A statement of philosophy guides all aspects of your service operations and your approach to achieving quality outcomes for children and families. But how can this statement be a living document that is the foundation for continuous improvement every day? In this final instalment, we wrap up the series by exploring the connection between your service philosophy and self-assessment and quality improvement processes.
Part 5: A philosophy of continuous improvement
A statement of philosophy, which guides all aspects of a service’s operations, is a requirement under Element 7.1.1 of the National Quality Standard (NQS). The National Regulations (Regulation 55) further require the approved provider of an education and care service to ensure the service Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) links to a statement of the philosophy of service.
Your service’s statement of philosophy should be a living document used in daily experience, setting the foundation for your approach to achieving quality outcomes for children. It should be used in daily practice and clearly guide your decision making and service practice – outlining the purpose and principles under which your service operates. Further, it should reflect the unique ‘personality’ of your service and incorporate the beliefs, goals, commitments, aspirations and intentions of those who belong to your service community. This service philosophy should also express a shared understanding of the role of the service with educators, children, families and the community.
The 2018 NQS provides an opportunity to think through your service philosophy and actively consider the extent to which it references quality improvement and/or speaks to the intent and importance of self-assessment and quality improvement processes within your service. It is also an opportunity to reflect on how your service self-assessment and quality improvement practices are informed by the philosophy and how well this is understood in your service community. You may also look at the introduction of the 2018 NQS as a chance to reflect on how your service philosophy advocates more widely for the profession and the provision of quality education and care.
Tip: In making decisions about operating education and care services and working to achieve the National Quality Standard to improve quality at services, the guiding principles of the National Quality Framework (NQF) apply. The guiding principles of the NQF can be found on pages 10-11 of the Guide to the National Quality Framework or section 3(3) of the National Law.
Your service philosophy should also reflect the approved learning framework/s that guide curriculum decision-making and inform educational program and practice.
Questions for consideration:
How is your service philosophy used to inform decision making, build commitment and align actions with your self-assessment and quality improvement priorities, goals and outcomes? How do your practices match your philosophy?
Is your service philosophy statement a living document that reflects the views, values and beliefs of current management, educators, children, families and the service community regarding quality, self-assessment, best practice and the commitment to continuous quality improvement? How often is it reviewed?
How accessible is your service’s statement of philosophy? Is it visible and made available to your service community, such as induction processes for all staff members, orientation processes for families, on the service website?
What messages does your philosophy communicate to the broader community about the importance of self-assessment and continuous quality improvement in providing quality outcomes for children and the importance of quality education and care more generally?
I hope this series has provided you with useful and practical ideas, prompts and resources to support and strengthen your self-assessment and quality improvement planning processes. It is important to recognise and remember these processes reflect the uniqueness of your service and are shaped by your meaningful and collaborative relationships with children, families and communities.
In the previous instalment, we explored the way collaborative relationships with families and the community can contribute to your quality improvement processes and goals. In part four, I want to build on this collaboration and focus on how engaging children’s voices and ideas in your decision making can reflect your service values and philosophy, as well as encourage and support children’s agency.
Part 4: Engaging with children’s voices in service decision making – Are we truly listening?
The right of the child to be heard is set out under Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It establishes the right of every child to have their say in decisions that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account. The articles within the UNCRC are embedded within the guiding principles of the National Quality Framework (NQF) which apply when making decisions about operating education and care services and working to meet or exceed the National Quality Standard (NQS). Similarly, the approved learning frameworks explicitly incorporate the Convention and highlight the central role of children’s rights in the provision of quality curriculum decision making and service delivery.
The NQF, NQS, approved learning frameworks and the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics (as a professional standard) apply a strengths and rights-based approach that positions children as active participants in their learning and as owners of rights, respect and agency. The concept of ‘agency’, applied within the NQS and approved learning frameworks, refers to children’s ability to ‘make choices and decisions, to influence events and have an impact on one’s world’ (Early Years Learning Framework, p.45; Framework for School Age Care, p. 41). Even very young children have preferences, make choices, and have the ability to influence others, actively construct their own understandings and contribute to others’ learning. Having a sense of agency is closely linked to the key concepts of being, belonging and becoming, and to developing a strong sense of identity.
The process of embedding the 2018 NQS provides an opportunity to reflect on how your self-assessment and quality improvement processes meaningfully involve children’s input and welcome their feedback and suggestions. Remember, children are the best source of advice for matters affecting them – as the quality improvement goals you are seeking to make mainly benefit children, it makes sense to engage them and reflect their voices in the process.
The 2018 NQS also supports you to consider how self-assessment and quality improvement processes are informed by and reflect the values, beliefs and philosophy of your service. For example, if your service philosophy values children as ‘active participants and decision makers’, how might this belief be embedded and enacted in your self-assessment and quality practices?
Questions for consideration:
Do your self-assessment and continuous improvement processes encourage children’s developing sense of agency by embracing their input and incorporating their decisions and ideas? Are children provided with the sense their ideas and opinions matter?
What strategies are used to encourage children to express their ideas as fully and richly as possible? Are the processes accessible, inclusive and meaningful to children? How do you respond to children’s comments and criticisms?
How do your self-assessment and quality improvement processes reflect Article 12 of the UNCRC: ‘Respect for the views of children’? Do you consider the way your decision making ‘affects children, their right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account’?
The approved learning frameworks note that ‘viewing children as active participants and decision makers opens up possibilities … to move beyond pre-conceived expectations about what children can do and learn’ (Early Years Learning Framework,9; Framework for School Age Care, p.7). How does authentically listening to children inform your work as an educator?
In the final instalment of this series, we will further explore the importance of your service philosophy, the way it guides all aspects of service operations and your approach to achieving quality outcomes for children.
How can families and the community contribute to your quality improvement processes and goals? How can these collaborative relationships support children and contribute to quality outcomes? In this third instalment, I turn my attention to the partnerships at the heart of Quality Area 6 and their potential for supporting and enhancing outcomes for children.
Part 3: Family and community engagement – Continuous improvement is a shared endeavour
Relationships are very much at the heart of our profession. Quality Area 6 – Collaborative partnerships with families and communities speaks to the familiar adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and reflects current research that suggests when educators, families and communities work together as partners to collectively support children’s healthy development and wellbeing, the potential for improving positive learning outcomes is enhanced. This quality area focuses on educators, families and communities uniting around a shared vision for children and working together to achieve goals.
The changes to the National Quality Standard (NQS) present an opportunity to reflect on existing practices and consider how families – as children’s first and influential educators – are meaningfully supported from the time of enrolment to exercise their agency and contribute to service self-assessment, decision-making and quality improvement processes. The 2018 NQS can also help you consider how your service establishes and maintains an active presence in the local community, seeks to strengthen community links and learn about local community contexts, aspirations and needs to develop inclusive and responsive programs and quality improvement goals. You might also like to reflect on the way family and community engagement in your service’s self-assessment and quality improvement processes speak to the advocacy of education and care in your community and help raise public awareness of the importance of early childhood development and the benefits of quality education and care.
Tip: ‘Family’ is a single word with many different meanings. Children have diverse understandings of ‘family’ and unique relationships with those who feature predominately in their lives. Extended families, kinship ties, carers and guardians can provide essential relationships in children’s lives.
How do you reflect on what the concept of family means to each child and nurture the important relationships that exist between children and their families?
Does your concept of family reflect the diversity of family structures in the service and the wider community?
Questions for consideration:
How are your self-assessment and quality improvement processes shaped by meaningful engagement with families and the community?
What techniques or strategies do you use to encourage families and the community to meaningfully inform the development and review of quality improvement planning processes, including self-assessment? How effective are these strategies in receiving and addressing feedback?
Is your service’s Quality Improvement Plan displayed or accessible so families can view the current goals and strategies for quality improvement? How do you share your progress and celebrate achievements with families?
How is community level data (e.g. the Australian Early Development Census [AEDC]) used to identify the vulnerabilities of children in your community, identify quality improvement priorities and support partnerships that provide targeted support to children and families?
Tip: Early Childhood Australia (ECA) and the Queensland Department of Education have developed a free suite of resources to help services use the AEDC data. The AEDC data provides important information about the development of Australia’s children, with these resources providing clear links to the NQS and approved learning frameworks. View the AEDC resources and read more about how you might use the results to inform your self-assessment and quality improvement practices and support areas of vulnerability in your community.
Building on these collaborative relationships, in the next instalment we will look at relationships with children and their active and meaningful participation in your self-assessment and quality improvement processes.
In the first instalment of this series, I explored the role of critical reflection in supporting and strengthening self-assessment and quality improvement planning processes. In this next part, I want to focus on the way professional collaboration can strengthen and inform both of these processes.
Part 2: Professional collaboration – Together we can achieve so much
The importance of promoting a positive organisational culture and professional learning community built on a spirit of collegiality and trusting, respectful relationships is well recognised in the National Quality Standard (NQS). Likewise, professional collaboration, building shared professional knowledge and active participation in a ‘lively culture of professional inquiry’ are acknowledged in the NQS, the approved learning frameworks and the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics, as fundamental to supporting continuous quality improvement.
While the National Regulations (Regulations 55 and 56) require the approved provider of an education and care service to prepare, review and revise a Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), it is not expected that the provider be solely responsible for all the work, decisions or outcomes. Rather, self-assessment and quality improvement processes should be a shared and collaborative process engaging everyone: the approved provider, nominated supervisor, services’ leaders and management, co-ordinators, educational leaders, educators and other service staff. Your service’s journey of self-assessment and quality improvement should also provide an opportunity for collaboration with and input from children, families and the community (which I will explore further in my next instalment).
Implementing the 2018 NQS provides an opportunity to consider how your self-assessment and quality improvement processes:
support the development of shared visions and goals
foster and sustain a culture of collaborative professional inquiry
empower educators by instilling a sense of ownership and shared accountability.
You might also consider how your service’s self-assessment and quality improvement processes support your team to articulate professional values, knowledge and practice, and assist in building confidence regarding the changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) and what these mean for service practice and continuous quality improvement.
Questions for consideration:
How are the views and suggestions of all members of your service team used to support self-assessment and the development and review of quality improvement plans? What are some of the challenges to involvement that you have faced?
How does your service create and sustain a ‘lively culture of professional inquiry’ that contributes to continuous improvement? Are there regular opportunities for self-assessment and quality improvement discussions?
How do you develop a strengths-based approach to self-assessment and quality improvement planning that recognises the diverse skills, capabilities and experiences of all team members and supports a sense of shared responsibility? Are there opportunities for various team members to be ‘QIP champions’ responsible for aspects of quality improvement goals?
Are all team members aware of the strengths and quality improvement goals and strategies identified in your service QIP? Is the intent and vision of your quality improvement goals clear and able to be communicated by all team members? Are these discussed at team and/or planning meetings?
Following on from these professional conversations, the next instalment in the series will explore the meaningful collaborations and engagement with families and the community, and the way they can shape your quality improvement processes.
We know a comprehensive process of critical reflection, self-assessment and evaluation, along with a commitment to continuous quality improvement, is essential in contributing to and enhancing quality outcomes for children. But how often do we take time to reflect on the effectiveness and intent of our self-assessment and quality improvement practices?
In a sector that recognises the importance of high quality education and care and is driven by a focus on raising continuous quality improvement, it is appropriate that the changes to the National Law and Regulations* and the introduction of the 2018 National Quality Standard (NQS) merit an opportunity for services to reflect, review, update and enhance their self-assessment and quality improvement planning processes and arrangements.
In this series, we explore five ideas to support and strengthen your self-assessment and quality improvement planning processes building on the ideas and the 2018 NQS self-assessment strategies discussed in the February ACECQA Newsletter. This first instalment will provide a starting point, and offer practical support to guide reflective practice, spark professional conversation and identify ‘where to next’ actions.
*Changes to the National Law and Regulations came into effect on 1 October 2017 in all states and territories (except Western Australia, which will commence by 1 October 2018). The 2018 NQS and related changes commenced on 1 February 2018 across all states and territories.
Part 1: Critical reflection – Take a brief look back to pave a path forward
Rear Admiral and pioneering computing scientist, Grace Murray Hopper, stated that the most dangerous phrase in our language is: ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ A key strength of the NQS is the way it supports education and care services to commit to best practice and engage in ongoing critical reflection and self-assessment to inform professional judgements and drive continuous quality improvement. Educators are encouraged to stop, reflect and rethink the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of their practice and consider ‘why’ they do things in particular ways. This assists in assessing the effectiveness of current practices and analysing what might be changed or improved. It also has the potential to enrich decision making and provide opportunities to explore new ideas and approaches.
The 2018 NQS represents an opportunity for education and care services to consider the efficiency and effectiveness of existing self-assessment and quality improvement practices. It is an opportunity to identify the implementation of successful strategies and celebrate the achievement of goals as well as acknowledge what has proved challenging and/or confronting. Reflecting on previous self-assessment and continuous improvement processes can provide the impetus for change and is an important step in paving an informed path towards continuous quality improvement and improved outcomes for children and families.
Questions for consideration:
How does your service undertake self-assessment, decide what is being done well and identify areas where quality improvements could be made? Is self-assessment an ongoing, regular and systematic process? If not, how could practice be adapted?
How is feedback from children, families, community representatives and critical friends invited and incorporated?
How does your service prioritise areas for quality improvement and identify goals that will enhance the quality of children’s and families’ experiences? What processes exist to monitor goals and regularly review progress?
What information, resources and guidance currently inform and assist your service’s self-assessment and quality improvement practices? For example, how are the Guide to the National Quality Framework, National Law and Regulations, approved learning frameworks, and the Exceeding NQS guidance for standards being used in your service?
Tip: You may also like to refer to the questions, included in the Guide to the National Quality Framework, to guide reflection for Standard 7.2 – Leadership. The guide to practice for Element 7.2.1 – Continuous Improvement, which describes how the element might be put into practice at the service and how the element may be assessed, may also be a helpful reference to for professional discussions at your service.
Refer to the Assessment and rating chapter of the Guide to the National Quality Framework for further guidance on the self-assessment and quality improvement and planning process available on the ACECQA website.
In my next instalment, I will explore how professional collaboration and ‘a lively culture of professional inquiry’ can strengthen and inform your self-assessment and quality improvement processes. Additional questions will be provided to further stimulate critical thinking and build on your professional conversations.
In 2015, Kensington Community Children’s Co-operative (KCCC) in Victoria launched its sister school and staff hosting program with Frederiksberg in Copenhagen, Denmark. The program, which has provided opportunities for educators and support staff to work overseas to exchange ideas, programs and practices, has also had positive and lasting effects on children’s learning and relationships with families.
This month on We Hear You, KCCC General Manager, Sigi Hyett, takes us through the development of the program and its influence on the service three years on.
It isn’t every day you connect and collaborate with peers across the globe. Since 2015 Kensington Community Children’s Co-operative (KCCC) has had the opportunity to connect with a number of early childhood education and care services in Denmark as part of a multidisciplinary approach to collaboration and shared learning. Our international sister school exchange and staff hosting program reflects two ideas central to our service philosophy – continuous improvement and collaboration. As a community co-operative we place a high value on quality outcomes for children, which are linked to family and community engagement and relationships, and endeavour to create a professional learning community that is informed by shared knowledge. These values have helped us strengthen programs and practices, and resulted in improved outcomes for children and educators.
Thoughts and ideas
During 2014, one of our KCCC board members and a parent at our school, Malene Platt, shared her story of the challenges her family faced as they transitioned from a Danish early childhood education and care setting to an Australian one. She spoke to me about the differences between the approaches to programs and practice, and the challenge this posed for her two young children. As a young Danish migrant to this country, Malene’s experience resonated with me, as did the experience of her young children. It took me back to my first day of kindergarten as a three-year-old girl settling into a new country and its language and customs, while continuing to speak and practice those of my birth country. Having the opportunity to go to school in two countries and learn two languages and differences in customs and traditions enriched my learning and development as a child – and continues to do so now as an early childhood professional.
It also started us thinking about the possibility of creating an exchange or host program similar to those in other sectors and professions as a way of bridging cultures and learning from one another through exploring different early learning settings and approaches. We began to consider the opportunities for educators to learn from each other and how this could benefit all staff and children, their families, the community, and the broader early childhood sector. As our conversations progressed, we realised a sister school that included an exchange program or host placement that enabled educators and support staff to live and teach in another country would provide benefits to KCCC. This idea was reignited from my thoughts back in 2012 about building connections and sharing learning between educators across the kindergarten and long day care sector. These ideas seemed particularly relevant at a time of change in the sector; kindergarten teachers were about to be included in the National Quality Framework and the assessment and rating process, as well as moving to 15 contact hours per week.
Research and development
Over the course of the year, our informal discussions quickly became more structured; we moved to professional conversations that reflected on the programs, curriculum, practice and procedures across the two countries. This fuelled our enthusiasm and research about Scandinavian early learning and standards and helped us consider what could be adapted to benefit our own program. When an opportunity to visit Denmark in early 2015 came about, I visited four early learning services with the aim of linking with services that demonstrated cultural diversity and lead best practice in Early Years Curriculum. This visit facilitated relationship building, collaboration, learning and teaching, where practice, ideas and initiatives were shared.
International sister school exchange and staff host program
In early 2015, KCCC launched the sister school program, partnering with Frederiksberg in Copenhagen. Our services were aligned in many ways, including service structure, setting, programs, goals, culture and policy. Both of our services also have a community board with high parent involvement, which are central to the collaborative partnerships that underpin our respective service philosophies. We also considered Frederiksberg an exciting and inspiring service for our sister school due to their development of forest kindergarten programs, as well as their innovation in the city centre.
Each of our services has hosted educators for between three to eight weeks, with families from our services providing accommodation to host staff. These staff host placements have enabled the educators to not only learn about programs and practices, but also to immerse themselves in everyday life and culture, which fosters intercultural understanding.
The aims and objectives of this partnership included:
sharing pedagogy, program and curriculum ideas and resources
increasing intercultural understanding and supporting a whole service improvement
communication through ICT
the establishment of a staff exchange/host program to support building educator capacity.
Benefits and results
Now that we are at the beginning of the fourth year of the exchange program, we can see and track the benefits for both the children and educators at KCCC and Frederiksberg. Some of the specific programs and learnings that we have included at our service as a result of the sister school and staff exchange/host include:
the investigation of different models for staffing and grouping of children
introduction of multi-age groups and shared yard
sharing information about the integrated shared yard space and educators’ areas of engagement with children
the purchase of a Danish pram (where seats are at a high level and children are seated facing each other) to support interactions on excursions between children and educators
investigation and implementation of project-based dialogic reading program to support early literacy
implementation of regular small group excursions in the local community across all age groups
professional learning opportunities and critical discussions that support reflective practice
roster review to enable the implementation of an excursion/outdoor educator to lead the project excursion groups
establishment of small, project-based regular excursions that support the same group of children with the same educators and at the same location for a period of time that supports strong relationships, persistence, conflict resolution and strong community connections.
Along with the many benefits that KCCC continues to see every day, the sister school and staff exchange program has created a greater global awareness and understanding of communities for the staff, children and families. Through the sharing of ideas, cultural knowledge, pedagogy, curriculum, language and experience, each service has been enriched and its capability improved. Both of our services are celebrating the benefits and valuing the diversity, critical thinking and shared learning that continue to exceed our expectations.
From 1 February 2018, new guidance on determining the Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) rating level for standards will apply to quality rating assessments. A rating of Exceeding NQS means going ‘above and beyond’ what is expected at the Meeting NQS level for a standard. But what does going ‘above and beyond’ mean when we focus on quality service practice and provision?
This month on We Hear You, we explore this question and examine the three Exceeding themes that services will need to demonstrate for a standard to be rated Exceeding NQS.
A rating of Exceeding National Quality Standard (NQS) means going ‘above and beyond’ what is expected at the Meeting NQS level for a standard. But what does going ‘above and beyond’ mean when we focus on quality service practice and provision?
Sector feedback suggested that more information was needed to clarify what ‘above and beyond’ means and to better explain expectations of quality at the Exceeding NQS rating level. In response, the Australian and state and territory governments, ACECQA, and education and care experts collaborated to develop new guidance that clarifies the requirements and expectations between the Meeting NQS and Exceeding NQS rating levels for each standard.
New guidance published in the Guide to the National Quality Framework outlines, for the first time, expectations of quality at the Exceeding NQS rating level. Tailored guidance for each standard includes indicators for providers, educators and authorised officers to consider if practice for that standard demonstrates the three Exceeding themes at the level required for a rating of Exceeding NQS.
Determining Exceeding NQS for standards
From 1 February 2018, services will need to demonstrate all three Exceeding themes for a standard to be rated Exceeding NQS.
Using the ‘observe’, ‘sight’, ‘discuss’ methods to collect evidence about service quality, authorised officers will now look specifically for evidence of the three Exceeding themes. Authorised officers will then consider all evidence collected to determine a service’s quality rating.
For a service to be rated Exceeding NQS for any standard, all elements that sit under the standard must be met and the service practice must reflect all three of the above Exceeding themes.
The table below outlines what is required for a service to achieve a standard-level rating of Exceeding NQS. The middle column provides an example which demonstrates that the service will be rated as Meeting NQS unless the evidence reflects all three Exceeding themes. In the right column, all three Exceeding themes are demonstrated in evidence so the service is rated Exceeding NQS.
When does this change start?
The new guidance will apply, and will be used in quality rating assessments, from 1 February 2018, to support the introduction of the 2018 NQS.
Guide to the National Quality Framework
The National Quality Standard and Assessment and Rating chapter in the Guide to the National Quality Framework reflects the 2018 NQS and outlines the assessment and rating process, including guidance on the Exceeding NQS rating level. The chapter includes questions to prompt providers and educators and service managers to reflect on the quality of their practice. A tailored list of indicators is included for each standard of the NQS. This provides guidance to assist services and assessors to consider if practice across each of the standards demonstrates the Exceeding NQS themes at the level required for a rating of Exceeding NQS.
The indicators provided are not exhaustive. Services may demonstrate Exceeding level practice in a variety of ways to suit their particular operating environment and approach to practice. The indicators provide a useful prompt for critical reflection and a valuable resource to support educators in being able to express and articulate their own practices.
Where to from here?
Change can provide an opportunity to reconnect with the collective vision for the service, to reflect on professionalism and to engage in a deeper level of quality improvement. The new guidance for Exceeding NQS provides a prompt for discussion with all service stakeholders. Are the three Exceeding themes (practice embedded in service operations, practice informed by critical reflection, and meaningful engagement with families and/or the community) reflected across the 15 standards? Can educators articulate their practice in relation to the themes? Why not make this a topic for your next team and parent meetings?
All governments and ACECQA are committed to supporting the sector to understand and prepare for changes to the National Quality Framework. Additional resources and information on the new guidance for determining Exceeding NQS for standards are available on the ACECQA website, including an information sheet and PowerPoint slide pack.