Burden vs benefit
The national authority’s Annual Performance Report shows more than 95% of the sector still backs the National Quality Framework, but the proportion of services which have a heavy sense of regulatory burden has barely changed.
While 17% found regulatory requirements ‘very burdensome’ in 2013, in the 2017 survey 15% still selected the lowest option for their overall perception of burden. In fact, the outcomes in each of four surveys has altered very little in the sectors overall view of burden. (See chart below, p13 of the report).
ACECQA attributes the outcome to:
Perceived overall burden was largely influenced by perceptions of burden associated with six administrative requirements. Four of the six requirements, including documenting children’s learning and maintaining policies and procedures, were considered more beneficial than burdensome.
However, quality assessment and rating visits and quality improvement plans (QIPs) were considered by a slim majority of providers to be more burdensome than beneficial. This would suggest that there continues to be a need for further engagement and communications with providers about the value of quality assessment and rating visits and QIPs, as well as further clarification and clarity about what is expected in terms of preparation for a visit and content for a QIP.
ACECQA also measures families’ awareness of the National Quality Standard as a consideration in choice of service for their children. It would be easy to interpret the outcomes as being families caring more for cost than quality, but the result is not as simple as that.
The ‘quality rating of service against the NQS’ was the least important factor to families when choosing a service (see Figure 3). However, when asked to detail other factors that influence their choice, respondents listed several factors that are all encompassed within the quality rating assessment against the NQS.
You will see various interpretations of this data around the sector. It’s natural that we all bring our personal biases to the task of interpreting the numerical outcomes of complex qualitative questions like this one. It’s also important that you understand the way the survey is structured if you are going to interpret the outcomes. In this case we are looking at a ranking of factors which have overlapping meanings and the outcome is not as clear cut as it might appear.
Put yourself in their place
We believe it’s understandable for most families to rank access and affordability highly in choosing a service. If you cannot find a place for your child, or cannot afford the cost of a place, the quality of a service you can’t access becomes irrelevant. In some cases families have little or no choice but to accept the one place on offer – this doesn’t mean they won’t be concerned about the quality of education and care their children receive and many country areas with only one service offer outstanding quality that families may well take for granted.
Once access and affordability are settled, ACECQA’s survey, and real life, show that families are willing and able to consider benefits relating to quality of program, qualified staff, and the meaning behind the national quality rating
It’s encouraging that ‘high quality early learning program’ is one of the highest of all family considerations, and that ‘word of mouth’ is not as significant as ‘highly skilled educators‘ for families when it comes to choosing long day care.
A question of language
One conclusion ACECQA draws from the family awareness outcome is that:
This would suggest that there continues to be a need for further engagement and communications with families about the NQF, with particular reference to the language used to describe the NQF and NQS.
Perhaps this engagement could include a review of the home page for ACECQA’s Starting Blocks website? Presumably for search engine friendliness the site uses the language of ‘child care’ and makes the main starting point for action ‘Find Child Care’, an acknowledgment that this is the first step parents feel they need to make.
Quality communication costs money, just like quality education. The Federal government is investing in a multi-million dollar campaign to promote its ‘child care’ package based on affordability: it needs to commit to long-term investment to promote quality as well.
It could start by completing a National Partnership Agreement for universal access to two years of quality early learning before primary school.
Read the report
Read ACECQA’s full report for yourself here:
And the summary statement from ACECQA appears below.
ACECQA report release
The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) today released its inaugural Annual Performance Report detailing the performance of the National Quality Framework (NQF) across the early childhood education and care sector over the past five years.
Under the National Partnership on the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care, on behalf of all governments, ACECQA is required to provide an annual performance report to the COAG Education Council that includes an assessment against the objectives and outcomes of the agreement.
“Since its introduction in 2012, the NQF has set a national benchmark for the quality of education and care services, streamlining the previous eight different state and territory licensing schemes, as well as the previous national child care quality assurance system,” said ACECQA Chair Judy Hebblethwaite.
“This report suggests that the NQF is realising a number of its intended benefits, including continuous quality improvement in service provision and efficiencies in regulation.”
The report found that:
– 85% of paid contact staff in long day care, family day care, outside school hours care and vacation care services had an education and care related qualification in 2016, up from 80% in 2013 and 69% in 2010.
Education and care services approved under the NQF include long day care, outside school hours care and family day care services, as well as most preschools/kindergartens.
The report is available at www.acecqa.gov.au/APR
A second Annual Performance Report will be produced by ACECQA in 2018, focussing on changes and developments since July 2017.