2. Report on the performance of ACECQA's National Law functions

2.1 Guiding implementation of the National Quality Framework

Working with government partners

Delivering improved education and care outcomes for children, as well as assurance and information for families, requires the ongoing commitment and cooperation of all members of the National Partnership Agreement.

To support the NQF as a truly national system, ACECQA is committed to collaborating at both the policy and operational levels and continues its work with jurisdictions through the Early Childhood Policy Group (ECPG) and the NQF Regulatory Practice Committee (RPC).

As a national authority, ACECQA has a unique opportunity to contribute to complex policy and operational issues, and to promote solutions that support the collective best interests of the NQF.

The following programs of work provide an indication of key collaborative activities undertaken throughout 2016-17.

National Quality Agenda Review - finalisation and implementation

Throughout 2016-2017, ACECQA continued to support the Australian, state and territory governments’ finalisation of a review of the National Partnership Agreement on the National Quality Agenda (NQA) for Early Childhood Education and Care, including its enabling legislation. The purpose of the Review was to ensure the NQF is improving the quality of education and care in Australia in the most efficient and effective way.

Overall, the Review found the NQF is an important and successful reform with strong stakeholder support, and that some technical and operational improvements were required after five years of operation.

In February 2017, the Review process led to Education Ministers agreeing changes to the NQF intended to strengthen quality in early childhood education while balancing the need to reduce unnecessary administrative burden for providers and educators.

ACECQA made a significant contribution to the development of several options that influenced the final package of agreed Review changes.

For example, Ministers agreed to:

  • a revised National Quality Standard (NQS) to strengthen quality through greater clarity, remove conceptual overlap between elements and standards, clarify language and reduce the number of standards from 18 to 15, and elements from 58 to 40, and
  • 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.

Several of the Review changes agreed by Ministers were specific to ACECQA’s National Law functions, and will be introduced in 2017-2018, including:

  • modifying a National Law function of ACECQA to determine the qualifications for authorised officers, to instead focus on providing support and training for staff of Regulatory Authorities
  • redefining the circumstances in which information can be shared by governments and ACECQA. These amendments to the National Law are especially important as they will increase the ability of governments and ACECQA to share information in furtherance of the objectives of the National Law, which includes ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of children.

Other Review changes with direct relevance to ACECQA’s function were to remove the fee for Excellent rating applications, and limit these applications to services rated Exceeding NQS in all Quality Areas from February 2018.

In the latter part of 2016-2017, ACECQA’s attention turned to supporting governments to communicate the changes to the sector, and this led to the production of new fact sheets, webpages, sector presentations and other communications products.

Also during 2016-17 ACECQA, in consultation with the eight regulatory authorities, commenced major redevelopment of its National Quality Agenda IT System functionality to align with the Review policy and legislative changes, and redevelopment of training content and services for regulatory authorities’ staff.

Supporting quality in Family Day Care

New compliance guidance

ACECQA developed new and improved guidance for family day care providers, nominated supervisors, coordinators and educators, working with representatives from state, territory and the Australian governments, and in consultation with representatives of the family day care sector and peak body organisations, to achieve this.

The new resources include compliance guides, which set out the compliance obligations family day care educators, approved providers and nominated supervisors have under the National Law and National Regulations. Fact sheets were produced to reduce knowledge gaps and improve compliance with regulatory requirements, and support the provision of high quality education and care across the family day care sector. This was the first tranche of a series of targeted family day care resources we will develop with government and sector partners. A series of e-learning modules were also developed and implemented to support authorised officers in their quality assessment and rating of family day care services.

Family day care data trends

ACECQA supported a range of inter-governmental policy and regulatory practice review processes with data analysis and trends reporting on the family day care sector. Data was analysed to demonstrate national and jurisdictional trends in family day care service and provider applications and outcomes, as well as compliance and other regulatory interventions taken by governments. The quarterly trend reports are also used by governments to evaluate the impacts of shifts in policy, legislation and regulatory stance.

Educator with children

Quality vocational qualifications

Sector communications were deployed during 2016-17 to aid prospective students in their choice of qualification and registered training organisation to support a successful career in education and care. Through our newsletter, ACECQA provided sector advice about choosing a registered training organisation (RTO), the pros and cons of online courses, and the action students, graduates, employers and other stakeholders can take if dissatisfied with vocational training. Advice was also provided to assist employers who are often guiding educators choosing and studying a qualification.

Educator with child

ACECQA also continued to work with the Australian Government and the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) to promote opportunities to raise quality through improving the early childhood education and care qualifications delivered by RTOs under the Vocational Education and Training system. In November 2016, ASQA and ACECQA jointly facilitated an early childhood education and care sector roundtable to discuss concerns and solutions to issues with the quality of vocational training.

ACECQA is working to improve the quality of vocational qualifications for the sector through its membership of the Children’s Education and Care Industry Reference Committee (IRC) which is established by the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC) and supported by SkillsIQ. The Children’s Education and Care IRC is responsible for education and care qualifications packaged in the Community Services Training Package. Through national consultation, the IRC’s role is to ensure training package products reflect current industry skills needs and provide opportunities for workforce development.

Early Childhood Policy Group

ECPG is one of three Australian Education Senior Officials Committee (AESOC) Standing Working Groups, reporting to and providing advice to AESOC on national early childhood matters. ACECQA assists and consults with ECPG on key national early childhood policy matters.

NQF Regulatory Practice Committee

ACECQA’s 2016-18 Ministerial Letter of Expectation emphasises ACECQA’s role to provide ongoing support to jurisdictions to improve quality outcomes for children, including support for regulatory authorities to enable regulatory best practice. To support this, ACECQA formally engages with all state and territory regulatory authorities and the Australian Government through the NQF Regulatory Practice Committee (RPC). Established in 2017 and replacing the previous Quality and Consistency Committee (see below), the RPC consists of senior representatives from each of the regulatory authorities, the Australian Government and ACECQA, and is chaired on a rotating basis. In 2017 the Chair is held by Queensland. The committee’s purpose is to provide:

  • all state and territory regulators and ACECQA with a ‘community of practice’ forum for improving regulatory practice, including through identifying emerging issues and developing mechanisms to minimise the risks these present to the objectives of the NQF; and
  • a forum for all state and territory regulators, the Australian Government and ACECQA to collectively authorise a range of functions and services provided by ACECQA to, and on behalf of, all parties to the National Partnership Agreement on the National Quality Agenda (NP NQA).

QaCC review

In March 2017 ACECQA, in collaboration with members, conducted a review of QaCC, to test whether the outcomes of the committee were being maximised and achieving a net benefit for all.

Since 2012, QaCC and its working groups had been the mechanism for state, territory and national authorities to inform and assist each other to effectively and consistently administer the NQF across Australia.

Supported by its working groups, examples of QaCC’s work and outcomes since establishment include:

  • developing and maintaining regulatory authority and sector guidance material
  • streamlining NQF quality assessment and ratings processes
  • implementing two tranches of amendments to the National Regulations
  • collaborating on nationally consistent operational policy and practice
  • informing ACECQA’s program of national audits under the NQF
  • guiding a national program of authorised officer training
  • overseeing the direction of the NQA ITS and setting priorities for ongoing development of the system
  • sharing information on approaches to assessing and managing risk and compliance
  • developing and implementing national communication strategies.

In evaluating the benefits and challenges, all members agreed the value in maintaining a national forum for regulators, but with an increased focus on improving regulatory practice, and agreed to establish the NQF RPC.

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2.2 National auditing arrangements

Audits for 2016-17

In 2016-17, ACECQA completed two national audits in accordance with our responsibility under the National Law.

Our audits align with our objectives of guiding the implementation and administration of the NQF, and monitoring and promoting national consistency.

Our audit topics focus on areas that have been identified and agreed as high priority, and offer opportunities to share learnings and good practice between state and territory regulatory authorities.

Scheduling and undertaking quality assessment and rating

In September 2016, we completed our 11th audit, examining how state and territory regulatory authorities schedule and undertake quality assessment and rating. One of the objectives of the NQF is to improve public knowledge and access to information about the quality of education and care services, and the process of scheduling and undertaking quality assessment and rating is an important part of furthering this objective. The audit analysed assessment and rating records to establish the time typically spent on different stages of the assessment and rating process for the period between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2016.

We found that the assessment and rating process took notably fewer working days in 2015-16 than in 2013-14 (as measured by elapsed days). This could largely be attributed to regulatory authorities sending the assessment and rating commencement letter closer to the date of the assessment and rating visit, as well as providers taking less time to submit a copy of the service’s Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). Most regulatory authorities also reduced the average number of working days spent on report writing and incorporating provider feedback on the draft report, suggesting that efforts to improve efficiency in these areas have achieved some successes.

The audit identified a number of actions to further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of scheduling and undertaking quality assessment and rating.

Remote and very remote services’ experience of the NQF

We completed our 12th audit in June 2017. This audit examined how jurisdictions apply the NQF to remote and very remote services, as well as remote and very remote services’ experiences of, and perceptions about, the NQF. ACECQA’s public Snapshot reports have shown that remote and very remote services are less likely to be rated Meeting NQS or above for most standards compared with services nationally.

Providers and nominated supervisors interviewed for our audit had positive views of the NQF, its value and how it is applied in the context of remote and very remote services.

However, many remote and very remote services face specific ongoing challenges related to their location, including difficulties attracting and retaining suitably experienced and qualified staff, and lack of access to professional development and networking opportunities.

The audit identified a number of actions to improve guidance, resources and professional development opportunities for remote and very remote services, including educators from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

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2.3 National registers and IT system

One of the key objectives of the NQF is to improve public knowledge and access to information about the quality of education and care services.

The publication of key information about services, including their quality rating, helps families and communities make informed choices about education and care services for their children. ACECQA’s ongoing commitment to the management of the national database and registers ensures that there is a consistent format for every Australian education and care service approved under the NQF.

National Registers

In accordance with the National Law, ACECQA updates and publishes the national registers to provide open and transparent information about children’s education and care services. There are three registers published on the ACECQA website:

  • Education and Care Services - this lists the individual services granted approval to operate under the NQF
  • Approved Providers - this details individuals or entities authorised to operate an approved education and care service
  • Certified Supervisors - a listing of persons holding a supervisor certificate.

The national registers also include the quality rating of each approved education and care service. This includes the rating for each quality area as well as the service’s overall rating.

Children

National Quality Agenda IT System

The National Quality Agenda IT System (NQA ITS) is a national database and online business tool that provides secure and efficient administration of the National Law. Through the online portal approved providers are able to easily lodge applications and notifications as well as update their contact details. The NQA ITS supports the goal of removing regulatory inconsistencies across jurisdictional borders by creating a more efficient, cohesive and streamlined environment for business activity. The system also provides valuable national and jurisdiction specific data to ACECQA, state and territory regulatory authorities, the Australian Government and other government agencies.

Figure 4: Approved providers registered with the NQA ITS, 30 June 2017

Jurisdiction

Registered

Unregistered

Total

Percentage

ACT

119

12

131

90.8%

NSW

3,636

92

3,728

97.5%

NT

76

16

92

82.6%

QLD

1,575

277

1,852

85.0%

SA

323

243

566

57.1%

TAS

48

44

92

52.2%

VIC

2,236

300

2,536

88.2%

WA

582

101

683

85.2%

Totals

8,595

1,085

9,680

88.8%

 

System updates

There were four major system releases during 2016-17, each of which focused on priorities agreed by state and territory regulatory authorities as well as improvements suggested by sector users. The team addressed more than 300 issues and improvements in the year, with many of the enhancements focusing on usability improvements. The changes included:

  • the introduction of the Document Verification Service to support regulatory authorities in their assessments of applicants’ fitness and propriety
  • a redesign of all portal forms to promote consistency and efficiency for users, including a major redesign of the serious incident form
  • implementation of a business intelligence reporting tool that provides aggregated data and analysis to better inform regulatory authority decision making
  • a full system upgrade which resulted in improved navigation, screen design, menus and functionality with a strong focus on information accessibility and user experience.

Annual fee invoices

As part of the administration of the NQA ITS, ACECQA creates and delivers annual fee invoices to providers of education and care services on behalf of all jurisdictions. In May-June 2017, ACECQA issued 2017-18 annual fee invoices to each provider for all their services in each jurisdiction. Providers with services in multiple jurisdictions receive one invoice per jurisdiction where services are located. ACECQA sent more than 7,700 invoices to providers across the country.

NQA ITS usage

Number of providers registered in the NQA ITS

Figure 4 above shows the proportion of approved providers registered with the NQA ITS as at 30 June 2017. Nationally approximately 89% of approved providers are registered to use the NQA ITS.

The number of providers registering to use the NQA ITS continued to increase in 2016-17. There was a 26 per cent increase in the total number of registered sector users in 2016-17 from 25,349 to 31,845.

Once an approved provider is registered they are able to submit applications and notifications online as well as pay their annual fees.

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Applications and notifications

Ongoing system enhancements to application and notification forms have provided the sector with a simpler and more efficient mechanism to submit the forms online.

Over the past couple of years regulatory authorities have encouraged users to submit forms electronically as it streamlines and shortens the submission process and provides users with electronic confirmation that the details were submitted.

In 2016-17, 87 per cent of application and notification forms were submitted to the regulatory authorities nationally via the NQA ITS, with 13 per cent submitted via paper.

Figure 5 above shows the breakdown of applications and notifications submitted by providers in 2016-17 by the method submitted.

Figure 5: Applications and Notifications by method of submission, 2016-17

 
Applications
Notifications
Total
Method of submission
Number
%
Number
%
Number
%

Online

8,460

79.57%

45,633

88.35%

54,093

87%

Paper

2,172

20.43%

6,020

11.65%

8,192

13%

NQA ITS service desk and training/support

ACECQA’s in-house NQA ITS service desk is the first point of call for technical questions from the sector and regulatory authorities seeking assistance in using the system. The service desk provides email and phone-based support to the user base.

In 2016-17, the service desk answered more than 6100 enquiries from users of the system, an increase of 15 per cent from 2016-17. This is mainly due to the significant updates performed throughout the year including the portal upgrade in August 2016 and the system upgrade in April 2017. Login enhancements implemented in the April release have resulted in a 50 per cent decrease in password and login-related support enquiries.

ACECQA provides training and support to the sector and regulatory authorities with various training sessions conducted throughout 2016-17. To support the system upgrade in April 2017, ACECQA produced a suite of online user manuals and videos and hosted web training sessions for regulatory authority users. At the end of June 2017, more than 450 regulatory authority users had attended at least one training session and reported an 85 percent overall satisfaction rate.

Each year sector and regulatory authority users of the NQA ITS are asked to complete a satisfaction survey. The purpose of this survey is to track user attitudes and perceptions regarding the functionality of the NQA ITS and the use of the NQA ITS service desk over time.

There were more than 2500 responses received from sector users, with 69% reporting that the NQA ITS satisfied most if not all of their needs. 82% were satisfied or very satisfied with the support provided by the NQA ITS service desk.

More than 220 regulatory authority responses were received with 58% satisfied or very satisfied the NQA ITS was meeting their needs and 91% satisfied or very satisfied with the support they received from the NQA ITS service desk.

The NQA ITS user attitudes survey is a valuable instrument for gauging user satisfaction with the IT system and highlighting ways in which the NQA ITS can be improved. Analysis of responses and feedback are used in the development of new features and help plan the future direction of the system.

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2.4 Excellent rating and Second tier reviews

Excellent rating assessment

Applications, service profile, reapplications

ACECQA is responsible for developing and managing the Excellent rating application process and for awarding the rating. To be eligible to apply for the Excellent rating, a service must be quality rated as Exceeding National Quality Standard by a state or territory regulatory authority.

ACECQA writes to approved providers of services that have been awarded a rating of Exceeding National Quality Standard, providing them with information on their eligibility to apply for the Excellent rating. In 2016-17, ACECQA wrote to approximately 560 services about their eligibility to apply.

Applications

2016-17 saw the commencement of reapplications being received by ACECQA for the Excellent rating, with 14 services eligible to reapply. Reapplications for the Excellent rating are subject to the same application and assessment process as for the original application. ACECQA received a total of 33 applications for the Excellent rating in 2016-17. Of these, 11 were reapplications and 22 were new applications.

Following assessment, ACECQA re-awarded the Excellent rating to eight services in 2016-17:

  • Kindamindi Pre-School
  • CPS Children’s Centre
  • Chancery Lane Montessori Pre-School
    Pty Ltd
  • Warrawee Care Centre
  • Bribie Island Community Kindergarten
  • Condy Park Pre School and Kindergarten
  • John Paul College Outside School Hours Care
  • Wynnum Family Day Care

ACECQA also awarded the Excellent rating to nine new services in 2016-17:

  • The Southport School
  • Hillsong Child Care Centre
  • Rosie’s Early Learning Pty Ltd
  • KU Ourimbah Preschool and Children’s Centre
  • KU Killara Park Preschool
  • UnitingCare Dove Cottage Children’s Centre
  • Everton Park Child Care and Development Centre
  • Burgmann Anglican School - Preschool - Forde Campus
  • Burgmann Anglican School - Preschool - Valley Campus

Nine of the 33 applications for the Excellent rating were assessed as unsuccessful in 2016-17, one was withdrawn and six were being assessed as at 30 June 2017.

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Excellent rated service profile

As at 30 June 2017, ACECQA had received a total of 155 applications for the Excellent rating since the proclamation of legislative provisions enabling this function in April 2013. As at 30 June 2017, 58 services have been awarded the Excellent rating, eight for the second time. Those services include long day care, preschool/kindergarten, family day care and outside school hours care services from across Australia.

Services demonstrate excellence through their applications in a range of different ways. During 2016-17, more than 80 per cent of the services that achieved the Excellent rating demonstrated excellence in the theme of ‘practice and environments that enhance children’s learning and growth’. An overview of each Excellent rated service is published on ACECQA’s website.

Figure 6: Origin of applications received 2016-17

Excellent rating criteria

The mix of services rated Excellent suggests the criteria in place are meeting their aim. The criteria have been used to identify exceptional practice in education and care services across all service types and Excellent rated services are located in metropolitan, regional and rural areas.

During the reporting period ACECQA prepared updates to the Excellent Rating Guidelines to make clearer the criteria and how to apply. These will be published in July 2017.

Second tier review

If an approved provider of an education and care service disagrees with the rating level awarded through the quality assessment and rating process, they can apply to the relevant regulatory authority for review. This first tier review will often resolve concerns approved providers have with the assessment and ratings process and awarded ratings levels. Where the first tier review does not resolve these concerns, the approved provider may apply on limited grounds to ACECQA for a further review - a second tier review - which is conducted by a Ratings Review Panel.

Each panel has three members, including at least one early childhood or school aged education and care expert and is responsible for confirming or amending the rating level awarded by the regulatory authority. ACECQA manages applications for second tier review and provides administrative support to the panel.

A list of current panel members is available on ACECQA’s website. In accordance with the National Law and National Regulations, panel members have expertise or expert knowledge in one or more of the following areas:

  • early learning and development research or practice
  • law
  • the assessment of quality in education and care services or other relevant services
  • best practice regulation.

In 2016-17, ACECQA received four applications for second tier review. As at 30 June 2017, ACECQA has received and finalised 26 applications since quality assessment and rating began. The ratings review panels have, by consensus, decided to:

  • amend the service’s overall rating in four cases
  • partially amend the service’s ratings in eight cases which did not impact the service’s overall rating
  • confirm the rating of the service in 14 cases.

De-identified decision notices, setting out the panel’s reasons, are published on ACECQA’s website. Guidelines and an information sheet are also published to help applicants submit a second tier review application.

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2.5 Educate and inform

ACECQA’s Family Strategy - Starting Blocks

Starting Blocks, ACECQA’s family focused website, supports new families taking their first step into early childhood education and care and raises awareness and importance of quality assessments and ratings when choosing a service.

Over the past year, major campaign activities included exhibiting at four parenting expositions and sponsoring key events with the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, the Maternal Child and Family Health Nurse Conference and Playgroup NSW.

Digital campaigns ran concurrently with all events and achieved an 88 per cent increase on website page views in comparison to 2015-16. At the end of June 2017, Starting Blocks had more than 24,700 Facebook fans and 448,262 website page views. The Starting Blocks website was upgraded to improve navigation and support website optimisation.

Stakeholder engagement

ACECQA works collaboratively with a range of stakeholders to inform our NQF functions. Throughout the year we met regularly with national peak bodies and large providers to discuss topics of interest and ensure ACECQA’s services continue to meet expectations.

The sixth ACECQA Forum was held in September 2016 and saw a broad representation of sector and government partners discuss and provide feedback on ACECQA’s proposed evaluation framework for the NQF.

Throughout 2016-17, ACECQA representatives presented at 129 conferences and sector events both nationally and internationally. These events provide important opportunities for professional development and a continued focus on education and care quality, and continuous improvement.

Partnerships with key sector organisations

ACECQA, in partnership with the National Outside School Hours Services Association (NOSHSA) and Family Day Care Australia (FDCA), delivered a number of national partnership workshops and presentations between November 2016 and June 2017.

The NOSHSA workshops for educators and service leaders targeted the most challenging aspects of Quality Area 1: Educational program and practice (identified from national assessment and rating data). A total of 22 workshops were delivered across Australia to approximately 1200 OSHC educators and staff, with a focus on enhancing quality and compliance with regulatory and quality standards.

The FDCA National Engagement Program (NEP) presentations are part of the FDCA commitment to drive continuous improvement in the delivery of quality family day care. The two-day NEP is targeted at service providers/co-ordinators and educators. The NEP also includes presentations from the Australian Government and the state or territory regulatory authority. The NEP commenced in November 2016 and is scheduled to run across 10 locations around Australia until September 2017.

Figure 7: ACECQA’s stakeholders and partners

Figure 7: ACECQA’s stakeholders and partners

During May and June 2017, ACECQA’s National Education Leader delivered presentations in collaboration with the Victorian Regulatory Authority at the ‘Promoting Inclusive Practice Expos’ hosted by the Victorian Inclusion Agency. This presentation focused on the NQS and regulatory requirements (including showcasing and promoting the revised standards and regulations) that support inclusion, identifying data and resources to support quality service delivery (such as ACECQA NQF Snapshot and Australian Early Development Census data), and identifying examples of evidence authorised officers are looking for when assessing against the standards. The expos also provided an opportunity for educators to demonstrate and discuss inclusive practice and for inclusion agencies and professionals to showcase their services and resources. The presentation was delivered 10 times across six expo locations in metropolitan and regional Victoria.

ACECQA also collaborated with the Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL) in the rollout of Educational Leader workshops in South Australia as a strategy for supporting educators and approved providers in school settings.

Australia’s NQF was showcased internationally, at conferences in Dublin and Auckland, as part of ACECQA presentations.

Website

The ACECQA website remains the primary source of information for the sector with an average of 78,000 people visiting it each month. A primary focus over the past 12 months has been the detailed review of website content and information in preparation for a website redesign to continue to meet the needs of the sector and facilitate easy navigation.

Social media

ACECQA’s social media presence continues to grow, with more than 31,000 Facebook followers (an increase of almost 10,000 on the previous year) and more than 3800 Twitter followers (up by more than 600). Engaging content shared with followers is also regularly reaching 50,000 people a week and more than 100,000 people in some weeks.

Newsletters

ACECQA’s monthly newsletter and We Hear You blog are other avenues to keep the sector informed and provide useful information about meeting the requirements of the NQF. ACECQA’s newsletter has more than 23,000 subscribers and the We Hear You blog has been viewed more than 175,000 times in the past year. Articles that proved popular on the blog include the three-part series ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’ and ‘The role of the educational leader’.

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Sector resources

In 2016-17, ACECQA continued to provide a suite of guides and resources to support the education and care sector’s understanding of the NQF. This includes a series of information sheets focusing on each quality area of the NQS and fact sheets and guidance materials for family day care providers, managers and educators to help support their understanding of legislative responsibilities. To prepare for the upcoming changes to the NQF, a key landing page on the ACECQA website was established as a central source of information for the sector. ACECQA also developed a number of information sheets and a presentation outlining key changes of the revised NQS.

Other activities to promote quality

ACECQA regularly meets with peak and sector support organisations, large providers, academics and training providers, as well as drawing on information from regulatory authorities and national data to inform our work.

To build a shared understanding of standards and promote quality programs and practices, ACECQA continues to present at conferences and workshops across Australia, to participate in advisory panels, committees and podcasts; and contribute to a range of external publications.

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NQF Snapshots

Our NQF Snapshot provides analysis and information on the profile of the sector, the progress of quality rating and the quality ratings of services, including by service sub-type and provider management type. We published four quarterly NQF Snapshots during 2016-17, with additional data analysis provided across the period. The NQF Snapshot Q3 2016 included more detail about services rated Working Towards NQS and about the proportion of services with a waiver by remoteness classification, while the NQF Snapshot Q4 2016 included aggregated data on service previous overall rating alongside reassessed overall rating. The NQF Snapshot Q1 2017 reported on NQS quality areas, standards and elements for each service sub type and further expanded upon the waivers analysis.

An interactive online version of the NQF Snapshot is available for users to sort and search for information, along with an Excel workbook that includes comprehensive quality rating data.

Enquiries service

ACECQA’s customer service team is an essential part of our communication and engagement with the sector. The team responds to public queries by telephone and email and is often people’s first point of contact with the organisation. In 2016-17, the customer service team received a total of 29,189 enquiries. This consisted of 16,333 phone enquiries and 12,856 email enquiries. The highest number of enquiries related to interpretation of legislation, including the National Quality Standard (NQS).

As part of ACECQA’s Customer Service Charter, the team aims to respond to email enquiries within five days. The average response time in 2016-17 was 1.3 days. We draw on enquiries to inform newsletter articles, information sheets, blogs, social media posts and website content to share relevant information with a broader audience.

Quality Practice Workshops

The third round of Quality Practice Workshops commenced in the Northern Territory in August 2016, concluding in South Australia in early June 2017. Developed and delivered in collaboration with state and territory regulatory authorities, jurisdictions chose the following focus areas: Sustainable Environments, Agency of the Child, Promoting Quality through Staffing Arrangements and Educational Leadership.

More than 1650 educators and service providers attended the 31 workshops that took place in 29 metropolitan, regional and remote locations across Australia. Attendees at the 2.5 hour Quality Practice Workshops were provided with a range of resources and a workbook designed to be shared and actioned back at education and care services to support quality improvement.

This brings the total number of national workshops to 143 (since 2014), reaching more than 8400 educators across the country. Participant feedback on the workshops continues to show they are well received and represent a significant, collaborative professional development opportunity for those working in education and care services.

ACECQA completed a review of national workshop activities in May 2017. The outcomes of this review have been shared with regulatory authorities and are being used in planning for 2018.

Targeted campaigns

ACECQA started a targeted email campaign for new approved providers in June 2016, sending information about ACECQA and the regulatory authorities’ roles, and providing links to resources and information to support approved providers.

A second campaign commencing in February 2017 emails services that received a Working Towards National Quality Standard rating and provides information on a range of resources to support their quality improvement process. The resources are accessible on the ACECQA website and were developed in conjunction with regulatory authorities.

During the 2016-17 period, targeted emails were sent to approximately 600 newly approved providers and approximately 220 Working Towards National Quality Standard rated services.

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Early Career Educator program

This program for final year early childhood teaching students, or recent early childhood teaching graduates, was piloted by ACECQA for the first time in 2017. The program provided the opportunity for two recent early childhood teaching graduates, and one final year student, to work at ACECQA for three months while participating in on-the-job training and learning opportunities.

Advertising for the positions through universities provided an opportunity for ACECQA to strengthen relationships with universities and to share information about our role. It also gave graduating students access to NQS information and resources available on the ACECQA website to support their work in the sector as new early childhood teaching graduates.

Participants in the program developed and delivered a number of resources, with a particular focus on information and resources to support early career educators. The participants contributed to fact sheets and blogs as well as developing the ACECQA Quest for Quality knowledge game.

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2.6 The NQF and its effect on developmental outcomes for children

NQF evaluation framework

ACECQA has developed an evaluation framework for the NQF, in collaboration with the Australian and state and territory governments.

The shared framework, endorsed by Education Ministers in April 2017, provides all governments with a common way of understanding whether and how the NQF is meeting its objectives.

The NQF objectives can be summarised as:

  • ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of children attending education and care services
  • improving the educational and developmental outcomes of children attending education and care services
  • promoting continuous improvement in the quality of education and care services
  • improving the efficiency of regulating education and care services
  • improving public knowledge and access to information about the quality of education and care services.

The NQF evaluation framework lays the foundation and parameters for ongoing evaluation projects that link to these objectives. It builds a shared understanding of what needs to be evaluated and why, and provides governments with a common reference point when considering existing and future research activities.

Universities, research institutions, government organisations and departments, and other stakeholders can all contribute to the NQF evidence base by commissioning and undertaking research in line with the NQF evaluation framework.

Our own research and evaluation activities align to one or more of the objectives of the NQF, and contribute evidence towards answering the key evaluation questions and sub questions outlined in the evaluation framework.

The NQF evaluation framework is available as part of our research and reports page. This page will be added to over time, with the aim of it being a repository of NQF related research and evidence.

Research and evaluation strategy

To complement the NQF evaluation framework, we have published a research and evaluation strategy and implementation plan 2017-21.

This five year plan outlines our approach to research and evaluation under the NQF, providing a summary of progress to date, as well as our current and future priorities.

Working with all governments, we will continue to compile and stay abreast of current and proposed research to help identify gaps and synergies. Having a collaborative approach to prioritising and commissioning future research will enable all governments and ACECQA to progressively answer the key evaluation questions and sub questions that underpin the NQF evaluation framework.

Our research and evaluation strategy is available as part of our research and reports page.

Child in garden

Occasional papers

Our third occasional paper, published in November 2016, examined activities to promote consistency and efficiency in the implementation and administration of the NQF. Striving for consistency and efficiency is a collaborative effort among all state and territory governments, the Australian Government and ACECQA. This paper highlighted the breadth and depth of collaboration to identify, implement and review approaches to promote consistency and efficiency under the NQF. It also included case studies to illustrate in more detail how certain activities contribute to consistency and efficiency.

Our fourth occasional paper continued in the same vein as our first two papers and analysed another one of the most challenging areas of the NQS, Quality Area 3 - Physical Environment. This paper highlighted the importance of the design of the physical environment in creating stimulating learning environments for children. The contribution outdoor learning spaces make in developing children’s understanding of the natural environment is a core aspect of the NQS and the approved learning frameworks.

All of our occasional papers are available as part of our research and reports page.

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2.7 Qualifications for authorised officers and support and training for Regulatory Authority staff

Authorised officer training

ACECQA is responsible for delivering support and training to authorised officers employed by state and territory regulatory authorities to undertake tasks such as monitoring education and care services’ regulatory compliance, and conducting quality assessment and rating visits.

In collaboration with states and territories, ACECQA administers a comprehensive national authorised officer training program. This training is delivered through a series of online eLearning modules focused on the NQF background and rationale, and face-to-face training focussed on delivering the operational aspects of assessment and rating. Authorised officers must complete the national training program, and demonstrate they can reliably assess quality against the NQS before being able to conduct assessment and rating visits.

During 2016-17, ACECQA delivered the face-to-face training to, and managed reliability testing for, approximately 90 officers from six jurisdictions.

In collaboration with representatives from all state and territory regulatory authorities, ACECQA has completed a review of the national authorised officer training program. The updated national training package (including a new suite of reliability tests) will be available to new authorised officers later in 2017 in preparation for the introduction of the revised NQS in 2018. A bridging program is also being developed for all current authorised officers to update them on the NQS and regulatory changes in the updated national training program.

Reliability Drift testing

To support national consistency in the assessment and rating process, authorised officers are required to achieve assessment and rating reliability following their initial national authorised officer training. They must also demonstrate on-going reliability through annual drift testing. The testing process aims to assess the reliability of authorised officers and their application of the NQS and is also a key strategy to build national consistency. To date, more than 1300 drift tests have been completed by authorised officers across Australia.

Regulatory authorities collaborated with ACECQA to review and update the drift testing process during 2016-17, adding to the suite of testing materials to better reflect the observe, discuss and sight evidence collection processes of assessment and rating. Subsequently, a new drift test was rolled out nationally in April 2017. The new drift model was developed to reflect changes that will occur with the commencement of the revised NQS in 2018.

Authorised officer guidance and resources

ACECQA continues to provide support for authorised officers by regularly publishing resources on the national authorised officer eLearning training portal. In 2016-17 ACECQA, in consultation with regulatory authorities, produced the following eLearning modules to support authorised officers in their assessment and rating role:

Family day care:

  • contexts of family day care services
  • planning for assessment and rating visits to family day care services
  • strategies to assist evidence gathering in family day care
  • active and reflective design and delivery of the program in family day care
  • assessing Quality Areas 2 to 7 in family day care
  • implementation of the approved learning frameworks in family day care.

Assessment and rating:

  • note taking and observation
  • discussions, questioning and sighting evidence
  • determining an exceeding rating.

ACECQA also published four regulatory authority updates on the eLearning portal in 2016-17. These publications provide authorised officers with timely advice on current national issues and promote national consistency in assessment and rating practice.

Educators with children

Lead assessor network

ACECQA works with lead assessors as the key jurisdictional representatives to develop and review support and training resources for authorised officers. The lead assessor network comprises nominees from each state and territory and met twice in 2016-17. Prior to each workshop, ACECQA distributed a survey to all authorised officers and used the responses to inform decisions about training priorities and topics for discussion at the lead assessor network workshops.

ACECQA determination on authorised officer qualifications

Under section 225(1)(o) of the National Law, ACECQA is required to determine the qualifications for authorised officers and provide support and training for staff of regulatory authorities. As an outcome of the NP NQA Review, this power will be amended from 1 October 2017 to solely focus on provision of support and training by ACECQA for staff of regulatory authorities.

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2.8 Educator qualifications

ACECQA is responsible for determining and approving the qualifications that need to be held by educators working in children’s education and care services.

These include:

  • early childhood teaching qualifications
  • diploma level education and care qualifications
  • certificate III level education and care qualifications
  • first aid qualifications
  • anaphylaxis management training
  • emergency asthma management training.

We maintain lists of current and formerly approved qualifications on our website, as well as lists of qualifications for working with children over preschool age.

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Applications from individuals

Individuals who do not hold qualifications on our approved lists and are not recognised by former state and territory laws can apply to us to have their qualifications assessed for equivalence.

Between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017, we received 1153 applications from individuals seeking to have their qualifications assessed for equivalence to an approved qualification. This compares to the 1201 applications we received in the 2015-16 financial year. More than half (57 per cent) of the applications were from individuals seeking equivalence to early childhood teaching qualifications. Around one quarter (27 per cent) were for diploma level qualifications, and the remainder were for certificate III level and working with children over preschool age qualifications.

Most applications were from individuals with qualifications from overseas, notably the UK (29 per cent of all applicants), New Zealand (12 per cent) and Ireland (8 per cent).

Almost one third (31 per cent) of the applications were from individuals looking to work in NSW, followed by Victoria (17 per cent), Western Australia (16 per cent) and Queensland (14 per cent).

Of the 1153 applications received, 90 per cent had been finalised by 30 June 2017, with around five per cent awaiting additional required information from the applicant.

In 2016-17, we approved 564 individuals for equivalence. This included 220 early childhood teachers, 167 diploma level educators and 142 certificate III level educators. The overall approval rate for finalised applications was 72 per cent, the same percentage as for the 2015-16 financial year.

Applications from organisations

Organisations, such as universities and registered training organisations, can apply to have an early childhood education program or relevant training added to our approved lists.

Between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017, we received a total of 26 applications from organisations wanting their qualifications or training assessed for equivalence.

Most applications were from organisations seeking to have early childhood teaching qualifications added to ACECQA’s published lists, with the remainder seeking approval of diploma level qualifications.

Of the 26 applications received, 23 had been finalised by 30 June 2017. All of the finalised applications were approved.

Collaboration with partner bodies

We work with a range of stakeholders and partner bodies to support the supply of appropriately qualified educators.

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL)

In the reporting period, we continued our collaborative work with AITSL to promote national consistency in the recognition and assessment of early childhood teachers in Australia, notably as a member of AITSL’s Teacher Qualification Expert Standing Committee (TQESC).

Australasian Teacher Regulatory Authorities (ATRA)

We also continued to work collaboratively with ATRA and its jurisdictional members. Over the past 12 months, we have assisted the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT), NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) and Queensland College of Teachers (QCT) to support early childhood teachers to transition to full registration/accreditation.

Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA)

In November 2016, we jointly facilitated an early childhood education and care sector roundtable as a follow up to a discussion earlier in the year around the quality of vocational education and training. Feedback from the early childhood sector helped inform ASQA’s Strategic review of unduly short training released in June 2017.

Educators

SkillsIQ

We are a member of SkillsIQ’s Children’s Education and Care Industry Reference Committee (IRC), providing advice on vocational qualifications for educators.

In February 2017, the Australian Industry and Skills Committee approved the case for change put forward by the IRC, prioritising the review of the early childhood education and care qualifications published in the national training package. The review of the qualifications will take place during 2017-18.

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