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Improving Service Quality – what the research says

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Where do early childhood education services put their focus when it comes to improving quality? What are the differentiating factors between a service that is Meeting vs Exceeding standards?

These are the types of questions that sparked ACECQA to commission a research study that looks at the characteristics and drivers of quality improvement in long day care services.

CELA Research and Policy Manager Megan O’Connell shares key findings from the research along with suggestions on where to begin when it comes to improving quality in your service.


By Megan O’Connell

The assessment and ratings process is a key part of the quality improvement process for the early childhood education and care system. High-quality services provide children with a solid foundation for a lifetime of learning. Improving quality over time takes dedication and effort across a service. The research study shows what the key elements were in selected services, including those who leapt from Working Towards to Exceeding the National Quality Standards.

The research focuses on long daycare services that had achieved an increase in their rating from Working Towards the National Quality Standard (NQS) at one assessment to Meeting NQS or Exceeding NQS at the next assessment.

The research has a heavy focus on Quality Area 1 – education program and practice and Quality Area 7  – governance and leadership, as two key areas where many services seek to improve.

The data shows there is no silver bullet. Exceeding Services all shared a comprehensive approach and commitment to quality improvement to support children’s development.

Key common elements of improving services are articulated below.

A whole organisational approach to service improvement

All improving services had Approved Providers with a strong commitment to focusing on quality improvement. This commitment extended beyond compliance to a genuine desire to improve services to better support children and families.

This was then translated to commensurate support at every level in a service.

The assessment and ratings process was seen as one source of feedback to guide a service’s continual improvement. The approach to assessment and ratings was transparent in Exceeding Services, with services using it as an opportunity to build teamwork and to drive and sustain improvements. Quality improvement was viewed as a shared professional responsibility in Exceeding Services, with all staff aligned to the goal of achieving continuous improvements.

The importance of service philosophy underpinning improvement

Services that improved had a philosophy that demonstrated a commitment to collaboration with families and communities. Their philosophy also recognised the importance of critical reflection to guide improvement over time. Philosophies were not set in stone – the capacity to amend and refine philosophies is part of the improvement process.

The intrinsic role of staff in driving improvement

Educational leaders were a key to service improvement, with services moving to Exceeding status employing skilled educational leaders that provided pedagogical leadership, and linked research and theory to practice.

Educational leaders were supported with training, resources and time to support educators to collaboratively improve education program and practice. This included supporting educators to engage in critical reflections, to give and accept feedback, and set meaningful goals to measure their own progress and development.

A range of goals were focused on, including the importance of child agency, curriculum planning and assessment, conducting observations and assessing learning.

Directors and educators were provided with time, professional learning and resources to focus on planning and achieving goals. They were tasked with driving their own learning, supporting others to learn, working collaboratively and embedding and being accountable for quality improvement in daily practice. This approach helped build a strong workforce culture underpinned by teamwork.

The key role of partnerships

Partnerships were seen as a key to services achieving the exceeding standard.

Services built strong relationships with families to understand and meet children’s needs. Some services sought to involve parents actively in the QIP process.

Services formed a wide variety of partnerships across communities to support families and improve their capacity to meet children’s needs.

Like professional learning, time was provided for the formation and maintenance of partnerships. Educators benefited from visiting other providers and services, learning about different approaches and concepts and garnering information and feedback to support planning and practice.

“At St Lukes, we have four pillars in our philosophy – excellence, relationships, inclusive and passionate,” says Blake Stewart, Director of Exceeding service St Luke’s Dapto.

“We ensure that parents and children are teaching us as much as we are teaching them.

“We view families as co-constructors in children’s learning. We invest early on in building relationships with families so we can know who they are and their lives.

“Parents are involved in the quality review process in our centre. We have a parents’ subcommittee to review policies and procedures. We’ve interviewed parents and carers on what policies and procedures should look like, both incoming parents and our current community.

We also have a working group of children to provide feedback on quality.”

Where to begin?

The quality improvement process is an ongoing one. The ACECQA research highlights the necessity of sharing the responsibility for improvement across a service, and of providing a mandate, resources and developing a trusting, collaborative culture to enable critical reflections and a continuous improvement approach.

“If I had to choose one key factor it would be staffing,” says St Luke’s Director Blake Stewart.

“You need to value staff, and have a strength-based approach with staff. You need to help educators build their philosophy and beliefs, and these need to be aligned to the centre.

“Staff need to be supported as learners, to be able to take risks in their learning environment, to try new things in a safe way. Parents can feed off this positive culture, and it flows into the culture that surrounds children.”

Remember you are not on this journey alone. Partnerships are the key.

CELA is here for you, supporting you. We believe in the rights of all children to access quality early childhood education and care.

We will work with and alongside you, providing professional learning, support, mentoring and consultancy to support you to achieve even better outcomes for the children in your service.

Further reading:

Quality Improvement Research Project report by ACECQA


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