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

2.1 Functions Overview

ACECQA's overarching function under the National Law is to guide the implementation and administration of the NQF and to monitor and promote national consistency. To achieve this, ACECQA performs the functions described in section 225 of the National Law and delivers on the strategic priorities outlined in ACECQA's Ministerial Letter of Expectation.

ACECQA reports to and advises the Education Council on the NQF and reports to the regulatory authorities and the Australian Government on the collection of information under the National Law and the evaluation of the NQF.

ACECQA is required to establish consistent, effective and efficient procedures for the operation of the NQF, determine the arrangements for national auditing for the purposes of the National Law, and promote and foster continuous quality improvement by approved education and care services.

The National Law requires ACECQA to keep national information on the assessment, rating and regulation of education and care services. ACECQA publishes, monitors and reviews ratings of approved education and care services, including managing the process for a further review (second tier review) by a ratings review panel of the rating levels confirmed or amended by the regulatory authority.

ACECQA is responsible for establishing and maintaining national registers of approved providers, approved education and care services, and certified supervisors and the publication of those registers.

ACECQA makes determinations with respect to the highest level of rating for approved education and care services (the Excellent rating). ACECQA determines the qualifications for authorised officers and provides support and training for staff of regulatory authorities. ACECQA is also responsible for determining the qualifications required to be held by educators, including the assessment of equivalent qualifications.

ACECQA has sector and community support functions that include providing education and information about the NQF, in conjunction with the state and territory regulatory authorities. ACECQA develops, publishes and disseminates guides, practice notes and resources to help parents and the community, and to support the education and care services sector in understanding the NQF and the application of the National Law.

ACECQA is also required to publish information about the implementation and administration of the NQF and its effect on developmental and educational outcomes for children.

In carrying out all of its functions, ACECQA has regard to the objectives and guiding principles of the NQF and works to ensure that the regulatory burden on education and care services is minimised as far as possible.

Part 2 of the Annual Report describes ACECQA's performance of these functions in more detail. ACECQA's Ministerial Letter of Expectation 2014-16 (Appendix A) prioritises some of these functions and this is also reflected across Part 2 of the Report.

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2.2 Guiding implementation of the NQF

In 2015-16, ACECQA's Quality and Consistency Committee (QaCC), and its working groups, continued to be the formal mechanism for state, territory and national authorities to inform and assist each other to effectively, efficiently and consistently administer the NQF across Australia. The QaCC comprises senior representatives from state and territory regulatory authorities, the Australian Government and ACECQA.

QaCC Key Activities

Priority areas of work in the 2015-16 financial year included:

  • activities to strengthen outcomes and risk-based regulation under the NQF, for example:
    • QaCC members came together to participate in a seminar on risk-based regulatory practice in the NQF context, facilitated by Harvard University regulation expert Professor Malcolm Sparrow
    • a Risk and Compliance Sub Committee produced a report on current regulatory authority approaches to assessing and managing risk and opportunities for further development of knowledge about risk and compliance under the NQF
    • leading on from a national workshop on NQF risks, the QaCC agreed a forward work plan focused on strengthening information sharing, data collection and analytics within the national system to support better risk management.
  • identifying and addressing NQF operational and policy issues raised by regulatory authorities, large providers and peak bodies, with a focus on solutions that strengthen sector compliance and minimise regulatory burden for regulatory authorities and providers
  • informing and supporting ACECQA's 2015-16 program of NQF national audits
  • collaboration on a small-scale trial, which sought to test methods of gauging the level of inter-rater reliability between authorised officers.

In addition, and as a mechanism to share information about more detailed jurisdiction-specific matters, in 2015-16 the ACECQA Executive continued to hold bilateral meetings with senior regulatory authority officials from the eight jurisdictions every six to eight weeks.

Early Childhood Policy Group

In practice, all policy and high level operational matters reported by ACECQA to Education Council Ministers and AESOC are also consulted on with the Early Childhood Policy Group (ECPG). The ECPG comprises senior representatives from each state and territory and Australian Government department with responsibility for early childhood development policy. The ECPG reports and provides strategic policy advice to AESOC on all early childhood related components of the Education Council strategic reform framework.

Maintaining strong and effective relationships with ECPG is crucial to ensuring alignment between the strategic objectives of ACECQA and governments.

During 2015-16, and in addition to consulting with ECPG on its formal reporting obligations, ACECQA has been an active member of several newly established ECPG sub-groups, providing national data and perspectives to support work on the following priority policy areas:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children
  • Children's Safety, Health and Wellbeing (incorporating Family Day Care policy issues)
  • Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Children
  • Early Learning Transitions.

The 2014 COAG Review of the National Partnership Agreement on the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care

Under the initial National Partnership Agreement on the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care (the NPA), all state and territory governments and the Australian Government committed to a review in 2014 on progress made towards achieving the objectives of the NQF.

ACECQA supported ECPG as a major contributor to the 2014 COAG Review throughout the main work period in 2014-15, and continued to support the Review process in 2015-16. The National Authority's major contributions to the Review during 2015-16 included:

  • working closely with the ECPG Legislation Working Group to inform and advise on proposed National Law and National Regulations changes
  • providing advice on the implementation of proposed changes to assessment and rating and the NQS
  • coordinating a desktop review of a new proposed approach to determining Exceeding NQS for quality standards to inform development of guidance material for regulatory authorities and the sector.

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2.3 ACECQA's reporting obligations

COAG Education Council

Under the National Law, and in accordance with its Letter of Expectation, ACECQA delivers several reports to the COAG Education Council. These reports provide detailed information about the implementation and progress of the NQF, as well as major activities undertaken by the National Body. In 2015-16, these reports included:

  • an eighth and final NQA Implementation Plan report (December 2015), which provided an assessment of NQF progress against five performance indicators. A summary of progress against those five indicators, as at 30 June 2016, is contained in Part Three of this Annual Report
  • two, six monthly progress reports against an ACECQA interim Forward Work Plan for 2015-16, the second of which was combined with an interim Forward Work Plan for 2016-17. The interim nature of these reports was agreed by all jurisdictions and reflects their development in the midst of significant, interrelated NQF governance, funding and policy matters, which were being considered by governments throughout 2015-16. These progress reports also reported the outcomes of ACECQA's national audit program in 2015-16, as required under section 229 of the National Law. Further details on the audit program are contained in Part 2.5 of this Annual Report
  • monthly reports on quality assessment and rating progress. ACECQA refined this report in 2015-16 to include performance metrics relating to the reassessment of services and quality improvement being seen, providing ministers with a regular progress update and a national perspective
  • a communiqué following each Board meeting, maintaining the Board's commitment to transparency in its decision making.
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2.4 Procedures for consistency, effectiveness and efficiency

National Consistency Strategy

ACECQA published its National Consistency Strategy and Implementation Plan during the current reporting period, setting out its approach to monitoring and promoting consistency under the NQF. The plan recognises ACECQA's key role in identifying and supporting practice to deliver nationally consistent outcomes that:

  • benefit children and families
  • further children's safety, health, wellbeing and development
  • increase efficiency and reduce unnecessary burden for providers of education and care services
  • complement the objectives of the National Law.

One of the key challenges of this work is developing a shared understanding of consistency. In the context of the NQF, consistency is about the outcomes that result from the way the NQF is administered. Understanding this approach is important because it allows for a diversity of service provision necessary to meet children and families' different needs while providing agreed foundations for children's safety, health, wellbeing and development. A focus on consistent outcomes encourages a broad range of practice among services while giving families and carers confidence that children are experiencing the benefits of attending education and care services.

ACECQA's consistency plan identifies activities under seven priority areas that were delivered on in 2015-16 to promote national consistency, and details progress made against each of these areas:

  • training and support for authorised officers
  • national audits
  • application and assessment functions
  • sector and family communications
  • analysis of assessment and rating data
  • collaboration with state and territory regulatory authorities, and other partner organisations
  • National Quality Agenda Information Technology System (NQA ITS).

Improving levels of national consistency is a collaborative effort between the eight state and territory regulatory authorities, the Australian Government, service providers and ACECQA. As well as meeting regularly with these stakeholders to discuss and progress issues as they emerge, ACECQA publishes a range of consistency data to help the sector monitor its own performance.

Assessment and rating analysis reports for regulatory authorities

In 2015-16, ACECQA continued to provide quarterly assessment and rating data analysis for each regulatory authority to help them with monitoring consistency. ACECQA also shared element level data with the state and territory Professional Support Coordinators, to help guide their efforts in providing training and support to education and care services.

ACECQA also shared quarterly assessment and rating data analysis with large education and care providers to assist them with planning and monitoring consistency.

Inter-rater reliability initiatives

Educator with a row of children


Inter-rater reliability trials seek to measure consistency between the quality assessment and rating decisions of different authorised officers.

To achieve inter-rater reliability all authorised officers, when presented with a similar quality service, should draw similar conclusions about the service's quality rating.

For children, families and carers, and providers of education and care services it is important that the outcome of quality assessment and rating of a service be comparable to other similar services irrespective of the authorised officer that conducts it. Families and carers can then be confident that quality ratings are truly reflective of service quality and providers can be confident that they will experience equitable treatment when being quality assessed and rated.

Between June and December 2015, an ACECQA lead assessor shadowed 31 authorised officers on assessment and rating visits across seven jurisdictions, effectively conducting a parallel assessment and rating of the service for research purposes.

The trial revealed that the ACECQA lead assessor's assessment and rating judgements were largely consistent with those of the authorised officers, with 80 per cent of judgements consistent at the overall rating level.

In 2016-17, ACECQA will continue to work with state and territory regulatory authorities to develop an appropriate, flexible model for the ongoing monitoring and strengthening of inter-rater reliability.

Operational Policy Manual

Several Operational Policy Manual updates were published by ACECQA during 2015-16 in response to sector and government feedback. The changes focused on improving the readability and utility of the resource, including additional practical examples to clarify some sections that were causing confusion for users. An agreed protocol for the operation of Family Day Care services across jurisdictional boundaries was added to the Operational Policy Manual as an appendix in June 2016. The Protocol promotes:

  • joint, timely and coordinated action by regulatory authorities
  • the objectives of the NQF and national consistency.

Second tier review

If an approved provider disagrees with the final ratings given through the quality assessment and rating process, they can apply to a regulatory authority for a review of ratings. Should an approved provider not agree with the outcome of this 'first tier' review, they can apply to ACECQA for a 'second tier' review. This is conducted by a ratings review panel, consisting of three experts drawn from ACECQA's ratings review panel pool.

In accordance with the National Law and National Regulations, the pool comprises people who are experts, or who have 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 addition to the prescribed expertise and knowledge, appointments to the ratings review panel pool include representatives from each state and territory, and expertise across service types. As the initial term for panel pool members expired in October 2015, some members were reappointed and others newly appointed. At 30 June 2016 the ratings review panel pool comprised 17 members.

ACECQA manages applications for second tier review and provides administrative support to ratings review panels.

In 2015-16, ACECQA received six applications for a second tier review. As at 30 June 2016, ACECQA had received 22 applications and finalised 21 since quality assessment and rating commenced. The ratings review panels have by consensus decided to:

  • amend the service's overall rating in three cases
  • partially amend the service's ratings in six cases which did not impact on the service's overall rating
  • confirm the regulatory authority's rating of the service in 12 cases.

The decision notices which set out the reasons for the rating review panels' decisions for all completed reviews are published on ACECQA's website. Key learnings from the reviews are used to further promote onal consistency.

ACECQA also publishes resources for applicants to help them with the application process including guidelines and an information sheet.

Young child playing with sand

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2.5 National auditing arrangements

 

 

In 2015-16, ACECQA continued its program of national audits in accordance with its responsibility under the National Law, including reporting to the Education Council on the outcomes.

 

 

The audits evaluate trends in the administration of the NQF across jurisdictions. This function aligns with ACECQA's primary objectives of guiding the implementation and administration of the NQF, and monitoring and promoting national consistency.

ACECQA's audit topics and project plans are agreed by the Quality and Consistency Committee (QaCC) and focus on areas that have been identified as high priority, offer opportunities to share learning and experiences, and promote national consistency.

ACECQA completed three national audits in 2015-16.

Serious incidents involving a child missing from a service

In September 2015, ACECQA completed its eighth audit, examining serious incidents involving a child missing from a service or unable to be accounted for. This audit investigated the characteristics of this type of serious incident and how regulatory authorities respond to such incidents. It found that around half of these incidents occurred in outside of school hours care and roughly a third in long day care settings. Almost half of these incidents involved a child missing outside of the service premises after being signed into the service, with close to one-third involving children not arriving at the service.

The audit identified a number of actions to improve the quality of serious incidents data.

Young boy plasting with plaster

Significant Improvement Required rating

ACECQA completed its ninth audit in February 2016 on the use of the Significant Improvement Required (SIR) rating. This audit examined services that had received an overall rating of SIR and found that the rating had been issued less than 40 times since the inception of the assessment and rating system in mid 2012.

When the SIR rating was issued to a service, standard 2.3 (each child is protected) was the standard most likely to receive the rating, followed by standards 2.1 (each child's health is promoted), 3.1 (design and location of premises) and 4.1 (staffing arrangements). The SIR ratings were primarily a result of serious non-compliance with relevant national regulations.

The audit found that 80 per cent of services that received an SIR rating were subsequently reassessed and received a rating of Working Towards NQS or higher, having implemented the improvements required by the relevant regulatory authority.

A small number of services that received a rating of SIR either surrendered their service approval, had their service approval cancelled by the relevant regulatory authority, or transferred to a different approved provider.

The identified actions from the audit included developing additional guidance for authorised officers about the SIR rating and establishing a more consistent approach for recording SIR ratings.

Individual standards and elements analysis

In June 2016, ACECQA completed its tenth audit which analysed assessment and rating results for a number of standards and elements of the NQS.

The audit aimed to identify any variation and trends relating to these standards and elements, and found that the quality of final assessment and rating reports analysed as part of the audit was markedly better than the equivalent sample of reports analysed during one of ACECQA's audits undertaken in 2014.

Most final assessment and rating reports analysed as part of the audit included evidence that fully supported the ratings and judgments given for the selected standards and elements.

 

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2.6 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 weekly 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.

Educator reading to two young children

 

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.

 

Two young boys in an outdoor setting

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, 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.

NQA ITS Governance

ACECQA is responsible for the management and development of the NQA ITS as well as providing support to the users of the system. NQA ITS strategic development priorities are set by the Quality and Consistency Committee (QaCC) and implemented by the NQA ITS Steering Group (NSG). NSG comprises representatives from state and territory regulatory authorities, the Australian Government and ACECQA. NSG provides an annual 'State of the System Report' to QaCC, which outlines the past year's achievements and provides a future work plan for the system

In addition, ACECQA also works with regulatory authority system administrators who provide advice on the day to day use of the system and give guidance on how to implement requests from QaCC and NSG. Workshops are hosted by ACECQA for NSG members, which provide an opportunity to:

  • discuss, formulate and prioritise NQA ITS enhancements to meet business requirements and key priorities
  • directly engage with ACECQA on issues and opportunities for improvement
  • review the system's functionality in relation to individual business processes for each regulatory authority
  • deliver training on new functions
  • network with representatives across jurisdictions.

NQA ITS system updates

There were three major releases during 2015-16, 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 160 issues/improvements in the year, with a number of enhancements focusing on usability improvements for end users. The major system enhancements included:

  • streamlining the recording feedback functions and report generation for assessment and rating visits
  • enhancing the portal usability for providers to update details, provide assessment and rating feedback, and apply for reviews
  • integrating with regulatory authority reporting and business applications.

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 2016, ACECQA issued 2016-17 annual fee invoices to each provider for all services they held in the given jurisdiction. Providers with services in multiple jurisdictions receive one invoice per jurisdiction where services are located. ACECQA sent more than 7,900 invoices to providers across the country.

NQA ITS statistics

Number of providers registered in the NQA ITS

The number of providers registering to use the NQA ITS continued to increase in 2015-16.

Figure 4 below shows the proportion of approved providers registered with the NQA ITS as at July 2016. Once an approved provider is registered they are able to submit applications and notifications online as well as pay their annual fees.

There was a 43 per cent increase in the total number of registered portal users in 2015-16, from 17,696 to 25,349.

The significant increase during the reporting period can be attributed to:

  • usability improvements made to the system
  • sector acceptance and familiarity with the system
  • changes to some jurisdictional processes to only accept online forms
  • greater promotion and guidance.

Applications and notifications

With ongoing system enhancements to application and notification forms, there has been a noticeable shift to these forms being submitted online by the sector.

In June 2015, 25 per cent of application/notification forms were submitted by paper to regulatory authorities nationally. At the end of June 2016, paper based forms accounted for only 19 per cent of submissions, with 81 per cent being submitted online. Online submissions help to reduce regulatory burden for providers and remove the need for data entry into the NQA ITS by the regulatory authority.

Figure 5 shows the breakdown of applications and notifications submitted by providers in 2015-16 by the method submitted. Notifications are more likely to be submitted online with 86.5 per cent lodged through the online portal. For applications, 75 per cent were submitted online to the regulatory authority which is a significant increase from 2014-15 (33 per cent).

Figure 4. Proportion of providers registered for the NQA ITS 2015-16

Jurisdiction
ACT
NSW
NT
QLD
SA
TAS
VIC
WA
Totals
Providers[1]
127
3,888
88
1,760
570
89
2,554
651
9,727
% of providers registered for the NQA ITS
81.9%
93.6%
63.6%
75.7%
42.5%
39.3%
81.8%
79.3%
82.4%

    
Figure 5. Method of submission of applications and notifications, 2015-16    

Method of submission
Applications
Notifications
Online
75.19%
86.50%
Paper
24.81%
13.50%

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.

In 2015-16, the service desk answered over 5,300 enquiries from users of the system, a decrease of 26 per cent from 2014-15. This is most likely due to increasing knowledge and confidence in the use of the NQA ITS by regulatory authority and sector users.

ACECQA provides training and support to the sector and regulatory authorities with various training sessions conducted throughout 2015-16. The team has produced online guides to help users to register, link providers and manage user access.

The inaugural NQA ITS satisfaction survey was distributed to regulatory authority users in late 2015. The results of the survey were positive with the majority of respondents satisfied with both the NQA ITS and the support they received through the ACECQA service desk. Over three quarters of users reported being satisfied with the NQA ITS, while satisfaction with the service desk was at almost 95 per cent. The information provided in the survey provides guidance on future development of the system. This survey will be undertaken annually from 2016 to evaluate perceptions of the NQA ITS by users, including sector users.

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2.7 Excellent rating

Under the National Law, 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 have been rated as Exceeding National Quality Standard by a state or territory regulatory authority.

Applications

In 2015-16, ACECQA received a total of 28 applications for the Excellent rating. Following assessment, ACECQA awarded the Excellent rating to 13 services in 2015-16:

  • Canberra Grammar school Northside Pre-Kindergarten
  • Torquay Kids Early Learning Centre
  • Little Beacons Learning Centre
  • KU - Corrimal East Pre-School
  • Kentish Lifelong Learning and Care Incorporated
  • Centenary Child Care & Early Education Centre
  • Pelican Waters Golden Beach Preschool Kindergarten and Child Care
  • Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre (Melb) Inc
  • Bertram Hawker Kindergarten
  • Wagner Road Early Childhood Centre & Kindergarten
  • Jescott Montessori Preschool
  • Milford Lodge Child Care Centre
  • Canterbury College Kindergarten.

Fourteen of the 28 applications for the Excellent rating were assessed as unsuccessful in 2015-16, and one was being assessed as at 30 June 2016.

Excellent rated service profile

As at 30 June 2016, ACECQA had received a total of 122 applications for the Excellent rating since the proclamation of legislative provisions enabling this function in April 2013, with 49 services awarded the Excellent rating. Those services include long day care, preschool/kindergarten, family day care and outside school hours care services, and are located across seven states and territories - ACT, NSW, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia.

Services demonstrate excellence through their applications in a range of different ways. During 2015-16, more than 84 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'.

Excellent rated services demonstrate leadership that reinforces the benefits of quality early childhood education and care and that develops the sector, the service's local area and communities.

An overview of each Excellent rated service is published on the ACECQA website. In 2015-16, ACECQA has also looked for new opportunities to share examples of highly accomplished practice. For example, ACECQA produced two videos in which examples of exceptional practice were identified and discussed, which were used as part of our national workshops.

Excellent rating criteria

The Excellent rating criteria have been in operation for nearly three years and the mix of services rated Excellent suggests the criteria 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. Any future review of the criteria will occur with reference to any changes to this function arising from the 2014 COAG Review.

Reapplications

Services that first received the Excellent rating in 2013 will be eligible to reapply from 2016. The Excellent rating is awarded for a three-year period and services wishing to retain the rating will need to reapply. In 2015-16, ACECQA notified the first eligible services and their regulatory authorities about the reapplication process. An information sheet that explains the reapplication process has been developed and provided to those services and regulatory authorities. Reapplications for the Excellent rating will be subject to the same application and assessment process as for the original application.

Girl ties up shoeline of younger girl

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2.8 Educate and inform

Stakeholder engagement

Following a year of review and consultation in 2014-15, ACECQA consolidated its stakeholder engagement activities this year, ensuring communication and feedback channels remained open with the sector.

Regular meetings took place with national peak bodies and large providers. These meetings are a critical way for ACECQA to touch base with the sector, to share and hear ideas and concerns, and form a key part of its planning and communication process.

We continued to be active at conferences, workshops and events with more than 110 presentations delivered by ACECQA representatives in 2015-16. These provide opportunities for sector professional development and a continued focus on quality and continuous improvement.

National Workshops

Building on the success of the 2014-15 National Workshops, the second round began in the ACT in October 2015 and ended in Victoria in June 2016. Delivered in collaboration with regulatory authorities and professional support coordinators (PSC), jurisdictions were able to choose from three focus areas - Agency of the Child, Cultural Competence and Educational Leadership. More than 3,000 educators and service providers attended one of the 66 workshops held across Australia, with resources and workbooks designed for educators to share with their colleagues and services. A webcast from the original series is also available on ACECQA's website for services to view.

The total number of national workshops delivered since 2014 now stands at 112, with more than 6,800 participants attending. Work is currently underway for the third series, which starts in the Northern Territory in August 2016.

National Education Leader activities

In addition to the delivery of national workshops, the National Education Leader team continued to develop educational materials and resources to further support the implementation of the NQF.

Topics identified for exploration on the regularly updated National Education Leader webpage are informed by trend data from the assessment and rating of services, as well as discussions with authorised officers, educators, peak and sector support organisations and enquiries to ACECQA.

As well as visiting services, the National Education Leader has continued to present at conferences and workshops, contribute to sector newsletters and share information and resources that promote quality service delivery and consistent messaging across the sector.

Sector resources

ACECQA has a responsibility to publish guides and resources to support the education and care sector understand the NQF. This includes the NQF Resource Kit and the Operational Policy Manual for Regulatory Authorities. In 2015-16, a range of resources were added or updated, including information sheets on the 2016 changes to educator to child ratios, monthly topics on the NEL webpage, new FAQs and a new webpage on opening an education and care service. ACECQA also continued to provide regular article contributions to sector publications.

Snapshots

The NQF Snapshot provides analysis and information on the profile of the sector, progress of assessment and rating and the quality rating of services, including by provider management type and service sub-type. Four quarterly NQF Snapshots were published during 2015-16, with an ongoing focus of providing greater data analysis across the period. The NQF Snapshot Q3 2015 included the publication of service sub types and the NQF Snapshot Q4 2015 included further data on provider management type. The May Snapshot (Q1 2016) reported on changes in quality ratings for services that have been assessed more than once and included a new interactive online version that allows users to hover over, sort and search data.

Resources for families

ACECQA launched Starting Blocks in April 2015 with a focus on increasing parents' awareness and understanding of the importance and benefits of quality early childhood education and care. Over the past year, communications centred on brand awareness initiatives and website functionality development.

The online service search on the Starting Blocks website underwent significant functionality improvements from December 2015 to April 2016. These features were launched in May 2016, offering users an advanced personalised search, integrating Google Maps, social media share options and a favourites list.

To support brand awareness, Starting Blocks placed specific emphasis on digital communication channels. Search engine optimisation and social media promotions were developed, targeting families nationwide and introducing them to Starting Blocks resources and online search. At the end of June 2016, Starting Blocks had more than 19,000 Facebook fans and over 190,000 website page views. Further activities are planned in 2016-17 to increase national awareness and engagement.

Online engagement

ACECQA continues to inform and support the sector to implement the NQF through increasing online engagement via the ACECQA website, newsletter and social media platforms.

The ACECQA website remains a primary source of information for the sector with an average of 70,000 people visiting it each month. Over the past 12 months, ACECQA continued to review the website, deleting redundant content and consolidating information. This review aimed to meet user needs for simple, engaging content for users who are increasingly accessing the site through their mobile phones rather than desktop computer. New resources were also regularly added to the site.

ACECQA's social media presence continues to grow, with more than 22,000 Facebook followers (an increase of about 8,000 on the previous year) and more than 3,000 Twitter followers (up by more than 500). Engaging content shared with followers is also regularly reaching 50,000 people a week and over 100,000 people in some weeks.

ACECQA's monthly newsletter and We Hear You blog are other avenues to keep the sector informed of news and useful information to help meet the requirements of the NQF. ACECQA's newsletter has almost 22,000 subscribers and the We Hear You blog has been viewed more than 90,000 times in the past year.

Enquiries team

ACECQA's customer service team is an essential part of its 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 2015-16, the customer service team received a total of 29,294 enquiries. This consisted of 16,152 phone enquiries and 13,142 email enquiries. The highest number of enquiries related to educator qualification requirements.

This year, the customer service team also started work on addressing incoming Starting Blocks enquiries. All Starting Blocks enquiries are now funnelled through ACECQA's information bank, which will offer valuable insights into family target groups over time.

As part of ACECQA's Customer Service Charter, the team has a goal to respond to email enquiries within five days. The average rate of response in 2015-16 was 1.2 days. ACECQA also draws on its enquiries to inform newsletter articles, information sheets, blogs, social media posts and website content to share relevant information with a broader audience.

Media

Securing media coverage of services awarded Exceeding or Excellent ratings continues to be one way for ACECQA to promote quality children's education and care. Following the awarding of an Excellent rating, ACECQA distributes a media release to local media detailing the reasons for the service's recognition. It is a valuable tool to promote the service and the benefit of high quality early education and care in our community.

ACECQA was referenced in over 45 online and offline media articles throughout the year, as well as various stories on radio. More than 50 per cent of these were related to assessment and rating results, while other topics included career development and opportunities in early childhood education, the cost of child care, the Mitchell Report on 'Quality Education For All' and the growing use of technology in services.

Starting Blocks engaged a selection of print and online media as part of its overall communications, appearing in a range of online and print parenting publications. A series of additional articles also featured across notable Australian blogs such as Childhood 101, Show and Tell and Paging Fun Mums. Essential Baby also featured three articles drawing upon content and ideas from the Starting Blocks website.

Communications Working Group (CWG)

ACECQA continues to work with the Australian Government and regulatory authorities through the Communications Working Group, on planning and producing communications to promote the aims of the NQF. In 2015-16, ACECQA worked with the Group on a communications plan to inform the sector about the 2016 changes to educator to child ratios, the roll-out of the National Workshops across the country, developing new logos to promote NQF ratings, information for families and a range of other issues.

Young boy playing with toy dinosaur

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2.9 Information on NQF and effect on developmental outcomes for children

Development of an NQF evaluation framework

One of ACECQA's functions under the National Law is to evaluate the NQF. In line with this statutory function, ACECQA has developed a draft NQF evaluation framework which aims to enable the assessment of the objectives of the NQF.

The draft framework includes a detailed rationale, a program logic model (including a set of short, medium and long-term outcomes) and key evaluation questions. The framework is not intended to be a one-off evaluation project in itself, rather it lays the foundation and parameters for ongoing evaluation projects that link to the identified objectives of the NQF.

An agreed framework will have a crucial role in guiding future NQF reporting, contributing to the evidence base around quality children's education and care, and enabling governments to assess value for money from their investments in the jointly governed system.

In 2015-16, ACECQA consulted on the framework methodology with regulatory authorities and all policy arms of government through ECPG, and also commenced broader stakeholder consultations.

ACECQA will make the draft framework a significant discussion item at a research and data-focussed ACECQA Stakeholder Forum in September 2016, before it is finalised in consultation with all governments.

Occasional paper 1

The first report in ACECQA's occasional paper series was published in January 2016. The paper provides detailed insights into performance against Quality Area 1 (Educational Program and Practice) of the National Quality Standard.

Drawing on information from the final assessment and rating reports of authorised officers, and data from the National Quality Agenda IT System, the inaugural occasional paper examined performance across service types, jurisdictions, management types, and socio economic and remoteness classifications.

Occasional paper 2

ACECQA's second occasional paper, published in June 2016, continued in the same vein and examined performance against Quality Area 2 (Children's Health and Safety). Quality Area 2 encompasses one of the primary objectives of the NQF - to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of children attending education and care services.

One of the findings from the analysis is that services in remote and very remote areas may benefit from more support to understand and comply with the requirements of Quality Area 2. The paper also summarises recent state, territory and Commonwealth initiatives around child-safe organisations, as well as some examples of the types of compliance and enforcement action that regulatory authorities have taken relating to children's health and safety.

Regulatory burden research - Wave III

ACECQA began the third and final instalment of this longitudinal study in April 2015, with results reported to the Education Council in December 2015.

The study revealed a number of positive findings, including consistently high levels of support for the NQF and a decline in perceptions of overall burden associated with the administrative requirements of the National Law and Regulations.

Other research relationships and submissions

In 2015-16, ACECQA further developed its relationships with peak bodies, providers and government agencies, including the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Australian Government Department of Education and Training, to improve research outcomes. Both of these agencies manage and maintain datasets that can assist the evaluation of the NQF. ACECQA also attended a number of university-facilitated workshops, conferences and symposia.

National Early Childhood Education Database

In early 2016, ACECQA began collaborating with the Australian Government, ABS and other agencies on a data linkage project - the National Early Childhood Education Database (NECED) - being undertaken for the Australian Education Senior Officials Committee (AESOC) and the Early Childhood Data Sub-Group (ECDSG).

Following consultation with state and territory regulatory authorities, ACECQA provided the Australian Government and ABS with data extracted from the National Quality Agenda IT System.

The project aims to improve school readiness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and will contribute to a broader ECDSG agenda to develop a National Dataset on Early Childhood Education, designed to support research, analysis, policy design and implementation.

Report on Government Services

Coloured pencils

ACECQA continued to collaborate with state and territory governments and other agencies on the early childhood education and care chapter of the annual Report on Government Services (RoGS) produced by the Productivity Commission.

Productivity Commission education evidence base inquiry

In May 2016, ACECQA made a submission to the Productivity Commission's public inquiry into the development of a national education evidence base.

ACECQA's submission focused on the scope of the inquiry, factors that shape education outcomes, and data sharing and linkages. In line with recommendation 13.2 of the Productivity Commission's previous inquiry into childcare and early childhood learning, ACECQA supports efforts to share information across government agencies, subject to appropriate data privacy and confidentiality controls.

In September 2016, the Commission will provide an update on the inquiry to the ACECQA Stakeholder Forum. The Commission's final inquiry report is scheduled to be released in December 2016.

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2.10 Qualifications for authorised officers and support and training for regulatory authority staff

Authorised officer training

Each state and territory regulatory authority employs authorised officers to administer the relevant sections of the National Law and National Regulations in their jurisdiction. ACECQA's support and training for authorised officers drive national consistency under the NQF. Reliable training and effective support for staff of regulatory authorities supports the integrity of the NQF and is vital to improving quality outcomes for children, families and communities.

The role of authorised officers varies across states and territories but generally includes assessing and rating services, monitoring compliance, guiding and educating providers, managing approvals and taking enforcement actions.

There are two parts to the national authorised officer training program. Part one of the training is available to authorised officers in a series of online learning modules focussed on the background and intent of the NQF. Part two of the authorised officer training focusses 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. To demonstrate reliability, authorised officers must complete and pass a reliability test following the training.

ACECQA delivers part two training face-to-face bi-monthly, and on an ad-hoc basis when there is a high demand on a national or jurisdictional level. During 2015-16, ACECQA delivered the part two training to approximately 64 officers from six jurisdictions.

Drift testing

Authorised officers must complete an annual drift test to ensure that they continue to maintain reliability using the NQS assessment and rating instrument. All authorised officers complete drift testing online through the national authorised officer eLearning portal.

In the reporting period, ACECQA monitored and supported ongoing drift testing of authorised officers to support consistent quality rating of services. ACECQA will review authorised officer drift testing in 2016-17.

eLearning modules for authorised officers

ACECQA also provides ongoing support to authorised officers by regularly publishing resources on the national authorised officer online training portal. In 2015-16, ACECQA produced the following eLearning modules to support authorised officers in their assessment and rating role:

  • Assessing quality education and care for children aged birth to two
  • Steiner and the NQF
  • Assessment and Rating Part 1: Desktop review
  • National Quality Agenda IT System assessment and rating reporting
  • Outside school hours care familiarisation - Quality Areas 1-3.

Guidance notes

In addition to eLearning modules, ACECQA worked with regulatory authorities to develop guidance notes for authorised officers. The following guidance notes for authorised officers were finalised in consultation with all regulatory authorities in 2015-16:

  • Meeting vs Exceeding National Quality Standard
  • Applying minor adjustments
  • Assessing a service's connection with community
  • Writing quality improvement plan (QIP) notes in the assessment and rating report.

Updates for regulatory authority staff

ACECQA continues to produce regulatory authority updates for authorised officers and all regulatory authority staff with access to the ACECQA eLearning portal. These keep authorised officers up to date with what is happening at ACECQA and in the sector, and provide timely advice on current national issues. A total of five regulatory authority updates were published on the eLearning portal in 2015-16.

Lead assessor network

Educator speaking with two young children


The Quality and Consistency Committee (QaCC) agreed to discontinue the Training Working Group (TWG) in February 2016, and place a greater focus on the lead assessor network (LAN). Each state and territory regulatory authority has nominated their lead assessor representatives for the lead assessor network.

ACECQA works collaboratively with lead assessors as the key jurisdictional representatives in the development and review of national training and support materials and activities.

The lead assessor workshops are integral in progressing work around national training and support resources and materials for authorised officers. ACECQA held two lead assessor workshops in 2015-16. The workshops focused on a range of topics regarding training and support for authorised officers, including:

  • regulatory authority survey results
  • assessment and rating data analysis
  • authorised officer training and resource development session
  • NQA ITS report tool and provider feedback
  • first tier review decision template
  • development of a national provider survey
  • inter-rater reliability project update.
Educator putting raincoat on child

 

A professional development session on providing feedback to authorised officers preparing assessment and rating reports was held for lead assessors at the April 2016 lead assessor workshop.

Before each lead assessor workshop, ACECQA distributes a national regulatory authority survey. These surveys aim to identify development opportunities for authorised officers to target training and support provided by ACECQA, and to inform discussions at lead assessor 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. In 2014, the ACECQA Board was due to conduct a scheduled review of its 2011 position on authorised officer qualifications. In December 2014, the Board decided to defer review of the current determination on qualifications, in recognition that any changes would need to be informed by relevant outcomes of the 2014 COAG Review. Accordingly, the 2011 ACECQA Board determination remained in place as at 30 June 2016.

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2.11 Educator qualifications

Under the National Law, ACECQA has the responsibility to determine and approve the qualifications that need to be held by educators working in children's education and care services.

ACECQA determines and approves the following types of qualifications and training for educators:

  • 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.

ACECQA maintains lists of current and formerly approved qualifications on its website. ACECQA also publishes lists of qualifications for working with children over preschool age for states and territories with those requirements.

Applications from individuals

Individuals who do not hold qualifications on ACECQA's approved lists and are not recognised by former state and territory laws can apply to have their qualifications assessed for equivalence. ACECQA publishes guidelines that govern the application process.

Between 1 July 2015 and 30 June 2016, ACECQA received 1,201 applications from individuals seeking to have their qualifications assessed for equivalence to an approved qualification. More than half (53 per cent) of the applications were from individuals seeking equivalence to early childhood teaching qualifications. Just under one third (30 per cent) were for diploma level qualifications. The remainder were for certificate III level and working with children over preschool age qualifications.

More than 85 per cent of the applications were from individuals with qualifications from overseas, most notably the UK (29 per cent of all applicants), New Zealand (13 per cent) and Ireland (8 per cent).

More than one quarter (28 per cent) of the applications were from individuals looking to work in NSW, followed by Western Australia (21 per cent), Victoria (19 per cent) and Queensland (15 per cent).

Of the 1,201 applications received, more than 85 per cent had been finalised by 30 June 2015. Around 5 per cent were being assessed, and the remainder were awaiting additional required information from the applicant.

ACECQA's assessment of applications typically involves individual case management and assistance around ACECQA's published guidelines and requirements. In 2015-16, ACECQA approved 619 individuals for equivalence. This included 221 early childhood teachers, 184 diploma level educators and 164 certificate III level educators.

The overall approval rate for finalised applications was 72 per cent.

The main reasons for not approving applicants were that they did not have relevant qualifications and/or specific birth to five years curriculum content and professional experience.

On average, ACECQA received 23 applications per week from individuals wanting their qualifications assessed. The highest volume months were September 2015, when 129 applications were received, and July 2015, when 119 applications were received. See Appendix G for further qualifications applications statistics.

ACECQA's individual qualifications application statistics for 2015-16 are very similar to the equivalent statistics for 2014-15.

Applications from organisations

Organisations, such as universities and registered training organisations, can apply to ACECQA to have an early childhood education program or training added to the approved lists. Again, there are published guidelines that govern this application process.

Between 1 July 2015 and 30 June 2016, ACECQA received a total of 18 applications from organisations wanting their qualifications or training assessed for equivalence.

Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of the 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 and certificate III level educator qualifications, and anaphylaxis training. Three applications were received from overseas institutions - two from New Zealand and one from Fiji.

Of the 18 applications received, most (83 per cent) had been finalised by 30 June 2016. All of the finalised applications were approved. ACECQA worked closely with applicants throughout the assessment process to ensure its published guidelines and requirements are met. This can involve requesting additional information from applicants, as well as changes to the originally proposed qualification or training. See Appendix G for further qualifications applications statistics.

ACECQA's organisation qualification application statistics for 2015-16 are similar to the equivalent statistics for 2014-15.

ACECQA continues to work with higher education providers and training organisations to ensure the development of high quality programs for the education and care sector. Since late 2015, ACECQA has embarked upon a communication campaign with Australian universities to ensure that they are aware that qualifications are approved for a period of five years. ACECQA has identified the qualifications that were first approved at the start of 2012, and are therefore due for re-approval this year, and will continue to send out regular correspondence to universities regarding these.

Collaboration with partner bodies

ACECQA works with the sector, Australian Government and state and territory governments, and other relevant agencies to identify ways to support the supply of appropriately qualified educators available for education and care service providers.

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL)

In the reporting period, ACECQA continued its collaborative work with AITSL to promote national consistency in the recognition of early childhood teachers in Australia. ACECQA is a member of the Teacher Qualification Expert Standing Committee (TQESC), which assists AITSL by providing advice and information on a national approach to skilled migration for teachers and collaboration on teaching skills assessment.

In May 2016, on the advice of TQESC, AITSL updated its professional criterion for Early Childhood (Pre-Primary school) Teachers to include consideration of supervised teaching practice with children aged birth to two years. This further aligns the AITSL requirements with the ACECQA requirements for approved ECT qualifications.

AITSL and ACECQA also collaborated on the development of a glossary to assist the use of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) in early childhood settings. The glossary was published on the AITSL website in July 2015.

Australasian Teacher Regulatory Authorities (ATRA)

ACECQA continues to work closely with ATRA and its jurisdictional members. Over the past 12 months, ACECQA collaborated with the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) and the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) to assist with the introduction of ECT registration/accreditation in those jurisdictions.

Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA)

ASQA regulates Australia's vocational education and training sector. In addition to an established memorandum of understanding between the two organisations, ACECQA continues to engage with ASQA to promote higher quality vocational education and training.

In March 2016, ASQA and ACECQA jointly facilitated an early childhood education and care sector roundtable to discuss concerns about the quality of vocational education and training. Further joint activities are planned for 2016-17.

SkillsIQ

SkillsIQ Limited is the skills service organisation appointed to develop vocational qualifications and training for the children's and youth services workforce. ACECQA is a member of SkillsIQ's Children's and Youth Services Industry Reference Committee, providing advice on vocational qualifications for educators, in particular the certificate III and diploma level educator qualifications published in the national training package.

Boy playing with playdough

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