Assessment and rating

There have been a few questions on the Facebook pages I follow about what services need to do to prepare for an assessment and rating visit. Sometimes these are a call for help, sometimes a request for confirmation the service's team are on the right track. There's always that sense of nervousness, even if the team is confident the service is operating well and meeting the National Quality Standard. This nervousness also happens on the second time around when services have already been rated Meeting or Exceeding. 

The nervousness comes from that fear of not doing well, of failing to meet standards and therefore failing their families and community. Staff changes can mean that few of the educators and leaders were present for the previous assessment or staff may have been involved in an assessment that didn't go well. Let's face it, none of us like having our practice and the practice of our service put in high focus by regulatory authority officers or any other offical government visitor. 

Having been in the role of official government visitor, and experienced first hand the nervousness of being 'inspected', I'm seeking through this post to put teams at ease around visits by providing some information about how this all works and why it's important. 

So why are services assessed and rated?

The short answer, education and care services are assessed against the National Quality Standard to ensure they provide a safe and engaging learning environment for children. All people want children to be safe and well cared for and this is one way to check how well this is done in education and care services. 

The National Law and Regulations provide a legislative platform for the quality improvement of education and care services for all Australian states and territories. The National Regulations outline the process for assessing and rating education and care services against the National Quality Standard. The National Quality Framework shows how the legislation ties together and the Guide to the National Quality Standard provides services with the details needed to guide them towards meeting legislated standards.  

Education and care services are assessed and rated by trained authorised officers from local regulatory authorities. Authorised officer training is undertaken by ACECQA for all states and territories, and ACECQA provide guidance to the sector about the process and other matters of quality improvement. By training the authorised officers (lets call them assessors here), ACECQA is working hard to ensure national consistency in both the rating services receive and the processes of regulatory authorities. They also ensure services are kept informed by providing information and training. The ACECQA website is a mine of useful information, take some time to explore what's on offer. 

So, what do services need to do to ensure the assessors visit is successful?

Again a short answer, show the assessors how leaders and educators are providing a safe and engaging environment for children. Demonstrate how quality improvement is embedded in practice and how this impacts on outcomes for children, their families, educators and the community. Share and celebrate your place and your education and care community. 

Services are required by law to be working on a program of quality improvement and documenting this in a Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). This involves educators and leaders knowing what they do well and what they need to work on. Critically reflecting on these aspects of practice, enables educators and leaders to plan how they will improve practice over time. The QIP provides assessors with an insight into how your service operates so it's important the QIP is a living document with evidence of how the team is working on the QIP goals. 

During the visit, assessors follow a set routine as they gather evidence to determine ratings. Assessors will observe practice, observe interactions with children and families and look at the resources and environments. They will takes notes on what they see and check these examples meet standards. 

Assessors will discuss the practices they see and ask questions of educators, leaders and families. They will be looking at what you do and asking you to explain why you do what you do, in other words to critically reflect on your practice and justify this professionally. This is the time for educators and leaders to shine, to showcase intentional practice and engage in professional discussions with assessors. Remember by discussing practices, assessors just want to clarify how these are meeting standards and they may also provide you with some suggestions about practices. 

Assessors will sight documents required by law, like the QIP, and look for evidence of how the standards are being met in policies. Assessors will take note of what is written in policies and procedures and check these are being followed by all educators, for example the nappy changing procedure must be followed by all educators changing nappies. They will check how you are implementing the approved learning framework for your service type; how the principles, practices and learning outcomes are embedded in planning for and assessment of children. 

It's important to not doing anything differently on the day with the aim of impressing assessors. Children will tell on you, you know they will! Seriously, assessors want to see business as usual on their visits so they can give an accurate assessment of practice. It makes educators more nervous if they are asked to do something different on the day. This is often reflected in their practice and will therefore reflect in the rating. 

Assessors are not there to trick educators and leaders. They are there seeking to find evidence of how standards are being met so they can accurately rate the service overall. Assessors want services to provide quality education and care so use their visit to seek feedback on how you can improve practice at your service.

And finally, enjoy your visit! Use it as a professional learning opportunity and share your successes. 

Please let me know if you would like more information about the assessment and rating process and how to prepare for your visit. I can come and visit your service to review how well prepared you are and give you some feedback for improvement. You can contact me on 0452 374 733 or at julie@collaborativetrainingsolutions.com. 

 

Baby love

Wow, it seems these days I just need to reflect on something and one of my friends provides me with the information I need! I'm in the process of writing a workshop in Engaging Children and today am adding some information about interactions and brain development and up pops a video on StoryPark from the lovely Nathan Wallis. Nathan comes from my old place so we've met a number of times and I've enjoyed his brain development workshops. He's awesome, so knowledgeable and personable as he shares his passion for quality ECEC. 

Here he talks about  The crucial dyad relationship for infants. Enjoy!

 

Self review

I've been enjoying engaging with educators and leaders on Facebook on various early childhood community pages. Many of the questions asked resonate from my work with educators and my own experiences. My comments often involve looking at current practice and reviewing how this could work more effectively for the educators, the children and their families. 

The concept of self review has been around for a while. The idea that practice is observed, reflected on, discussed, analysed and changes made to improve practice. So how does self review work? How do educators and leaders take time from their busy day to undertake this process?

Self review involves educators and leaders taking a look at their practices and deciding what they would like to replicate or change by identifying what's working well and what's not. It begins by noticing some aspect of practice and wondering how this impacts on children's well being and learning. It is part of everyday practice to notice what is happening, educators do this hundreds of times each day and make practice decisions from what they notice.

The next step is reflecting on what was noticed and discussing this with colleagues, formalising those practice decisions. There is always room for multiple voices in these discussions so including the children's ideas is powerful. They can offer some insightful and creative comments! Together plan some aspects you want to look more deeply at, for example one of the recent topics of discussion was about transitions to group times.

For this topic educators might ask: How are children experiencing these transitions? How are transitions supporting how we implement our program? What are the children learning from the activities they are transitioning to? 

Gathering information to answer the review questions is the next step. This can take many forms. Observations of practice; children's and educators' voices; video and sound recordings. The key is to have evidence that is a fair representation of the practice under review and that provides enough information to inform judgements about the practice. 

Analysing the evidence gathered allows educators to see patterns or trends, issues that might recur and those gems from children. Being open to the information gathered allows the review participants to make good decisions about what to do next. This may be very different from the original idea for the review or the information may confirm current beliefs. 

Taking action using the information from the review is a powerful way to improve practice. Evidence based reviews support leaders and educators to empower change, even in the most reluctant educator! Remember to record the review process and add this to your Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). Follow up on the changes made over time to ensure the actions taken are improving quality.

So there's a quick outline of steps you can take to review an aspect of your practice. I am in the process of developing some resources to support you further. Watch this space as I will be sharing these here. 

Please contact me on 0452 374 733 or julie@collaborativetrainingsolutions.com for more information. 

News Flash!

The Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority, more commonly known as ACECQA, has announced changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF) from October 2017. This is big news for our sector. I will endeavour to outline what this might mean for you with my interpretation of the changes and content from and links to the ACECQA website. 

The upcoming changes to the legislation have been discussed for some time and the Regulatory Impact Statement or RIS explored the possible impacts of these changes on the sector. Many of you may have had the opportunity to provide feedback along the way when consultation with the sector occurred. A summary of the changes as they relate to the RIS can be found on the ACECQA website.

Key changes include:

  • A revised National Quality Standard (NQS) to strengthen quality through greater clarity, remove conceptual overlap between elements and standards and clarify language
  • Improved oversight and support within Family Day Care to achieve better compliance and quality across the whole sector
  • Removing supervisor certificate requirements so service providers have more autonomy in deciding who can be the responsible person in each service, and to reduce red tape
  • Introduction of a national educator to child ratio of 1:15 for services providing education and care to school age children. Transitional arrangement and saving provisions apply in some states and territories.

Changes will commence on 1 October 2017 in all states and territories (except Western Australia which will commence by 1 October 2018). The revised NQS and some related changes will commence on 1 February 2018.

The October 2017/February 2018 timeline gives services time to explore how the changes might affect them; allows state regulatory authorities time to change how they assess and rate services; and allows bodies such as ACECQA time to develop supporting information to assist regulatory authorities and services to implement these changes. 

The most important thing the sector can do at this point is to take note of the changes that will affect them, for example changes to family day care should not affect a long day care service while the revision of the NQS affects all services. Services due to be assessed and rated prior to February 2018 should be rated using the current NQS content and process. 

The changes to the NQS are positive ones with the removal of the ambiguity of some of the standards and underlying elements. The revised NQS reduces the number of standards from 18 to 15, and reduces the elements from 58 to 40. The wording of the new standards and elements are designed to provide clarity about what these look like in practice, with the aim of improving national consistency in the assessment and rating of services. 

When I completed my Authorised Officer training, I found it time consuming to rate each of the current 58 elements as met or not met. This was due in part to the overlaps within the elements and across the standards. These required checking to ensure consistency and fairness. The reduction to 40 elements should support authorised officers to complete their assessments more efficiently and support services to review and implement the elements more effectively.  It should be clearer what is required so all stakeholders better understand how to implement the NQS. 

There are also changes to the Exceeding  and Excellent ratings. The new requirement from February 2018 for the Exceeding rating is that all standards in a Quality Area need to be rated Exceeding NQS for that Quality Area to be rated Exceeding NQS. This means that services currently rated Exceeding while having a Meeting rating for some of the standards, would be rated as Meeting the NQS after the February 2018 changes, not Exceeding. Only services with all standards rating as Exceeding would be rated Exceeding the NQS. 

Currently, services with an Exceeding rating overall can apply for an Excellent rating. That means if some of the standards are Meeting, services can still apply. Post February 2018, only services rated Exceeding NQS in all Quality Areas will be eligible to apply. The removal of the fee for Excellent rating applications should encourage more Exceeding services to apply for an Excellent rating. Current information about how to apply is here

The removal of the supervisor certificate requirements mean service providers have more autonomy in deciding who can be the responsible person in each service. The process for supervisor certificates was updated in 2014 and the current information can be found here

This is the first of a series of blogs about the upcoming changes to the NQF. I will keep posting as more information and resources become available. I know from my time working at ACECQA that the team there will be working hard to ensure you have the resources and guidance to be able to implement these changes as they occur.

Please contact me on 0452 374 733 or at julie@collaborativetrainingsolutions.com if you would like more information. 

Agency

While I was working at ACECQA I had the privilege of developing articles for the National Education Leader.  Agency is so difficult to explain to families, especially that need for children to learn through play rather than be pushed to early academics, the too much too soon school of thought that research supports. Here is one on Agency from the ACECQA website you might enjoy. 

The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care define children’s agency as ‘being able to make choices and decisions, to influence events and to have an impact on one’s world’. So what does agency mean for children who attend early childhood services?

Children’s agency is based on the idea that all children are capable of making choices and decisions; can initiate and lead their own learning; have a right to participate in decisions that affect them.

 In promoting agency, educators enable children with real choices and support them to make decisions about how they participate. Children’s participation is encouraged by shared understandings and collaboration between adults and children.

For educators to support agency they must be aware of the capabilities and interests of the children they work with. Children are competent, capable learners when they are fully engaged and supported to participate in meaningful learning experiences that follow their interests. These experiences can be planned or spontaneous.

Educators can design open-ended learning environments with children, setting up activities of interest together and sharing the outcomes from these activities. This can be as simple as providing a range of materials for children to use as they choose. For toddlers, as they move towards independence, educators can support agency by offering them real choices in activities and routines. For example, toddlers can participate in preparing and serving morning tea to themselves and others.

Under the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child, children have a right to be active participants in all matters affecting their lives. Children with agency develop strong dispositions for learning. They are more confident in making decisions about their learning; able to work successfully with other children in a variety of situations; able to persist when there are challenges; able to communicate their ideas with adults and their peers.

Children actively explore and make sense of their world from birth. By ‘viewing children as active participants and decision makers opens up possibilities ... to move beyond pre-conceived expectations about what children can do and learn’ (EYLF p9).

Reflecting on your practice, how do educators at your service:

  • encourage children’s agency through meaningful interactions?

  • include children’s perspectives?

  • work with children as co-constructors of curriculum? 

Relationships

In my first post I promised to share my adventures as I  worked in early childhood services and topical issues and research. I'm afraid I've been a bit slow in doing so. My plan for 2017 is to write regularly, here's my first of many. 

The  Big Steps Campaign is gaining momentum. Sometimes it's comments made in ignorance that fuel the fires for change. Comments such as those from Senator David Leyonhjelm about educators being glorified babysitters. Comments that galvanise people to articulate their beliefs and advocate for our profession. Comments that get people outraged and off the fence. Well done Senator, thank you for your words.

Interestingly families have been sharing their outrage, appreciating the role educators play in their child's life. Reading the comments on the Big Steps Facebook page one can't help but feel the message about the importance of early childhood education and care is being heard. Commonly seen and reported as a workforce initiative, ECEC is so much more than that. 

Many families rely on regular care for their children so they can go to work. That's a given; the reality for many for families, while long hours in an early childhood service is a reality for their children. When I see families arrive at a service for the first time, I watch their nervousness. Is this place going to be okay for my child? Will they be safe and well cared for? Will they be happy? Will they make friends? 

Liaison with families and community is a key aspect of the National Quality Standard. Quality Area 6 Collaborative relationships with families and communities focusses on how early childhood services interact with their stakeholders; the children who attend, their families and the community they operate within. These are critical relationships to develop and maintain.

I'm currently working with a community preschool run by a parent board. It takes me back to my beginnings. That time of busy parenthood when I found time to attend evening meetings, bake for cake stalls (my children might say it was the only time I baked!) and learn those very valuable skills one learns on committees. One of the most important skills is managing relationships. 

Relationships can make or break any workplace. Relationships in early childhood services are particularly important. Relationships between educators; between educators and the service management team; between educators and families; and most importantly those warm, responsive relationships children deserve. The well-being of educators has a direct effect on the well-being of children, it's that important. 

When adults in a service are in conflict, the tension is noticeable to families and children. Conflict can arise from poor communication and past hurts that have not been acknowledged. Often educators are afraid to raise issues because they are worried about the impact that might have on their livelihood. It's so important for service management to notice when this is happening and support educators to be heard.

Cultures within services can change quickly when educators can share their points of view safely. Developing an effective team environment takes time, there's no time like now to start. 

Professional educators

I was having a conversation while working alongside an educator in a baby room recently. I was there to observe the practices of the educators to develop professional development plans for each person in the service. We were talking about how babies develop and the learning taking place in the room. This educator was studying towards her diploma and was really struggling with juggling work, the needs of her young family and study. A common story for many educators and one I've experienced myself.

As we talked about the infants and observed them engaging with the resources and educators, we talked about the importance of having the most highly trained people in the baby room. The educators were so insightful and able to talk about the infants and how to support them, for example one needing more tummy time to build strength in her back and neck. While these educators instinctively knew what to do, and could reflect on their practice, they weren't so aware of why their practice was so important and how to explain this in terms of learning and development. 

So why do educators need to be qualified? Why in a baby room does a 'childcare worker' need to know anything? They're just babies after all. Sort of like the comment my then 18 year old son made when I was off to run a weekend workshop for my Diploma of Teaching (Level 7) students and feeling rather stressed as he helped me carry my piles of resources out to the car:

"How hard can it be to teach old ladies how to change nappies?"

His comment became part of a wider philosophical discussion, heated at times, about how we see ourselves as educators. About the role of the professional educator and how we communicate about our profession in the wider community.  The language we use to describe who we are and what we do sets the scene for educating the broader community of the importance of early childhood education and care and the impact educators have on children's lives. 

While I'm at services I often hear parents comment on the wonderful job educators do in caring for their children; how grateful they are to have such a welcoming place to take their children; a place where educators know their children well and where environments are set up for children to explore and socialise. 

I hear educators explaining to parents about their child's day, sharing those important stories so parents feel part of their child's day. I see the delight when educators share a learning story with photos of their child interacting with other children and their environment.

While educators often do this instinctively, knowing why children do what they do, understanding theories of learning and development and being able to share this knowledge with parents takes an educator to a higher level. This in turn increases the reputation of educators as professionals, further increasing the communities view of the importance of early childhood education. 

Changes in perceptions take time and educators drive this in the way they speak about themselves and their roles. Changes happen when we talk with pride about being an educator not a 'worker', when families know that they are leaving their children with trained professionals. 

We've moved a long way from my son's comment and the ever increasing acknowledgement of the importance of quality early childhood education is reflected in research. It's up to all of us to increase the reputation of our sector by gaining and sharing the knowledge required to be a professional educator. This does take time, studying when working and managing family life is hard and oh so very worth it in the end. 

 

Busy in the kitchen. This photo is part of a series where this child aged 18 months intently made food and fed her babies. She showed her babies great care and attention, the care modelled to her by her mum and dad. This play continued over several days and, now she is two, has developed into complex play with a variety of babies she has named. I observed her recently putting her baby to bed and patting her back gently talking to her, something she has experienced with the educators at her early childhood service. 

Busy in the kitchen. This photo is part of a series where this child aged 18 months intently made food and fed her babies. She showed her babies great care and attention, the care modelled to her by her mum and dad. This play continued over several days and, now she is two, has developed into complex play with a variety of babies she has named. I observed her recently putting her baby to bed and patting her back gently talking to her, something she has experienced with the educators at her early childhood service. 

Belonging, Being and Becoming

I've been part of the early childhood sector since the late 1980s and have seen many changes as those factors that create change evolve over time. Factors such as governments recognising and acknowledging early childhood education and developing legislation to support sector growth while striving to increase the quality of education and care for children and their families. 

Legislation is one facet of the early childhood story and the development of an early childhood education sector often precedes legislation. Legislation is there to support the sector by providing a platform from which to launch better quality provision. It's there to enable monitoring of services, celebrating those who are doing well and providing services with a starting point from which to plan improvements. It's there to support the people working in the sector, legitimising their roles as education professionals.

The National Quality Framework sets a program of quality improvement with clear indicators of what quality might look like outlined in the National Quality Standard; a set of accessible guiding documents, including the curriculum frameworks; and an assessment and rating system that sets benchmarks of quality improvement for services. 

The current program of reform bodes well for the future growth and increasing quality of the early childhood sector; for how early childhood services support families in their role; for that concept of the village raising the child and the child being part of a community Belonging, Being and Becoming. 

This is the first post of my new blog for early childhood professionals. I plan to write of my adventures out and about in services, providing ideas for quality improvement and generally demystifying the complexities of the National Quality Framework and the assessment and rating process.

From what I've seen so far, there are wonderful practices out there and dedicated early childhood professionals doing their very best to provide the quality education and care the children in their community deserve.