The biggest issue facing the sector

I was fortunate enough to attend the 2014 Early Childhood Australia Conference in Melbourne this year, and I was amazed by the quality of the presentations from truly inspirational speakers.

But the session that is still rattling around in my brain is not the one I was expecting. It was a working session with a senior representative of the Department of Education. We were invited to put forward what we thought were the biggest issues facing the early childhood (EC) sector.

Not a simple question! In 2014 alone there have been at least four separate inquiries into various aspects of Australia’s EC sector (Productivity Commission, NQF Review, two Senate inquiries). All of these have reflected the complicated work we do and the challenging regulatory frameworks we do it in.

So I was a little surprised when one issue quickly and decisively trumped all the others.

Documentation.

At least two-thirds of the questions raised were around documentation requirements. How much do we need to do? Per child, per day? Should we reference every learning outcome in an observation? How many observations?

I have to be honest – this really disappointed me. This was a rare and valuable opportunity for practitioners and professionals to directly address a senior figure in the sector, with the capacity to make far-reaching decisions affecting our works. She was asking us to represent all of those who do our work, and let the Department know what we think the most pressing issue facing us right now is.

She left that room thinking it was documentation.

Really? With every challenge and frustration we face, how many observations we have to do a month is the biggest single thing affecting our work?

I find this difficult to believe, given the challenges I observe in my work. Trying to recruit and retain qualified early childhood teachers and educators. Supporting the inclusion of children with disabilities. Ethically and respectfully incorporating Indigenous perspectives in our work with young children. Having to balance operational costs with the inclusion of vulnerable children.

I can’t help but think that we might have made even a tiny amount of progress on some of those tricky issues if they had been the focus of discussions.

Documentation is a challenging issue for services, and does require a lot of thought and reflection.

But we are also nearly 3 years into the new National Quality Framework. Support for services to work on their documentation is everywhere, from ECA’s website to your local Professional Support Coordinator.

In forums I attend, documentation is still the key issue that is raised. Imagine how much progress we might be making on some of the issues I listed above if we were constantly and consistently raising them.

That really would make a difference in the lives of Australia’s children.

This article was originally posted on Early Childhood Australia’s blog The Spoke.

Advertisements

Exclusive: new quality ratings now available from Government

seemsfine

It’s not often that we break news here on Lighting Fires, but it is with humble pride that we can exclusively reveal exciting new information from the Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley on the ratings system for children’s services.

The Assistant Minister has been valiantly crusading against red tape in children’s services, attempting bravely to bat away the “dead hand of government regulation”.

Services have been lumbered with 50-page – fifty!! – reports outlining their current quality standard, using ridiculous metrics like “evidence” and “observations”.

As the Assistant Minister articulately pointed out:

I think that when you walk into a childcare centre, if you are a qualified assessor, and we’ve got good people in the West, I know, you can feel it, you can see it, you can – you know, you might have to measure some things but you don’t need to get carried away with too much red tape. [Source]

We’re pleased to reveal that here at Lighting Fires we have received a draft copy of the proposed new quality ratings, and the assessment process.

Visits will take a maximum of an hour, or until the cup of tea is finished, whichever comes first.

Centre ratings will henceforth be presented not in a heavy, unreadable 50-page – fifty!!! – document filled with complicated words and tables, but will be scrawled in biro on the back of a napkin.

This report will ideally be presented to the service on the day.

Every service will now recieve one of four ratings:

  1. “Meh”. Bit of work to do, people, maybe get round to that when you get a chance.
  2. Working Towards “Seems Fine”. Look, could things be a bit better? Yeah, probably, but hey, I get you’re busy. Chuck up a few posters or something and you’ll probably do OK.
  3. “Seems Fine”. Had a quick wander around, things feel pretty good.
  4. “Not Too Bad At All”. Hey you’re doing great! Keep up the good work, we won’t bother you for 10-20 years.

Centres who receive a rating of “Not Too Bad At All” will be able to chuck the assessor a twenty and receive a rating of Top Notch.

Families can rest assured that quality will still be assured for children under this new system. Assessors will be thoroughly trained in “getting a feel for the place” and “the vibe”.

ACECQA’s “National Excellence” Tour

Last week, ACECQA announced that they would be touring the country and holding “family roundtables”, beginning in South Australia.

Ms [Rachel] Hunter [ACECQA Board Chair] said it was also important to include families in the quality improvement journey.

“We will be holding family roundtables in cities and towns to talk to families about the NQF reforms and what they mean for them and their children,” she said.

“This is a new concept for ACECQA and will involve families sharing with us how they want to be informed and engaged in quality education and care.”

ACECQA today released a 13-part video series about the NQF to help families better understand the reforms. The videos are available on Youtube and the ACECQA website.

I cannot help but think that this kind of tour, particularly the focus on families, might have been far more worthwhile in 2011 and 2012.

Getting families on board with the quality reforms should have been a foundational focus.

ACECQA Conference 2013

Today is the first day of the ACECQA 2013 Conference. For those of you on Twitter, I’d recommend following along using the hashtag #nqfcon2013.

If you’re an educator, teacher or otherwise involved in children’s education, I would strongly recommend signing up to Twitter and getting involved. It’s a great way to “meet” fellow professionals and contribute to the broad discussions around children’s learning and wellbeing.

If you do, don’t forget to say hello to me: @liammcnicholas.