Foreword from the Acting Chair

It is my pleasure to present the Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Annual Report for 2015-16.

Judy Hebblethwaite

Having been a part of this sector for many years, I was previously very familiar with the work of ACECQA and its key responsibility to monitor and promote the consistent implementation of the National Quality Framework (NQF) for Early Childhood Education and Care. As the Deputy Chair and Acting Chair of the ACECQA Board since April 2016, I am now enjoying the opportunity to engage far more deeply with the role of the National Authority, and in particular, the work it delivers in close partnership with all state and territory governments and the Australian Government to support national consistency and high quality outcomes for children.

In taking up the work of the previous Board, it is apparent that delivering nationally agreed standards across Australia is not just about establishing and maintaining a benchmark for quality. It is also about providing the impetus, at both a service and jurisdictional level, for ongoing evaluation, an essential condition for growth and improvement. As such, the drive for national consistency is also an important part of the goal of continuous improvement and now that the NQF is no longer new, it is time, collectively, to strengthen our sights on this aim.

Our next immediate challenge is to evaluate the outcomes that the NQF is delivering and ACECQA is working with all governments and the sector to finalise a framework to measure the extent to which the NQF is meeting its objectives. An agreed evaluation framework will guide reporting on the NQF, including how it could be improved, identify gaps and allow governments and services to see the return on their investments in the NQF.

It is important, compelling work and very rewarding to be part of a national coalition working to improve the quality of education and care for the youngest members of our society. My Board colleagues and I look forward to continuing to oversee this and a range of other strategies that deliver on our National Law functions. In particular, in 2016-17 we look forward to shaping a new strategic plan for the National Authority, guided by the next ACECQA Ministerial Letter of Expectation.

Of course, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to pay tribute to ACECQA's previous Board. Firstly, to Ms Rachel Hunter, for her expert guidance and leadership. As the inaugural Chair, she worked effectively with the CEO in establishing such a strong foundation on which we will continue to build. On behalf of the current Board, my sincere acknowledgement is also extended to outgoing members of the second Board - Professor Collette Tayler (Deputy Chair), Tracey Bradley, Bernard Curran, Professor Alison Elliott, Tonia Godhard OAM and Professor Pauline Harris for their commitment and support to ACECQA and its goals. Their leadership and passion for quality education and care has played an important part in developing the overwhelming support the NQF has received from the sector. Their work contributed to the growing awareness of the importance of providing a quality start for every child, instilling confidence in the community about the sector's ability to nurture children's learning for future achievement.

I would also like to thank the CEO, Karen Curtis, and ACECQA staff for their kind and supportive welcome, but more importantly for their contribution, hard work and achievements, not only since establishing the organisation in 2011-12, but more recently during the period of change at the Board level. I know that outgoing and continuing Board members are extremely appreciative of their efforts, and I look forward to working alongside the team as we invest in our future by striving for quality education and care in Australia.

In 2016-17, we will continue to enhance the productive partnerships with our state, territory and national colleagues, and our sector stakeholders. With the signing of the new National Partnership Agreement, the Board is enthusiastic about continuing the essential work of enabling and promoting high quality early learning and development experiences for children attending an education and care service.

Judy Hebblethwaite
Acting Chair

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Report from the CEO

ACECQA has again had a productive 12 months as the public face and voice for the implementation of the NQF.

Karen Curtis

With the short and long-term benefits of quality education and care in the early years receiving greater recognition, our national work to support and promote continuous improvement has never been more crucial. In partnership and collaboration with the sector and the Australian and state and territory governments, we have achieved significant milestones throughout 2015-16.

Priority work during the year included a focus on promoting quality practice through research and analysis. ACECQA's quarterly NQF Snapshot reports were expanded to include more detailed information about performance against the National Quality Standard (NQS), including by sub-service and provider management type. An interactive online version of the Snapshot was also introduced during the reporting period, allowing readers to sort and search for more detailed information about the performance of the NQF. The first two in our new series of occasional papers were released, providing detailed analysis to the sector about how services are performing against Quality Area 1 and 2.

In 2015-16, ACECQA continued to enhance its data intelligence capability to inform and shape discussions and policy considerations by governments on a range of matters related to the children's education and care sector. As was envisaged from the outset of the NQF, the ability to collect data to build a meaningful profile of quality is invaluable. With nearly five years of data to work with, we are starting to see this realised, with richer analysis and research opportunities emerging.

ACECQA also worked to help providers and services improve outcomes through the delivery of our second round of national workshops and by linking educators to resources to assist them in meeting the NQS. Our Starting Blocks initiative is working in tandem with this, promoting and updating resources to help families understand the importance of early childhood education and care and what to look for in a quality service.

The National Quality Agenda IT System remains integral to the interaction between providers and regulatory authorities, and new features continue to be added to further drive efficiency. These include quick edit functionality, the ability to submit additional documentation, assessment and rating enhancements and better integration with regulatory authority systems.

Assessing qualifications from individuals and organisations remains a significant part of ACECQA's ongoing work. With more than 1,000 applications received during the past year, we continued to liaise with applicants throughout the process to provide an accurate assessment, and in the case of organisations seeking to have a course approved, to ensure the development of high quality programs.

ACECQA remains a primary source of information about the NQF, with an average of 70,000 people visiting our website each month. Engaging content on our social media sites is also resulting in a growing audience, with content regularly reaching 50,000 people a week and more than 100,000 people in some weeks. Similarly, in 2015-16, our customer service team responded to almost 30,000 telephone and email enquiries.

One of the strengths of the NQF is that it is a national system and providers are keen to learn how the standard is being applied and achieved across Australia. Demand among jurisdictions for support to deliver and improve national consistency, particularly in relation to assessment and rating, remains high. ACECQA's provision of centralised authorised officer training is a significant tool in this regard and following the recent, joint inter-rater reliability trial, ACECQA will continue to work with states and territories to identify useful, practical and more targeted reliability measures. This project will also complement the new body of work ACECQA and jurisdictions are collaborating on to identify meaningful ways of evaluating NQF outcomes.

In April 2016, we welcomed the appointment of the third ACECQA Board. Led by Ms Judy Hebblethwaite as Acting Chair, a mix of returning and new Board members has provided the organisation with a balance of continuity and new insights and perspectives. We look forward to working with them to deliver outcomes for children.

This is just a small selection of ACECQA's achievements throughout 2015-16; these and many more are outlined in detail throughout this report.

To that end, again I would like to thank ACECQA staff for their work during the past year. Their belief in the importance of quality and striving for continual improvement extends to their own work. I am privileged to lead them to deliver on ACECQA's role in the successful implementation of the NQF.

Lastly, I would also like to acknowledge the significant contribution made by all previous Board members, whose leadership, passion and direction have left ACECQA well placed to continue that work. In particular, the NQF has benefited from the stewardship and strategic insights of ACECQA's outgoing inaugural Chair, Ms Rachel Hunter.

Karen Curtis
Chief Executive Officer

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Report structure

ACECQA's Annual Report for 2015-16 has been structured to meet the requirements of section 279 of the Education and Care Services National Law (the National Law).

The report comprises five parts:

Educator reading to two boys

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