Latest ACECQA report shows a rise in law breaches and a decline in Diploma enrolments
The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) has released its annual performance report, which is significant because 2018 marks the end of the National Partnership on the National Quality Agenda, with no word as yet as to how the funding of Universal Access to preschool will take place beyond the end of 2019.
The report shows an increased focus on compliance, with the number of services receiving breach notices for one or more incidences of violating the National Laws and Regulations, and declining enrolments in the Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care.
The comprehensive 68-page report consists of seven chapters and provides valuable insights into the state of the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector.
ACECQA Chair Judy Hebblethwaite said the objectives of the National Quality Framework (NQF) remain as vital as ever, applying to more than 15,700 ECEC services around Australia.
Ms Hebblewaite said investment by governments and providers in quality ECEC can result in “immediate and profound” benefits for children and families, and contribute to broader long-term societal and economic gains.
The 2018 report focuses on the progress made during 2017-2018, with highlights on important developments occurring during the year, including the implementation of changes to the NQF and the publication of the Guide to the National Quality Framework in late 2017.
Touching on recent Senate Committee comments, Ms Hebblewaite said each of the two developments have contributed to reducing red tape for the sector.
Pleasingly, Ms Hebblewaite said a range of indicators in the 2018 report suggests the NQF is realising a number of its intended benefits, citing examples such as more than three quarters of ECEC services meeting all of the elements of quality assessed under the National Quality Standard (NQS), with the majority improving their quality rating at reassessment.
Having used the previous report to highlight the ongoing challenge to effectively communicate with families and the broader community, the importance of high-quality education and care, and the positive and sustained difference it can make to children’s learning and development, Ms Hebblewaite observed this to be an ongoing challenge, with ACECQA committing to continuing to work with all governments to explore opportunities and implement activities to increase the level of knowledge and awareness of the NQF and NQS across Australia.
Chapter one – Safety, health and wellbeing of children attending education and care services
Highlighting the importance of placing the rights and best interests of the child at the forefront of decision making, chapter one of the report reviews the progress made in terms of the health, safety and wellbeing outcomes of children attending ECEC services, relating to quality area (QA) two of the NQS.
Key findings in this chapter include a focus on serious incidents and compliance, with the rate of confirmed breaches per 100 approved services rising compared with 2016/17, and the proportion of services with one or more confirmed breaches also rising.
Report authors said the rise in confirmed breaches may be influenced by changes in state and territory regulatory authorities’ approaches to compliance and monitoring activities, with some regulatory authorities having an increased focus on compliance with the requirements of the National Law and Regulations.
Other key findings in relation to this chapter include:
- In 2017/18, the proportion of services rated Meeting NQS or above for QA 2 increased for all service types.
- The number of Significant Improvement Required ratings decreased in 2017/18, largely due to fewer family day care (FDC) services receiving the rating in 2017/18 compared to 2016/17.
- The proportion (45 per cent) of services reporting one or more serious incidents in 2017/18 was very similar to the proportion (43 per cent) in 2016/17.
- The most commonly breached provisions of the National Law and Regulations in 2017/18 continued to be offences related to protection of children from harm and hazards; inadequate supervision of children; emergency and evacuation procedures; and, the upkeep of premises, furniture and equipment.
Chapter two – Educational and developmental outcomes for children
Chapter two focuses on QA 1 of the NQF which relates to the educational and developmental outcomes for children.
QA 1 has consistently been the most challenging outcome of the NQF for services to meet, and the reports authors were pleased to note that in 2017/18 the proportion of services rated as meeting or exceeding the NQS had increased for all service types.
Of the more than 4,800 services who had undergone reassessment in QA 1, two thirds of services previously rated as working towards the NQS had improved their overall quality rating on reassessment.
The other significant finding discussed in chapter two was that measuring and evaluating improvement in the educational and developmental outcomes for children attending education and care services continues to represent a “significant challenge”.
Authors of the report said this was challenging for services “not least because of the need to link disparate data sets to track the educational and developmental journey of individual children, as well as the length of time required to elapse before a comprehensive and in-depth assessment of educational and developmental outcomes can be made.”
Chapter three – Social inclusion and children from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds
Chapter three of the report relates to the National Partnership on the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care 2015-16 to 2017-18 and aims to facilitate better social inclusion and reduced disadvantage by providing greater access to quality ECEC experiences, providing benefits for all children, but especially so for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
There is a correlation between this outcome and the NQF objective of improving the educational and developmental outcomes for children attending ECEC service, and the guiding principle within the NQF of equity, inclusion and diversity.
Services in more advantaged areas were again more likely to be rated as exceeding the NQS, comparative with services in more disadvantaged areas, as was the case in 2016/17.
Services in rural and remote areas continued to be less likely to be rated at meeting or exceeding the NQS compared with more regional and metropolitan centres.
Chapter four – Families’ and general public knowledge and access to information about education and care service quality
This chapter relates to the fifth objective of the NQF, around improving public knowledge and access to information about the quality of ECEC services, and aligns with a guiding NQF principle which recognises,respects and supports the role of parents and families.
Previous research into the level of awareness and understanding by families of the NQF suggested limited awareness, which was reinforced through research conducted by ACECQA in 2017 and 2018.
In 2018, ACECQA commissioned qualitative research with families to further understand parents’ decision-making processes when choosing an education and care service for their child, finding hat parents placed a high degree of trust in the perceptions of other parents and many relied heavily on these subjective sources to inform their decision-making.
Quality was an important driver in parental decision making, but parents used the term “judgement” and relied on their own impressions of what quality was and meant, rather than the NQS.
Other key findings in this chapter included:
- Parents’ priorities for education and care service quality centred on their child’s wellbeing, particularly support for their physical and emotional wellbeing, and thereafter support for their growth and development.
- Parents assumed all education and care services are required to meet minimum government standards to operate, but, consistent with the previous research, awareness of the NQF and use of NQS ratings remained low.
- The potential value of the NQF and the NQS ratings became clearer to parents as they learned more about them.
- One of the recommendations from the 2018 research reflected that significant investment in knowledge and awareness raising would be required to achieve a step change.
Chapter five – Efficiency and cost effectiveness of the regulation of ECEC services
This chapter focuses on the importance of improving the efficiency and cost effectiveness of regulation in the ECEC sector, and promoting continuous improvement.
Authors noted that governments and ACECQA continue to undertake a number of activities to pursue efficiency and cost effectiveness, including:
- promoting a risk based approach to regulation;
- national audits on a number of aspects of the NQF;
- system enhancements to the National Quality Agenda IT System;
- a single, comprehensive Guide to the National Quality Framework for both regulators and the regulated sector;
- other support, including guidance and resources, newsletters, blogs, and training; and,information sessions for education and care service providers educators, and state and territory authorised officers.
Chapter six – Regulatory burden for education and care service providers
This chapter focuses on the sixth objective of the NQF, as outlined in the Education and Care Services National Law – to reduce the regulatory and administrative burden for ECEC services.
ACECQA, in collaboration with state and territory regulatory authorities, developed a survey to measure approved providers’ perception of burden associated with administrative requirements under the NQF. The survey was administered annually from 2013-2015 and again in 2017 and 2018.
Key findings from the survey outlined in the chapter include:
Overall support for the NQF amongst providers of education and care services has been consistently above 95 per cent and remained very strong in 2018.
- The perception of overall burden increased slightly in 2018 compared to 2017.
- Recent changes to the NQF, implemented in October 2017 and February 2018, are likely to have contributed to this slight increase given that approved providers have been required to understand, communicate and respond to the changes.
- Perceived overall burden was largely influenced by perceptions of burden associated with six administrative requirements.
- Respondents who indicated they found a requirement burdensome considered four of the six requirements more beneficial than burdensome, including ensuring staff are aware of the National Law and Regulations, maintaining policies and procedures, and documenting children’s learning.
- Quality assessment and rating visits were considered by a slim majority of providers to be more burdensome than beneficial.
- While ‘changes to the National Quality Standard (NQS)’ was selected by a large number of respondents as contributing most to their perception of burden with the recent changes to the NQF, the majority of these respondents considered these changes more beneficial than burdensome.
Chapter seven – Skilled education and care workforce
Focusing on one of the key objectives of the National Partnership on the National Quality Agenda for ECEC 2015/16 – 2017/18 is to build a highly skilled workforce, and this objective forms the basis of chapter seven.
Key findings of chapter seven in relation to qualifications are as follows:
- Enrolments in the Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care dropped markedly between 2016 and 2017.
- Commencement numbers for early childhood and primary initial teaching training degrees increased slightly overall between 2009 and 2016, however there was a year on year decrease between 2015 and 2016 for both early childhood (12 per cent decrease) and primary (18 per cent decrease) initial teacher training degrees.
- Completion numbers for early childhood initial teacher training degrees increased overall between 2009 and 2016, however completion numbers for primary teaching degrees decreased overall across the same period. Furthermore, between 2015 and 2016, there was a decrease in completion numbers for both early childhood (11 per cent year on year decrease) and primary (3 per cent year on year decrease) initial teacher training degrees.
QA 4 of the NQS encompasses standards and elements that address an education and care service’s staffing arrangements.
A key finding of the report in relation to QA 4 was that in 2017/18, the proportion of services rated Meeting NQS or above for QA 4 increased, or remained the same, for all service types.
The full report can be accessed for further reading and analysis here.