We improve what we measure

In her first We Hear You blog as the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chief Executive Officer, Gabrielle Sinclair shares her thoughts about the National Quality Framework and a recent visit to the Northern Territory.

One of ACECQA’s functions is working with regulatory authorities to educate and inform services and the community about the National Quality Framework (NQF).

Since 2012, educators, services, schools and governments have undertaken a significant journey in implementing the new laws, regulations and the National Quality Standard.  While it took time to get across the detail of the new national system, over 88% of services have now been assessed and rated, with 73% rated Meeting National Quality Standard or above. Over the next five years, our challenge is to continue the quality improvement journey and support parents and carers as well-informed consumers of education and care services for their children.

In my new role as ACECQA CEO, I am learning a great deal from you about the diversity of communities across Australia; the unique circumstances in which services operate; the rich experiences of families; and the way we all respond within a national framework.

Recently, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to meet with the Northern Territory Minister for Education and speak at the 2017 Leaders’ Conference in Darwin. I was impressed by the determination to raise quality in the NT and the unique way leaders in both sectors were enriching children’s experiences and improving learning outcomes.   The continuous quality improvement journeys shared by Principals Leah, Joe and Graham, highlighted the critical fact that good leadership is all about results.  To achieve better results, they spoke of giving a voice to the expertise and knowledge of early childhood educators, teachers and local families.  They reflected on the immense value of listening to and understanding the perspectives of children.

During my visit to local services, I met with very insightful educational leaders who were deeply connected with their local communities.  At Nightcliff, there is a strong partnership between the early learning centre and the school with the aim to give young children a seamless experience from long day care to preschool and on to school and outside school hours care. The results are tangible. The physical and sector barriers are being removed; the early learning centre and the school are sharing quality resources; families are welcomed; and the focus is very much on building confident, enthusiastic young learners.

In both education sectors and in every jurisdiction, we are listening to inspiring educational leaders who share their stories.  Although each experience is unique, a common reflection is that improved, sustained results are unlikely to happen without a commitment at the highest level; a deep understanding of the NQF and the roles we all have; a determination to improve beyond a single point in time; respect for the early childhood profession; and genuine partnerships with families and the community.

We have learnt so much since 2012.  It is worth sharing our own NQF journeys with others – across services, sectors and borders – and with our families.  It is a truism that everything that gets measured gets better and, as Joe reflected, do our children deserve anything less?

The NQF at five

we-hear-you-blog-karen-curtisACECQA Chief Executive Officer Karen Curtis farewells the children’s education and care sector, sharing her thoughts on the National Quality Framework’s successes and challenges. 

The end of this year marks the fifth anniversary of the National Quality Framework (NQF) and I have had the honour and pleasure of being ACECQA’s Chief Executive Officer since the beginning.

Although the NQF had a long and sometimes complicated gestation, its birth on 1 January 2012 was real cause for celebration, with the years since delivering both successes and challenges.

Everyone will have their own perspectives on the NQF: what’s worked well, what hasn’t worked so well; its strengths and weaknesses. I would like to share with you what I have seen and reflected on over the past five years.

Successes

The NQF has set our sector on common ground, allowing us to have truly national conversations about our work. It makes it easier to discuss and communicate about Australian education and care.

We should rightly feel proud about the achievement of taking nine different pieces of legislation and bringing them under one national law. The support of all jurisdictions has been remarkable and how well this implementation has gone, generally, should not be underestimated.

The quality assessment and rating process, newly introduced from July 2012, is now well established and quality is improving. Key strengths of the process include the way it mixes self-reflection with external assessment; the way the standards are descriptive without being prescriptive; the detail included as part of the assessment and rating report; the information made publicly available; the responsive and risk-based approach used by state and territory regulatory authorities to scheduling and undertaking quality assessments; and of course, the emphasis on continuous quality improvement and the absence of an overly simplistic pass-fail threshold. The NQF focusses on ensuring continuous quality improvement and the results of services going through reassessment are incredibly encouraging. These results and the presence of a Quality Improvement Plan in each service mean that families can trust they are entering a sector committed to continual improvement.

The NQA ITS has developed into an exceptional business tool for services and regulatory authorities, reducing processing and application times. ACECQA regularly hears from providers about how highly they value the system and ongoing improvements and enhancements will help further embed usage across our sector.

Some critics of the proposal to implement the NQF claimed it would stifle diversity and innovation, and enforce a one size fits all approach. The reality is that national regulatory reform is more than capable of accommodating and nurturing diversity and innovation. In my work I’ve come across the pedagogical led initiatives of the Montessori and Steiner sectors, new markets in education and care management support services across the commercial and not-for-profit sectors, as well as growth in employer sponsored education and care.

Services and providers feel supported by the framework and the level of investment in workforce development continues to grow, particularly among larger providers, in a way that could not have been possible without the NQF.

To build on these successes, we should also not take for granted the distance that we have come and must continue to promote and champion the importance of education and care. This will help to banish forever the archaic notions of ‘childminding’ and that ‘proper’ learning starts at school.

Core objectives

The NQF is still developing and needs ongoing commitment and cooperation between our nine governments at the policy and operational level. We should not lose sight of the core objectives of the NQF that:

  • children attending education and care services are safe, healthy and content
  • their educational and developmental outcomes are improved
  • families and carers are informed about the services they are using
  • services and providers are supported to go about their business without unnecessary red tape.

These objectives should be the reference point for our ongoing activities and actions – if we are not furthering the NQF’s objectives through aspects of our work, we must refocus and reprioritise.

Challenges

One of the challenges I have observed is the pace at which proposed reforms and improvements can sometimes take place.

We have learnt a lot over the past five years, moving between the critical stages of theory and practice. Sometimes what looked sensible in theory has proven impractical, clunky or unnecessary in practice. Equally, things that were not contemplated prior to the introduction of the NQF have surfaced as operational issues.

Stability and predictability are positives in any regulatory model; however the complexity of NQF governance has meant improvements that the sector and general public may expect should take months have, on occasion, taken much longer. This has the potential to be doubly disadvantageous as it can erode confidence in the efficiency and effectiveness of the national system and those that administer it. Also, the time elapsed between reviewing, consulting on and implementing proposed changes can mean that things have naturally progressed and evolved, making implementing the changes a lesser improvement.

Another challenge on the topic of speed relates to the system of quality assessment and rating. More than four years into the national assessment system, there are over 2000 services still to be rated, with more than 700 of these having been approved to operate for five years. On top of our existing challenge to accurately and effectively communicate about the value and meaning of quality assessment and rating, I am increasingly concerned that our next challenge will be defending the currency and meaning of that system if approved services have to wait four, five or even six years to receive an assessment or reassessment.

One more concerning challenge is the qualifications of educators. To help ensure the success of the NQF, we need to be able to rely on the quality of registered training organisations (RTOs) in the vocational education and training (VET) sector. If poor quality or fraudulent RTOs persist or flourish, potentially at the expense of high quality RTOs, we will face a significant challenge to the quality of NQF approved services.

I see similarities between some of the issues in the VET sector and the issues in the family day care sector. In both, there has been a proliferation of new providers, incentivised by government subsidies, with sometimes a sole focus on financial gain. Their behaviour is detrimental to the well-established, high quality providers who suffer from a loss of public trust.

While the issues in the VET and family day care sectors are not caused by the NQF, they are an issue and challenge for the NQF. Understanding that distinction and reality will help us all move forward together. The improved alignment between our sector and vocational and higher education will help, as we now have a number channels to engage with training and higher education providers at the operational and policy level.

Tackling these issues requires collaboration and a range of actions and responses. I would encourage the initial focus to be on guaranteeing a minimum level of quality and eliminating the fraudulent and very poor quality providers. I urge anyone with experience of poor quality or fraudulent RTO practice to provide ‘on the ground’ intelligence to the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) to enable them to effectively carry out their risk based regulatory activities.

2020 vision

By 2020 I think the key question will be: Is the NQF achieving what it intended?

We should not undersell the challenge involved in answering this question. In the short to medium term, we may only be able to answer particular aspects of it. ACECQA’s work to develop an evaluation framework for the NQF will hopefully establish a shared purpose among governments and researchers, against which a diverse range of research projects can be undertaken.

To sustain and build on the NQF, we must better understand how attendance at education and care services affects the outcomes of students in their early years of schooling, as well as the longer term effects on life outcomes. I would also like to see a continued focus on how early childhood education and care programs benefit different groups of children and families, particularly Indigenous children, children from disadvantaged backgrounds and the children of families who have recently arrived in Australia.

The focus over the past five years has been on implementing national reform. The sector, to its great credit, has risen to the inherent challenges of such large scale reform and significant quality improvements have emerged as a result. However, the value placed on children’s education and care in the wider community is lagging behind. We have an opportunity to advocate for the importance of quality education and care in the early years and build families and carers’ understanding of the NQF, in particular the National Quality Standard. In doing so, we can help shape the legacy of the NQF and better outcomes for Australian children.

Although I will no longer be part of the education and care sector, I will continue to take great interest in the progress of the NQF. We’ve come so far over the past five years and with the level of commitment I have witnessed across the country, I have every confidence that significant progress will continue to be made. And I know that ACECQA will stay true to its vision that children in Australia have the best possible start in life.

Read the other ACECQA CEO blogs:

What does it mean to be ‘Working Towards’ the National Quality Standard?

Failing services is failing to understand – the emphasis is on continuous quality improvement

Settling into a new year

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

The beginning of the year is a great time to strengthen partnerships with families, sharing
information about children’s current knowledge, interests, abilities and preferences. As children and their families begin their time at your service, or return after a break, it is vital to build their sense of belonging as part of this partnership and settling process.

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and Framework for School Age Care (FSAC) emphasise that ‘partnerships are based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and building on the strength of each other’s knowledge’ (EYLF p 12 and FSAC p 10). Working in partnership with families and sharing information:

  • supports a shared vision for children’s learning and development
  • enables educators to plan effectively for children’s next steps and
  • empowers families to participate in decision-making in relevant and meaningful ways.

The key focus of Quality Area 6: Collaborative partnerships with families and communities is to engage families in the decisions that shape the program for their child and to share information about their child’s engagement and learning. Encouraging a family’s sense of belonging and inclusion at your service strengthens their understanding of the service philosophy in addition to how and why service policies and procedures operate. This is also a time to clarify everyone’s expectations by valuing each party’s expertise and building trusting relationships.

Collaborative partnerships between families and educators are created through initial contact that is respectful and shows genuine interest in developing shared outcomes for children. Settling into a new service is aided by responsive educators who create a sense of belonging by supporting children to develop friendships and by an environment that is engaging and reflective of each child’s culture and identity.

For babies and toddlers, this may be their first experience in an education and care service, so it is important to understand and recognise families’ perspectives. Initially, the focus is likely to be on routines, building confidence that their child is receiving individualised care and their learning and development is being supported. For preschool children, it may mean a change of rooms or new expectations in an older group, or a completely new education and care environment, so it is important to reflect on how families and children are supported through the orientation process.

For school age children this could mean transitioning to after school hours care in addition to settling in at school. It is a time to reflect on supporting children’s wellbeing while still respecting their growing autonomy and agency. This could be a time for older children to support new children to settle into the service. This is a time to draw on children’s expertise and involve them in service decisions and planning.

Think about what might work best for and your families to support that vital partnership. Also, reflect on how you can capture the valuable information that families have on their children. Is it using conversations, emails, forms, interviews or some other way or a combination of
these? It may even change depending on the needs of each child and family.

Other reading and resources

Collaborative partnerships with families
Engaging families in the early childhood development story
Recognising and supporting babies’ and toddlers belonging, being and becoming
My Time, Our Place
Educators Guide to the Framework for School Age Care

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

National Quality Framework Conference 2013

The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) will host the first official National Quality Framework Conference in Sydney on 12-13 September 2013.

The conference will bring the children’s education and care sector together to focus on the themes of quality, consistency and excellence.

Chair of the ACECQA Board, Ms Rachel Hunter, said the conference is an important step in the implementation of the National Quality Framework.

“As the national authority ACECQA works to achieve better educational and developmental outcomes for children,” Ms Hunter said.

“The conference will provide an opportunity for experts, peak bodies, service providers and educators to discuss research, practice and look at how the National Quality Framework is improving quality outcomes.”

Those who are interested in attending, presenting or sponsorship opportunities can register their interest here.

Overseas Qualifications

If you hold an overseas qualification and would like to be recognised as an early childhood educator under the NQF, your qualification will need to be assessed for equivalence by ACECQA.

Application process

Qualification levelling

The National Regulations require you to first have your qualification levelled by either the Overseas Qualification Unit or the Australian Education International – National Office of Overseas Skills Recognition (AEI-NOOSR). They will determine what your qualification is comparable to in the Australian Qualification Framework. A certified copy of an Australian Teacher Registration would also meet this requirement.

If an applicant holds Registration with the New Zealand Teachers Council they may be eligible for Australian teacher registration under Mutual Recognition. A certified copy of the Australian teacher registration would meet the levelling requirement.

Assessment of equivalence by ACECQA

Once your qualification has been levelled by an appropriate body, you will then need to apply to ACECQA to have the content of your qualification assessed for suitability to work in the children’s education and care sector.

The guidelines for the determination of equivalent qualifications explain the ACECQA application process and the criteria that ACECQA will consider in deciding if your qualification is equivalent. You should read these guidelines together with the application form for more details about the process and the supporting documents that will be needed.

Timeframes

Qualification levelling assessments are not completed by ACECQA and can be a lengthy process. Once a completed application for assessment of qualification equivalence has been received by ACECQA, the assessment process can take up to 8 weeks from the date your application is received. If your application is incomplete, this may cause delays in the assessment process.

Submitting your application

To make an application to ACECQA, you need to:

  • complete the application form
  • attach the necessary certified documents and
  • pay the AUD$110 (incl. GST) fee.

Completed applications can be sent to ACECQA:

  • By email: apply@acecqa.gov.au
  • By post:
  • Qualifications Assessment Team
    ACECQA
    PO BOX A292
    Sydney NSW 1235

Waivers for service providers

Waivers can be granted for certain staffing arrangements. Please see Regulations 41 and 44 of the National Regulations and contact your Regulatory Authority if you have questions about your eligibility.

Questions about your application

Please contact apply@acecqa.gov.au for questions or concerns about your application for assessment of equivalent early childhood educator qualifications.


 

We Hear You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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