ACECQA was going to need that money … to pay its staff and keep the lights on
The hidden story
Last week (8 May) the Federal government handed down its 2018-19 budget.
Like the rest of the sector initial reaction watching the Treasurer speak was that there were no surprises: Jobs for Families Child Care Package, tick, short-term extension of Universal Access for Preschool, tick, tax cuts,Â tick.
In a way we were right, because the biggest surprise was whatÂ wasn’tÂ announced.
Without any consultation, the Commonwealth de-funded the quality function it had supported in every state and territory as part of the National Partnership Agreement (NPA) on the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care.
The only hint was in Minister Birmingham’s media release, where he announced $14million to carry ACECQA through to the official target date for quality implementation, ‘â€˜by 2020 all children have the best start in life to create a better future for themselves, and for the nation”.
What the Minister failed to explain was that ACECQA was going to need that money from his department to pay its staff and keep the lights on. Under the NPA, each state and territory contributed to ACECQA’s $14million annual budget using an agreed percentage of its Commonwealth quality funding, now cancelled.
Wait – what?
We know, right?Â What could possibly make this a good decision for anyone?
We don’t have any definitive answers for you yet. There are too many variables in Commonwealth-state negotiations over early childhood right now and, with the government finally committing to a new Gonski investment, it’s possible that abandoning the ECE partnership is just a matter of thinking ‘job done‘ on quality and moving on to an even biggerÂ focus on and investment in school education.
The state and territory regulatory authorities, not ACECQA,Â conduct all quality assessments and ratings apart from the optional Excellence rating.Â They took this role over from the old National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC) when the National Quality Framework became law in 2012 (2013 in WA).
Is the job done?
According to ACECQA, more than 90% of all centre-based services and family day care schemes have now received a quality rating. The figure will never be 100% because of the turnover of new services opening.Â But is that the point? If quality is an ongoing process of maintenance and improvement, we should expect that assessments and ratings continue for as long as we value the standards and the wellbeing of children.
What we all expected, from as far back as the original NPA in 2009, was that 2020 would mark the time when ‘implementation’ was truly over and a permanent, consistent way of rating and assessing services against agreed quality standards would be bedded down in every part of Australia.
Take a step back
So who does what in pursuit of a national approach to quality?
For a visual summary of this information, see our infographic.
National Partnership Agreement (NPA)
A National Partnership Agreement (NPA) is a way for the state, territory and federal governments to work together on major projects. The agreement describesÂ whatâ€™s been decided, how it will happen, and who pays for it. Our NPA for Early Education and Care was signed in 2009. Its aim is that by 2020 all children have the best start in life to create a better future for themselves, and for the nation.
National Quality Agenda (NQA)
National Quality Agenda (NQA) is a way to describe all the recent quality improvements for early childhood education and OSHC. These improvements were based on the best available evidence from research in Australia and around the world.
National Quality Framework (NQF)
The National Quality Framework (NQF) brings the NQA to life. The NQF is the laws, regulations and structures that give us qualified educators, learning frameworks, set ratios of staff with children, and provides a way of measuring quality to the same standards in every service and a public rating system to show the results.
Australian Childrenâ€™s Education and Care Authority (ACECQA)
The Australian Childrenâ€™s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) is a small, independent body which is funded by every government in Australia to make sure the NQF was successfully introduced. ACECQA reports regularly on the progress of the NQF in its Quarterly Snapshots.
Regulatory Authority (RA)
Every state and territory has a regulatory authority (RA) for the NQF, usually as part of a department of education or community. The RA â€“ not ACECQA â€“ employs the assessors who visit services and make judgments about quality standards. They also do compliance checks, investigate complaints, and may have other special roles under their own stateâ€™s laws.
Why does it matter?
The NPA is the document binding all Australian governments to a consistent standard and approach to quality for children.Â Without that agreement, each jurisdiction can review its position on national consistency and decide whether to keep working with the applied national laws and regulations You might see new quality standards imposed in some states, or others abandoning some or all of the current set of standards
Even assuming most states want to keep on more or less the same track, the NPA funding until now heavily subsidised the staff and resources needed to assess and rate every service (remember, ACECQAÂ does not do the assessments).
If it ain’t broke…
On a broader scale – the NQA was doing very, very well.
- the Royal Commission into institutional child sexual abuse highlights the requirement for a â€˜watchdogâ€™ – which the RAs and ACECQA help provide
- the latest Gonski report highlights the importance of quality early learning for school outcomes
- Lifting our Game report backs the NQA with hard evidence, demonstrating the importance of early learning for life long education health social and economic outcomes
- Australia’s aged care sector hopes to use our NQF as a model for its aged care quality framework
Providers should prepare for the probability of cost-recovery fees for mandatory assessments.Â
Hip pocket nerves
At the least, states have lost a shared $20million annual payment that supported their activity for the national quality agenda. Either they cut the activity, or they find the money elsewhere.
Providers should prepare for the probability of cost-recovery fees for their mandatory assessments.
Providers might also consider how much they have already invested in complying with a nationally consistent quality agenda – do some sums and let us know what figure you get in the comments below.Â How many hours? How much training? How many resources purchased?
What should happen now?
CELA is working with all major peak bodies and providers – now more than ever this sector, which is known for its ‘tribal’ behaviour – needs to pull together for the common good.
In a nutshell, we believe the NPA needs to continue forÂ at least five more years. We want a commitment from the RAs to maintain the National Regulations and work with Commonwealth to find a funding solution that continues to improve and maintain nationally consistent quality education and care for children.
We expect there to be many shifts and turns in this story over the next few months, so please make sure you are following CELA on Facebook and Twitter, and that you are subscribed to our Amplify newsletter.