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

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.

Beyond the Fence – extending children’s experiences outdoors

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Kylie Keane headshot

Beyond The Fence™ is a program offered at Forrest Out Of School Hours Care (FOOSHC) in Canberra where children play outdoors, build cubbies, climb trees, excavate the creek, have mud  and water fights and relax outdoors. Kylie Keane, Educational Leader at FOOSHC, shares her story. 

More than 100 children have ventured Beyond The Fence™ which takes place in a small, yet spacious nature strip adjacent to Forrest Primary School. These children all continue to amaze each and every one of the dedicated group of educators who work with them.

The program started in 2014 and is roughly based on the concepts of Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools in the United Kingdom. It acknowledges the Playwork Principles and advocates for what the principles suggest play should be:

Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons. See more on the Playwork Principles fact sheet

While the ideas of reconnecting children with nature are still prevalent, the underpinning philosophy of Beyond The Fence™ is children experiencing I did it moments; the first time they manage to light a fire, climb into a tree, or saw through a piece of wood. The program allows for risk taking and exploration, promotes an attachment to nature and the land, facilitates play and problem solving and develops survival, resilience and self-regulation skills.

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We are often asked how a program like this is possible. What about the regulations? How do you manage the risks? In the beginning we took advice and guidance from a number of industry experts, and all the educators underwent training with the educational leader before facilitating the experiences.

There is nothing in the regulations that prohibits children from enjoying these types of experiences or us as educators facilitating them. It is about striking the right balance and weighing up the risks versus the benefits. Many Benefit Risk Assessments were penned before the pilot program, however it was the children’s contributions along the way that made these documents so valuable. The team of educators view children as capable, competent and active participants in all aspects of the program, and as such, the relationships that have formed are one of the most rewarding aspects of this amazing journey.

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Family information sessions also contribute to the success of the program. We share not only the who, what, where and how but also the why with families and in turn they are our biggest advocates.

Beyond The Fence™ helped two children work through what had been a relationship fraught with bullying; to the point where one of the families was going to move their child to another school. The program gave them a reason to stay and saw the two boys graduate to high school as mates.

Beyond The Fence™ provides so many children, and educators alike, a place to play, take risks, explore the land and their identity, and to simply be.

How we document – Albury Out of School Hours

Educator Will Nichols , Tilly Mitchener and other Children votingV2This month, Cathy Northam, Director of Albury Out of School Hours (OOSH) writes about her team’s innovative approach to documentation, reminding us there are many ways to approach this responsibility.

My colleagues and I had a light bulb moment when we sat down to review the documentation policy for our service. We felt the diverse and transient nature of out of school hours care required a different approach to the documentation framework used in long day care.

We asked ourselves: What does documentation in OOSH look like? Is what we record relevant and how can we improve it?

Once we stopped to think about the ‘how’ and ‘why’, we were able to identify a method of documentation that works for our children and their families.

At Albury OOSH we have a strong focus on respecting children’s rights, particularly a child’s right to have an opinion and be heard, and a child’s right to privacy. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child underpins our work and we consult with both children and families on documentation requirements.

Children at Albury OOSH can choose how to document their time here and if they don’t want to participate in projects, they are free to tell us. We do this by formal discussions, conference and democratic voting. These processes allow the children’s voices to be heard.

So, how do we meet our NQF requirements and honour our children’s rights? This is a question that we continue to think hard about as we change, refine and develop new ways of encouraging children’s growth while ensuring we document our own journey and show the meaningful collaboration, documentation and reflective practice.

Our approach

Taking a holistic view of each child and what they bring to OOSH is fundamental in how we support them. Our current documentation process consists of the following practices:

  • Use of a staff-only diary that documents significant events for individual children each day. This usually relates to social and emotional development. Each Friday we discuss the entries of three or four children and work on consistent strategies for the team and individual child. We also focus on opportunities for “teachable moments” as outlined in My Time Our Place. We’ve found this helps us in communicating with families around how to support their child.
  • Once or twice a term we document a learning story (as described in the My Time Our Place Educators’ Guide). These are written in collaboration with the child and are a significant piece of documentation. We try to select and reflect something that has made educators and parents go ‘wow’. One example is the invention and self-umpiring of group games that the children run themselves. Another example is the ‘Welcome to OOSH’ Video Project. Read more about our video project below.
  • Our weekly reflective diary documents the children’s experiences from the week in text and photo form, linking to the Outcomes in My Time Our Place. An example is documenting the children in Year 5 supporting and playing with our new Kindergarten children. This may be the only thing we reflect for the week, but over a term we cover all the outcomes and most of the children.
  • Each year we have two celebrations that our children help organise – winter solstice and an end of year performance. The children plan and direct these events with our support. We document these events in a variety of ways, using art work, invitations, notices and video.

We also have art work, messages, projects and other historical works of the children displayed at our service. When they walk into Albury OOSH, children and families can see their changing lives reflected in our space.

If there is one last idea that may help other educators, it’s to reflect deeply on how and why you do things and note the children’s ideas and interests. Every service is unique. Remember to listen to the children’s opinions on what they feel is acceptable and how you can best document their time. If you can do this, then you will aid the success of your documentation plan.

Case Study: Welcome to OOSH video project

Cathy shares a learning story that captures the children’s creativity and develops their connection to Albury OOSH. 

The biggest project for the children has been the development of an orientation video to introduce new children to the service. We felt the children who start with us mid-year often receive less of an orientation experience than those who start at the beginning of the year.

Our Year 4 girls expressed a keen interest in drama and acting activities and were keen to get involved. They drafted a script and story board for how they saw the video working. They asked the other children what they thought was the most important thing to know ‘child to child’ about coming to OOSH.

The video covered everything that the girls scripted and a lot more. Overall, we recorded more than an hour of footage.

The children were very excited to see themselves in the video. They made small changes to make it more appealing to the target audience and everyone was amazed with the product.

The project supported the children’s interest in drama and video production, and linked to Outcome 4 in the Framework for School Age Care (page 32). Children were able to freely follow their interests, investigate their own ideas, take control and make their own choices. They demonstrated leadership and direction, and persevered with the task until they were satisfied with the finished product.

Celebrate learning during National Literacy and Numeracy Week

Girl playing with counters

National Literacy and Numeracy Week is an opportunity for providers, educators and families to celebrate learning with their students and children. ACECQA spoke with two educators to see how they promote a culture of problem solving, understanding and learning in their educational programs and the opportunities for teaching these skills to young children in a way that is fun and engaging.

Shirleyanne Creighton from South Grafton Multipurpose Out of School Hours Care in NSW finds that asking children what activities they want to do most is a great method of incorporating literacy and numeracy into the program.

“We build a list of high-demand activities and then as a team work together to determine how we can underpin those activities with literacy and numeracy elements,” Shirleyanne said.

“Simple ideas, like using a baking class that introduces children to metrics and measurements or initiating a pen pal partnership that links with another OSHC,
are exciting ways for children to engage with numbers and text.

“Literacy and numeracy skills are the cornerstones of education and should form the basis of most activities we set out for our students.

“Educators and providers need to let children lead the way. By weaving literacy
and numeracy into their favourite activities, we can make the most of their natural intrigue and teach these skill sets creatively.

“The whole process can be seamless. Our children are learning and they don’t even notice,” Shirleyanne said.

In South Australia, Lee Munn and her team at Lobethal Kindergarten have also come up with interesting ways of teaching literacy and numeracy through experience.

“Every term, one week is selected as the ‘Outdoor Kindy Week’ where all sessions are conducted in the outdoor learning environment,” Lee said.

“Activities that are focused on thinking, planning and constructing functional items from simple materials such as pipes or bamboo help children to understand angles, weights and measurements.

“Imagination and story appreciation is also encouraged by using the ground as
a canvas, allowing students to compose and illustrate their ideas,” Lee said.

Lobethal Kindergarten also publishes a daily blog, which allows parents and families to read about the centre’s activities and enables them to comment and contribute to the curriculum.

“We encourage children to connect with nature by getting them outdoors and challenging them to take risks and move outside their comfort zones,” Lee said.

“A child’s imagination and curiosity can actually teach us all a thing or two – we are constantly in awe of children’s abilities to extend their thinking and learning. They amaze us with their competencies, skills and desire to explore and discover.”

Visit www.literacyandnumeracy.gov.au/ for details of the week’s activities, useful resources and innovative ideas to celebrate learning.

Updating your Quality Improvement Plan

In Issue 1 of the ACECQA Newsletter for 2013 we asked ‘What are you doing to ensure your Quality Improvement Plan remains a living document?’ 

Share what you and your service are doing to build on 2012 and keep your QIP up to date by commenting on this post.

Want to read more about keeping QIPs up to date? Check out this post from Gaye Stewart on how she and her team supported the process at a local level. 

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.