Thinking about applying for the Excellent rating?

We regularly hear of exceptional practice occurring in education and care services however when speaking with educators and providers, many are unsure of what it takes to be rated Excellent by ACECQA. In this We Hear You post, ACECQA provides advice on applying for the rating and we hear tips from the Director of an Excellent rated service, Megan Dodds of KU Corrimal East Preschool.

Services rated Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) overall are eligible to apply to ACECQA for the highest quality rating – the Excellent rating.

Many of these services are delivering exceptional practice but are hesitant to apply for the Excellent rating, thinking the application process involves a lot of work. While this might be a common first impression, the process needn’t be as time-consuming and complex as you may think. The truly hard work lies in the delivery of exceptional practice.

Choosing to apply for the Excellent rating may involve some internal discussions and as Megan from KU Corrimal East Preschool describes, getting started is a time for reflection.

Once a service has decided to apply, they will need to submit an application which addresses the following criteria:

  1. The service exemplifies and promotes exceptional education and care that improves outcomes for children and families.
  2. The service demonstrates leadership that contributes to the development of a community, a local area, or the wider education and care sector.
  3. The service demonstrates commitment to sustained excellent practice through continuous improvement and comprehensive forward planning.

This is a different process to that carried out by the regulatory authority during assessment and rating as Megan shares.

The application does not need to be lengthy; you can succinctly describe exemplary examples of leadership, environments and/or practices and the resultant quality outcomes for children and families.

For KU Corrimal East Preschool, choosing the themes to respond to was one of the most challenging parts of the application process.

There is no one set formula; each application will be different and assessed in relation to the context of the service and community. The focus is not the amount of information provided or the format you choose to present it in, but rather on the way the application clearly identifies and outlines genuine examples of:

  • leadership, practice and/or environments that address the criteria and themes, and
  • quality outcomes for children, families and communities.

Excellence is contextual; it is about improving outcomes for children, families and communities while connecting with community through strong leadership and a commitment to engaging with continuous improvement on a deep level.

When preparing your application, Megan suggests that you collaborate and network to get other people’s perspectives on the work that you do as this may identify ideas for your application that you had not considered.

ACECQA staff will seek additional information from the relevant regulatory authority and will conduct a teleconference to discuss the application. A visit may also be arranged to verify, clarify or add to the information provided in the application. ACECQA staff are also available to answer questions and guide applicants through the process.

ACECQA has awarded the Excellent rating to a range of services across Australia. Long day care, family day care, outside school hours care, kindergartens and preschools in both city and regional areas and across the range of socio-economic areas have been recognised.

For more information about the application process, take a look at the application criteria and guidelines and the presentation identifying tips on addressing the selection criteria.

Practical strategies for reviewing, planning and improving team performance

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

William Shakespeare said ‘we know what we are but not what we may be’. One of the many roles of leaders is to assist team members to realise, and reach their full potential.

Assessment and rating data shows that element 7.2.2 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) is among the top five most challenging to meet, requiring that ‘the performance of educators, coordinators and staff members is evaluated and individual development plans are in place to support performance improvement’.

Professional development supports educators in their work to provide quality outcomes for children and families. We know when education and care services establish and maintain a culture of ongoing reflection and self-review, team members are more likely to feel challenged and motivated, and experience job satisfaction (Early Years Learning Framework p.13, Framework for School Age Care p. 12).

The Guide to the National Quality Standard refers to a cyclical process for performance review and improvement, but doesn’t set specific guidelines around timing or how the process should work in practice. Services should establish a process that works best for their staff and management structure. The process should be one that identifies staff members’ strengths and assesses and enhances staff performance.

Strategies

When implementing a performance review system, (including Professional Development Plans for each team member) a self-assessment tool developed by the Professional Support Coordinators Alliance is a useful resource. The tool can be used to establish goals and identify areas for professional development.

When education and care professionals engage in self-assessment with managers, they’re able to build on strengths, identify areas they would like to develop and celebrate the successes and contributions of all team members. Whatever system is used, it’s important the purpose is communicated clearly to staff and they feel empowered and supported in the process.

Another approach to self-assessment might be regular one-on-one catch ups to discuss current achievements and challenges. Meeting regularly ensures the team is supported on an ongoing basis and through periods of change. This is especially helpful when teams consist of casual or short term members. It can also reduce the sometimes onerous task of undertaking the process annually.

Additional strategies to self-assessment can be found in our previous article on professional development planning, as well as the Gowrie Tasmania fact sheetLeadership in Early Childhood Education and Care Services.

Quality Improvement Plan

Reviewing your current process for planning, supporting and improving team performance is important and can form part of your Quality Improvement Plan. How does the team feel about the process? Are there opportunities to share achievements? How do other services approach professional development? These are some questions you might like consider when reviewing your service’s plan.

Reflecting on and planning for inclusion

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

Practices can sometimes unintentionally limit children’s inclusion in education and care services. If vulnerable children and their families are not considered and supported, it can result in children not enrolling in a service.

Inclusion is broader than considering children with additional needs. It’s also about being inclusive of different family compositions as well as refugee, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. Inclusive practice is acknowledging, respecting and valuing diversity and recognising the opportunities to learn from each other through meaningful participation.

The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care assist educators in providing opportunities for all children through a strength-based approach focusing on all children’s strengths, skills and capabilities and promoting each child’s learning and development.

Promoting inclusive programs and practices requires a commitment to continuous improvement and the confidence to ensure all children’s experiences are recognised. Quality Improvement Plans (QIP) and Inclusion Improvement Plans (IIP) are useful planning tools involving self-assessment and goal setting for continuous improvement. The IIP is a valuable self-assessment tool for reflecting on your service being ‘inclusion ready’. Both can inform each other and reduce duplication.

KU Children’s Services, as the National Inclusion Support Subsidy Provider (NISSP), has developed some helpful resources that focus on critical reflection, problem solving and planning. The videos and tip sheets are designed to support educators to be proactive and take ownership of both the QIP and IIP.

You might like to consider the following questions when critically reflecting on inclusive practice:

  • Is the service welcoming, accessible and responsive to the diverse range of children and families in the community?
  • What links are established and maintained to understand community needs and access resources?
  • Are educators intentional in scaffolding learning in group play?
  • How are children’s peers involved in inclusion?
  • Are physical and human resources adapted and used flexibly to support every child (regardless of abilities, needs and interests) to achieve maximum participation in all routines, transitions and learning opportunities?
  • How are educators supporting children’s social and functioning skills with a particular focus on supporting transitions?
  • How is the orientation process adapted according to the needs of each child and family?
  • Does the service know and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land?
  • Has the service considered developing a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)?

 

Professional development planning

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

As part of a service’s commitment to quality improvement and the delivery of quality education and care programs, service providers have the responsibility to build and maintain a skilled and engaged workforce. To meet NQS Element 7.2.2, the performance of educators, coordinators and staff members need to be evaluated, with individual development plans in place to support performance improvement.

What is professional development?

Professional development is the processes used to develop knowledge and skills in identified areas and assists in keeping up to date with emerging research and best practice. Service staff can engage in professional development through informal methods such as networking with other professionals, staff meetings and personal reading or through formal methods such as attending training, workshops, conferences or through mentoring.

Identifying areas for professional development

Services must develop Individual Professional Plans for educators, coordinators and staff. There are many ways services can identify areas for professional development and for whole service improvement:

  • through use of the Quality Improvement Plan
  • undertaking an open and honest self-assessment
  • using the assessment and rating instrument
  • and using the service philosophy to decide on focus areas for professional
    development

Performance evaluation

There is flexibility in the structure used to evaluate staff performance, however processes should be in place to ensure that quality feedback on performance is provided and areas of development can be identified. The process might include agreeing on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for achievement within designated time frames. The evaluation may include
competencies (skills and knowledge) and behaviours (professional standards). Engaging in self-assessment allows education and care professionals, together with their managers, to identify areas they would like to develop. The performance evaluation is also a chance for service providers to acknowledge the achievements and contributions of staff.

What is an individual development plan?

The most effective individual development plans are:

  • developed collaboratively by the employee and the manager
  • identified through self and service evaluation processes, which outline career objectives and areas of development
  • documented with appropriate resources allocated
  • reviewed at least annually.

 

 

 

 

 


Further reading and resources

Professional learning plan- self assessment tool
Child Care Staff: Learning and growing through professional development

Our Assessment and Rating Journey

This Justeene-McKnight-picweek on We Hear You, Justeene McKnight, Nominated Supervisor Education and Care Services at Campbelltown City Council, tells us about Amarina Early Learning Centre’s recent assessment and rating journey. 

Before the assessment and rating visit

On receipt of our letter requesting the submission of the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), we were nervous. However, as we thought about the process and the standards, we realised we didn’t need to be.

The more knowledge and information we gained about the process, the more we realised that we were already achieving many of the elements in each of the seven quality areas and we would just need to demonstrate this to the assessor.

We had been working hard to ensure many of our practices were embedded in our daily program and we needed to reflect this in our QIP. We held regular discussions during team meetings by making the assessment and rating process a static agenda item.

We used journals to assist us to reflect on how we believed we met each National Quality Standard within our service as a team. We discussed information such as what would an assessor be able to see, feel and hear within our service. Areas that we felt needed improvement were then included within the Quality Improvement Plan.

Families also had regular opportunities to share ideas and feedback through our monthly surveys and discussions at our flexible parent meeting. Each child regularly had the opportunity, both individually and in group discussions, to express their opinions, ideas and views about the service, how it made them feel and about the relationships that they had developed at the centre.

The children’s ideas and opinions were then included in the QIP as part of our strengths and areas for improvements. We also placed the plan in the foyer so families could track our ongoing improvement and provide feedback on any areas they would like us to focus on.

The visit

As soon as the assessor arrived, she made all the educators feel at ease. It was obvious through our conversations with the assessor that she knew our service philosophy and had spent some time researching to fully understand our beliefs and practices.

This allowed us to feel that the assessor, and the assessment process, was focused on ensuring our service had the opportunity to be unique and respond to our individual children, family and community needs. The assessor spent time discussing our current community needs and what strategies we utilise to support not only the children within our service, but the families and the surrounding community also.

She looked at our environment indoors and outdoors and asked questions as to why certain things were the way they were. For example, we discussed how we had created a kitchen in the 0-3 year room out of a recycled TV unit, as part of our sustainability management plan.

This opportunity to discuss our environment allowed the assessor to understand our practices, as well as the vision and philosophy of the service and organisation. She spent time interacting with the children and held several discussions with staff.

During the visit, we felt that we had the opportunity to showcase our service and point out what we feel we do well, what we would like to spend time working on and how we implemented our philosophy for the best interest of all stakeholders.

At the end of the visit, we had adequate time with the assessor to go through the report and a further opportunity to show or demonstrate any other information or evidence to support our assessment visit.

Post visit

When we received the draft report, we found it very useful to reflect on the assessment and rating process, as well as our practices within the service. The assessor provided feedback that we were able to incorporate into our QIP to ensure that we can continue to improve our practices and our service delivery.

Regular consultation with children has now become embedded into the practice at Amarina Early Learning Centre. This provides them the opportunity to have their voices heard and integrate their ideas and opinions into the philosophy and every day practices at the service.

The report also validated that the service’s philosophy was evident within our everyday practice and that what we had hoped to be evident to the assessor had been observed.

The Excellent rating application

Once our final assessment and rating report was received confirming our rating of Exceeding, we began gathering evidence to apply for the Excellent rating. It provided an unbelievable opportunity to reflect on our position within the community, as well as our practices within the service.

The application process was thorough and required us to gather examples of how we demonstrated excellence in three separate criteria, and that we had a clear vision for what we wanted to achieve within the service, the community and within the education and care services sector in the future.

As a team, we spent our time ensuring the application was the best it could be and included supportive attachments. The day that we were notified of our Excellent rating was rewarding – not only for the organisation and the staff members, but also for the families and the community. It validated that their contributions to our service were valued and noticed not only by the service and the organisation, but also by ACECQA.

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Reviewing your Quality Improvement Plan

Photos_headshot1_editedThis week on We Hear You, Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, tells us about reviewing your Quality Improvement Plan.

Service providers have described how developing and implementing a QIP has been useful in identifying their strengths and where their efforts should be focused. While many services reflect on and review their plans regularly, if you have not already done so, it may be timely to review your plan, as you are required to update your QIP annually. 

The Progress Notes column in the QIP template is there to make the document dynamic and allow for evolution as goals are achieved and new priorities are identified. Remember, you don’t need to use the ACECQA QIP template. You can use any format that suits your service, however, it should address the areas identified in the template as a minimum.

You should use the National Quality Standard (NQS) and the relevant regulatory standards to reassess your service and determine where goals have been achieved and where improvements are required.

If you haven’t already used them, the reflective questions in the Guide to the National Quality Standard are a great starting point for the review and are useful discussion prompts for staff and parent meetings.

Reviewing your QIP does not need to be time consuming; sharing around the tasks then discussing, as a group, is a time efficient strategy. The insights and perceptions of others will enrich this process. As the improvements you are seeking to make are mainly to benefit children, it is particularly important to include their voices in these processes. 

The best plans are developed and reviewed collaboratively, involving, wherever possible, children, families, educators, staff members, management and other interested parties, such as those who assist children with additional needs.

It is important to remember that it is not about the length of your plan, but rather the quality. Identify the key priorities for your service and ensure the strategies and goals are achievable. Consider identifying short, medium and longer-term priorities. There is no minimum or maximum number of pages required when completing your QIP. 

While it is important to reflect on practice, policies and procedures against the seven quality areas of the NQS, there is also no expectation that all 18 standards and 58 elements will be addressed in the QIP.

If your service is doing particularly well in one quality area you may choose to include statements about how this will be maintained and focus energy on other areas for improvement.

The purpose of the QIP is to guide quality improvements to the service. Now that you have revised the plan, it is important to keep the momentum going by reviewing progress and updating the plan regularly. The Guide to Developing a Quality Improvement Plan, on the ACECQA website is a useful resource to assist in the planning and documenting stages. 

This article first appeared in Early Edition — Childcare Queensland’s magazine. 

Jindi Woraback’s QIP encourages children to contribute

This week on We Hear You, Michelle Walker, Director of Jindi Woraback Children’s Centre, tells us about their Quality Improvement Plan and how they incorporate into their daily program. 

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ACECQA is a girl with a blue face, red and pink hair, pink arms and a green body and legs. She likes to eat fruit, ride her bike, read books and draw.

This is ‘ACECQA child’, the newest addition to Jindi Woraback Children’s Centre (Jindi Woraback) in Victoria.

During the process of reflection whilst developing our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), we decided to develop a visual QIP that would involve the children, educators and families.

After our assessment and rating visit, we wanted to ensure we were continuously working on our QIP.

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Proudly we received Exceeding in all seven quality areas, which meant we needed a plan of ‘where to next?’

Our visual QIP was placed in a common area, which became a meeting place of ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming’ where children, educators and families could share their stories.

ACECQA child was developed to encourage the children to contribute to the QIP at anytime and for the children and their families to drive its development.

We see children as the directors of the service and our children determine what we do and as educators one of our roles is to facilitate this.

I thought ‘ACECQA’ sounded like a child’s name, so we began by talking with our children about ACECQA being lost and that if they shared with each other what we like doing at Jindi Woraback then maybe she will come and join us.

The children decided what ACECQA looked like and what she liked doing. We then built ACECQA child, which was introduced during group time.

Now ACECQA lives in the room with the children, moves from activity to activity, joins in our Friday Kinder Sports program and has her own portfolio for children to contribute their observations of what ACECQA likes to do while at Jindi Woraback.

She is a vessel for the children to be able to have their say as they tell us what they want.

ACECQA child has been a way to introduce ACECQA to the children and families and make their QIP fun and interactive as well as reduce paperwork.

The children drive the QIP and rather than the educators going away to make notes we involve the children.

No one is telling us to do mountains of paperwork so we try to think of ways to reduce the paperwork.

Now ACECQA is discussed everyday, so rather than just turning up when we have our assessment and rating, the educators, children and families are comfortable because they are working with it all the time, and we can all just enjoy the process.

Zac takes ACECQA out to play outside.
Zac takes ACECQA out to play outside.