ACECQA Newsletter Issue 12 2021

Educator and child sitting in play tent

 

CEO foreword

As this is our final newsletter for 2021, it is appropriate to acknowledge the sector’s achievements in the face of a pandemic that is proving to be both resilient and persistent.

In a difficult year, it is a credit to the professional conduct of teachers, educators and staff that children’s health, safety and wellbeing have not been compromised and that continuity of learning, children’s agency and holistic support for them and their families have not waivered. As with all human endeavours, it is in the worst of times that great things can be achieved by sharing hope and working together. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), for example, is collecting stories of how early childhood education and care around the world adapted to the restrictions imposed by health authorities and continued their educational programs and care for children, often remotely. We were proud to share stories of Australian services using multiple, innovative ways to maintain relationships with children, their families and staff despite lockdowns and closures.

This has also been a time when the impact of sound governance, united philosophies and shared leadership (Quality Area 7) on all quality areas has been highlighted. Without that dedication to staff wellbeing, flexibility, autonomy and professional development, any service or organisation cannot maintain quality of service.  

This year, both the pressures of the pandemic and workforce supply not meeting demand have taken their toll but the percentage of services rating Meeting or Exceeding the NQS has continued to grow. Justifiably, Australia’s children's education and care sector is recognised around the world for its commitment to quality. 

In this edition, we share some interesting results from our commissioned families research – what do families look for when choosing a service? There are also updates from the Australian Government and a planned review by the National Health and Medical Research Council with which you may want to be involved.

Finally, thank you for your support this year. When you read, share and talk about our articles, we strengthen our collective role – our community of professional practice – in supporting all children to have a better start in life.

Hope you and your family have a safe, happy holiday season and a great new year. 

Gabrielle Sinclair
ACECQA CEO


Critical reflection and recognising your achievements in 2021

Three educators talking in staff room

2021 has yet again proven to be a challenging year for children, families, staff and communities living through the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, children’s education and care services have continued to play a crucial role in providing safe and secure education and care for children within their communities. 

As the year draws to a close, it’s important to take the opportunity to critically engage in thoughtful reflection and recognition of all achievements made throughout the year. Continuously reflecting on practice assists all professionals to become increasingly thoughtful about their work. It also motivates an exploration of new ideas with a focus on continuous quality improvement:  ‘it is important to not just consider the endpoints, but to give equal consideration to the ‘distance travelled’, recognising not only the giant leaps, but the small steps as well’ (The Early Years Learning Framework of Australia p. 20).  

Throughout the year, services developed purposeful and innovative teaching practices in response to the needs of their children, families and communities impacted by COVID-19. 

For example, services developed home learning packs. Some offered technical support to families in various languages to foster engagement in online learning applications, while others created learning videos for families to demonstrate how intentional teaching strategies can be used to extend children’s play. 

The Guide to the National Quality Framework provides guidance on developing a culture of professional inquiry, collaboration, and recognition at your service to promote continuous improvement and enhanced outcomes for children. Some suggestions include:

  • opportunities to capture the diverse perspectives of children, families, and your community to inform practice.
  • regular team meetings, or similar opportunities for educators to reflect on all aspects of service operations including the program, their professional practice, and children’s learning and development.
  • ensuring that all interactions, including grievance procedures, convey mutual respect, equity and recognition of each other’s strengths, diverse knowledge, skills and achievements.  

ACECQA’s Self-Assessment tool provides a practical way for you to document your achievements for 2021. We encourage you to share your successes with your families, communities and regulatory authority officers. 


What do families really look for when choosing a service?

Educator talking to mum and two daughters

As the national authority, we support all governments and the children’s education and care sector to achieve the objectives of the National Quality Framework (NQF). We work with them to provide guidance, resources and services to support the sector to improve outcomes for children.

As we all know, choosing a children’s education and care service is one of the most important decisions a family can make. We all play a role in helping families to find and understand quality children’s education and care.

Children’s education and care professionals help families by sharing their expertise 

When families are considering their options, information from a trusted source is key to their decision making.

As sector professionals we explain some key things that help families, including:

  • the importance of quality children’s education and care for children’s early years development and lifelong success. 
  • what children will be learning through play under the Approved Learning Frameworks, the “curriculum” of children’s education and care.
  • how approved providers and their services are regulated and are accountable for continually improving quality. 

Our ongoing commissioned families research reveals that families like to find information about quality children’s education and care services online, preferably from a trusted government website.

ACECQA’s StartingBlocks.gov.au helps families by sharing information

Through a range of articles, videos and our Find Child Care tool, StartingBlocks.gov.au is an online one-stop shop for all children’s education and care related information.  

StartingBlocks.gov.au is the introductory point to: 

  • find information about children's developmental milestones 
  • understand what to expect from an early childhood education and care service
  • locate children’s education and care services and learn about their NQS quality ratings
  • get tips on starting at a children's education and care service 
  • learn about what can be done at home to encourage children’s learning and development.

We’re using fresh insights from families to update StartingBlocks.gov.au  

From February 2022, StartingBlocks.gov.au will also display service fees, vacancies and inclusions. It will be the one national government website for families to find children’s education and care services, providing trusted information for free.

We’ve recently spent time with a diverse group of families from across Australia and from their feedback, we will be adding new features on StartingBlocks.gov.au in February 2022. 

We were pleased to hear that when families arrive on StartingBlocks.gov.au: 

  • they’re keen to know that it is a government website with trusted information. This matters to them. They made the point that this is their child they’re thinking about, and they want the best quality they can get.  
  • they liked the look and feel of StartingBlocks.gov.au, and that the images and videos showing children in quality education and care services help them understand the types of options that may be available for their child.
  • they want more information about service National Quality Standard (NQS) quality area ratings. 
  • the service NQS quality area rating details were as important to them as other criteria such as the service location, commenting they may drive further to get what their child needs. So as you know through your service's relationships with families, these details help them search for the right service. 

Some of the key user needs they shared with us included easy ways to compare services, search for a service on their mobile phone, and while holding a baby or with a toddler sitting on their lap. These real life factors help us design and create the best user experiences for them.   

We’ve listened carefully and made sure the ‘compare services’ features for StartingBlocks.gov.au from February 2022 will help families even more. 

We’re hearing that families share our vision

We were also pleased to hear that, after using StartingBlocks.gov.au, most families want to visit the service. While they’re interested in seeing images and visiting service websites, they want to have a personal visit. As you know, this is a key step for services and supports relationship building with your families and communities.

Families told us that everything they find out about a service from StartingBlocks.gov.au and trusted friends and family will ultimately be measured by their actual experiences with the service, particularly the relationships they form with the team, and how educators engage and speak with children. If there’s some social proof of that from other families available on social media or websites, they’ll certainly pay attention to it.

While they didn’t use NQS terminology, we recognise that NQS Quality Area 5 – Relationships with children and NQS Quality Area 6 – Collaborative partnerships with families and communities are very important. 

We’ve heard from families that finding the right education and care service for their child and family online isn’t all about speed and making a quick booking like online shopping. They also told us they know there are less credible sources of information online, and they really appreciate and value credible trusted government information sources like StartingBlocks.gov.au.

Finally, families told us they wish they had known about StartingBlocks.gov.au earlier. We will increase our communications about StartingBlocks.gov.au and your important role in their child’s education and development.


Changes to Child Care Subsidy

Words changes to child care subsidy on blue banner

On 10 December 2021, the Australian Government removed the annual cap for all families who get Child Care Subsidy.

Families earning more than $190,015 currently have an annual subsidy cap of $10,655 per child each financial year.

Child care providers and families don’t need to do anything for the change to occur.

Learn more on the Department of Education, Skills and Employment’s website: https://www.dese.gov.au/higher-CCS


Reminder about complying with Family Assistance Law – infringements and reporting fees

Notepad with checklist, sticky notes and plant pot

Children’s education and care providers who offer Child Care Subsidy have a range of obligations under Family Assistance Law listed in Appendix E of the Child Care Provider Handbook.

Most providers comply with the law and do the right thing. Those that don’t may get an infringement from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment. An infringement is a fine, like a parking ticket. They encourage providers to avoid more severe penalties. 

Children’s education and care providers must report their fees as a requirement under Family Assistance Law. 

  • You can check if you have reported your fees through the provider entry point or your third party software. If you need help see the task card on reporting fees in the Provider Entry Point or contact your software provider.
  • When reporting your service fees you must report current hourly or session fees before Child Care Subsidy, discounts or reductions and any changes to fees within 14 days of the change. If your service has a range of fees for example per educator or an age group you can report a typical or average fee. 

Find out more about infringements here: http://dese.gov.au/infringements


Provide feedback on NHMRC’s Staying Healthy guide

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is about to start a review of its Staying Healthy – Preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services guide and associated resources (Staying Healthy).

Staying Healthy was first published in 1994. It gives advice on simple methods to minimise the spread of infection for many common diseases and conditions encountered in children’s education and care services. 

NHMRC is seeking feedback from the sector on the use and usefulness of its 2013 edition and how improvements can be made in the next edition. 

You are invited to take a short 5 minute survey. The survey closes 20 January 2022.

For more information contact Sharon Hoffman at icg@nhmrc.gov.au.


Approved providers, new NQA IT System functions are here to help you 

Two hands typing on laptop

The NQA IT System is the online tool we offer for approved providers as the secure and direct way of communicating with regulatory authorities. It aims to reduce paperwork, compliance burden, and duplication for providers. 

We value your feedback so we can keep making the NQA IT System easier to use, and have created these new features to help you.  

You can include more details in notifications of alleged abuse

We’ve updated the NQA IT System to help approved providers notify regulatory authorities of allegations of physical or sexual abuse in services (National Law, section 174). 

Now you can include details about witnesses, emergency services attendance, and plans to prevent similar incidents in the future (regulation 175(2)(d) and 175(2)(e)). 

You can include more details in applications for ECT waivers

We’ve updated NQA IT System application forms for Early Childhood Teacher (ECT) waivers (regulations 41 and 44) to include relevant state/territory details:

  • If you’re in the ACT, NT, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic, or WA, you can specify at sub-regulation level (regulations 133 and 134).
  • If you’re in SA, you can seek a waiver of general qualification requirements for educators who educate and care for children over preschool age (regulation 321).
  • If you’re in NSW, you can seek a waiver of requirements for centre-based services that educate and care for 30 or more children preschool age or under (regulation 272). 

You can include more details in applications for quality rating reviews

We’ve enhanced the NQA IT System approved provider portal so that you can select individual quality areas, standards or elements (National Law Pt 5, Div 3).

As always, our Service Desk is here to help

If you’re experiencing technical issues while using the NQA IT System please email nqaits@acecqa.gov.au or call 1300 667 319.


Establishing an in-nature pedagogy

Children playing in garden

This month we hear from Gabby Millgate, the nature pedagogy leader at Woden Valley Child Care Centre (WVCCC) an early childhood service based in Canberra. Gabby shares her insights into establishing an in-nature pedagogy in the early childhood setting.

The Nature Pedagogy Leader develops the art of teaching through nature by creating natural environments with the children. The children learn holistically across the curriculum while experiencing care for the land, plants, animals and people.

As Nature Pedagogy Leader I am one of four leaders on the centre's leadership team. It's a full time role as we provide inclusive opportunities for all children to engage in nature, play based learning. Ongoing consultations and collaborations with each team at the service aims to embed nature pedagogy and sustainable practice within their programs. This approach underlies our success. I value my time supporting other educators with their developmental objectives for the children and can see how many more opportunities can be discovered when we have a shared vision.

Read the full blog post on We Hear You.


StartingBlocks.gov.au is changing in 2022 

Words visit StartingBlocks.gov.au and photo of girl playing with blocks

Our family-focused StartingBlocks.gov.au helps parents choose the best children’s education and care for their family. The way families find and compare children’s education and services will be even better next year. From 7 February 2022, your fees, vacancies, quality ratings and inclusions will be published on StartingBlocks.gov.au.

Families will be able to: 

  • find local services and view their vacancies, fees, quality ratings and inclusions  
  • compare services side-by-side  
  • estimate their out-of-pocket costs  
  • get information and advice about education, children’s development, and parenting.  

Approved providers and services will report fees and information in the same way 

The way providers approved for Child Care Subsidy report fees and information as required by Family Assistance Law will not change. You must still report through the Provider Entry Point (PEP) or your third-party software.

If you need help, see the task card on reporting fees in the PEP or contact your third-party software provider.  

Visit DESE’s Early Childhood website for more information