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Spotlight on ratios and why under the roof is not a helpful term

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We often hear the term ‘under the roof’ being used when referring to ratios in early education and care, but this term can be misleading.

In this spotlight on ratios, CELA early education specialist and NQF expert Sarin Rozental helps us to understand more about how ratios should be calculated when taking a centre-based approach, and what else should be considered.

By Sarin Rozental


Why ‘under the roof’ can be a misleading term

The term ‘under the roof’ is not defined under the National Quality Framework. This is a colloquial term used in services and can definitely be a misnomer because there may be many staff ‘under a roof’, but not all of them will be working directly with children.

For example, the centre’s cook may hold approved qualifications but they are cooking and therefore not working directly with children. Some staff may be physically ‘under the roof’ but taking a lunch break and not actively taking part in providing adequate supervision, so they can’t be counted.

How are ratios calculated?

Educator-to-child ratios are calculated across the whole service regardless of grouping or room configuration, which is where the term may have come from.

‘Ratios are calculated across the whole service (not by individual rooms). This gives providers the flexibility to respond to ensure educators are allocated appropriately based on the age and needs of children in the service’ –ACECQA

The Education and Care Services National Regulations set the minimum qualification and educator to child ratio requirements for children’s education and care services (regulation 121).

To be included in the educator to child ratio, educators must be working directly with children (regulation 122), meaning that educators are physically present with the children and directly engaged in providing education and care to the children (regulation 13).

Combine that with ‘all children being educated and cared for by an education and care service must be adequately supervised at all times while in the care of the service (section 165)’ and that should give service providers a much clearer picture of what is required in calculating ratios and who can be counted.

ACECQA provides further guidance and a calculator on their website.

Where can I find information on ratios in the National Quality Standards?

The relevant National Quality Standard is Element 4.1.1, which states:

“The National Quality Standard sets educator-to-child ratios to ensure the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children while attending the service.

The presence of adequate numbers of qualified and experienced educators has been consistently linked with quality interactions and positive learning experiences for children.
Carefully planned rosters ensure that educators are always available to respond to children and to support continuity of care and adequate supervision at all times when children are in the service and on excursions.

The National Quality Standard also sets qualification requirements for co-ordinators in family day care services. Qualified and experienced co-ordinators train, support and monitor educators in their education and care role with children.”

(Guide to the NQS, pg 110)

These guidelines have been put in place to enable services to more flexibly arrange educators in a way that effectively responds to the needs of all children, situations, educators and families. Directors and leaders should look at a service as if it’s an ecosystem, with the ability to move children and educators around as needed, as long as the ratios are adhered to. This allows services to reconfigure groupings rather than roster additional staff or reduce overall capacity of the service.

What other considerations should be taken into account when planning ratios for a room?

Meeting minimum requirements based on a calculator is not necessarily best practice for providing quality early education and care.

If a service only has the minimum numbers of educators present, there are many situations where issues could arise which could affect child and educator wellbeing as well as quality.

ACECQA tells us that when arranging staff, consideration needs to be given to the health, safety, education and wellbeing of children. All seven quality areas should be considered, for example providing children opportunities to develop responsive relationships with other children and adults as part of Quality Area 5, Relationships with Children.

“To determine appropriate staffing arrangements educators and providers must use their professional discretion. The flexibility of these provisions allows services to explore innovative ways to meet the requirements in a way that suits the context of their service.”
ACECQA newsletter issue 15

Additionally, the presence of adequate numbers of qualified and experienced educators has been consistently linked with quality interactions and positive learning experiences for children. For this reason, the National Quality Framework sets out minimum qualification requirements for centre-based education and care services. The NQF also sets qualification requirements for co-ordinators in family day care services. Qualified and experienced co-ordinators train, support and monitor educators in their education and care role with children.

The Guide to the National Quality Framework provides these helpful reflection questions when considering staffing:

  • How do our staffing arrangements support each child’s learning and development?
  • How do our staffing arrangements support educators to direct their full attention to their work with children, including getting to know each child?
  • How do our staffing arrangements support consistent practice, including staff members’ and children’s transitions?
  • How does our staffing roster support continuity of care and positive experiences for children on a day-to-day basis?
  • How do we inform children and families when an educator is on leave and who will be working with them instead?
  • How do we facilitate children’s and families’ familiarity with relief staff?
  • How do we support relief staff to learn about and understand the service’s policies, processes?
  • How do our staffing arrangements support educators to develop positive and respectful relationships with families?
  • How do we provide feedback and support to educators so that they continue to learn and feel fulfilled, resulting in continuity of educators over time?
  • How do we engage in reflective practice to support and encourage each other, support ongoing learning and focus on quality improvement?
  • Do our service’s procedures support families to access alternative care when their usual educator is unavailable at short notice?
  • What arrangements are in place to ensure that our principal office can support educators and families when children are in care overnight and at weekends?
  • How do we communicate with educators and with families when there is a change of co-ordinator(s) at the service?

In summary, there are many areas that need to be considered when it comes to ratios, and purely looking to meet minimum ratios is not necessarily best practice.


Further reading


About Sarin Rozental

Prior to joining CELA as an early education specialist, Sarin was employed by ACECQA in the Quality Practice team, Educational Leadership Group. In this role, Sarin helped to develop key sector resources to support quality practice strategies across Australia, including for remote and rural settings. Sarin is also an expert in the National Quality Framework, having previously worked in the ACECQA Enquiries team.


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