Regulation in children’s education and care services

Recent media commentary about regulation in the children’s education and care sector posed the idea that regulations are different to ‘common sense’.

There are a number of factors to consider in this issue.

The NQF has consolidated regulation under both the previous state-based licensing and national accreditation systems.  This particularly helps providers with services in more than one jurisdiction, which includes a number of small providers with two or three services as well as the much larger providers.

Another factor is that the NQF is new, and that the introduction of any new system requires an adjustment period. We acknowledge the work of educators and providers to support the NQF in this foundation period has been significant. As new processes settle in to place, we expect day to day administration will become more routine.

A level of administration and paperwork is an essential part of any well-run enterprise. This is even more so for education and care services where parents and the community want to have confidence children are safe and secure at all times.

Naturally people who work in the children’s education and care sector are expected to take a common sense approach to looking after children in their care.

That’s in line with the expectations of families, the community and governments.  It’s in line with professional conduct.

It’s also in line with the new regulations as quoted in recent reports.

For instance, regulation 81 is about children receiving adequate sleep. It has been cited as an example of over-regulation when indeed, it does seem to be just common sense.  However, from the perspective of educators and administrators, the sector knows that sleep times can be highly contentious.  Families, especially parents of toddlers and pre-schoolers, can have very strong views about the way their children receive adequate rest.

Regulations help to set the common sense down in black and white, and are helpful to services when setting policies, and helpful to parents seeking reassurance.  They help ensure a consistent approach to the education and care of children.

In the case of this example, many jurisdictions already had regulations that covered children’s sleep and rest before the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care came into effect in 2012.

The regulations do not mandate the number of hours that children must rest, nor do they tell services how to go about ensuring children get that rest.  They do, however, set an expectation that little children will get adequate rest according to their needs.

If a parent wants to check whether their service is operating in the right way, or if there is a debate between staff about how to do something, they can find the answer in the regulations. They can – and often do – also contact the regulatory authority in their state or territory or ACECQA.

It is clear from the enquiries ACECQA receives that educators are keen to do the right thing by their children and families. Often ACECQA receives enquiries from educators or providers seeking clarification when an unusual situation arises in their service – we then refer to the law and regulations to give consistent advice.

When things go wrong, people expect something to be done about it and regulations provide the grounds for taking action and applying penalties.

ACECQA’s role is to ensure the Framework is now implemented consistently across the states and territories. National consistency is about fairness and efficiency rather than rigid uniformity. The NQF accepts that services can reach the same standards of quality in different ways.

We want to know what we can do to improve its implementation. That’s why it was always planned that ACECQA would conduct research to consider the regulatory burden of the National Quality Framework.

We begin that research this year, speaking to many educators and providers about how the new regulations have affected their operations.  You can read about the research in this week’s newsletter.

A ‘green’ thumbs up to sustainable programs

This article is from the Queensland Department of Education, Training and Employment and first appeared in Childcare Queensland’s Early Edition – Summer 2012.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) encourages educators to reflect on sustainability and what it means in early childhood settings. Standard 3.3 of the NQS invites services to take an active role in promoting sustainable practices in the immediate service environment and beyond, as well as fostering children’s respect and care for the environment.

The Standard aims to support children to develop positive attitudes and values by engaging in learning experiences that link people, plants, animals and the land and by watching adults around them model sustainable practices.

Many long day care services include environmental practices in their everyday programs – by planting vegetable patches, recycling paper and turning off lights when leaving the room, for example. This is a great starting point and opportunities to build a sustainable program are endless.

Early childhood services are at varying stages in the journey to sustainable education and practice. The following suggestions are designed to get you thinking about ways in which your service can build on Standard 3.3.

Sustainability in early childhood

The way in which services approach environmental sustainability will vary depending on the context, the children, the families, and the community in which the service is delivered. Services should encourage children and families to investigate the environment in which they live; rather than to impose a particular set of values or practices.

Learning about sustainability starts with everyday practice. Babies and toddlers can begin by watching adults model these behaviours. They may learn through song or rhyme as adults verbalise what they are doing. Children over three can begin to reason why practices are needed and to understand the impact that their actions have on the planet.

Getting started

It’s important to take a holistic look at sustainability across your service. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Conduct a self-assessment or audit of the sustainable activities already taking place in your service. Celebrate these achievements, share them with families and acknowledge staff contributions.
  • Make sustainability a key component of the service’s philosophy and quality improvement planning process, and seek commitment from children, educators and families.
  • Give children a sense of ownership. Ask them for ideas and get their participation.
  • Appoint a sustainability officer to champion and motivate the service to ‘go green’.
  • Commit to actions that are realistic and that people are motivated about. Consider experience, knowledge, budget and resource constraints.
  • Involve other people, groups and organisations in the building of the program. Consider ways to show them the results of their contributions and acknowledge their support.

Where to make changes

During an assessment and rating visit, authorised officers will be looking for evidence that sustainable practices are embedded in service operations.

Assessors may want to observe how children are supported to appreciate the natural environment and to take responsibility for caring for it – be it water, waste, energy, fauna or flora. You can do this by introducing smaller and more manageable activities in to every day practice and helping children to understand why.

Early childhood teacher, Karen Reid from Chiselhurst Community Preschool and Kindergarten in Toowoomba has kindly shared her ideas for addressing Standard 3.3:

  • Model ‘green housekeeping’ practices in the service, such as minimising waste, and reducing water and energy consumption. Replace appliances with more energy efficient ones, purchase recycled products where possible and build a compost bin. Engage children in the process so they learn why these changes are occurring.
  • Find ways to save money and energy by de-lamping lights where natural light is sufficient. Children can be responsible for turning off lights and fans when going outside.
  • Encourage parents to pack low waste lunches, using washable sandwich bags or plastic containers. After every meal, children can sort rubbish into general waste, recyclables and scrap bins.
  • Talk about rain and tap water and place stickers or timers at taps to encourage reduced water usage. Collect water in buckets when it rains.
  • Allow children to choose what seasonal fruit, vegetables or herbs they’d like to grow and seek ideas from families for the design of the outdoor environment. Water plants during the cool parts of the day to maximise absorption.
  • Observe and monitor biodiversity by keeping a log of all creatures big and small in the grounds. Work with children to research native wildlife.
  • Looking after animals can be fun, consider sponsoring animals at zoos and sanctuaries.
  • Build sustainability into policies and procedures, and use this to communicate with and educate the wider community.

Create critical thinkers

Turning off the lights at the end of the day is one thing, but do children understand why they’re being asked to do so? During the assessment and rating visit, authorised officers will want to know how children are being supported to develop an understanding and respect for the environment.

Build strategies in to your program that will encourage critical thinking. Prompting children to question where uneaten food scraps go may be one way to do this. Discussing the concept of drought by examining photographs and drawing signs about water conservation can provoke curiosity and creativity in older children.

Early childhood is a critical time for environmental education. Children are more likely to adopt good behaviours if they understand why and how to be sustainable.

Lessons that can last a lifetime

Children can learn a range of valuable experiences through adopting environmentally responsible practices. Respectful attitudes learnt in these early years can last a lifetime.

There are many useful resources available to support early childhood educators to embed sustainable practices, including the Early Childhood Australia website (www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au).

For additional information on Standard 3.3 of the NQS, refer to the Guide to the National Quality Standard available from the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority website (www.acecqa.gov.au).

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. 

Family day care assessment visit

Nicole Vinken is the Acting Family Day Care Co-ordinator with the City of Greater Geelong. She has 20 years of experience in the early childhood sector in long day care and has been working in family day care since January 2012.

Nicole has worked with the City of Greater Geelong for more than 17 years as a qualified educator and as a centre director for 13 years before her more recent role in family day care. Nicole is recently married, in November, and has two teenage step-children.

The City of Greater Geelong Family Day Care Scheme currently has 50 educators and has been operating since the 1970s. It went through the rating and assessment process in July 2012 and in this blog Nicole shares the scheme’s experience of the process.

Initial contact
When we received our letter from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) in April 2012 notifying us of the commencement of the assessment and rating process and requesting our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) by 28 May, I must admit I nearly fell off my chair.

“How can we be first??!!!”

Once the initial shock wore off I was able to review the documentation provided to us. This included information about the rating process from ACECQA, what will happen on the days of the visits, the role of the authorised officers, a breakdown of the rating levels and details of the assessment and rating report.
I think I sat on this information for about four hours before sharing it with my team!

Once we provided our QIP and centre philosophy to DEECD in May, we received a letter to confirm receipt and were notified of the assessment and rating visit dates in July – six weeks after DEECD received our QIP and 12 weeks after the original letter requesting the QIP.

This letter outlined the breakdown of the days, e.g. when the authorised officers would meet with the Co-ordination unit, the number of eductors they would visit (five) and the days they would be visited, and a list of resources to support the service through the rating and assessment process. Again, they provided plenty of supporting documents to prepare for the visits.

DEECD made phone calls to the Co-ordination unit to support us through the process and to check if we needed any guidance.

Assessment and rating visit days
For our Family Day Care Scheme, we had a three-day visit, with five of our educators chosen to be assessed.

Day 1 and 2
AM – Co-ordination unit visit – About 2-2.5 hrs – we had an in-depth visit with the DEECD to discuss the roles of the co-ordinator, support officers and the administration team. We were questioned about the support/home visits, processes and procedures, service management, relationships with educators and parents, philosophy, governance, supporting vulnerable families/child protection processes etc. The authorised officers also spoke to the educational leader about her role and how she supports the educators.

I was then given a list of documents that DEECD would like to see on the third day when they returned to the office– enrolment forms, educator rosters, policies and procedures, excursions, professional development, evidence of recording police checks and working with children checks, newsletters etc.

We were then notified of the five Educators that had been chosen to undertake site visits. One educator was on leave so another educator was chosen. We had the opportunity to call the educators at that time and inform them how lucky they were to be chosen and when the visits would be occurring. Luckily, everyone seemed to handle the news well.

PM – Two educators were visited in the afternoon of the first day and three on the second day. As we were one of the first services to undergo the rating and assessment process, there were two authorised officers conducting site visits, and it was requested that a representative from the Co-ordination unit was also present to support educators. Although this made things quite busy in the homes, we were able to respectfully situate ourselves to ensure minimal interruptions to the children and the program.

Day 3
AM: DEECD spent about 3.5 hrs at the Co-ordination unit looking at documentation and then had a closing meeting with myself to discuss the three days and if there was anything else I would like to contribute. No feedback was provided by DEECD at this meeting on what our rating might be, which we understand is best practice, but it was still frustrating as we really wanted to know how we went.

Overall, the authorised officers were very professional and supportive from the initial contact made, throughout the three days undertaking the rating visit and the after support to clarify and discuss any details.

Educators all reported feeling comfortable and happy with the process. At no time were the authorised officers judgemental or invasive in their practices or questions. Questions were clear and concise and relevant to form an assessment.

Rating
We received a draft copy of our assessment and rating via email in early August, about three weeks after our visit. A meeting was co-ordinated with one of the authorised officers to discuss the report about three days later. At this meeting I was able to query any of the comments and ratings presented. We then had about three weeks to submit a response to any ratings to the regional DEECD office.

We completed a response email on behalf of the Co-ordination unit, and these items were taken into account, which we felt was a positive outcome. It showed how DEECD respected our feedback.

A final report was then submitted, and the rating confirmed. About two weeks later (early September) we received our rating certificate.

Support to Educators
Throughout the rating and assessment process, we maintained regular contact and support with educators. We did this in the following way:

  • Continued contact with our educators to keep them updated throughout the whole process.
  • Support home visits as key opportunities to support educators to ensure they had the required documents etc.
  • Mentor groups to support with any questions and assistance with program planning and the assessment process.
  • Regular email, newsletter and SMS contact.
  • Professional development.

Where to from here?

  • QIP working group formed between the Co-ordination unit and volunteer educators. We have formulated an Educator QIP. Educators will personally identify areas they would like to work on in their program, based on the National Quality Standards. This process is supported by the support officers, reviewed throughout the year, and updated every 12 months.
  • Professional development and Mentor groups – a strong focus on program planning, sustainable practices (and how this is embedded into the program) and child development.
  • Policy developments – continue with regular reviews and seeking feedback from educators and families.
  • Review service QIP every three months with the Family Day Care team and provide to educators for feedback.

Overall, we found the new rating and assessment process to be a positive one. We are committed to supporting our educators in providing a high quality education and care program and this process helped us identify where our strengths are and areas where we can build on. We don’t look at these areas as ‘weaknesses’, but opportunities to grow and improve.

 

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.