2021 NQF Annual Report shows progress, but also flags concerns and challenges in key areas
The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) has released its annual performance report, commenting on the state of the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector in 2021.
The report examines a range of key aspects of the National Quality Framework (NQF) and how it is being implemented with a view to providing context on key emerging and established trends impacting the Australian ECEC sector.
This year’s report confirmed continued progress in health and safety as well as programming and practice along with jumps in the number of serious incidents reported and staff waivers required, as well as another dip in Diploma enrolments reflecting some of the key challenges the sector continues to face.
“In response to the major impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, education and care service providers have continued to implement strategies to maintain the health and safety of children, staff and families, including the use of technology to provide ongoing learning and support for those children unable to attend services,” Judy Hebblethwaite, Chair of ACECQA shared.
“Many long-standing challenges – for example, workforce sustainability, educator wellbeing, and the diverse nature of our sector – have been intensified by the ongoing impact of COVID-19. However, progress continues to be made in addressing a number of these.”
The key trends picked up in this year’s report include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Overall rate of serious incidents and confirmed breaches climb year on year – The rate of serious incidents increased to 125 per 100 approved services in 2020/21, a substantial increase compared to the 103 reported last year. Long day care (LDC) experienced the largest jump amongst the settings with 173 incidents per 100 services, up 25 per cent on last year. Confirmed breaches of National Law and Regulations saw more modest year on year increases but still rose five per cent overall with LDC rising 10 per cent. (Page 19 of report)
- Children’s health and safety ratings jump to new record across all settings – Significant improvements were recorded in the proportion of services rated as Meeting or Exceeding Quality Area 2: Children’s health and safety. As at Q2 2021 91 per cent of all services were rated as such, up three percentage points from last year with the largest increases coming from the outside school hours care (OSHC)community and family day care (FDC) which both saw increases of four percentage points year on year. (Page 16 of report)
- Top National Law and Regulations breaches remain consistent with prior years – Section 167: Failure to protect children from harm and hazards and Section 165: Inadequate supervision of children continue to be the top National Law breaches with 29 and 19 per cent respectively of all breaches confirmed. Regulation 97: Emergency and evacuation procedures and Regulation 103: Premises, furniture and equipment to be safe, clean and in good repair were the top Regulation breaches with 13 and 10 per cent respectively of all breaches confirmed. (Page 21 of report)
- Assessment and Planning (NQS 1.3) is still the most challenging element although improvements evident – As at 30 June 2021, 90 per cent of services are rated Meeting NQS or above for Standard 1.3. This is the lowest score across all standards BUT it is still four percentage points higher than last year, signaling an improving underlying trend with respect to how services are approaching the assessment and planning aspect of their programs. (Page 24 of report)
- ACECQA reiterates key factors underpinning quality improvement in educational program and practice – Research commissioned in 2019 highlighted areas that influence the quality of programming and practice including; focusing on child agency and rights, informing practice with theories of learning that recognise children as competent and capable, using a planned critically reflective approach, aligning program and practice with service philosophy. (Page 27 of report)
- Gap between wealthiest and poorest suburbs as measured by NQS ratings narrows – 12 per cent of services located in suburbs in SEIFA Quintile 5 (Most advantaged) were rated Working Towards the NQS whereas in services located in suburbs in SEIFA Quintile 1 (Most disadvantaged) the proportion of Working Towards was 16 per cent. Although still lagging, the gap between the highest and lowest narrowed by two percentage points compared to last year after a sizable reduction in Working Towards in the more disadvantaged suburbs. (Page 29 of report)
- Diploma enrolment numbers fall for 5th year running, Cert III / ECT remain steady – The number of educators enrolling in the Diploma of ECEC course fell again in the latest reporting year to 44,895, down around 6.5 per cent on 2019, and an astonishing 40 per cent on 2016. Improving completion rates may help cushion some of the contraction but overall the decrease remains a concern for the ECEC sector. Cert III enrolments were 55,010, the fifth consecutive year above 50,000 and ECT commencement numbers were flat at 3,541. (Page 38 of report)
- Services with staffing waivers jumps to 6.7 per cent overall with LDC leading at 11.2% – The percentage of services with waivers reached 6.7 per cent as at June 2021, up from 6.5 per cent as at 30 June 2020, and 3.9 per cent in June 2017. 11.2 per cent of all LDC services now have waivers in place, dwarfing the 2.4 per cent and 1.1 per cent recorded in the Preschool and OHSC spaces with COVID-19 likely a strong contributor to these trends. (Page 41 of report)
In addition, the report provided some detail on ACECQA’s Biannual Family Survey Results including a jump in family awareness of the NQS Quality Rating System, that word of mouth still dominates as a source of information for families searching for care and educator skill rising as a key factor in their centre selection evaluation process.
For more information on the results of the latest Family Survey see here.
The National Quality Framework (NQF) Annual Performance Report is released each year as part of ACECQA’s responsibility to evaluate and report on the implementation and administration of the NQF as detailed in the Education and Care Services National Law.
Annual reporting also includes NQF Snapshots, national audits, occasional papers as well as the Annual Performance Review.
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