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

Lead assessors

In this blog post, we hear from lead assessors Allison Young of Department of Education, Tasmania and Marilyn Visnjic from the Education and Early Childhood Services Registration and Standards Board, South Australia.
Allison and Marilyn recently attended an ACECQA training and workshop for lead assessors. We asked them to share their experience.

What is the role of a lead assessor?
Allison: The lead assessors train authorised officers but most people working as lead assessors also give day to day support to authorised officers with knowledge, current practice and research.

Marilyn: It was interesting to hear how this role is administered in the different jurisdictions, depending on each organisation’s structure. Some have a stand alone role, while others incorporate it as part of a bigger role. Even with the differences however, the role and focus of the lead assessors is very similar across jurisdictions. It includes:

  • supporting, guiding and mentoring authorised officers, both new and existing
  • responsibility for training of authorised officers as well as identifying training needs and training opportunities for all authorised officers
  • monitoring consistency, validity and reliability both at a state and national level
  • identifying potential drifting of reliability and/or consistency
  • moderating reports
  • conducting assessment and rating visits as well as accompanying other authorised officers on visits (co-visits).

What were the highlights of the recent workshop you attended at ACECQA?
Marilyn:  With all jurisdictions represented, it meant that we all had the opportunity to hear each other’s experiences and stories 12 months down the track. This allowed a cross section of experiences and practices to be shared and provided opportunity to identify and highlight what worked well and what needed more thought and discussion. It also allowed us to identify and highlight practices that may assist and support us in our own jurisdictions.

Allison: We looked at the content of the training, discussed what kind of information could be available nationally for authorised officers. We created material for fact sheets that ACECQA and jurisdictions will develop together.

What were the benefits from attending a national workshop?

Allison: It was great to share the successes, stories and surprises of the NQF over the last 12 months, and it was great to hear that everybody was experiencing similar things.

Marilyn: Very valuable. It was great to be exposed to the different backgrounds, roles and experiences we all brought with us and to be able to support each other as a community of learners. I came back enthused and looking forward to sharing information with authorised officers.
Professionally, I am excited about the ideas put forward for ongoing work and building the lead assessor community.

 

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.