 6 and 7, and also asked questions about things that may not have been visible in the rooms at the time. They took lots of notes, which we unanimously decided was a good thing to ensure a transparent and robust process.

The officers chatted amicably to the educators and to the children and I must say the whole process was very unobtrusive. The visit was authentic and the experience was a positive one for the centre’s team.

The centre supports and is committed to continuous improvement and ongoing learning and this is what we strive to do each day. The assessment process has helped us build on our strengths and reflect on things we can learn more about. It was a great team building experience. Critical reflection played a major role in the process and we were able to show the officers our reflections which demonstrated our journey and the reasons behind any changes made to everyday practice.

By the second day of the visit the educators were very relaxed about the whole process. The unknown was now the known. The only thing that the team found difficult was the wait for the draft report and the final rating but we understand why it has to be this way to ensure a credible system has been implemented. We now know the visit isn’t scary and our doubts and apprehension have been put to rest. We wait in anticipation for our rating and are committed to this journey of continual improvement and growth as a service.

About the author – Julie Dowling is the Director of a 76 place long day care centre, 20 place After Kinder Care and  60 place outside school hours care in Lauderdale, Tasmania. Julie has worked in the sector for 18 years, firstly in Family Day Care and then in Outside School Care and centre based care.  Julie has a degree in Early Childhood education and care.

Tackling the NQS – how our management team met the challenge

This month we have a guest post by Anna Johnston, Practice Manager Early Childhood for UnitingCare Children’s Services (UCCS).

UCCS is the approved provider for 52 services in NSW and the ACT, including long day care, preschool, out of school hours care, occasional care and an integrated service. 

Anna discusses the ways the management team worked with services to help them adapt to the new National Quality Standard.

Tackling the NQS – how our management team met the challenge

The management team of UnitingCare Children’s Services (UCCS) has worked together to ensure our services have emerged confident and prepared for assessment and rating with the National Quality System (NQS).

UCCS is the approved provider for 52 services in NSW and the ACT, including long day care, preschool, out of school hours care, occasional care and an integrated service. Services are managed directly by Central Office or by local management committees linked to Uniting Church congregations.

UnitingCare Children’s Services was previously a stand-alone organisation that was linked to the Uniting Church in NSW/ACT. Following a re-structure in 2010 a new management team was assembled, under the leadership of Trish Brown and UCCS became a service group of UnitingCare Children and Young People and Families. At the beginning of 2011 we comprised a team led by the Director , Trish, with two Operations Managers, one training and resource officer, two Practice Managers, and administration and inclusion support officers.

The team faced many challenges but fortunately we are committed, experienced and enthusiastic people and we all agreed on an approach to support UCCS through this transition phase, both at organisational and regulatory level. A multi-pronged approach was needed to many tackle the many heads of the beast in 2011 :

  • Director met with every management committee about the new requirements and the role of UCCS as the Approved Provider.
  • Policy and Quality Practice Manager began reviewing all current policies, assessing compliance with the National Law and Regulation and where required developed new policies, procedures and forms with appropriate consultation.
  • Management team delivered the National Quality Framework training package developed by Community Child Care Co-op in 22 convenient locations.
  • Operations Managers visited services to identify their needs.
  • The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and My Time Our Place were in use at our services, the engagement and understandings varied greatly. Again our management team encouraged and supported services to incorporate the practices, principles and learning outcomes into their programs.
  • Our fortnightly newsletter, UCCS express, contained regular updates regarding training and policy development.
  • The Training Officer developed a training calendar, in addition to the NQF training package. In 2011 UCCS delivered our own training to our staff in Introduction to EYLF, EYLF documentation, Philosophy and Transition to School
  • Mock assessment visits were conducted to 15 preschools to assist in developing the QIP.
  • Combined directors and co-ordinators meetings were held three times a year, including practical sessions around the QIP or EYLF which leaders could take back and use in staff meetings to share understandings.

By December 2011 we were exhausted but confident our services were informed about the changes coming in 2012.

For 2012, our training calendar reflects the gaps identified in service Quality Improvement Plans – principally documentation and links in Quality Area 1, community connections, staff inductions, sustainability and health safety and supervision.

We continue to support individual services as they work through their QIP’s and we are currently piloting ways to support services as they begin to undergo the “real thing”, – assessment and rating.

We look back to where the management team and the services and educators and even the sector was at the beginning of 2011 and feel great pride that we have grown and become so informed and confident.

Highlight – National Quality Standard

Standard 3.3: The service takes an active role in caring for its environment and contributes to a sustainable future. 

Our Facebook page recently linked to a blog article about chickens at a preschool. Caring for animals helps children develop empathy, a sense of responsibility and an understanding of how animals contribute to the world.

Chickens are a popular example, but they don’t suit every service. However, there are many ways animals can be included in children’s education and care.

Worm farms are one example, as they are compact and practical. When children learn how a worm farm works and why we need worms, they are actively caring for the environment and contributing to a sustainable future. This is a great example of how NQS Standard 3.3 can be addressed in practice.

Learning about composting, recycling and our impact on the environment also fulfills Practices and Principles of the EYLF Outcome 2, Children are connected with and contribute to their world.

If you have a worm farm, or want to tell us about the animals at your service, please share your thoughts here or on our Facebook page.

More reading on this subject is available from ECA here.

What the new ratings mean for you

From this year we’ll see a lot of information about children’s education and care services across Australia as governments focus more attention on our important sector. One of the biggest changes we’ll see will be the introduction of a new rating system for services, which raises the bar on what quality looks like for our children and families.

While most services had high ratings under the old system, the benchmarks have now been lifted to match what research tells us is the very best care for children. This means that, at least initially, most services are likely to be rated in the middle bands. The new quality standards, while harder to achieve, will give us a clearer roadmap to improve than before.

We are all part of this new journey to improve children’s education and care. Through the new system parents and educators will build a shared understanding of what quality education and care looks like and how it will continue to develop over time.

The implementation of the new National Quality Standard is the responsibility of state and territory regulatory authorities and the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority. ACECQA is helping to explain the new ratings to services and families so we are all on the same page at the beginning of this important journey.

It’s important that we work together under this new system to give our children the best possible start in life.

If you have ideas to share about how you communicate with families, post them here or on our Facebook page.