Standard 3.1 Design – Case study 1

The design of the facilities is appropriate for the operation of a service.

This case study is a collection of examples of high quality practice to prompt reflection and discussion about Exceeding NQS practice in a range of service contexts. It is not an extract from an assessment and rating report for a service that is rated Exceeding NQS for this Standard, and does not comprehensively describe the ways that a service can demonstrate Exceeding practice.
image of wall art in a service


an icon representing school age children - a boy and a girl playing with a ball

This before and after school and vacation care service situated in a regional city is based in a two-room cottage on the grounds of the local school. The service has access to other indoor spaces used by the school. This includes the newly refurbished kitchen and a meeting space for staff meetings. The service also uses the school’s playground, which includes a large grassed area, sandpit and an area with fixed playground equipment. During vacation care when more children attend, the service also makes use of the school hall.

The service coordinator has worked at the service for over ten years and has established and sustained a strong and collaborative relationship with the school principal and teachers. This includes quarterly catch up meetings with the principal to discuss issues relevant to both the service and the school. For example, the approved provider and service coordinator actively sought input from children, families and educators from the service to gain an OSHC perspective in the design of renovations to relevant parts of the school that are utilised by the OSHC service. The provider and coordinator were then able to work with the school principal to ensure this OSHC perspective informed the design of those renovations.

More recently, the service and school has begun conversations about designing a bush tucker garden as part of their shared commitment to embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and perspectives in the curriculum. The service has established a relationship with a local Aboriginal Elder, who is also connected with the school. Together, they have commenced discussions about respectful ways to undertake the project together. Some children who are particularly interested in this idea have begun some initial research on native food sources local to the area and more suited to the local conditions. The children’s findings, questions, ideas and reflections are captured in the service’s “Big Ideas” book. The book is kept on display in the reception area so other children, educators and families are kept informed about the different projects children are currently working on.

Promoting a sense of belonging and inclusion is an important component of the service’s philosophy. To ensure this is reflected in everyday practice, educators have been talking to children about the idea of belonging and what that means to them. Many children were quick to say what it felt like when they didn’t belong, and most could also describe what it felt like to belong. The children and educators brainstormed key words that came to mind when they thought about belonging. Children were also invited to draw or write about their ideas. Some children used the service’s camera to capture aspects of the physical environment (indoors and out) where they felt they belonged and where they didn’t. These conversations were documented and shared with families on a display wall in the cottage reception area, to give them opportunities to share their ideas and perspectives.

Educators took children’s ideas to staff meetings to reflect on these as a team and explore the concept of belonging (and not belonging) from their own perspectives. These discussions were also informed by the vision, principles and practices in My Time Our Place. Educators were especially interested in the children’s photographs, which gave them insight into perspectives they hadn’t considered previously. Some educators were taken aback that some of the indoor and outdoor spaces they thought were welcoming and engaging were seen in a different light by children. This prompted educators to examine more deeply their assumptions about the design of the different spaces made available to children without actually asking them what they thought.

This became the focus of an action research project, which had multiple aspects, including what changes could be made to the physical environment so all children feel they belong and can meaningfully participate in the program. The first step was to conduct a review of the physical environment with the children. This included looking at the condition of furniture and equipment, as well as the organisation of indoor and outdoor play spaces. The children also created a list of the spaces they felt were welcoming, inclusive and engaging and those which were not. Examples of places and spaces that were inviting, engaging and fun in the cottage included the permanent art area and chill-out space. The school’s new kitchen also made the list. In the outdoor environment the children voted for the playground and grass area.

This led to a discussion about what changes were needed to create a sense of belonging for all. For example, the children had also described the sandpit as a fun place to spend time in. However, they said there wasn’t a lot of equipment to play with and some of it was old or incomplete. They also felt the sandpit wasn’t big enough for larger groups of children to play together in. One child was concerned about how their cousin, who would be coming to the school and the OSHC service next year, would be able to get in and out of the sand pit. This child loved playing with their cousin but couldn’t see how they could play together in the sandpit, as their cousin used a wheelchair for mobility. Reflecting on this, the children decided the sandpit wasn’t particularly welcoming or inclusive for everyone.

Children who identified the issue with the sandpit formed a working group to discuss possible solutions with the coordinator. They realised that while they could easily come up with ways to replace equipment, making the sandpit more inclusive was trickier. The children were familiar with the established, ongoing practice between the service and the school of collaborating about renovations on areas of the school used by the OSHC service. They were hopeful their ideas and perspectives would be respected and considered in this instance. Prior to speaking with the principal, the coordinator worked with the children to develop a proposal. The proposal explained what changes they wanted to make to the service and why. It also offered some initial thoughts about the design of the sandpit, including inclusive features. The children also suggested possible funding options and community partners. This included a local landscaping business run by one of the families at the service.

Using another example, some children had commented on the colour of the walls inside the cottage, which were grey and in their view made the indoor space drab and uninviting. Further, the light fixtures inside the cottage were old and emitted a yellowish colour, which they felt created a gloomy atmosphere. The coordinator raised this issue with the school principal at a quarterly catch up meeting. Together they explored how these issues could be addressed and what solutions might be possible to address the children’s concerns. Both jobs were able to be actioned quickly and everyone was impressed by what a difference a fresh coat of paint and new light fixtures made. As a further outcome of the catch up, the coordinator worked with the school’s maintenance team to develop a checklist to support a more systematic approach to maintenance in the future.

How practice in this example aligns with the Exceeding themes

Exceeding theme 1

Practice is embedded in service operations when it occurs consistently, frequently and intentionally as part of an ongoing process that is understood and implemented by all educators across all aspects of the program. In this example:

  • Indoor and outdoor spaces, buildings, fixtures and fittings positively support each child’s interaction with space, materials and each other. They also contribute to a flexible, responsive, inclusive and stimulating environment that enhances all children’s development, wellbeing and learning.

  • The approved provider and educators understand the importance of the environment for children’s learning, wellbeing and development. They use this information to inform how the environment is designed, reflecting on the pedagogical practices of My Time, Our Place.

  • The service has taken a planned approached to the implementation of changes to the service’s environment, which is under continual review. Educators are thinking holistically about the environment with the children, not just in terms of the physical space, but also with consideration to cultural context, aesthetics and inclusion.

Exceeding theme 2

Critical reflection involves a deep level of regular and ongoing analysis, questioning and thinking that goes beyond evaluation and review. Critical reflection informs practice when the continuous reflection of all educators, individually and together, influences decision-making and drives continuous quality improvement. In this example: 

  • Team meetings encourage ongoing discussion and debate to inform further changes and improvements to the design and maintenance of the physical environment.

  • Educators reflect, individually and together, on the design of the physical environment and draw on feedback from children and families to create opportunities to make changes to strengthen inclusion and create a sense of belonging for all.  

  • Educators have discovered new ways of thinking about practice informed by children’s ideas and perspectives. For example, seeking feedback from children about what a welcoming and inclusive space looks like caused them to reflect on their own views and consider new possibilities.

Exceeding theme 3

Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or the community when educators seek input, guidance and feedback from children, families and the community. Meaningful engagement with families and/or the community helps to shift thinking, shape ongoing practice and foster a culture of inclusiveness and sense of belonging for all. In this example: 

  • The design of the physical environment welcomes, reflects, and represents the voices, priorities and strengths of the children and families at the service.

  • Opportunities for collaboration with family and community partners are built into the service’s approach to designing and making changes to the physical environment.

  • The service team actively builds and maintains relationships with the school. In turn, the school respects and values input from the service regarding the physical environment and its design, and views this as a shared, collaborative responsibility.

You may wish to use the indicators for Exceeding practice, the reflective questions for Exceeding practice at the Standard level, or the questions used by authorised officers to establish Exceeding practice to review and consider the examples of practice described above using the online Guide to the NQF. You may also wish to consider them as part of your self-assessment, and in the development of your Quality Improvement Plan.

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