Standard 4.1 Staffing arrangements – Case study 2
Staffing arrangements enhance children's learning and development.
This outside school hours care (OSHC) service is located in an inner city suburb and was recently approved to increase licenced places from 60 to 100, due to increasing demand from the local community. This includes increasing the number of children in their first two years of school, with research undertaken by the school and the service predicting this trend will continue for some years to come.
The service is committed to continuing to support the wellbeing, learning and development of all children attending the service. This is achieved through strong connections and partnerships with families, and respectful and responsive relationships with children that inform a deep understanding of children’s strengths and interests. The team’s approach is informed by their understanding and application of My Time, Our Place – Framework For School Age Care in Australia (MTOP), and their commitment to the Professional Standards for OSHC Educators and the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics, which guides their professional practice.
The service recognises the value of building on children’s interests through complementary strengths within the educator team. Consequently, the program boasts a variety of planned and spontaneous learning opportunities as a result of thoughtful staffing arrangements. Whether children’s interests are sports, crafts, science and technology, drama, cooking, reading, nature play or music, the service has recruited a multi-skilled team of educators who can be arranged across the service in ways that enhance children’s learning and development and their overall experience at OSHC.
Service leadership understand that these aspirations are best achieved through their team of educators and supported by the organisation of these educators. They are committed to strong recruitment and retention processes and a culture that demonstrates educators are valued, respected and celebrated for the important work they do. These processes are reviewed regularly to note strengths, successes and areas for improvement, as documented in their Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), as well as educator’s individual performance improvement plans. Their retention of staff is considered a positive outcome of their commitment and efforts in this area.
One recent change to their recruitment process was the introduction of group interviews. Interviews are led by the service coordinator and another member of the service team. A parent and child representative is also involved. Rather than conducting individual interviews, applicants are brought together as a group to work through a series of tasks and activities. These are carefully designed to gauge applicants’ knowledge and understanding of OSHC as well as their skills in teamwork, communication and negotiation, and their disposition for working with school age children. The group interviews also provide service leadership with an insight into the applicants’ strengths, interests and experience, to help determine their ‘fit’ with the existing team and culture. The results so far have been very positive, as has the feedback received from applicants.
In a recent group interview, the service recruited for both permanent and support staff. The terminology of ‘support’ educators is a new initiative, following feedback from educators in exit interviews about the perception of the term ‘casual’ staff, as denoting educators being less important or their contributions less valued. In response, the leadership team spoke to all staff members and together they brainstormed alternatives that were more reflective of their view of all staff as being critical to the successful operations of the service.
Through the conversation it was also identified that the hierarchical way of displaying the structure of the team and the organisation led to educators feeling less important as they were visibly positioned at the bottom. To change this perception about value, team members suggested that the chart be visually presented horizontally or flipped vertically with the educators at the top. Both ideas had merit and together (with the support of management) they decided to flip the chart vertically to denote how the leadership team are there to provide support to the educator team who work directly with the children.
The service has established a regular pool of ‘support’ educators that they can call on as required. This pool of educators participate in a comprehensive induction program, along with permanent staff, to ensure they have a shared understanding of the service’s philosophy, policies and practices. This is supported by a mentor system, whereby new educators are paired with an experienced educator, to support their smooth induction into the service. On their first few days at the service new educators are rostered on in addition to the minimum number of educators the service has working directly with children. This is their familiarisation period, which allows them to focus on learning about the service’s routines and practices. While feedback on this system of induction has been positive, the service remains committed to reflection and continuous improvement, seeking ongoing opportunities to evolve this practice where required.
In response to the increasing number of children enrolled in the service in their first years of school, the service leadership sought advice from services within their local network to find out what strategies and ideas they had been exploring in response to the same issue. The leadership considered these ideas in light of their own unique context, including their available space and resources, as well as the strengths, experience and expertise of the service team. They also sought feedback from families, some of whom reported that their child can find the large open space overwhelming. Some families also noted their children were a little hesitant around some of ‘the big kids’. This was especially so for the children in kindergarten / prep, many of whom had come from an early education and care service and were more familiar with their own dedicated indoor and outdoor spaces and smaller numbers of children.
After much consideration, and following consultation with the school principal, the service decided to use an extra room the school made available to them for this younger cohort of children. They appointed an educator team led by a qualified team member with early childhood expertise to work specifically with the younger children. This new arrangement was discussed with the entire service team to ensure there was a shared understanding of the purpose and intent, as well as its practical application. The purpose of the approach was to build trusting and responsive relationships between educators and children. They also sought to support young children’s transition to the school day, which includes OSHC, with familiar faces and predictable routines, recognising the importance of staffing arrangements to achieve this outcome.
The team explored potential issues and challenges in relation to the new arrangement and how they would address them. This included, for example, how they would introduce the initiative to all children and how they would be responsive to the needs of siblings who wanted to spend time together. The team recognised the value of implementing changes to the program and practice at the beginning of a school year as new routines can be embedded more seamlessly.
Information about the new arrangement and the purposeful organisation and selection of educators to support young children was shared with families via the service newsletter. The service’s website also included a new resource that had been developed for families titled ‘Transitioning to a school day that includes OSHC’. This resource also included tips for families to help settle their children into a new routine, including the transition between the OSHC environment and school.
The service coordinator made sure they had adequate staff rostered on at drop off and pick up times so that they could be available to speak with families who wanted to ask questions or have a further discussion. They also drew up a carefully planned roster to accommodate the change and support familiarity and continuity of staff for all children. Rosters were made available to families in advance via the service app. In addition, photos of all educators rostered on each day were displayed on the service notice board, along with where they would be working that day.
The service coordinator kept the school principal informed about how things are going at the service as part of their monthly catch ups. This provided an opportunity for both to share their observations about the impact of the new arrangement on children while at before and after school care, as well as during their time in the classroom. Time was set aside in these catch up meetings to include teaching staff from the early years classrooms. This provides an opportunity to brainstorm other ideas and strategies for supporting children’s continuity of learning and smooth transition from one setting to the other with these staff. The OSHC team are now more aware of what is happening in the classrooms and the curriculum and are able to complement the teaching and learning occurring at school within their play-based program. The service has also provided the school teachers in the early year’s classes a simple photo display of the educators in their early year’s transition team. This has helped the teachers to recognise and know each of those OSHC team members by name.
To build on this complementary practice, the principal was supportive of the coordinator’s proposal that permanent service staff working with the younger children go into the classrooms to read to children in class time one or two days per week in their non-contact time. Classroom teachers have reported that the children have welcomed the educators into their classroom and have been eager to show them around and join them in a shared reading experience. The coordinator has noticed children coming into the OSHC service after school seem happier, more relaxed and more confident engaging in the play and leisure experiences on offer. The children are also actively seeking out the OSHC educators, initiating conversations and interactions more frequently. Educators have reported that they feel more attuned to children and are able to be more responsive to their strengths, interests and needs, to enhance their learning and development.
The service leadership actively seeks feedback about the new arrangement in weekly team meetings. These meetings are structured using the Gibb’s Reflective Practice Cycle, which the service team had been reading about as part of their commitment to ongoing critical reflection and continuous quality improvement. As part of this process, the team is supported to critically reflect on an experience in order to make sense of what is happening and what this might mean for ongoing practice, including what they might do differently in the future. Key ideas are documented and highlighted for staff not involved in the discussion to review, with provision for those staff to add comments or questions that can be followed up at the next meeting or in an individual conversation with the coordinator.
In a recent meeting, for example, educators working with the younger children raised the issue of how they might transition children into the larger play space with older children when they express interest in doing so. This led to a lively discussion with educators offering varying views and perspectives that ultimately resulted in more questions than answers. While the team is still grappling with how to ensure the children experience continuity of educators through this transition, they all agreed it was important to consult with the children. As a next step it was agreed that educators talk to children in small groups to get their ideas and perspectives, and share these at the next team meeting to inform discussion and decision-making.
Looking ahead, the service team has already started to discuss how they’ll approach moving educators between rooms at the end of the year as children move between rooms. These conversations will inform their decision-making about how to make the transition between rooms smoother for all children and help to maintain the continuity of educators children have in their new room following their move.
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