ECEC quality ratings edge higher despite slowdown in A&R visits and spike in waivers

ECEC quality ratings edge higher despite slowdown in A&R visits and spike in waivers

by Jason Roberts

May 17, 2022

The percentage of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services rated as meeting or exceeding the National Quality Standard (NQS) has edged to a new record despite a significant reduction in Regulatory Authority (RA) quality focused visits and a jump in staffing waivers granted in the first quarter of 2022 according to the latest Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority’s (ACECQA) NQF Snapshot.

 

Overall 87 per cent of services are now rated as meeting or exceeding the NQS, an increase of  one percent increase on the previous quarter, and a new record for the series which includes all four ECEC settings namely; long day care (LDC), family day care (FDC), outside school hours care (OSHC) and kindergarten / preschool. 

 

 

Across the various categories the main driver of this quarter’s increase when compared to last quarter was the FDC setting which saw a two percentage point jump in schemes meeting or exceeding the NQS to 59 per cent and Catholic schools which saw a three percent increase but off a much higher base of 88 per cent.

 

The larger settings such as LDC (87 per cent), OSHC (83 per cent) and kindergarten / preschool (95 per cent) saw no overall improvement in ratings during the period and neither did for-profit (84 per cent) and community managed (89 per cent) governance types.

 

Assessment and rating (A&R) visits taper off to levels below previous five years average

 

Against the backdrop of muted quality improvement in the ECEC sector over the course of the last twelve months, it is interesting to note that during that same period there has been a very substantial drop in the number of Regulatory Authority (RA) visits that focus on examining the quality and rating of a service.

 

Over the course of the last nine months there has been a substantial drop in the number of RA visits – visits could include a first assessment, re-assessment or partial assessment as a group – but also in the number of re-assessments taking place. 

 

 

At around 274 visits and 213 reassessments the numbers are a fraction of those recorded in Q1 and Q2 2021 and prior to COVID-19. 

 

The number of opportunities for underperforming centres to improve their quality ratings has contracted materially and in so doing contributed to a stabilisation in the rate of quality improvement relative to that seen just post COVID-19. 

 

Waiver headwinds also act as a headwind to quality improvements

 

Another contributor to a more challenging quality environment is the acute levels of staffing shortages in key areas of the ECEC workforce. 

 

This is particularly evident in the proportion of services that are receiving waivers that apply to staffing related requirements as detailed in the National Regulations, although it must be said that there has also been an increase in physical environment related waivers too, but at a less alarming extent. 

 

 

8.1 per cent of services now have staffing related waivers, more than double that recorded prior to COVID-19 with the overwhelming majority of these waivers relating to the requirement for an Early Childhood Teacher under the National Regulations. 

 

Unfortunately, a more detailed breakdown of reasons for waivers and which settings and governance types are applying for them is not available at this juncture,  however it is fair to say that the well telegraphed workforce shortages are having a very real impact on educational and most likely operational aspects of service delivery. 

 

To read the Q1 2022 NQF snapshots, as well as all passed snapshots, please click here.

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