I am pleased to present the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Annual Report for 2017-18.
It has been a significant year for those of us working to deliver continuous quality improvement in education and care for the children and families of Australia.
Working in partnership with all governments and the sector is crucial to achieving our vision for improved outcomes and as Chair, I believe it is important to acknowledge the strong relationships between ACECQA, regulators and the sector that allowed the first major reforms to improve the quality of the National Quality Framework (NQF) since 2012.
The key deliverable required in our Letter of Expectation was to support the implementation of approximately 100 changes to legislative policy and in undertaking this activity we achieved a broad range of our strategic plan success indicators and priorities.
From this work and our engagement with the sector and our stakeholders, we know that support for the NQF remains high. We also know the sector is eager to have time to embed and improve their practice, and we are well-placed to continue to provide ongoing guidance in this regard.
As Chair, I am looking forward to identifying new opportunities to deliver on our key functions as outlined in the National Law. As an organisation we are exploring innovative ways to enhance our work with governments and services to support continuous development and growth under the NQF.
The Australian Government's recent decision to provide the sole operational funding for ACECQA for the next two years confirms their support for our role in overseeing the effective and efficient administration of the NQF. We see a range of emerging opportunities to work with our government partners and education and care providers to meet their needs and continue to deliver on our role, including:
- researching and promoting service practice that is most critical to quality improvement
- assisting providers to meet the NQS, including those operating services in rural and remote areas
- upgrading the national IT system
- enhancing training for regulatory authority staff
- publishing new sector guidance materials
- supporting governments to develop targeted programs to address emerging challenges
- building on research and analysis of families' understanding of quality and the benefits of early childhood education and care
- undertaking data analysis and research projects that track progress against the Education Council's agreed NQF evaluation framework.
With our statutory functions well embedded, the coming year offers exciting challenges to grow our role as we continue to champion the importance of high quality education and care and the goals of the NQF. I am very grateful to my colleagues on the Board and our CEO, Gabrielle Sinclair, for their leadership and commitment to the children of Australia, and extend my sincere thanks to ACECQA's dedicated staff.
The knowledge and expertise, and above all the commitment evident within our organisation, and mirrored by our government partners and services across Australia, is what truly makes a difference.
As we expect all high performing education services to do, this is the time when we report on our achievements in 2017-18, and assess the extent to which we have added value to the important work of government partners, providers, educators and families to achieve better outcomes for children.
One of our functions is to guide the implementation and administration of the NQF which commenced in 2012 to achieve and further develop quality care, education and development for children from birth to age 13. What constitutes quality is a complex concept and the sector's commitment to work together to lift quality nationally is essential for children to have the best start in life.
Since receiving the Education Council's Letter of Expectation, we have prioritised to complete our two year work plan on time and on budget. I would like to acknowledge our skilled Business Services Group, which provides the essential support that allows us to deliver on our functions and priorities. A few of our key achievements for this exceptionally busy reporting period are presented below.
Supporting changes to the NQF, reporting performance to Education Council and improving the national IT system - All teams have worked with governments to support the implementation of the changes to the National Law and Regulations, including the National Quality Standard (NQS). Our value was in the design and delivery of the communications strategy, modifications to the National Quality Agenda IT System (NQA ITS), the updated national authorised officer training package and the new Guide to the National Quality Framework.
The Policy Team co-ordinated detailed strategic and operational policy advice to support the development of effective and nationally consistent solutions to issues arising under the NQF. This included legislative interpretation and the provision of guidance materials to the sector, particularly relating to the October 2017 changes to the National Law.
Our Enquiries Team was dedicated to keeping the sector updated on the changes to the NQF, providing a 'one stop shop' for reliable and timely information via telephone and email.
Our Research and Evaluation Team produced the inaugural national partnership annual performance report in January this year, providing analysis against the objectives and outcomes of the National Partnership Agreement on the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care. The report highlights system performance against such areas as the safety, health and wellbeing of children in education and care services, and the education and care workforce.
The Education and Care Systems Team works continuously to improve the functionality and the development of the national IT system which is used by governments and the sector to monitor and manage their online business processes. In addition to planned releases, this year we worked with the Australian Government to successfully integrate elements of the NQA ITS with the new Child Care Subsidy system to improve verification of provider and service information.
Supporting quality of educators' programs and practices through pre-service qualifications and in-service professional learning - We know structural and process qualities are essential to highly effective services, including the qualifications, experience and skills of educators.
The Sector Support and Digital Resources Development Teams assisted educators with access to in-service professional learning opportunities and advice through a diverse range of face to face and online programs and resources. These included the development and delivery of quality practice workshops, eLearning modules and podcasts, ACECQA newsletters, conference presentations and the Quest For Quality game series. We continue to target standards and elements many services find difficult to meet, and to mitigate the unique challenges facing stand-alone and rural and remote services.
The Qualifications Assessment Team worked with representatives from peak organisations, providers, higher education and training institutions, and regulatory authorities late last year to provide platforms to discuss improvements in pre-service skills and qualifications; the sector's readiness for 2020 early childhood teacher requirements; understanding workforce data and trends to meet demand; and addressing duplication in qualifications accreditation processes.
In helping the sector meet demand for highly qualified educators, we processed more than 1000 applications from individuals seeking to have their qualifications assessed for equivalence to an approved qualification.
We've co-ordinated detailed submissions on a number of important national reviews, including the National Review of Teacher Registration, to increase awareness of the NQF and, particularly, the challenges facing teachers working in prior to school services in relation to their access to mentoring and in-service professional learning.
Our Communications and Engagement Team is also building awareness of our Starting Blocks website, which strengthens that important relationship between educators and families. It gives families a better understanding of quality in early childhood education and care, increasing their confidence as their child's first teacher and providing them with the information they need to choose the best service for their child. We launched our new ACECQA website in January 2018 to make it easier for our sector and governments to find and use our services and resources.
Monitoring and assessment - contributing to national quality improvement - One challenge for the sector has been to identify which particular measures and actions best lead to significant improvements in quality and better outcomes at both the system level and within individual services.
This year, it was encouraging to see services aspiring to high quality and meeting the needs and interests of their children and families. We received 64 applications for the highest rating and the Excellence Team worked with applicants, and on advice from the relevant Regulatory Authority, to undertake thorough assessments against the Excellent rating criteria. The highest rating is a very high bar to achieve and 22 truly exceptional services were awarded the Excellent rating.
We were also pleased this year to be given the opportunity by the NSW Department of Education to deliver a quality support program for services rated as Working towards the NQS and lifting quality in the national system. The Quality Support Program Team is working with NSW providers and management teams in long day care and family day care to implement actions that will improve educational and developmental outcomes for children. In the interests of system support, the resources from this program will be available for all Australian services in 2019.
The Regulatory Authority Support Team continues to provide nationally agreed training to support the assessment and rating of education and care services. In 2017-18, we delivered face-to-face training to 87 new officers, as well as 25 bridging course sessions to more than 360 experienced authorised officers in preparation for the introduction of the 2018 NQS.
Acknowledgements - It is important to acknowledge our government partners and stakeholders for having trust in our contributions to this essential education sector. We look forward to the Education Council's next directions and our continuing strong partnerships with each of the nine Australian governments and the sector.
The work of our Chair and Board has been a significant factor in this year's achievements. Supported by our Board and Governance Team, they provide our strategic direction and expert advice to guide our accountability to the Education Council, as well as our performance against our statutory functions and the Strategic Plan. I would like to thank all members for their conscientious stewardship of ACECQA and their confidence in our role.
In conclusion, this report is on behalf of the Executive and the Leadership Group. Our staff at ACECQA are committed and hard working professionals who, individually and collectively, are dedicated to achieving each of the six objectives of the NQF. With their belief in the value we bring to children and families, we are able to better support and respond to Australia's continuously improving childhood education and care sector.
Chief Executive Officer