Questions from ACECQA/NSW DEC Forums

ACECQA and NSW DEC regional forums

ACECQA and the NSW Department of Education and Communities have been hosting a series of regional forums in NSW. The forums provide an opportunity to discuss the National Quality Framework. ACECQA is sharing some questions from these forums that may be of interest to others.

Q: When do you expect all services to be assessed under the new National Quality Framework?

A: Regulatory Authorities plan for all services to have had at least one quality assessment and rating visit completed by mid-2015.

With around eight weeks between the visit occurring and services receiving their report and rating, it is expected the quality rating of all services will be determined within months of this date.

New services will be assessed as they enter the system.

Q: What happens if a service is assessed as being below the standard?

A: This will depend on the degree to which the service is assessed as below the National Quality Standard (NQS), and the approach of the provider. The two levels below ‘Meeting the National Quality Standard’ are ‘Working Towards the National Quality Standard’ and ‘Significant Improvement Required’.

Working Towards the National Quality Standard

‘Working Towards National Quality Standard’ will be the overall rating if one or more of the seven Quality Areas is rated ‘Working Towards’. This means some services will receive an overall ‘Working Towards’ rating for receiving ‘Working Towards’ in every Quality Area, while others may only have ‘Working Towards’ in one Quality Area.

In either scenario, the service can use the information in its detailed ratings report to update its Quality Improvement Plan and focus on areas to improve over time.

Significant Improvement Required

If a service is assessed at the lowest rating level – ‘Significant Improvement Required’ – the Regulatory Authority has found that it fails to meet a Quality Area or a regulation in a way that constitutes an ‘unacceptable risk to the safety, health and wellbeing of children’.

In this case the authority will most likely take some formal enforcement action to require the provider to urgently rectify the problem.

The type of enforcement action will vary and might range from a written direction to comply or the suspension of approval to operate.

 

In general, the higher the quality rating, the less often a service will be reassessed.  If a service is assessed as ‘Working Towards National Quality Standard’, then another assessment is likely to occur within a year. A service rated ‘Exceeding the National Quality Standard’ might not be assessed for another three years. Read more.

Q: What kind of complaints from parents does a service need to report?

A: A parent complaint needs to be reported if:

  • a complaint alleges the safety, health or wellbeing of a child was or is being compromised or
  • a complaint alleges the Law has been breached

For example, a complaint about pasta being on the menu every week would not need to be reported to the regulatory authority. A complaint about a child not being offered an alternative meal when they have a food intolerance should be reported.

If you need to report a parent complaint to your regulatory authority, use form NL01 Notification of complaints and incidents (other than serious incidents).

This form is also to be used for:

  • incident that requires/required the Approved Provider to close, or reduce the number of children attending the service for a period
  • a circumstance that poses a significant risk to the health, safety or wellbeing of a child attending the service.

If you have a question for ACECQA you can post it here on the blog, email enquiries@acecqa.gov.au or call 1300 4 ACECQA (1300 422 327)

Tackling the NQS – how our management team met the challenge

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

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

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

Tackling the NQS – how our management team met the challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking parents along for the NQF journey

This month we are featuring a guest post by Emma King, CEO of Kindergarten Parents Victoria (KPV). In this post, Emma discusses the unique circumstances KPV faced to support both early childhood professionals and parent volunteers to implement the NQF.

The article examines how this peak organisation is working with more than 200,000 children and their families, to keep them informed of changes under the NQF.

The implementation of the National Quality Framework at the start of this year was a great cause for celebration in the early childhood education and care community.

The new framework, by putting quality at the centre of everything we do, is a long overdue recognition of the role our early childhood educators play in setting children up for lifelong learning. It recognises that quality early childhood education and care is a game-changer – that it can help children overcome disadvantage and consolidate the positives.

At Kindergarten Parents Victoria, we are enthusiastic advocates for the NQF, which we believe sets Australia on a path to delivering the highest quality early childhood education and care services.

Parents are passionate about the quality of their child’s education.  In Victoria, this passion is demonstrated by our unique early childhood management models, where kindergartens are run primarily by volunteer parent committees or Kindergarten Cluster Managers.

Close to 50 per cent all kindergartens in Victoria are run by independent standalone kindergartens and managed by volunteer parent committees. These parents are responsible for the complete operations of their services, from establishing the philosophy and values of the service to appointing staff and directors and making all financial decisions.

Parents volunteer to take on these roles because they understand the value of a quality early childhood education.  The majority also understand that the NQF will help create a better early childhood education system for their children.  However, there is some anxiety about the NQF and what it will mean for the ongoing management of kindergartens.

While many of the parents on kindergarten committees are well educated, enthusiastic and accomplished in many areas of professional and community life, they are rarely professional early childhood educators.

The majority of Kindergarten Cluster Managers are Not for Profit organisations or run by local government and are driven by a strong sense of community and collaboration.  While the engagement of parents may vary, they also play an important role within this early childhood management model.

The National Quality Framework – with a new national law, regulations and National Quality Standards (which in itself contains seven quality areas, 18 standards and 58 elements), a new assessment and ratings system, regulatory authorities for each state and territory and the establishment of ACECQA – can seem overwhelming to someone from outside the sector.

At KPV, our advisory team takes more than 13,000 calls annually from members about kindergarten management and governance issues.  In the past 18 months or so those calls have increasingly been about the NQF, and this has intensified recently with the start of the assessment and ratings process.

At KPV, there has been strong demand from members for our NQF information sessions and workshops. Our PolicyWorks Manual – NQF, which helps services develop policies to meet the requirements of the NQF – has also been extremely popular.

We were also fortunate to receive funding in the recent Victorian state budget to continue to support services to comply with the NQF.

But this support is needed not only by our standalone parent committees, but also by our cluster managers who need help and advice and about how to best engage their parent communities as part of the NQF process.

There are some great sources of information on the NQF. At our recent Early Childhood Education Conference – Together We Grow, esteemed educator Bridie Raban urged the assembled crowd of early childhood professionals to treat the ACECQA website as their ‘Bible’.  However, there is also a need for practical on-the-ground support for services, particularly those managed by a volunteer parent committee of management.

At KPV, we are excited about the many opportunities presented by the NQF and our role in supporting parents and services and enabling them to make the most of the quality reforms.  Because regardless of how a service is managed, it is vital that parents are part of the NQF journey.

Would you like to submit an article for our blog? We’re interested in hearing about your experiences, please email your topic or idea for an article to news@acecqa.gov.au 

The Education and Care Network in the ACT

In the lead-up to implementation of the National Quality Framework this year, many educators created informal networks with people they met during information and training sessions.  Some of these networks have now become more formal organisations, including the new Education and Care Network (ECN) in the Australian Capital Territory.

ACECQA asked ECN member and media liaison, Timothy Toogood, to share the story of how their group evolved into the organisation it is today. 


The Education and Care Network (ECN) was set up with the intention of allowing educators from across the whole spectrum of early years education and care to have the opportunity to get together, network, share ideas and develop professionally in a relaxed environment.

The ECN was born out of a series of round table discussions with Joy Burch MLA and the Education and Care industry in Canberra. One of the highlighted points from these discussions was that centres, educators, school services, before and after school care, family day care and everyone in between felt isolated in their service with limited opportunity to network and find out what other groups were up to. The network aims to build a community of educators around which we can then foster skills and share knowledge.

The board was formed from interested people who attended the round table and the follow up Education and Care Meeting. After a couple of discussion groups we decided a board format would be the easiest and most accountable way to run the Network. The board consists of a range of positions from President to panel member. We work as a community and aim to have a representative from all the different areas of the education and care community represented on the board.

With the assistance of the Children’s Policy and Regulations Unit (CPRU) we were able to form a board, create terms of reference, goals and also find a voice for the industry through introductions onto other panels and forums that meet in Canberra to discuss Education and Care. It is through these channels we hope to be able to advocate for the whole industry, with an aim to represent the entire industry. The CPRU worked closely with us during the formation stage of the network assisting us with governance work and communication, without this assistance we would not have been able to get the project off the ground and we are thankful for this help, however it remains an industry led body and it is now our responsibility to make it grow to reflect the needs of the education and care community.

ECN meetings are designed to be discussion based, sometimes with a more formal presentation first, or sometimes a simple discussion group format.

With the introduction of the NQF it is essential that educators have the opportunity to be able to share and express their views within the wider education and care community, it builds confidence and reassures educators who may be struggling in areas as they get to meet people who have had or are having the same struggles too. We hold our meetings in a variety of locations around the city to maximise people being able to attend, we are also mindful of the varying hours that educators work and making sure we are fitting in with them in our meeting times.

We are currently in our infancy having held three public meetings, however attendance has been great and we are growing all the time. Our meetings come in different forms from straight ‘mingling’ sessions to presentations followed by discussions and also centre visits where a director will show the group around their setting and discuss the environments that have worked and the challenges and advantages to how they run.

We recognise the importance of social media in our communication with educators and also in the sharing of professional knowledge on a national and international level, we have a presence on Twitter @E&CN and also on Facebook, so look us up and give us an add or a like to keep up to date with what is going on in the vibrant education and care community here in the ACT.

We would also like to offer our help and knowledge to anyone who would like to set up a similar network in their area, we have learnt a lot of lessons in the last seven months and would love to share them.

 

About the author – Timothy Toogood is the Director of Civic Early Childhood Centre. He has worked in the Education and Care sector for the past 3 years and has a degree in Education and Early Childhood Studies.

 

Highlight – National Quality Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

More reading on this subject is available from ECA here.

What the new ratings mean for you

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Hear You

Welcome to We Hear You, a blog hosted by the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA).

Since starting operation on 1 January  2012, ACECQA has met with many people in children’s education and care services,  government regulatory authorities, community groups and professional associations.

Talking with people about the National Quality Framework (NQF) helps us carry out our role to monitor and support the implementation of NQF.

Listening helps us understand how the sector is adapting to the new framework as we work together to ensure children have the best possible start in life.

With such important changes underway, ACECQA would like to hear from you. So how do we do that?

We want to meet you face to face where possible and we’re doing that in a number of ways:

  • establishing formal meetings with national organisations representing the children’s education and care services sector
  • regularly attending your state and territory stakeholder reference groups
  • visiting services whenever we can
  • making it easier for you to invite us to your large events with a speaker request form on our website.

We also understand that some people are not members of larger organisations, or that you don’t get a chance to come to meetings, or that the best time for you to be heard is after 5pm.

So how can we listen and talk with everyone? We Hear You.

We Hear You is not only our blog, it’s our Facebook page, our Twitter account, our enquiries email and our national call centre.

The online format of We Hear You gives us a way we can talk about the NQF no matter where you are or what time it is.

The blog is running for a trial period, we’d like to know your thoughts and ideas on how you are finding this as a way of communicating.

You can post to our Feedback page, or email news@ACECQA.gov.au