Leaving a child in the hands of an external care provider is a big deal.

Not only do child care providers assume responsibility for keeping children safe and secure, they are entrusted with their health and wellbeing, plus contribute to their early education experience.

With such a huge level of responsibility on child care providers, it is little surprise the industry is continually working to improve standards and outcomes for children.

But how are child care providers governed in Australia? How are minimum standards implemented and assessed? What does all this mean for our children’s early education?

Australia has a National Quality Framework in place to assist child care providers in meeting national minimum standards.

Overseen by the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) this National Framework includes National Quality Standards that are linked to The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF.)

The EYLF is a system of principles, practices and outcomes to support and enhance early learning from birth to the age of five, plus transition to the school years.

Each quality standard ensures care providers enrich the child’s learning and development in the early years.

Vacancy.Care knows all this information around quality is tricky to navigate.

It is important for parents to have a basic understanding of the quality standards in place, so they are informed and empowered to make decisions about care for their children.

We take a look at the National Quality Standards and what they mean to child care in Australia.

What is NQS

So what is NQS? How does it impact childcare in Australia?

Put simply, the NQS is part of a wider framework designed to improve early education and give children a better start in life.

The NQS was established as part of the National Quality Framework (NQF.) The NQS outlines seven key areas of childcare providers are regulated and assessed against. It sets the national benchmark for care providers in Australia.

As a part of the NQF, the NQS provides families a deeper understanding of what quality care means so they can make informed decisions.

The NQF is the overarching system of quality, regulation and assessment in Australia. It was established collectively by all of Australia’s state and territory governments to maintain and improve the quality of childcare providers.

The NQF sets minimum standards related to operational and legal requirements that day care centres, family day care, outside-hours school care, preschool and kindergarten must adhere to.

The NQF outlines requirements for:

  • The ratio of staff to children.
  • Staff qualifications.
  • The health and safety of the children.
  • Venue layout.
  • The quality of learning experiences for children.

These minimum standards are assessed using the seven key quality areas outlined in the NQS and implemented with guidance from ACECQA.

Providers undergo assessment against the NQS by an independent assessor. This assessment should encourage continuous improvement and in turn, better outcomes for children.

Services are rated as below:

  • Significant Improvement Required
  • Working towards NQS
  • Meeting NQS
  • Exceeding NQS
  • Excellent

In other words, some providers meet the minimum standards. Others go far beyond what is expected, and some are significantly lacking in quality.

A provider’s rating should be made accessible for parents, along with any plans in place for improvement.

NQS quality areas: Guide to National Quality Standard elements

There are seven NQS quality areas. Each relates to a minimum standard of care with two to three key elements that are important education outcomes for children.

Vacancy.Care brings you a guide to National Quality Standards. We take a look at the areas of quality, the key elements assessed and what each means for children.

Quality area 1: Educational program and practice

What is the focus of national quality area 1?

National quality area 1 focuses on the below standards:

Program: Focus in on the care provider’s educational program and practice, and how well children are supported to participate in play and learning.

Key elements assessed:

  • Approved learning framework: The provider makes decisions about the approved learning framework or curriculum to contribute to each child’s learning and development outcomes.
  • Child-centred program: Provider uses current knowledge, abilities, interests, strengths, culture and identity as the backbone of a child-centred program.
  • Program learning opportunities: Program is carefully planned and organised to maximise opportunities for children’s learning and development.

Practice: Educators act as facilitators for extending each child’s learning and development.

Key elements assessed:

  • Intentional teaching: Educators use purposeful, intentional teaching when developing programs.
  • Responsive teaching: Educators are responsive to children’s ideas. Extend learning by using questions, interaction and constructive feedback.
  • Child-directed learning: Children are empowered to make choices and decisions.

Assessment and planning: Assessment is planned and reflective.

Key elements assessed:

  • Assessment and planning cycle: Learning and development is part of the ongoing cycle of assessment and planning.
  • Critical reflection: Program planning and implementation is driven by critical reflection of children’s learning – as an individual and in a group setting.
  • Informed families: Families feel informed their child’s progress within the program.

Quality area 2: Children’s health and safety

What is the focus of national quality area 2?

National quality area 2 focuses on the below standards:

Health: Providers actively promote and support children’s health and physical activity. Children are protected from illness and hazards.

Key elements assessed:

  • Wellbeing and comfort: The child’s physical and psychological wellbeing and comfort is catered for, with opportunities for them to sleep or rest in comfort.
  • Health practices and procedures: Illness and injury management and hygiene practices are effectively promoted and implemented.
  • Healthy lifestyle: Provider promotes good nutrition and healthy eating.

Safety: Children are protected from harm, hazards, injury and illness.

Key elements assessed:

  • Supervision: Children are kept safe from harm and hazards with active and constant supervision.,
  • Incident and emergency management: Incident and emergency management plans are developed.
  • Child protection: Staff and educators are acutely aware of their responsibilities to identify and respond to children at risk of abuse or neglect.

Quality area 3: Physical environment

National quality area 3 focuses on the below standards:

Design: The venue design is safe and appropriate to operate a care service. Children have opportunities to play in a safe, well maintained environment.

Key elements assessed:

  • ‘Fit for purpose’: Outdoor and indoor spaces, buildings, fixtures and fittings are fit for their intended purpose and support access for every child.
  • Upkeep: The venue and equipment are safe, maintained and clean.

Use: The environment is inclusive. The space provided promotes and supports play-based learning, exploration and competence.

Key elements assessed:

  • Inclusive environment: Venue space provides a diverse range of activities to engage every child in quality experiences.
  • Resource supports play-based learning: The venue provides sufficient, multi-use equipment and resources that promote play-based learning.
  • Environmentally responsible: The care provider is aware of environmental responsibilities and promotes environmental awareness among children.

Quality area 4: Staffing arrangements

National quality area 4 focuses on the below standards:

Staffing arrangements: Staffing arrangements enhance children’s learning and development. The provider ensures a suitable ratio of staff to children is available to give children the attention they require to thrive.

Key elements assessed:

  • Educator organisation: Staff structures within the provider supports children’s learning and development.
  • Continuity of Staff: Efforts are made to ensure children experience educator continuity and low turnover.

Professionalism: Staff collaborate professionally, are respectful of each other and ethical.

Key elements assessed:

  • Collaboration: Staff and educators collaborate with each other with mutual respect, learn from each other and recognise strengths and skills to maintain an environment free from toxicity.
  • Professional Standards: Provider practice, interactions and relationships are guided by professional standards.

Quality area 5: Relationships with children

What is the focus of national quality area 5?

National quality area 5 focuses on the below standards:

Relationships between educators and children: Educators maintain respectful, equitable relationships with every child. Children in turn feel supported and welcome while in care.

Key elements assessed:

  • Positive interactions: Educators and staff build trust and relationships with children through responsive, meaningful interactions. Children are engaged, supported and feel secure, confident and included.
  • Dignity and rights of each child: Educators and staff build trust and relationships with children through responsive, meaningful interactions. Children are engaged, supported and feel secure, confident and included.

Relationships between children: Children build relationships with their peers.

Key elements assessed:

  • Collaborative Learning: Children feel supported in collaborating, learning from and helping others.
  • Self-regulation: Children feel supported in regulating their behaviour, responding appropriately to the behaviour of other children, and communicating effectively to negotiate and resolve conflict.

Quality area 6: Collaborative partnerships with families and community

What is the focus of national quality area 6?

National quality area 6 focuses on the below standards:

Supportive relationships with families: Educators and staff develop and maintain respectful relationships with families. Parents and carers feel supported in their parenting role.

Key elements assessed:

  • Engagement with care service or facility: From enrolment, staff and educators support parents to get involved with the care service and contribute to decision making.
  • Respect for parent views: Family culture, values, beliefs and expertise are respected. Families are invited to share in the care provider’s decision making processes.
  • Families feel supported: Families have access to up-to-date information about the service, community services and resources to support them in their wellbeing and parenting journey.

Collaborative relationships: Collaborative partnerships with families, staff and community enhance a child’s sense of inclusion, their learning and wellbeing.

Key elements assessed:

  • Continuity of learning and transitions: Information is shared appropriately and responsibilities are clearly clarified, leading to continuity of learning and smooth transitions for each child.
  • Access, inclusion and participation: Program partnerships support access, inclusion and participation for each child.
  • Engagement with community: The provider builds effective relationships and engagement in the community.

Quality area 7: Governance and leadership

What is the focus of national quality area 7?

National quality area 7 focuses on the below standards:

Governance: Governance supports service operations

Key elements assessed:

  • Service philosophy and purpose: The provider’s statement of philosophy guides service operations.
  • Management Systems: The provider has systems in place for risk management and to effectively manage service operations.
  • Roles and responsibilities: Roles and responsibilities are clearly defined within the service.

Leadership: Effective leadership builds and promotes a positive organisational culture and professional learning community.

Key elements assessed:

  • Continuous improvement: The provider has an effective quality improvement and assessment process in place for educators.
  • Educational leadership: Leaders are supported in leading, developing and implementing education programs, assessment and planning cycle.
  • Professional development: Staff performance is evaluated frequently and assessment plans support learning and development.

A handout of the standards is available from the ACECQA website.

National Quality Standard professional learning program

Professional learning programs are vital for early education and outcomes for children.

By participating in professional learning programs, educators discover new, effective means to provide children with learning opportunities, stay up to date with current legislation and strive to meet personal and facility standards.

By sharing and building knowledge, educators are contributing to a community of learning and development.

They learn critical reflection, challenge themselves to think differently ‘next time’ and in turn, contribute to better education experiences for each child under their care.

Professional development includes the following:

  • Developmental workshops.
  • Approved courses.
  • eLearning courses and modules.
  • Staff development days.
  • Further tertiary education and qualifications.
  • Specialised development, such as first aid courses or care for children with special needs.

Staff qualifications should be available for parents to view, and educators afforded opportunities to participate in a range of professional learning programs.

Parents concerned about a lack of professional development at their child’s care provider should discuss their issues with the facility provider.

National Quality Framework learning outcomes

In addition to the National Quality Standards, the National Quality Framework identifies the expectations of early education for children aged up to five years.

These expectations are communicated using five Learning Outcomes. These learning outcomes provide a general direction for educators in facilitating early childhood education.

The five learning outcomes are:

  1. Children have a strong sense of identity:
  • Children are safe, secure, and supported while in care.
  • They develop an emerging autonomy, sense of dependence and resilience.
  • Children develop a self-identity that is confident and knowledgeable.
  • They learn how to interact with their peers with care respect and empathy.
  1. Children are connected with and contribute to their world:
  • Children start to develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities.
  • They begin to understand the responsibilities required for active community participation.
  • Children respond to diversity with respect and become aware of the concept of fairness.
  • Children become socially responsible, showing respect for the environment.
  1. Children have a strong sense of wellbeing:
  • Children become acutely aware of and strong in their social and emotional wellbeing.
  • Children start to take responsibility for their personal health and wellbeing.
  1. Children are confident and involved learners:
  • Children develop curiosity, cooperation, confidence, creativity, commitment, enthusiasm, persistence, imagination and reflexivity to aide their learning.
  • They develop problem solving, inquiry, experimentation, hypothesising, researching and investigating skills.
  • Children understand and adapt what they have learned from one context to another.
  • Children connect with other people, places, technologies and natural and processed materials to resource their own learning.
  1. Children are effective communicators
  • Interact is both verbal and non-verbal and for various purposes.
  • Children gain meaning from a range of texts.
  • Children begin to express ideas and make meaning of things.
  • They begin to understand how symbols and patterns work.
  • They use information and communication technologies to access information and investigate ideas.

Along with the National Quality Standards, planning and development should be guided by learning outcomes among early childhood educators.

NQS sustainability

Taking care of the environment is an inherent concern of the modern world. Teaching our children the importance of sustainability now starts with early education.

Babies and young children make some sense of the world around them, but children over three start to understand why sustainable practices are needed. At this age, they can see, learn and comprehend the impact their actions have on the environment.

For this reason, sustainability is an integral part of National Quality Standard area 3: physical environment.

Sustainability features as one of the key elements of the physical environment. Child care providers must be aware of their environmental responsibilities, while promoting environmental awareness among children.

It is this practice of helping children understand their responsibilities that is a key part of environmental awareness and sustainability. They may know to turn the tap off, but do they understand the importance of preserving water?

Teaching children the principles of sustainability is the starting block for preserving our environment.

Early educators should take every opportunity for environmental awareness and promoting sustainability as a fundamental part of the childhood experience.

In summary

Early childhood education is complex, with quality standards and learning outcomes now a major focus of Australian care providers.

Child care isn’t just about a few paintings here and there and having someone else feed and look after your child. Quality child care is an extension and enrichment of your child’s early learning experience, and the choice of care provider should not be taken lightly.

Vacancy.Care hopes this information has been valuable in thinking about the quality of care offered at your child’s care provider, and how care should be facilitated for children.

Our children are the future of Australia and deserve the best quality care experience and education possible.