We all know that a child’s first five years are crucial to their development, and recent research into brain science has put this into sharp perspective with some truly stunning facts and figures.
We’ve made a couple of videos which highlight these amazing findings, which you can see here. The development of the brain and long term influence these years have underlines the importance of the role both parents and child care centres play.
High quality childcare makes a real difference to outcomes for children. The evidence for this is quite clear, but the dilemma for parents in choosing a child care provider is knowing exactly what high quality looks like.
To find out more about the indicators of quality in childcare centres, we asked Goodstart’s National Quality Manager, Tara Harnett, to explain to us how quality is assessed and what parents should look for when touring a centre.
Who’s responsible for childcare quality in Australia?
Ensuring Australia’s childcare centres are of a high standard is the responsibility of The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) and the state and territory governments.
In a nutshell, ACECQA’s role is to work with state and territory governments to ensure consistency in how the National Quality Framework (NQF) is applied, while the state and territory governments assess and rate individual childcare services.
The NQF includes the laws and regulations, quality standards, an assessment and rating process, and the Early Years Learning Framework which teachers and educators use each day in centres.
I know, it’s complex! But for parents, there are two areas of the NQF that are worth knowing about when choosing a childcare centre. These are:
- The national quality standard
- The assessment and rating of centres
Let’s take a look at them now.
What is the national quality standard?
The NQS sets a national benchmark in seven key ‘quality areas’ that make a difference to outcomes for children. These areas are:
- Educational program and practice
- Children’s health and safety
- Physical environment
- Staffing arrangements
- Relationships with children
- Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
- Leadership and service management
Within each of these quality areas are two or three ‘standards’, which each contain a handful of ‘elements’. A snapshot of one quality area is below:
Quality Area 1: Educational program and practice
- Standard 1.2: Educators and co-ordinators are focused, active and reflective in designing and delivering the program for each child.
- Element 1.2.1: Each child's learning and development is assessed as part of an ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation.
As you drill down from quality area to standard to element, you can see how child care centres in Australia know EXACTLY what is required of them.
How are centres assessed and rated for quality?
When you’ve been doing your research on childcare centres, you might have noticed that some say they are ‘exceeding’ or ‘meeting’ the national quality standard. But what does this mean?
Childcare services are assessed against the NQS, and are given a rating for each of the seven quality areas and an overall rating based on these results. The full range of ratings a centre can receive are as follows:
Exceeding National Quality Standard
Meeting National Quality Standard
Working Towards National Quality Standard
Significant Improvement Required
While a centre’s rating is an indicator of its overall level of quality, I encourage parents to ask questions and learn as much as they can about the centre before enrolling.
What should parents ask?
It’s not practical for parents to know the ins and outs of the NQF and NQS, and it’s not necessary either. To be really certain your child is in good hands, consider asking questions like these when you’re on your centre tour:
How does your educational program cater to the needs of children at different stages of development?
What are the steps or processes you take to ensure children’s safety and wellbeing?
How have you designed your environment to encourage children to participate in learning?
How does your centre work with families to understand our needs?
Do your staff receive regular training and professional development opportunities?
Quality is about much more than how a centre looks, and asking these questions will help you to dig a little deeper and beyond your first impressions.
For the sake of your child’s development and your own peace of mind it’s worth a little extra effort prior to enrolling.