ACECQA helps unlock the door on documentation

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Our National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, looks at documenting learning, provides some pointers for educators and helps bust some of the surrounding myths.

The issue of planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning and the best ways of recording this cycle has been the subject of much debate and discussion during the more than two decades that I have been involved in children’s education and care.

We know from research and experience that documented plans, records of children’s assessments and evaluations can be effective strategies to promote and extend children’s thinking, learning and development.

One of the strengths of the approved learning frameworks[1], the National Quality Standard and related regulatory standards, is that while acknowledging the important role of documentation, they are not prescriptive about how it is done.

There are no mandated recipes or templates for documentation and for very good reason. Recognising the uniqueness of each service, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and educators are empowered to explore a range of styles and methods to determine what works best for their children, families, services and community.

This approach recognises the professionalism of the sector and allows educators to focus their energies on documentation that supports quality outcomes for children.

I recently visited a colleague delivering a kindergarten program in regional Victoria, and saw first-hand the professionalism, dedication and commitment to the children and their families. We spoke for many hours about the kindergarten program, the policies, the environment and the nature garden, the support for children and families provided by her team of dedicated and caring educators and committee members, among many other things.

We also discussed the challenges of balancing the need to document with our key focus of interacting and engaging with children and extending their learning. We agreed on a number of things relating to documentation that included:

  • Documentation is an important part of our work with children and families, not just because it is a requirement
  • Children’s voices and ideas should be captured in planning, documentation and evaluation
  • Even experienced educators need to try different methods to find what is realistic, achievable and relevant for the children, families, educators, the setting and establish some benchmarks that are regularly reviewed
  • We need to be selective in what we choose to document, because it is not possible to capture all of the rich experiences and learnings that occur every day
  • We need to share our documentation efforts and experiences, and continue to learn, grow and develop
  • We need to constantly review and remind ourselves why we are documenting and for whom
  • We need to be clear about what the standards, learning frameworks and, if relevant, the funding agreements are asking us to do, as there are a number of myths emerging.

We also agreed that being open, honest and critically reflective in our self-assessment process and work helps to identify strengths in this area as well as identifying areas that need focus. This helps in identifying and informing families, other educators and professionals and authorised officers, how your documentation meets requirements and promotes each child’s learning and development.

My colleague’s service has just been assessed and rated and I was not surprised to learn they had received an overall rating of Exceeding National Quality Standard. The team are highly reflective educators and the authorised officer would have no doubt observed this in the assessment process.

So let’s revisit why we need to document, look at how services are going with this quality area, unpack some of the myths, explore the place of templates and programs, think about what the authorised officers might be looking for in an assessment visit and consider what resources are available to assist.

Why do we need to document?

Gathering and analysing information about what children know, can do and understand is part of the ongoing cycle that includes planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning. It helps educators (in partnership with children, families and other professionals) to:

  • Plan effectively for children’s current and future learning
  • Communicate about children’s learning and progress
  • Determine the extent to which all children are progressing in their learning outcomes and if not, what might be impeding their progress
  • Identify children who may need additional support in order to achieve particular learning outcomes, providing that support or assisting families to access specialist help
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of learning opportunities, environments, and experiences offered, and the approaches taken to enable children’s learning
  • Reflect on pedagogy that will suit this context and these children.[2]

How are services performing against Quality Area 1 – Educational Program and practice?

The sector is to be congratulated for embracing the National Quality Framework (NQF) and the dedication and commitment shown to promoting positive outcomes for children and families.

While recent NQF Snapshot data shows most assessed and rated services are either Meeting or Exceeding the NQS in Quality Area 1 about 30 per cent are Working Towards NQS in this quality area.

This is recognised as the area where services require most support and ACECQA’s recent regulatory burden research has shown that documenting learning, although extremely valuable, is seen as one of the more time consuming aspects of the NQF.

Unpacking the myths

There are a number of myths circulating about the expectations for documentation, and the best way to do this is to number plans and records or to colour code them. For example, it is a myth that you need to write a report on every child, every day.

Another is that links must be drawn to the quality areas in plans and documentation, and the best way to do this is to number plans and research or to colour code them.

There are a number of websites (including ACECQA and Early Childhood Australia) and newsletter articles (for example Rattler editions 108 and 109) that de-bunk or bust these myths that you may want to review.

Do I need a template or a program to follow?

There are no mandated templates or programs for documenting children’s learning or educational experiences.

While templates and programs may be a helpful way to organise information, there is a risk that they can be limiting and as Wendy Shepherd, Director of Mia Mia Child and Family Centre at Macquarie University suggests in a recent article in the Autumn 2014 edition of Rattler magazine, there are no shortcuts and the complex process of documentation should not be reduced to a simple ‘fill-in-box’.

The reality is that mandating a certain way of documenting, for example the number of observations you must take of each child, would limit your ability to be creative in documenting the richness in the program and children’s learning.

There are many ways to document children’s learning and the cycle of observing, planning, reflecting and evaluating. Some examples I have seen include reflective journals, photographs, videos, children’s work, observations, portfolios, narratives and learning stories to name a few.

The key thing to remember is that it is not the amount of documentation you have, or how immaculately or colourfully the information is presented, it is how the documentation is used to do all those things mentioned previously, such as planning effectively for children’s current and future learning and communicating about the children’s learning and progress.

What is the authorised officer looking for when they are assessing and rating?

The authorised officer will observe, discuss and sight supporting documentation to identify examples and evidence that your service is meeting the requirements. So it is important to be prepared by thinking about how you would talk about your documentation and what you particularly would like to show and discuss to demonstrate how you are meeting the requirements.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard provides examples, however, it is important to remember that the examples provided are not a checklist, but rather ‘paint a picture’ of what is expected at the Meeting National Quality Standard level.

Are there resources and examples of documentation available?

Many educators have generously shared their thoughts and ideas about documentation. For example, the Early Childhood Australia Professional Learning Program includes a number of newsletters that explore documentation and provide examples.

Another example can be found in the previously mentioned edition of Rattler where teachers from Mia Mia share examples of their documentation.

In addition, the Inclusion and Professional Support Program (IPSP) online library also includes resources, and the Professional Support Co-ordinator in each state and territory provide professional development and support in this area. Your peak organisation is also likely to have resources and professional development available to assist you.

As well as the learning frameworks the Early Years Learning Framework in Action and relevant Educator’s Guides are useful resources.

Enjoy your documentation journey and don’t forget to look back on your documentation to identify and celebrate the achievement and successes of your children, your families and your team. 

For more information on documentation please visit:

This article was originally published in the Early Learning Association Australia’s Preschool Matters magazine.

[1]The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care and in Victoria, the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework

[2] Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care (p.17)

The changing face of family day care

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This week is National Family Day Care Week. To recognise the work family day care educators and providers do for children across Australia, Family Day Care Australia has prepared this blog on their experience of the different ways family day care meets the needs of families, including a service that is helping children with autism.

Family day care has always prided itself on offering unique learning environments and experiences, but the sector has come a long way since the initial pilot program was launched in Australia 43 years ago.

Then, the much smaller sector was unregulated, and thought of as a cheaper and less formal form of child care run by ‘day care mums’ or ‘backyard babysitters’.

Now, family day care has cemented itself as a high-quality form of early childhood education and care provided by qualified, professional educators.

With more than 142,400 children enrolled across Australia, family day care now accounts for 13 per cent* of the entire early childhood sector.

Numbers have jumped 15 per cent in 12 months, making family day care the fastest growing form of child care in the country.

It is the very nature of family day care – being run by individual educators in their homes to the meet the needs of individual children – that contributes to this increasing popularity.

Family Day Care Australia’s Sector Support team has noticed a growing number of new, innovative services popping up – particularly specialising in the areas of multiculturalism and sustainability.

Whether it is through Indigenous programs, remote locations or a holistic, back to nature approach, family day care services are offering a unique form of early childhood education and care.

It is this personal touch that allows family day care services to meet the extremely diverse needs of modern Australian families.

One ground-breaking example of a family day care service that is targeted to a specific need in the community opened last month in Harrington Park, Sydney.

Registered with Camden Family Day Care, educator Dennys Martinez has developed a unique family day care service that is very close to his heart.

Autism Family First Family Day Care is Australia’s first ever family day care service run specifically for children with autism.

The idea was born out of the Martinez family’s own personal experience with autism as Dennys and his wife Maria’s two children, Maya, 7, and Eric, 5, were both diagnosed with the disorder.

As a result, the family travelled to the United States to learn about different therapies to help with their children’s development and discovered the home-based, child-centred “Son-Rise” program, developed by parents for parents with a focus on sensory integration and relationship-based play.

Dennys returned to Australia with a desire to empower other parents with skills and knowledge to support their children who have autism in the long term.

“I ran some workshops but had lot of parents saying to me ‘I don’t know where to take my kids’ as there were only three autism specific early learning and care centres in NSW,” he said.

Dennys said he discovered a real need for autism specific care and found family day care to be the ideal environment.

“The numbers are small, it is in a familiar, home-based setting and the ages go up to 12. But the fact that it is about assisting children in their own way is what is most important because no one child is the same,” he said.

“All children need to find a place where they are understood and can be nurtured and not be left behind so I created this care to allow children on the spectrum to grow and gain the skills they need in life.”

There are structured activities such as martial arts, yoga, music and art, with help from volunteer therapists.

Children and their families have a transition period to adjust to regularly attending family day care and Dennys has even developed a children’s book called ‘Jack & Skye Go to Family Day Care’ to help children with autism understand the process and reduce their anxiety.

The service also offers a lot of support for families. The website has a forum for parents to login and share ideas, tips, events and different therapies or research.

“The parents are all very grateful because I understand what they are going through and they can leave their child with me knowing it is a place they will be assisted and well cared for,” Dennys said.

Dennys hopes other educators will be inspired to develop family day care services that are targeted to meet specific needs within the community.

“This model can be replicated and I would love for other areas and states to embrace a similar model – not necessarily for autism, but it could be for any other special needs.”

Find out more about National Family Day Care Week.

(*Source: The Department of Education (formerly known as DEEWR) Child Care and Early Learning Summary March 2013).

 

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.

Montessori and our NQF journey

This week on We Hear You, Christine Harrison, founding President of the Montessori Australia Foundation, tells us about their NQF journey and how they have implemented changes on a national scale.

What began as fairly widespread anxiety around implementation of the NQF and the EYLF eventually provided the Montessori Australia Foundation with a unique opportunity. We have been able to connect with our diverse Montessori community, build a relationship with regulatory authorities and ACECQA and begin a process of understanding and accepting the changes.

So, does Montessori fit well with the Early Years Learning Framework as we were being told? Actually, yes it does – we just need to adjust our lenses slightly, understand the intent of the changes for the benefit of all children in early childhood settings and work with regulatory authorities so that they understand a bit more about the world’s best kept secret (Montessori education).

In 2012 we ran a series of workshops in each capital city to assist Montessori services to comply with the NQS and especially the EYLF. We made these workshops informative, entertaining and empowering. They also enabled us to get to know some services that we had not previously had any contact with. Earlier this year we followed up with similar workshops, again well attended. We focused on the NQS one year on. In each State we invited a regulator representative to present and received nothing but co-operation from everyone involved – some even participating in our assessor visit role plays as either an educator or regulator!  The level of professionalism shown and willingness to share information and understand more about Montessori principles and practices was consistently high across jurisdictions.

Together with the timely statistics from the ACECQA Forum we were able to present up to date information about the NQS and measure these with our own data and feedback. We were particularly pleased to note the work of the Quality and Consistency Committee as participants had some concerns regarding the quality and consistency of the work of assessors in our services. However, participants were generally feeling much more confident after the workshops and regulator Q & A sessions, particularly knowing that there is ongoing professional development and training for assessors.

Our journey continues as services receive their rating and some of the challenges continue but we remain confident that we share these challenges with regulators on a journey to put outcomes for young children first.

“The unknown energy that can help humanity is that which lies hidden in the child” Dr Maria Montessori.

ChritsineHarrisonChristine Harrison has been involved in early childhood education since 1985 and was Principal of the Canberra Montessori School, one of the largest Montessori schools in Australia, for over twenty years. She is the founding President of the Montessori Australia Foundation. She was Chair of the Association of Independent Schools in the ACT and on the Board of the Independent Schools Council of Australia. Christine is involved in government liaison, policy development, compliance, early childhood and school age curriculum development and liaison with ACECQA on behalf of Montessori ECEC centres. She has a background in mediation, conflict resolution, adult education and a particular interest in governance in community organisations.

Qualifications and the NQF

ACECQA’s Board Chair Rachel Hunter recently presented at the TAFE Children’s Services Teachers Conference in Queensland. Ms Hunter spoke about ACECQA’s role and the higher qualification requirements being introduced from 1 January 2014. A summary of her presentation is available to read on the ACECQA blog ‘We Hear You’.

Further information about qualification requirements is available in the Qualifications section of the ACECQA website. If you have questions about the requirements, please contact our enquiries team.

As you know, ACECQA is a relatively new organisation.

We officially began work at the same time as the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care came into effect – the beginning of 2012.

Our overarching responsibility is to oversee the consistent implementation of the NQF, which sounds simple enough, but as I’m sure you would all be well aware, represents an incredibly rich and varied range of functions and accountabilities.

Our main roles include:

  • coordinating the training of authorised officers – these are the people conducting the quality assessment and rating visits in services
  • providing an avenue for review of these ratings – services apply to their regulatory authority in the first instance if they want to query their rating but if they’re still unsatisfied they can apply to ACECQA for a second tier review
  • determining and awarding the Excellent rating for services that meet the criteria for this rating
  • conducting research that will help us to educate and inform the sector and broader community on the importance of providing quality education and care and what that looks like
  • determining approved qualifications for the sector.

There are two sides to this last point – assessing an individual’s qualifications and also evaluating courses offered by RTOs and higher education institutions to ensure they meet the standards set by the NQF.

To give you a little background, the NQF was agreed to by all Australian governments with the aim of providing better educational and developmental outcomes for children in education and care services.

It recognises that so much of a child’s brain development occurs before they reach school, particularly in the first three years.

There is also ample research, domestically and internationally, that suggests the experiences of children during this pivotal period affect their innate lifelong learning potential.

And it is even more than just learning potential – there is also strong evidence suggesting that positive early experiences lead to better health and social outcomes for children as they move into adulthood, as well as long-term economic gains.

The NQF reforms provide a legislative framework to ensure no child across Australia is subjected to poor-quality early childhood education and care.

How do we expect to achieve this?

We know there are two main influences affecting quality in the provision of education and care, and they are educator qualifications and lower staff to child ratios.

The NQF aims to increase the level of qualifications held by lower skilled workers and the number of highly skilled workers – increasing the skill profile of the sector as a whole.

From 1 January 2014, 50% of all educators needed to meet ratio requirements must be working towards, or hold a diploma level education and care qualification or higher, and the other half need to hold or be actively working towards at least an approved Certificate III-level qualification.

In 2016 the NQF introduces another significant plank of the quality reform – improved educator-to-child ratios for centre-based based services.

These two central tenets of the NQF reform have enormous implications for TAFE and other RTOs.

The increase in demand for quality training is two-fold:

  • the sector needs to increase the training levels of educators to meet the new qualification requirements and
  • it needs to increase the number of qualified educators overall to meet the new ratios.

The last reliable count on the size of the early childhood workforce was the 2010 census data collected by the Australian Government, which recorded slightly more than 139,000 workers.

Our sector is currently growing by more than 3% a year and caters for more than 1 million children – that’s excluding preschool/kindergarten children which has also seen huge increases in numbers due to other early childhood reforms.

Even without the NQF the demand for staff was growing.

When you factor in that this census data indicated 25% of all staff across family day care and centre-based services, excluding OSHC, did not hold relevant qualifications, there is clearly a lot of training to be done.

And while some of this demand for VET qualifications may have been met since the 2010 census, it is not going to diminish either.

So what is ACECQA’s role in the qualification space?

As I mentioned earlier, ACECQA has been granted the power to set qualification standards for educators in each state and territory across Australia.

There are three levels of educators ACECQA sets qualification levels for under the NQF – Certificate III and diploma-level educators, and early childhood teachers.

While there is much talk of new requirements for early childhood teachers in some states, there is one constant feature of the improved qualification mix for educators – VET qualifications.

VET qualified staff formed the backbone of the education and care sector prior to the NQF and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

As many of you would be aware, the children’s services training package has undergone a much-needed revision and was released earlier this month for RTOs to start the process of adding it in-scope.

Given our role, ACECQA, along with many other stakeholders, provided considerable input into the development of the new qualifications.

It is not just the name of the new certificate III and diploma qualifications that better reflect the recent reform changes, but they now also include:

  • a greater focus on infants and toddlers
  • a greater focus on the operation of the early years learning framework
  • mandatory practicum or workplace experience.

These are important additions that also reflect the NQF requirements.

I’ve already mentioned that well-trained staff and ratios that allow staff to interact appropriately with children are two important factors that have a significant impact on the development of children and improved outcomes.

The other key influences include:

  • adult-child interaction that is responsive, affectionate and readily available
  • facilities that are safe and accessible to parents
  • supervision that maintains consistency
  • a developmentally appropriate curriculum with educational content.

Almost all of these factors go to training and ratios as well, so it’s difficult to overstate the importance of the role that TAFE and other training providers have to play in the success of the reforms.

It represents a significant amount of work. But I think it’s important to consider there will be benefits for the sector above the improved outcomes for children.

Traditionally, the education and care workforce could be characterised as consisting of two groups of employees – highly skilled and tertiary trained specialists and workers with lower level or no qualifications.

An improved qualification mix for the entire sector will increase the long overdue professional recognition of people working in education and care.

And that will be to everyone’s advantage.

How can our sector attract students and upgrade the skills of existing staff?

ACECQA has a key role in supporting regulatory authorities in educating and informing the sector of the requirements that it needs to meet.

However, it is the Australian and state and territory governments that are responsible for assisting the sector to meet these workforce changes.

The timeframes of the NQF reforms are ambitious, and the first key milestone of improved qualifications requirements is almost upon us.

All Australian governments have introduced numerous strategies to help meet qualification requirements, which vary depending on the unique challenges in each state and territory.

All of these initiatives are captured under the umbrella of the national Early Years Workforce Strategy.

At a national level, the major initiatives related to the VET sector include:

  • the National Partnership on the removal of TAFE tuition fees for diploma and advanced diploma courses, which does not expire until the end of 2014
  • grants for educators to access recognition of prior learning if located in regional and remote locations.

As well as providing incentive to attract more people to the sector we also need to make sure we don’t lose people from the sector.

Low pay is always mentioned as a factor when it comes to attracting enrolments in children’s services courses.

Unfortunately it’s not an area any of us here today has control over.

Although I do think improved qualifications and its effect on professional recognition may be an important first step.

What all of you here today can influence, however, is working to ensure that students who do enrol, complete their course.

According to a study by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), while there is little public data, an unpublished paper on childcare courses in Victoria put completion rates for children’s services courses at 33% for Certificate III courses and 27% for diploma courses.[1]

The NCVER study found a number of reasons why students don’t finish their training, including:

  • meeting the course entry criteria but not actually being suited to the course
  • the work placement component, in that students found it more challenging than expected
  • literacy and numeracy difficulties, and
  • living in a remote location.

Not surprisingly, it recommended RTOs develop mechanisms to ensure appropriate students are selected into courses in the first place.

Not rocket science you’re thinking but how do you do this?

While certainly not fool proof, it suggested:

  • providing really detailed pre-course information and briefing sessions to give students as much information about the course and what it entails as possible before they enrol
  • making sure students have the literacy and numeracy skills to undertake the course or providing bridging options where necessary
  • developing a selection process to ensure students are suited to working in children’s services
  • committing as an organisation to ongoing academic and personal support for every student.

In particular it mentions how important some degree of face to face contact is – an interesting challenge as courses increasingly go on-line; and, crucially:

  • early exposure to the on-the-job component of the course.

Granted, these efforts won’t increase the number of people entering the sector, but they could be an important component in maximising graduate numbers and helping to ensure that people who are more likely to finish the training don’t miss out on places that have been given to students unsuited and ultimately unlikely to graduate or remain in the sector.

In terms of retraining people already working in the sector we have to make sure we offer flexible pathways.

The cost and time needed to access training is obviously one of the biggest impediments for people already working in the sector.

Finding creative ways to address the needs of mature students is essential and there is already a lot of work being done by institutions around this.

Online courses and the Recognition of Prior Learning process all have a role to play, as do strategies that help mature students feel confident about returning to study after a long break, such as support with technology skills and literacy levels.

Establishing pathways where VET qualified educators are able to advance their career by undertaking higher education is another important string to the retraining bow.

Career development opportunities not only increase the qualifications of staff but also improve staff retention – an important aim as these educators have already shown a commitment and suitability for working in the sector.

These are just some of the main challenges we are facing around workforce capacity. There are more and no doubt our sector will continue to grapple with these for some time.

We are all eagerly awaiting the Australian Government’s 2013 Early Childhood Education and Care Workforce Review and its recommendations, due to be published later this year.

A requirement under the National Partnership that established the NQF back in 2009, its purpose is to measure the preparedness of the sector to meet qualification changes from 1 January 2014.

It will have more up-to-date census information and include data from focus groups, capturing progress in this area since 2010 that will inform future strategies.

There is one other area that I think is important to consider in this discussion and that is the issue of quality of delivery.

The introduction of qualification requirements will only improve outcomes for children if training is high quality.

Given our role as approvers of educator qualifications, ACECQA does hear about issues relating to the consistency and quality of outcomes from RTOs.

Quality goes not only to course content but also to delivery.

While some degree of variation is expected between RTOs in the delivery of the same qualification, with each RTO developing its own curriculum and course content, what ACECQA is hearing is that at times the variation in standards is significant.

Typically concerns are around the length of the course – too short – and the amount of practical experience provided.

Increasing demand for qualifications will encourage new training providers into the sector and we need to ensure they are providing quality training.

The outcomes for children depend on the quality of our educators, and it is imperative RTOs strike a balance that allows flexibility and innovation in delivery that is not at the expense of their integrity.

TAFE has an excellent reputation and nobody wants to see VET qualifications undervalued due to the actions of some RTOs.

And in an environment where RTOs are increasingly competing for public funding, it’s also really important that public expenditure is providing the community with value for money and delivering a suitably skilled education and care workforce.

To that end, ACECQA would like to facilitate communication between early childhood providers and educators around their experiences with RTOs and to ensure they know to refer any concerns to the appropriate authority for investigation, such as the Australian Skills Quality Authority.

There is work to be done around this and ACECQA would be happy to hear any ideas on how best this might be achieved.

Part of my role with ACECQA, certainly in our first two years, is meeting with people around the country, talking about the NQF and hearing about their experiences.

The thing that I am constantly struck by is the enormous amount of support for the reforms to children’s education and care.

There is widespread recognition of the value and need to make sure children are given the best start possible.

While there may be questions around how a particular aspect of the framework is going to be achieved, it is within the context of available resources and timeframes. Not about whether the outcome is worthwhile.

As the providers of training to the sector, your role in contributing to the success of the NQF is substantial.

TAFE has a long and proud history of providing quality training that meets both sector and student needs.

ACECQA sees the provision of a suitably skilled workforce as integral to improving outcomes for children and has been working continuously to resolve issues around qualifications for the past 18 months, and will continue to do so.

We are always interested to hear of your experience and I really appreciate being asked to speak at your conference today.

Thank you.

——-

Rachel Hunter

Rachel Hunter is the chair of the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority 12 member Board. Rachel has an acute interest in the role education and the arts play in individual, community and economic development.

Rachel was Chair of TAFE Queensland, and as such was the lead executive and spokesperson for the TAFE system.

Rachel is currently the chair of Legal Aid Queensland, Deputy Chair of the Queensland Performing Arts Trust Board, a member of the Griffith University Council, and a member of the UQ College Board. Rachel was formerly the chair of QCOMP until 30 June 2012.

Rachel retired from the position of Director-General of the Department of Justice (including private and public sector industrial relations and workplace health and safety) in July 2010.

Rachel’s previous roles as CEO included Director-General of the Department of Education, Training and the Arts, and Director-General of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General. She also served as Queensland’s Public Service Commissioner.

More information about the ACECQA Board and its members is available here: http://www.acecqa.gov.au/the-acecqa-board


[1] 2013 NCVER – Engagement of students in Children’s Services qualifications – final report pg 10

Embracing natural spaces and communicating with families

This week on We Hear You, Natalie Cowley from KU Lance Children’s Centre at Millers Point in inner city Sydney tells us about how her service has made plans for continuous quality improvement after its assessment. Natalie has been working at KU Lance for a year and a half and has been teaching in early childhood for almost eight years.

At Lance we have achieved a beautiful, calm and natural environment, using only natural materials and no plastic materials in any of the spaces. Our reasoning behind this is we believe children deserve to have beautiful things to engage with and to develop a respect for the world around them.

When I first started at Lance with Donna, the centre was very different. This was not the focus, as Donna and I had previously worked together at another centre where we incorporated the ELYF and used natural materials. Knowing what kind of positive effect this has on children and their development, we focused our time and energy on changing the focus of Lance.

Within a year, we had changed the environment to be more nature focused, plastic free and over all a beautiful place to be. Interactions with children and the quality of care & education greatly improved and become the focus. Many of the staff did struggle with this change, most being able to learn from it and finding a new philosophy. Our practices improved with these changes, which allowed for strength in particular NQF quality areas (1, 2, 3 and 5).

Our assessment visit was early to mid last year and we received a rating of exceeding standards overall. There were a few areas that we were recommended to further improve in as we received a meeting standard in two areas as opposed to an exceeding. From this we further developed our natural spaces, both indoor and outdoor. Focusing on children and family involvement in the program and room set up, ie asking for suggestions or parents to help bring things in or get involved in classroom experiences such as cooking etc.

An area we needed to spend more time on was parent and community involvement. A lot of the families in the centre are quite busy and work long hours and often do not have time to come and contribute to the program, be involved in centre happenings or have time to read the program, journals and documentation. I thought of ways in which I could improve this and get more parent and community involvement. Donna (our director) suggested that we email families the daily diary. We began doing this a couple of months after the assessment and the response was overwhelming. Families loved receiving the daily diary while at work and would respond via email or mention at pick up how great it was to get an insight into their day while they were at work. From this great response, I came up with the idea to start a centre blog. Updating every 2nd day with learning stories, photos and centre happenings. This has also had a great response, with the parents looking at it often and commenting on posts with ideas/suggestions or positive feedback. The quality of our family interactions improved greatly from these changes, being able to communicate through social media has allowed for a lot more family involvement and from families that may not of shown much interest (due to time restraints) previously.

Natalie Cowley
Natalie Cowley

I have been working for KU Lance for a year and a half now and have been teaching all up for almost 8 years. Our director Donna has been at Lance for over two years and teaching for over 20 years. Since our quality assessment, we feel our service has come far in providing an exceeding standard of care for all the children and families attending our service.

Images of KU Lance Children’s Centre’s natural spaces:

KU Lance outdoor space

KU Lance indoor space KU Children's Centre