Documentation – what, why and how
ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone shares her insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.
Documentation is a subject of extensive debate in the children’s education and care sector in Australia and internationally. ‘How do we document?’ and ‘How much do we document?’ are common questions; with time constraints often raised as a key challenge. The evolution and widespread use of digital technologies has raised further issues to critically reflect on, such as the impact of devices on meaningful interactions and respect of children’s rights.
It is important to remember that documentation is a professional responsibility and there are no recipes or regulated formulas. The outcome-focused standards encourage educators and educational leaders to use their professional judgement and to be creative and innovative in the way the standards are met. Recognise and respond to the unique context of your service and your community members.
You may want to take the opportunity at your next team meeting to think about the theories that inform your practice, and how these influence decisions about what and how you document.
Have the confidence to be courageous, creative and reflective. There are multiple ways to document and meet the standards. Ensure these reflect your unique team, children, families and community.
What is ‘documentation’?
Documentation is the practice of recording and creating evidence of learning and learning progress, helping make it visible. Documentation takes children’s and educator’s thinking, and the experiences that educators observe, hear and feel into written or other records that can be shared, revisited and extended over time. Rich documentation incorporates multiple perspectives, including the voices of children, educators, peers, families and other professionals (Educators’ Guide to the EYLF, p. 37).
Documentation supports the provision of quality children’s education and care by:
- deepening the shared understanding of each child
- identifying and analysing learning and learning progress
- informing the educational program, and
- making learning visible and able to be shared with others.
It also helps educators and educational leaders to reflect on their pedagogy and practices.
From a compliance perspective, documentation is both a regulatory requirement and integral to Quality Area 1 of the National Quality Standard (NQS). From my experience working in the sector, educators work diligently to support children and families and often set high benchmarks for themselves. I am aware that there is a lot of misinformation about how much and what documentation is required, so I think it may be timely to reflect on what the NQS actually requires.
What documentation is required?
The regulatory requirements for educational program documentation are in Part 4.1 of the Education and Care Services National Regulations and include three key components:
- the educational program;
- child assessments or evaluations; and
- information for families.
In the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), assessment for learning is the process of gathering and analysing information as evidence about what children know, can do and understand (EYLF, p.19).
In the school age education and care context, evaluation for wellbeing and learning is the process of gathering and analysing information about how children feel and what children know, can do and understand (FSAC, p. 17). Assessments and evaluations inform the educational program and form part of the ongoing assessment and planning cycle.
- The educational program
The educational program must be on display and in a location at the service premises that is accessible to families (Regulation 75). Importantly, information about the educational program must include detail of both the content and the operation of the program. It is not just a list of experiences, but how the program is being implemented. A copy of the educational program must also be available for inspection upon request.
- Child assessments or evaluations
Regulation 74 requires documentation of child assessments or evaluations for delivery of the educational program. The emphasis on ‘delivery’ highlights the role of child assessments and evaluations in shaping the educational program. The educational program should evolve and reflect the current learning needs and interests of the children at the service, and be based on ongoing assessments or evaluations. For a child of preschool age or under, this documentation must include assessment of:
- developmental needs
- participation in the educational program, and
- progress against the outcomes of the educational program consistent with the learning outcomes of the approved learning frameworks.
For a child over preschool age:
- evaluation of the child’s wellbeing, development and learning are required in some jurisdictions – ACT, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia.
Services that educate and care for school age children in the Northern Territory, Queensland and NSW are not required to keep documentation of evaluations of individual children’s wellbeing, learning and development. However they must ensure evidence about the development of the educational program is documented. A helpful ACECQA information sheet explains this.
- Information for families
A copy of the child assessment or evaluation documentation specified in regulation 74 must be made available to families on request (regulation 76):
- information about the content and operation of the educational program, as it relates to their child; and
- information about the child’s participation in the program.
Why do you document?
To provide reflective insight into your own documentation practices, take a moment to consider why you personally document the way that you do.
Is your practice driven by regulations, the learning frameworks, the NQS, workplace procedures, training, habit, family needs, hearsay or experience?
Pausing to question ‘why’ and unpack these influences will support you to critically reflect and examine your practice, enriching your professional decision-making.
Documentation reflects each unique service
Reflecting the unique context of each service, documentation will not look the same from one service to another. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. One of the best ways to know if you are on track is to consider practice in terms of the outcomes for children and families.
Regulation 74 reminds us to consider:
- the period of time the child is being educated and cared for
- how the documentation will be used by educators
- ensuring it is readily understandable by educators, and
- ensuring it is readily understandable by families.
It is important to ensure documentation is genuinely understandable by the educators and families at your service. Procedures need to be in place to determine or evaluate this, for example, through input and ongoing feedback from families and reflective practice discussions with educators.
Children also demonstrate their learning and progress in many and varied ways. Therefore the methods of gathering, documenting and analysing evidence to assess learning also need to be varied.
Learning evidence needs to be collected over time and in a range of situations, rather than making judgements based upon limited information or a ‘tick-the-box’ approach.
Documentation should be meaningful, purposeful, sustainable and promote positive outcomes for children and families.
Questions for reflection
Are your documentation processes meaningful?
Consider if documentation is simply a ‘task’ to be completed each week or month, and if documentation is part of a meaningful pedagogical process you undertake to gain a deeper understanding of each child.
Some key questions to discuss with your team are:
- Is your documentation being used to analyse each child’s learning and learning progress; to shape the educational program; and to make children’s learning visible to families?
- How does documentation support understanding and assessment of each child’s learning progress?
- How is each child’s participation in the program recorded and acted upon?
- How does documentation support quality outcomes for families?
- How are the voices of children included in documentation?
- How are the voices of families included in documentation?
- How does documentation meaningfully shape the educational program?
Do documentation processes impact educator interactions with children?
Research has confirmed that process quality, “the direct interactional experiences of children in ECEC, the daily back‐and‐forth exchanges they have with educators and other children, and their participation in learning experiences”, has the greatest impact on quality and positive outcomes for children (Torii, Fox and Cloney, 2017).
Social-emotional development is particularly enhanced by process quality.
High quality interactions and relationship-building with children can be compromised if the recording of observations and/or images on digital devices becomes a priority:
- Engagement with a device can limit time and genuine, two-way and sustained engagement with a child or group of children.
- Capturing the ‘perfect image’ can be perceived as being what is of value, not the learning or the child.
Consider the Early Childhood Australia Statement on young children and digital technologies and ‘model self-regulated digital technology use…that recognises the importance of sustained social interactions’ and relationships (ECA, 2018).
In guiding your reflection, you might ask yourself:
- Is device use impacting interactions and relationship-building with children and between children?
- How does my service monitor digital technology use for documentation?
- How does digital documentation promote positive outcomes for children?
- If devices weren’t used to record observations and assessments/evaluations, what would be the benefits and challenges?
- How could limited device use promote positive relationships and outcomes for children?
- What message is sent to children about the ‘photo-worthiness’ of their learning?
Does documentation respect the rights of the child?
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child affirms children’s rights and provides an ethical and legal framework for their realisation. The Convention acknowledges the obligations and responsibilities that society, communities and families must honour and respect. The 42 Articles specifically affirm children’s right to an education, to privacy and to be protected from any activities that could harm their development.
Review The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and consider:
- How do documentation processes respect children’s right to privacy?
- Are children aware of their rights?
- Is a child’s permission sought before taking images of them or their learning?
Further reading and resources to guide your practice
ACECQA – Information sheet – Documenting programs for school age children
Commonwealth of Australia – Resource – Educators Guide: Belonging, Being & Becoming
Commonwealth of Australia – Resource – Educators Guide: My Time, Our Place
Early Childhood Australia – Resource – Statement on young children and digital technologies
Mitchell Institute – Research – Quality is Key in Early Childhood Education in Australia
United Nations – Resource – Convention on the Rights of the Child