Exploring the Excellent Rating process with Goodstart Early Learning Red Hill

The Excellent rating is the highest rating services can receive under the National Quality Framework.

The Excellent rating celebrates exceptional education and care. Applicable to diverse service types and socio-economic groups, it often recognises those services where families are facing socio-economic challenges. Notably, 46% of Excellent rated services have a SEIFA ranking of 3 or less, with 27% being the most disadvantaged (SEIFA 1). Only 6% have a SEIFA rating of 10 (least disadvantaged). These statistics highlight that achieving the Excellent rating is possible for all services and exceptional practices are unique and contextual to each service, their children, families and community. 

Following the 2019 NQF Review, the period for holding the Excellent rating was raised from three to five years which will encourage eligible services to consider making an application. 

The Excellent rating application process 

The Excellent rating process uses a strength-based approach to identify evidence of innovative, inspiring and unique practices, partnerships and programs that demonstrate improved outcomes for the children and families of their context. 

Services are eligible to apply at any time they hold a rating of Exceeding NQS across all seven quality areas. As there are no timeframes for making an application, services are encouraged and free to consider when an application could be started.

While each application is unique and reflects the individual context of each service, the Exceptional Practice Framework is a useful tool to guide decision making about what to include for each criterion. The purpose of the framework is to guide services to include information that clearly demonstrates: 

  • What is their program, partnership or practice?  
  • Why this is relevant and important to their context?  
  • Who was most significantly involved?  
  • How these have improved outcomes for children and families at the highest level.  

Applications are only required to include a written statement addressing each theme or criterion. Additional supporting evidence may be provided in a way the service feels most relevant to their application and, often, this is evidence already produced within service operation such as photographs, videos, website links, social media posts, documentation of children's learning, or stakeholder feedback. 

Through a mix methodological approach, services can provide evidence through both their initial written application and within a professional conversation with an assessment officer. Often practice may be so heavily embedded within service delivery that staff themselves do not realise certain evidence may be considered exceptional. Carefully constructed questions are formulated based on the written application to ensure all information is considered in the analysis and review processes. 

Previous applicants have recalled that the process has been an opportunity to think deeply about practice, and to engage with families, children and educators in telling their story. They viewed this time of critical reflection in the Excellent rating process as an opportunity to learn and strengthen outcomes for children and their families. \

Sharing stories of Excellence from the sector 

In February, Goodstart Early Learning Red Hill in Brisbane was the first service to be awarded the Excellent rating in 2024. 

By opening its doors to 100 external education and care professionals through its annual Invitation to Play initiative, the service actively inspires and contributes to sector wide high-quality education and care. 

Using the Exceptional Practice Framework the service articulates a strong why behind the inclusion of a Children’s Council.  

In February 2022, the Children's Council was developed to support child engagement and empowerment, as well as support the service’s quality improvement process. The service holds a strong image of the child as competent and capable.

The Children’s Council:

  • encourages children to offer their voice to service decision making and engage in advocacy, human rights and active citizenship 
  • seeks the children's input and perspective on emerging issues occurring within the service and wider community
  • meets on a regular basis with the Centre Director and Educational Leader sharing a cup of tea. 
  • meets in various places within the service premises, mostly in the Centre Director’s office to make the experience feel more special for the children 
  • ensures the agenda for each meeting is set by the Leadership Team to reflect the discussions occurring within the wider service, including staff and parent committee meetings, and supporting the link between planning and reflection 
  • enables conversations to be child led, with the children drawing, writing or talking about topics
  • shares equally the responsibility of attending the meetings between all children ensuring everyone can share their opinions.

The Council has provided input and consultation on a playground upgrade, expectations for mud play, feedback on rest time practices, implementing the bush program; conversations surrounding Reconciliation, Sorry Day, and their Sea of Hearts project; and reflections on the impacts of the floods on the service.

The service also invites special guests to the meetings, which has shown the children that their voices have power and are able to see this put into action. Guests have included the local councillor who prompted the children to consider what their community was missing, which led the children to reflect on the rubbish left behind in the community after the floods. The children asked the councillor to place more bins in the community. Also, a State Member of Parliament attended a meeting and gifted the children an Aboriginal doll. She took with her some advocacy signs that the children had made about the recent natural disasters in the community, which were displayed in her office. During the meeting, the State Member promised to take the voices of the children with her to Parliament. 

The Children’s Council demonstrates advocacy in action and provides children with a powerful voice and an empowered platform for change. Through these opportunities, children are building confidence as valued and active decision makers in the decisions that affect them. 

In a conversation with ACECQA, Goodstart Early Learning Red Hill Director, Renee Mitchell provides some insights into the team’s experience of the Excellent rating. 

Renee stated that the process of applying led to the development of a “practical, strengths-based advocacy document which has been instrumental to the induction of new team members.” She expressed that the involvement of children and families in the process was critical to the team’s reflections on what Excellent meant to their context. 

Renee identified that the teleconference “interview,” while an objective and formalised process, was more of a professional conversation amongst colleagues. She noted that as the application format was not prescriptive, her service was able to submit their evidence in a story- telling way, aligning to their philosophical and pedagogical approaches. Renee mentioned that, whilst she acknowledges there was a missed opportunity to include factual data in their application, the assessment officer provided an opportunity to submit additional information to specifically evidence how their programs, partnerships and practices improved outcomes for children and families at the highest level. 

At the conclusion of the assessment, each service is provided with an in-depth decision notice that clearly articulates the assessment reasons and outcomes.

Renee stated that “The decision notice is an amazing document in itself, including 40 pages of professional feedback for us to contemplate. Alongside acknowledgment of exceptional practice, there are suggestions to support us to stretch, to grow, and to improve our pedagogy. This professional appraisal of our practice is incredibly interesting, and something our leadership team will unpack and reflect on to support our work with the team.”  

As some final comments, Renee told us that “The recognition for the excellent practice of the team has been very welcome and given us additional inspiration and drive to continue our advocacy within the sector. Prior to submitting the application, we’ve had team members and peers curiously ask us why we wanted to apply for the rating. Initially it was an opportunity to correlate with our reinvented QIP, however, now that we’re on the other side of this process, it has completely transformed our way of compiling evidence of our work for our future work; articulating the What, Why, and How of our practice to progress into an exciting 5 Year Plan.” 
 

Further reading and guidance materials 

Services interested in applying for the Excellent rating are encouraged to engage with the following resources. This also includes services that may not be currently eligible to apply but are interested in doing so in the future. This may be a means of engaging in strategic goal planning. 

Additionally, services can email: [email protected].