ACECQA Newsletter Issue 7 2020
This month we’re focusing on the critical importance of supporting educators to be the best they can be, for the optimal development and education of children in their care.
International and Australian research shows that quality educational programs and practice are built on these foundations:
- educator qualifications
- child to educator ratios
- supportive and consistent relationships (between educator and child, educator to educator, and between children).
We’ve all heard about the life changing inspiration a great educator can give a child, and the many wonderful stories of educators being so significant in a child’s life that they are fondly remembered for a lifetime.
When there is that bond with children, they feel safe and become confident learners. For example, we know that language development is enhanced when there is eye to eye contact and lots of opportunities for shared conversations using rich and varied language.
We’re also aware that great educational practice can be both physically and emotionally challenging, and it is vital that educators’ wellbeing is supported by their peers, educational leaders and employers.
This month, we’re sharing a few stories highlighting educator wellbeing as well as the connection between committed and passionate staff, continuous improvement and effective leadership. Also, some key learnings from our research on the risk of children being accidentally locked in or out of a service.
As always, we hope that this newsletter helps you in your role and career. If you find the articles interesting, please share with others and stay well and safe wherever you are in Australia.
When incidents occur where children are mistakenly locked in or out of services, these can have severe consequences for children’s health and safety. Approved providers are required to notify state and territory regulatory authorities about these incidents under the National Regulations.
The aim of Quality Area 2 of the National Quality Standard is to safeguard and promote children’s health and safety, minimise risks and protect children from harm, injury and infection. All children have the right to experience quality education and care in an environment that provides for their physical and psychological wellbeing.
Ways to minimise the risk of children being locked in/out of services include:
- ensuring active and effective supervision at all times – with a particular focus on late afternoons, transitions, drop off/pick up times, excursions, less frequented areas, and younger children
- ensuring educator-to-child ratios are maintained at all times
- conducting regular headcounts and/or roll calls of children
- conducting additional checks and taking additional care when transporting children on buses and other forms of transport
- ensuring relevant policies and procedures are up-to-date, and that all staff understand their roles and responsibilities
- conducting staff induction on commencement of employment and regular refresher training
- regularly communicating with families about policies and procedures
- holding regular staff discussions, debriefs and reviews, particularly following a serious incident or any identified risk or concern.
Child care Helpdesk team on frontline of pandemic
The Department of Education, Skills and Employment’s Child Care Subsidy (CCS) Helpdesk operators are always ready, willing and able to provide support in a crisis, but they could not have foreseen being thrust onto the frontline of a global pandemic in March this year.
The escalating COVID-19 pandemic pushed many services in the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector to the brink of collapse as child attendance levels plummeted.
The Australian Government responded in May 2020 by introducing the ECEC Relief Package, bringing a flurry of questions from the sector, represented by 13,400 services.
Callers wanted immediate answers about the details of the Relief Package, especially around the new payment regime and associated rules.
Comprising 22 Canberra-based staff, the Helpdesk fielded just shy of 15,000 calls and 13,400 emails in the three months to 30 June 2020.
As the impact of the pandemic unfolded, the Helpdesk marshalled its resources, extending its hours of operation to 7 pm each weeknight and operated on weekends and public holidays when needed.
CCS Helpdesk Director Kelle Dent said that despite the sheer volume of calls team members had shown empathy and gone the extra mile wherever they could.
“Operators were also personally impacted by the events, with caring responsibilities, home schooling and health vulnerabilities,” Kelle said.
With new policies and scripts hitting the desk literally overnight, the Helpdesk team was under enormous pressure to immediately, accurately and with confidence explain the details of the new arrangements.
Leah, who joined the team in May 2019, said her workload shot up from an average of 20 calls per day to a “personal best” of 72 calls.
She said the Helpdesk was far from “a faceless part of government”.
“We are real people here helping other people, and this is what we are trained to do and what we love to do,” Leah said.
The importance of the actions that the department and Government took was borne out in one call.
“The caller said that without the Relief Package her service would’ve shut down. How terrible would that have been for the service and those families?” Leah said.
Her colleague, Natasha, who joined the Helpdesk in February 2019, said operators received a lot of positive feedback.
“I helped someone who said they hoped the call was being recorded because they wanted everyone to know how well we are helping the services,” Natasha said.
The CCS Helpdesk supports CCS approved providers. Those with queries should go to the department’s COVID-19 support page first, which links to Frequently Asked Questions and segment specific information sheets. Where further help is required, the CCS Helpdesk can be contacted on 1300 667 276 or by email.
Why are positive relationships important for early learning?
Quality early learning services place great importance on the development of meaningful relationships between children and educators. Frequent and sustained warm and respectful interactions between children and educators help foster the development of each child’s social, emotional and language skills and general feeling of security and wellbeing.
Educators also work in partnership with families to get to know children. They speak with families regularly about their child’s needs, routines and experiences at home and at the service.
Last month, we were pleased to share one of our family focused StartingBlocks.gov.au quality early learning videos developed for families about the importance and benefits of early childhood education and care and quality early learning.
The videos feature the authentic and diverse voices and contributions of children, families, teachers and educators in services across Australia. As planning for a COVID-19 recovery phase begins, we are preparing to recommence broader communications, including these videos.
StartingBlocks.gov.au has released a new video this month that shows why positive relationships are so important for quality early learning.
From before birth, children are connected to family, community, culture and place, and their earliest development and learning takes place through these relationships. As children participate in everyday life, they develop interests and construct their own identities and understandings of the world.
In this video, educators talk about how positive relationships in quality early learning services connect children to their world. All children experience learning that is engaging and builds success for life. Fundamental to The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia is a view of children’s lives as characterised by belonging, being and becoming.
You may wish to share this video and the StartingBlocks.gov.au Building strong links between home and child care services factsheet with your families.
Wellbeing of staff at Uniting Frederick Street Preschool Rockdale
As highlighted in our November 2019 We Hear You Blog, recent international research shows that not all educators have a strong sense of wellbeing. Some educators report at times feeling worn out and devalued as professionals playing an important role providing quality education and care (Jena-Crottet, 2017). For some, the recent COVID-19 related changes have also impacted their wellbeing.
Wellbeing is a shared responsibility between employers and individuals. Service leaders have an important role in monitoring and supporting the wellbeing of their educators, and this starts with listening to and understanding their staff.
Uniting Frederick Street Preschool Rockdale is an Excellent rated service. It has an innovative personalised approach to educator wellbeing and ensures that each team member feels heard and supported.
Examples of some of the features of its approach include:
- Educators have regular access to a portal with courses and tips on mindfulness, anxiety, sleep health, diversity, inclusion and wellbeing.
- There is a wellbeing resource folder that can be accessed by staff who are able to freely access the resource and encouraged to add to it. The folder contains articles on mindfulness, wellbeing, useful websites and tips to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Each day, the director monitors stress levels of all staff. Individual staff have benefitted from this personalised approach of supporting their mental health.
- A commitment to supporting the wellbeing of its educators through the implementation of a ‘Chill Zone’, mindfulness practices, clinical supervision and additional resources with information courses and strategies to support them to achieve optimum physical and mental health.
- During team meetings, there are opportunities for staff to discuss wellbeing - what is working well for them, what has been challenging for them, and what they would like to improve upon in their daily practice.
When considering the approach to wellbeing of educators, you may consider the context of your service, staff and community. Perhaps you could use the examples above as discussion starters on what opportunities there are, and what might work, at your service.
Well supported educators and staff are critical to quality education and care. Along with qualifications and experience, it is the quality of educator to child interactions, language and relationships that enable children to develop with confidence and flourish. When approved providers and service leaders prioritise the wellbeing of their teams, they can positively inspire great educational practice.
ACECQA has developed a new poster series to support and promote educator wellbeing.
Effective leadership drives quality improvement
Effective leadership is essential to promoting continuous improvement in the provision of quality education and care services, which is one of the primary objectives of the NQF.
We recently commissioned Macquarie University, in partnership with Queensland University of Technology and Edith Cowan University, to conduct research on the drivers of quality improvement.
The quality improvement research project focused on the experiences of long day care services that had improved their overall quality rating, with a particular focus on improvement in educational program and practice, and governance and leadership.
While Quality Area 7 of the National Quality Standard focuses on leadership and governance, it has a direct influence on all other quality areas. The research found that genuine and sustained quality improvement is a shared responsibility, with approved providers, service leaders, educational leaders, teachers and educators all playing a vital role. The findings emphasise the need for strong and effective leadership at all levels of service delivery.
The following factors were identified as influential to quality improvement in Quality Area 7:
- clear role of the approved provider and systemic organisational support
- established systems with transparent policies and procedures
- focus on and commitment to professional growth and learning, including access to quality professional development
- positive work culture with high expectations
- understanding of, and support for, the role of the educational leader
- collaborative partnerships with staff, families and community.
University of Western Australia researchers are conducting a national three-year project to explore approved providers’ experiences of No Jab, No Play policies. For example, in Queensland, education and care service providers can cancel or refuse enrolment or attendance of children who are not fully immunised, unless the child has a medical exemption or is undergoing a vaccination catch-up program.
Dr Katie Attwell, a vaccination policy expert, is leading the study with Dr Glenn Savage, an education policy expert. Jake Harvey, an Honours student, is leading the investigation of the Queensland and New South Wales No Jab, No Play policies.
“We are exploring the differences between states’ policies,” said Mr Harvey. “We are particularly interested in the experiences of those operating early childhood education and care services, family day care and kindergartens.”
The introduction of No Jab, No Play was associated with an immediate increase in vaccination rates for five year olds. “However,” said Mr Harvey, “we don’t know how the policy has affected those responsible for implementing the policy in the early education setting.”
“To understand this, we are speaking to childcare providers themselves,” said Mr Harvey “We will be conducting interviews and focus groups over Zoom to understand the challenges, values and experiences of these individuals.” The team will use this data to design a survey of the entire early learning sector in each state. The findings will be shared with state governments with the intention of improving the policies.
For more information, or to volunteer to participate email Jake Harvey.