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.
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.
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.
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2.8 Educate and inform
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.