Why improving qualifications is so important

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The National Quality Framework (NQF) sets out minimum qualification requirements for educators working in children’s education and care services. One of ACECQA’s key roles is to determine approved qualifications for educators and to assess applications for equivalence from individual educators. Following the recent publication of our online qualifications checker, this post looks at why improving qualifications across the sector is such an important element of the National Quality Framework.

Educator qualifications and educator-to-child ratios are key dimensions of quality in early childhood education and care.

Evidence on drivers of quality in early education and care shows that higher qualified educators have a greater understanding of child development, health and safety issues and lead activities that inspire and engage children, which improves learning and development outcomes.

According to the OECD (2012) Starting Strong III: Early Childhood Education and Care, positive social interactions between a child and educator, and a safe and engaging environment are crucial to learning outcomes. Educators with higher qualifications and standards of training are better able to engage children, and use strategies to extend and support learning, which will provide improved learning environments and sensitive care.

Professor of Early Childhood Education at the Australian Catholic University and Director of Early Learning and Research at Goodstart Early Learning Professor Deborah Harcourt supports additional research that demonstrates a correlation between staff qualifications and children’s pre-reading progress and social development.[1]

“All the evidence tells us that children who attend high quality learning programs, characterised by qualified and engaged educators, achieve better outcomes in terms of their cognitive, social and behavioural learning and development by the time they transition to primary school,” she said.

Implementation of the new early childhood educator qualification requirements, which came into effect through the National Quality Framework (NQF), was a major milestone in quality reform and while challenging for some services, has established a new benchmark for quality.

Children now have access to more highly qualified educators in early childhood education and care services and more children will have access to early childhood teachers.

As a minimum, all educators who count towards ratio requirements in long day care centres and pre-schools must have, or be studying towards, an approved certificate III qualification. In addition, at least fifty per cent of educators in these services must have, or be studying towards an approved early childhood diploma or degree qualification.

ACECQA National Education Leader Rhonda Livingstone said the importance of qualifications and further professional development for educators was recognized during the development of the National Quality Standard.

“Drawing on my experience as an educator and director of early childhood services, I know that not one day in the life of an early childhood service is the same and I recognise it’s necessary to have a strong body of knowledge to inform curriculum decision making and our work with children and families,” she said.

“While having qualifications is not the only contributor to the effective delivery of programs, it provides educators with a strong foundation from which to make curriculum decisions and support children and families.”

Other key factors also influence quality education and care, including the ability of the educator to structure an environment that promotes engagement for children; understanding of curriculum; and knowledge of how children learn and develop.[2] This is an important reminder for providers to consider the knowledge, skills, attributes and commitment to quality improvement as well as qualifications when employing educators.

Early Childhood Australia CEO Samantha Page said while there were some educators resistant to the new qualification requirements, those who have pursued formal recognition of their skills and knowledge, such as through recognition of prior learning, felt more confident now that they held a qualification that acknowledged their experience as educators.

“We can’t rely on luck on whether an educator is skilled or not and you can’t base it on the length of time someone has been teaching. Someone may have 30 years experience but may not be doing a good job, compared to someone with five years experience,” she said.

“Children are going into care earlier and earlier and for longer periods – we can’t afford to do nothing.

“The qualification requirements improve the quality of service delivered to children and provide a professional identity for educators.”

Improving the effectiveness of early childhood education and care will take time and for some services may be challenging. It requires a range of initiatives including increasing the number of qualified educators and continuing professional development opportunities, but in time the sector can achieve better outcomes for children by improving overall quality.


  • Visit the ACECQA website and try the new online qualifications checker to see if you hold a recognised qualification under the NQF.
  • Watch these videos to hear from experienced educators who have gained their first formal qualification in early childhood education.
  • Read more about qualification requirements on ACECQA’s website.

[1] National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care.

[2] Australian Council for Educational Research, Early Childhood Education, Pathways to quality and equity for all children, Australian Education Review, Volume 50, 2006.

This article was originally published in Australian Childcare Alliance’s magazine Belonging Volume 3 Number 2 2014.

What does it mean to be culturally competent?


Photos_headshot1_editedThis week on We Hear You, Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, writes about cultural competence. 

Cultural competence is about our will and actions to build understanding between people, to be respectful and open to different cultural perspectives, strengthen cultural security and work towards equality in opportunity. Relationship building is fundamental to cultural competence and is based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and subsequently building on the strength of each other’s knowledge, using a wide range of community members and resources to build on their understandings.[1]

We have known for a long time about the importance of respecting diversity and embedding a range of cultures in early childhood education and care programs.  However the term, cultural competence, is relatively new to many working in the education and care sector, having been introduced in the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia and the Framework for School Age Care.

Over the past two or three decades we have endeavoured to challenge and address injustice, racism, exclusion and inequity through legislation, awareness raising, rights education and an anti-bias curriculum. Cultural competence reinforces and builds on this work.

So what does cultural competence mean and why is it so important for children to have their culture and cultural backgrounds acknowledged, respected and valued?

Underlying cultural competence are the principles of trust, respect for diversity, equity, fairness, and social justice… Culture is the fundamental building block of identity and the development of a strong cultural identity is essential to children’s healthy sense of who they are and where they belong.[2]

It is more than being respectful of the cultures represented in the service or even the community. It is much more than awareness of cultural differences, more than knowledge of the customs and values of those different to our own.

Cultural competence is the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures. Cultural competence encompasses:

  • being aware of one’s own world view
  • developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences
  • gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views
  • developing skills for communication and interaction across cultures.[3]

Supporting this view, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) identifies that cultural proficiency “requires more than becoming culturally aware or practising tolerance”. Rather, it is the ability to “identify and challenge one’s own cultural assumptions, values and beliefs, and to make a commitment to communicating at the cultural interface”.[4]

Links with the Learning Frameworks

Cultural competence is a key practice in the learning frameworks, and the notion of cultural competence is embedded throughout. For example, principles within the learning frameworks relevant to cultural competence include fostering secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships, partnerships, high expectations and equity and respect for diversity.

Issues of respecting and valuing diversity and culture are embedded in the Being, Belonging, Becoming themes of the Early Years Learning Framework. This framework acknowledges there are many ways of living, being and of knowing. Children are born belonging to a culture, which is not only influenced by traditional practices, heritage and ancestral knowledge, but also by the experiences, values and beliefs of individual families and communities. Respecting diversity means, within the curriculum, valuing and reflecting the practices, values and beliefs of families.

There are links to cultural competence in Learning Outcome 2 – Children are connected with and contribute to their world, including:

  • children develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities and  an understanding of the reciprocal rights and responsibilities necessary for active community participation
  • children respond to diversity with respect
  • children become aware of fairness
  • children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment.

It is also important to remember that a guiding principle of the Education and Care Services National Law is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued.

What does cultural competence look like in practice?

Educators who are culturally competent respect multiple cultural ways of knowing, seeing and living, celebrate the benefits of diversity and have an ability to understand and honour differences. Educators also seek to promote children’s cultural competence.

In practical terms, it is a never ending journey involving critical reflection, of learning to understand how people perceive the world and participating in different systems of shared knowledge.

Cultural competence is not static, and our level of cultural competence changes in response to new situations, experiences and relationships. The three elements of cultural competence are:

  • attitudes
  • skills
  • knowledge

These are important at three levels:

  1. individual level – the knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and behaviours of individuals
  2. service level – management and operational frameworks and practices, expectations, including policies, procedures, vision statements and the voices of children, families and community
  3. the broader system level – how services relate to and respect the rest of the community, agencies, Elders, local community protocols.

While there is no checklist to tick off to identify culturally competent educators, we can start to build a picture of the attitudes, skills and knowledge required. For example, educators who respect diversity and are culturally competent:

  • have an understanding of, and honour, the histories, cultures, languages, traditions, child rearing practices
  • value children’s different capacities and abilities
  • respect differences in families’ home lives
  • recognise that diversity contributes to the richness of our society and provides a valid evidence base about ways of knowing
  • demonstrate an ongoing commitment to developing their own cultural competence in a two-way process with families and communities
  • promote greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being
  • teach, role-model and encourage cultural competence in children, recognising that this is crucial to ensuring children have a sense of strong cultural identity and belonging
  • engage in ongoing reflection relating to their cultural competence and how they build children’s cultural competence.

Ongoing reflection essential for the learning journey

A learning journey of cultural competence occurs when ongoing reflection and environmental feedback involves and supports educators to move along their culturally competent learning journey. The following diagram from the Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework (p26) is a useful tool to share with teams, to discuss and to identify how individuals are progressing on their learning journey.


There are also many reflective questions in the Guide and Learning Frameworks to provoke discussion and reflection. For example:

  • Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged?
  • What does cultural competence mean in your practice, for children, family, community and educators?
  • What do you know about the language/s that the children bring with them?

And the case study[5] of a project undertaken by educators to develop processes that value and use the expertise of Aboriginal people in local communities may offer some suggestions for starting similar projects.


[1]Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework p21 Educators’ Guide to the Framework for School Age Care, p57

[2]Educators’ Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework p23

[3]Framework for School Age Care in Australia p15 Early Years Learning Framework p16

[4]SNAICC 2012 Consultation Overview on Cultural Competence in Early Childhood Education and Care Services

[5] Early Years Learning Framework in Action p 27

Nurturing nature

RuthRuth Garlick, an early childhood consultant for NSW Department of Education and Communities, has worked in the sector for more than 25 years. She recently was awarded the Premier’s University of Wollongong Early Childhood Scholarship, which included undertaking a study tour of Europe and Britain to visit several Nature Kindergartens. We hear from Ruth about her study tour and the importance of play whilst connecting children to nature.

As an early childhood educator of more than 25 years, I often look back at my own childhood and wonder if I had somehow missed out by not going to preschool. Who would I be now if I had been given the chance to express my imaginings at an easel or create new worlds in the block corner? Our childhood provides the rare opportunity to explore and interact with the world without fear or judgment, our experiences and interactions shaping who we will be as adults.

While I didn’t go to preschool, I did enjoy experiences that were rich in learning: I had a childhood of outdoor play. I was blessed with an expansive backyard, flower beds, veggie gardens and trees to climb. My childhood was ‘free range’ – one of danger and risks. Bumps and scrapes were an everyday event. We were left to our own devices for hours on end, even days on end during weekends and holidays. We would only return indoors for food, or comfort if something went wrong. Mothers would call from verandahs as the street lights came on. Kids would emerge from trees, cubbies and dried-out dams, racing home on bikes or in battered billy carts, shaking off dirt, scraping off mud and reluctantly going indoors for the family meal, then bath, TV and bed.

I recall one of my earliest memories from when I was four or five, and the grief is still palpable. I had come across a dead magpie, lying on its belly, wings outstretched and head to the side, its lifeless eyes open to the elements and to me. It was under one of the many trees on our property and I was a long way from the house. I sat with the creature, patting its perfect black and white feathers, and sobbed my heart out.

What was it about my early childhood experiences that gave me such an affinity with animals and with the environments that support their existence?

In a world where green time is being replaced with screen time, how do children connect to their natural environment? How do we protect our wild spaces into the future? How do we promote sustainability? And whose responsibility is it?

I recently returned from a study tour where I investigated the concept of early childhood forest schools in Scotland, England and Denmark. This was made possible through the Premier’s University of Wollongong Early Childhood Scholarship. I spent a month visiting sites where outdoor learning is either a major component of the educational setting or is the only component. At some of the sites, the children are outdoors in natural settings for the whole day, in all weathers, and have limited access to an indoor space. At other sites, there was a natural and free movement from indoors to outdoors and the play spaces outside were carefully planned with the use of natural elements in mind (and soul). Children’s voices were clearly represented in the designs and provisions. In one instance, a child’s drawing was exactly replicated in the design of a cubby. This was no token response to a child’s idea. It incorporated many months of collaboration and negotiation, documented in a book for all to share for years to come. What started out as a stark concrete space squeezed between tight inner city apartments became a haven for children, a place where biodiversity could flourish. Small but dynamic. I stayed in Edinburgh for 10 days and as I wandered the streets, the only place I saw a butterfly was in this tiny garden.

During my journey, I kept a blog so I could share the learnings and discoveries which resonated most with me, and I am currently working on a report which will incorporate the research and theories behind my reflections. You will find my blog here: inurturenature.blogspot.com.au

Before and After: The outdoor space at Cowgate under 5’s Centre before consultation with the children (left) and Cowgate Under 5’s current outdoor space (right)

A number of themes presented themselves throughout the study tour.


At every setting, I was met with a strong leadership team which successfully enabled change, bringing a shared vision of rich outdoor experiences to fruition. I was amazed by the impact this leadership had on the staff, on the parents and on the children. I saw leadership shared, with joint collaborations and support for the sort of rich learning that children were accessing every minute of the day.


We all want children to leave their prior-to-school setting with the ability to succeed in their next adventure, that of formal schooling, but a response to this has often been to formalise early education and prepare children for academic learning, school structures, rules and conformity. In the settings I visited, I experienced a commitment to lifelong dispositions to learning. I interviewed parents about their aspirations for their children, and the message was loud and clear. They want their children to be confident, articulate, resilient and persistent. Surely these characteristics should hold as much, if not more, value in early education than teaching children how to hold their pencil accurately or how to count to 10? If we provide children with strong dispositions for learning, we are preparing them for life, not just for the formalised structures of schooling.


As a society, we have become so risk-averse that children are often prevented from making judgements and assessing their own capacities and abilities. At Auchlone Nature Kindergarten, I walked along a fallen tree with a two year old. As we began, we were about a metre off the ground but as we progressed, the slope of the hill that the tree was resting on gave us more height. We would have been almost three metres off the ground before she took my hand and said “too big”. We made our way back and I was amazed at her ability to make her own judgment and at my ability to trust her instincts. At every site I was confronted with the dangers of tree climbing, bush walking, scampering over rocks, swinging on ropes and scaling to the tops of splintery stumps. There were brambles, uneven ground, stinging nettles and tree roots to trip on. Sticks were one of the main sources of play equipment and I saw them being used in a wide variety of ways. They are a great resource for open-ended play. I saw educators trusting children to make their own risk assessments. While the educators were available for support and guidance, there was no hovering or warnings to ‘be careful, you’ll fall’. Risk was viewed as a benefit, not something that needed to be managed.


boy in dirtAn engaging and exciting outdoor space that is filled with natural elements gives children opportunity for long periods of uninterrupted play and autonomy. At Cowgate under 5’s Centre, I accompanied the children to their forest site. There the educators followed children’s lead for the whole day. The day ebbed and flowed with the children deciding where they would explore and when it was time for the next adventure. The educator gave the children time, expertly listening to the group and helping the children to listen to each other. It was responsive and intuitive. I watched a small child lay himself close to the ground, as if needing to be one with the earth, and methodically construct a sand bridge with a hole he could look through. It took about an hour. He was in the flow zone where time ceases to matter and learning is optimised.


Often we see the outdoor component of play as a place to run off steam before the real learning commences indoors. When children are given opportunities for extended periods of play outdoors, their senses are ignited, their affinity with active learning is activated, their curiosity and exploratory natures are set free and problem solving becomes a natural response to difficulties that need to be overcome. My experiences during my study tour consolidated this belief, which has always underpinned my early childhood ethos. The principles, practices and learning outcomes within the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) are all promoted through outdoor learning. Take any component of the EYLF and I know I could come up with an example from my trip that demonstrates how outdoor learning can provide a responsive approach within educational settings. I’m up for that challenge, maybe you could be too?

I encourage all early childhood educators to take a stand for outdoor learning in natural play spaces, not only for what it can do to promote a more sustainable future, but for the benefits it can bring to our children at this very moment. A sense of ‘belonging’ to the earth is the first step to ‘being’ at peace within it. With these in place we will be more able to solve what is to ‘become’ of our fragile planet into the future.

So, what is one thing that you can do? Decide what it is, preferably with the help of the children that you are educating, and do it. Then please celebrate what you have achieved together. I’d love to hear of your ideas. Feel free to comment on the blog.

Taking an active role in the environment and promoting a sustainable future

sustainabilitynewslettercoverIn recognition of World Environment Day this month, we hear from ACECQA’s National Education Leader Rhonda Livingstone about sustainability and how it can be incorporated into services’ programs and practices.

Standard 3.3 of the National Quality Standard aims to encourage children to increase their understanding about their responsibility to care for the environment, day to day, and for long-term sustainability.

Supporting children to appreciate and care for the environment is not a new concept. A respected educator, Anne Stonehouse wrote, back in 2006:

One of the most significant responsibilities that [early childhood] professionals have is to support children to retain the sense of awe and wonder that they are born with, to add to that a desire to nurture and protect what is beautiful, and to encourage them to appreciate that there are many possibilities for honouring life and wonders that the world holds.”[1]

Standard 3.3 recognises that children develop understandings of themselves and their world through active, hands-on investigation. A supportive active learning environment encourages children’s engagement with the environment and provides authentic, meaningful experiences to be embedded in every day practice.

Traditionally, many educators have embedded sustainable practices in services. Examples include recycling boxes, leaves and paper for collage; emptying water troughs into garden areas; using wood tailings for carpentry; and separating food scraps and packaging.  It is important to build on these practices and think about other clean, green and environmentally friendly practices to share with children. Children and families should be encouraged to contribute ideas and suggestions and there are often community organisations such as local councils that can provide suggestions and advice. The Little Green Steps is an example of a collaborative project between early childhood services, councils and community organisations to embed sustainable practices and change behaviours.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard includes examples of sustainable practices, but it is important to remember these are only examples and services are encouraged to consider the wide range of ways to promote sustainability within childhood learning. Services can bring to children’s attention the importance of recycling, energy efficiency and water conservation through a variety of creative ways. While solar panels, water tanks, worm farms, vegetable patches may help, it is important to consider the setting, the children, the families, the educators and the community when choosing and implementing sustainable resources and practices. What will children learn from the experience, how will it contribute to their knowledge and understanding, and is it meaningful for the service?

So where to start?
Undertaking an open, honest assessment of your service against the elements in Standard 3.3 is a good starting point to identify the strengths of your service and areas for improvement. Then it is important to review your Quality Improvement Plan to identify the priorities for attention.

The questions on page 100 of the Guide to the National Quality Standard will also help prompt discussion and guide reflection around this standard. Learning Outcome 2 in the Early Years Learning Framework and Framework for School Age Care also provides insights about helping children to be socially responsible and show respect for the environment.

There are a number of resources to provide information on embedded sustainability practices, examples include Early Childhood Australia’s webpage on sustainability resources and the Inclusion and Professional Support Program’s Online Library.

Examples of practices services use include engaging children in:

  • observing and caring for various animals, such as fish, reptiles and insects
  • implementing water conservation mechanisms such as timers, stickers visible on taps, putting out buckets to collect rain water
  • taking responsibility for turning off lights and fans before going outdoors
  • caring for worm farms and using the jars of “worm juice” collected by children as fertiliser to use at home
  • sorting and recycling waste after meals and encouraging the use of reusable containers to store snacks and meals
  • creating garden patches, allowing children to participate in growing fruit, flowers or vegetables.

For infant and toddler groups, implementing sustainable practices could involve making considered decisions about the nappies to use and looking at options that are environmentally friendly or have minimal environmental impact. Consideration could also be given to choosing environmentally friendly cleaning products and procedures. ACECQA recently spoke with educators who undertake gardening with their infants and toddlers, watering plants, picking strawberries, with educators and children modelling sustainable practice for younger children.

In order to be empowering, sustainability programs should be positively focused and affirmative. They should emphasise the child’s ability to make a difference. These programs enable children to learn and appreciate their environment in an engaging, fun and exciting manner.

What will assessors look for in assessing National Quality Standard 3.3?
Assessors will be looking for a range of opportunities offered by the service to support children develop an appreciation of nature, respect for the natural environment, understanding of the interdependence between people, plants, animals and the land.

Assessors will also be looking to see if sustainability is embedded in the service’s educational program and in the routine and practices of children. For example, while setting up a nature table or recycling system are positive starts, these activities should not exist in isolation, but be built upon, coordinated and consistently undertaken to become an embedded practice.

Before your rating and assessment visit, think about what you would like the authorised officer to observe, discuss and see that will demonstrate how the National Quality Standard is met. This is your opportunity to showcase how management, educators, children and families are working collaboratively to embed sustainable practices that are meaningful and relevant.

Examples of initiatives that a service may want to involve parents, families and the wider community in to promote sustainability include:

  • celebrating national and local environmental initiatives, such as Clean Up Australia Day, World Environment Day, National Tree Day and Earth Hour
  • getting involved with local bush and land care groups
  • consider a visit to local permaculture gardens, nature walks, wildlife parks and/or farms
  • implementing water saving devices, such as shower heads and hose nozzles, or having these as prizes for raffles or lucky door prizes
  • involving parents and/or visitors who have expertise in environmental education to talk to children
  • making energy-saving tips available to families.

The possibilities are endless, and the potential limitless.


[1]Anne Stonehouse, ‘NSW Curriculum Framework for Children’s Services’ http://www.community.nsw.gov.au/docswr/_assets/main/documents/childcare_framework.pdf



Our Assessment and Rating Journey

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

Before the assessment and rating visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

The visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post visit

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

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

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

The Excellent rating application

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

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

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


Today is the first day of Reconciliation Week. What is reconciliation?


According to the Reconciliation Australia websiteReconciliation is about building better relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for the benefit of all Australians. To create positive change we need more people talking about the issues and coming up with innovative ideas and actions that make a difference.

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is celebrated across Australia each year between 27 May and 3 June. The dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey — the 1967 referendum (27 May) and the High Court Mabo decision (3 June).  Additional information and resources can be found on the SNAICC website.

One of the guiding principles of the National Quality Framework is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued. This aligns with element 1.1.2 of the National Quality Standard which requires that each child’s current knowledge, ideas, culture and interests are the foundation of the program. Building cultural competence is a key practice of the national approved learning frameworks and the concept is unpacked in the Educators Guide to the Early Years Learning Framework, which can be accessed from: http://www.workforce.org.au/media/359962/cultural%20competence%20in%20early%20childhood.pdf

The IPSP online library has some useful resources to assist. The ABC Indigenous website is also a valuable source of resources including a downloadable Indigenous language map that can be used with both children and adults.

ACECQA helps unlock the door on documentation


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)