An assessment notice is a little like a winter electricity bill – we all know it’s coming but it’s still a shock when it arrives. Unlike your power bill, your assessment and rating (A&R) visit is an opportunity to shake off that dread and show how your service shines.
Early thoughts, and actions
After the initial shock – this is really happening! – many directors say they enter a period of relative calm.
‘You think, well, we aren’t changing anything just for this. We know our stuff and we need to stay calm and keep doing what we do,’ says Jan, a 30-year veteran preschool director*.
The busyness of preparing to submit your QIP and be ready for the visit itself can be very positive, says Nicole, an OOSH coordinator who was assessed for the first time last year. She recommends making a list and sticking to it.
‘The notice gives you the date when you have to submit the QIP and the date of the visit, so what I did was made a long list of all the things I wanted to do by each of those dates,’ Nicole said.
‘My first list – you’d have to call it impossible! It was a good reminder that I shouldn’t try to revolutionise the service in a few weeks.
‘I cut the list back down and delegated where I could, then I just focused on ticking off jobs every single day. I made myself too busy to worry much.’
Many agree that no matter how calm you were, nerves can hit just before the visit.
‘I worried all through the final night about everything from flash flooding through to one of our anaphylactic children eating strawberries – it was a relief to get to work and see the floor was dry!’ Nicole recalls.
‘I also spent a fair bit of time boosting my team’s confidence as there was a lot of stage fright ahead of the visit. It definitely affects some staff more than others and you need to be really understanding about that and not dismiss their fears out of hand.’
Start out strong
Shayna is an OOSH coordinator who took over a Working Towards service 12 months ago and gained a Meeting the NQS rating in January.
‘I didn’t have many colleagues in this area so I spent a lot of time in Facebook groups specifically for assessment prep,’ she says.
‘You have to make your own decisions about what applies to you, but I did get some tips that helped settle our nerves.
‘One clear message is to start out well and you’ll feel better for the rest of the visit. So as a team, we were determined to start strong and it really sustained us for two days of assessment.’
For Shayna’s team, ‘starting out strong’ meant things like:
- Have your ID clearly visible and make sure you check the assessor’s ID, even if you’ve already met them
- Sign them in like any visitor to the service – it sounds obvious but because they have ‘authority’ it can trick your brain into skipping routines
- Give the assessor a quick ‘welcome induction’ – here’s the emergency exit, here’s our evacuation point, here are the bathrooms etc.
Shayna, like many leaders, was supporting a youthful team with no A&R experience. Like Nicole, she devoted a lot of time to building her team’s confidence in ‘doing what we do’ but with an observer.
‘One of our biggest strengths is our interaction with children and families and it was important to me that wasn’t lost through nervousness because they felt watched and judged,’ she says.
‘I made sure they knew I trusted them and they should answer anything the assessor asked – but I also emphasised that if the children needed them mid-conversation, the children had priority.’
‘Luckily, we had a staff meeting scheduled soon after A&R started and we included the assessor in the meeting. I was able to repeat that message to the team in front of her and ask her to confirm that she didn’t expect the educators to stop interacting with the children for her sake.’
Read their playbook
Shayna’s other advice was to go through the Guide to the NQF carefully as a team, looking at all the expectations it includes for what assessors might want to ‘observe’ or to see evidence for.
‘Something that came out of that for us was that we needed more clarity on our mandatory reporting responsibilities, which was already identified in our QIP,’ she says.
‘And while we had great policies and checklists, the Guide helped us understand as a team just how many kinds of evidence the assessor was going to want to see – and she did. She even looked inside our bins!’
Jan, our preschool director, also recommends the Guide as a good way to prepare for what is a reasonable question during the visit.
‘You have to back yourself to some degree, and it helps if you’re across what ACECQA says should be expected,’ Jan says.
‘And know your rights!. our most recent assessor insisted we print the national law out even though we showed her the PDF was accessible on all our iPads. It cost us a fortune in toner and I still don’t think it was necessary.’
Know your stuff
Ruth Harper is the coordinator at East West, a small community-run kinder and long daycare in Melbourne that was rated Exceeding in all areas in December 2017.
A regular commentator on philosophy and practice, and past Amplify author, Ruth makes the point that you’ll always feel more confident in an A&R when you are confident in your knowledge and practice.
Her advice is for every day, not just A&R, but it fits very well with a truism about presentation anxiety, ‘The more you know your stuff, the less nervous you will be’.
- Know the National Regulations and how to access them.
- Know the difference between regulations and policy. Regulations cover all of us, policy is written in your service or your provider’s organisation. These two things get mixed up all the time, so you need to ask for sources if you aren’t sure why a direction has been given.
- Figure out what you are legally required to do with regards to paperwork so that you have a baseline from which to work in your own way. For example, you can colour-code your observations or QIP if that works for you, as long as you are delivering the information that’s expected in your documentation.
- Know your rights and entitlements so you can properly prepare yourself – not for A&R but for your role as a professional educator. For example, how much planning time should you be getting?
- Know the Early Years Learning Framework or whichever curriculum framework applies at your service. It absolutely should inform your practice so read it, think about it, talk about it with your colleagues, ask questions, challenge assumptions, reflect, observe… Rinse and repeat.
- Have a favourite theorist. Have several if you like, but know why you like each of them and be prepared to explain your reasons to others because that will help your own understanding.
- Understand how children develop. It’s important to know why 3-year-olds are not the same as 7-year-olds, and how each should be treated appropriately for their stage of life.
ACECQA’s tips for articulating practice
A&R preparation can feel lonely, but even the national authority understands you need support. The following tips are summarised from the blog post, Tips for discussing practice.
Tip 1 – Build knowledge
ACECQA’s first tip reflects Ruth’s advice, above. Being knowledgeable about the NQS, learning frameworks and your QIP means educators are better able to describe their practices to others in a quality context.
Tip 2 – Practice articulating practice!
Practice talking about the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of your practices with each other, but also with children and families. Use the reflective questions in the Guide to the NQF as prompts.
Tip 3 – Ongoing self-assessment/walk in the Authorised Officer’s shoes
Put yourself in the officer’s shoes and walk about your service thinking about what they may see and ask about. For example, looking at your premises they might ‘discuss’ QA 3 this way:
- How have you considered the need for safe yet challenging spaces?
- How do you monitor building maintenance?
Tip 4 – Language
How you speak with the assessor matters and should be ‘authentic and makes reference to the language of the NQS’. This doesn’t mean pedagogical jargon!
ACECQA suggests phrases such as:
- Families were able to share their thoughts through…
- After the team reflected on this feedback we changed the way we…
- The children and educators reflected on…..and together decided…
*Some of the people interviewed for this story asked for their identities to be masked in various ways, which we granted so they could be completely candid
Read more from ACECQA here:
- Tips for discussing practice during an A&R visit
- Exceeding the NQS and articulating practice
- Assessment and rating for FDC
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