Assessment & Rating: Hurdle or opportunity?
For a busy children’s service, filling out a Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and undergoing A&R can be intimidating. But what if we reframed our thinking and viewed A&R as a way to improve outcomes for children and families?
Anne, Centre Director at Diamond Creek Occasional Child Care Centre, shares how embracing their recent A&R helped the service celebrate their strengths and meet their challenges.
Ruby: Tell us about the Diamond Creek Occasional Child Care Centre.
Anne: We are a unique long day care centre integrating kindergarten programs, situated in the Green Wedge of Nillumbik. We offer 56 places and employ more than 20 educators. The centre began in 1983 with a very small number of families. In the early days it was strictly cash, with a ‘pay as you go’ policy.
As the needs of our community grew, so did our service. Our main point of difference is that we still don’t charge families for non-attendance. Our grassroots beginnings live on through our flexible billing model, which can be billed on either an hourly or daily basis. This is based on each family’s needs. The centre was built on providing support to the local community, and this continues to be at the heart of everything we do.
You recently did 10 hours of A&R training with our consultant Bryony. How did this come about?
We hadn’t done A&R since 2016, and our founding director had just retired. Despite all our reading, professional development and training, and collegial conversations in the lead-up – when our A&R letter came, we found ourselves with ice-cold feet and racing hearts! We didn’t feel confident to go it alone.
Despite it being Easter holidays, Bryony made a conscious effort to communicate with us regularly and even outside business hours. The first few calls with her were almost like a therapy session. She explained the A&R process meticulously, and her patience and availability to answer all of our questions was remarkable.
Due to the nature of the times, much of our work with Bryony was remote. So it was wonderful when Bryony managed to make a physical visit to our service. This gave her an opportunity to see firsthand some of the limitations of our environment. Namely, we were operating from an ex-clubroom that was not purpose-built.
On her visit, Bryony spoke to our educators and leadership team and got everyone on the same page. She was realistic, practical and really worked with us in a way that celebrated our strengths and invited us to meet our challenges.
What were those challenges?
We had a pretty good grasp of the A&R themes, but our challenge was communicating them to the Authorised Officer in just a few hours. We knew we had a lot of work to do on critical reflection – our staff’s ideas of critical reflection varied, and it felt hard to articulate. Bryony was instrumental in building our confidence.
We also felt like a lot of our energy was going into our QIP. We’d been tweaking our planning processes for a while, but didn’t have time to record every tiny change. Bryony gave us practical advice on how to present our QIP and suggested what to include and what to leave out.
We realised that we were looking at our QIP in a skewed way. Bryony reframed our thinking to help us see that the QIP is a work in progress – a cycle of improvement with no tangible ending. We learned to embrace that aspect of it. This continuous cycle of improvement makes a difference in the lives of children and families every day in many ways.
What advice do you have for other services due to undertake A&R?
Our work as educators and leaders has the greatest scope of any other job I know. A&R is such a useful and necessary process, but in real-time at a busy children’s service, it feels intimidating and unfriendly. To the uninitiated, it can feel like a great mystery. It feels like a test that’s designed to make you nervous and trip you up.
Try not to see A&R as a hurdle, but as a way to step back, look closely and analyse the how and why of what you are doing. For us, it highlighted where we need to put in the hard yards.
Currently, due to the learning from our A&R, we’re digging deep into the bones of Quality Area 5. We have commenced the Circle of Security Classroom and it is an absolute pleasure to be working with Bryony once again!
The information below was first published in Roundtable magazine, and has been reshared here with permission.
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