Having a Successful Assessment and Rating
So it is time for your service to go through the assessment and rating process? Try not to let the pressure get to you. Here are some useful tips for a successful A&R…..
Quality Improvement Plan.....
Your quality improvement plan is possibly the most important document you keep in a service, and is definitely the most important when it comes time for A&R. Your quality improvement plan is the first impression you have to make on your authorised officer. Prior to the A&R process services must hand in a QIP. The information in your plan is used by the authorised officer to begin the planning of their visit. Every strength you include in the QIP may be checked at A&R so it is important to ensure your plan is a direct reflection of the practices at your service. The quality improvement part of your plan is your chance to show the authorised officer that you recognise the areas in which the service needs to improve. They may check your progress notes against practices in the services so make sure your progress notes, like your strengths are a direct reflection of practice. Remember this is your chance to stand up and say, “I recognise we do not do this as well as we can and this is how we are working to change that”. If implemented correctly you will not be penalised for these areas of lower quality. The National Quality Standard is primarily based around a culture of improvement and if this culture is strong, services aren’t expected to be perfect. Finally, try to consider the psychology of a document like the QIP. As mentioned this is the first impression the authorised officer has of your service. Think about the different impression a well organised and concise QIP would make, as opposed to an unstructured or unorganised QIP.
Confidence is key.....
If you believe in your service and the everyday practices you embed in to your curriculum and routines, the A&R process will be much smoother for you. Being able to justify and explain the reasons behind decisions you make throughout the service shows an intentionality and confidence. When you make decisions in your service, ensure you do so for specific reasons and with best outcomes for children at the centre of the decision. If you have built your services practices this way then you will find it simple to answer any questions you may be asked in regard to practice. Best outcomes for children is at the centre of the philosophy of the EYLF and NQS and so if it is at the centre of your philosophy you will find that a lot of the elements of the standards are naturally embedded and this will be clear to the authorised officer upon their visit. Knowing why you have chosen to do something a certain way ensures you will have the confidence to justify that decision.
Make sure everyone is on the same page…
This may seem obvious, but it is amazing how often this is an area services fall down in. Fluidity throughout the service and service practices is essential. Fluidity throughout the service means it doesn’t matter what room the authorised officer is in at the time, they should see an overarching philosophy in place. If they are seeing this fluidity throughout, it emphasises the way practice is embedded into the day and this is what will take you from meeting an element to exceeding it — this is the difference between ‘this happens a lot’, and ‘this always happens’. In addition to this, when it comes to the A&R days, you will have no idea who the authorised officer will speak to, or what questions they may ask. Getting varying answers from different educators will show a lack of fluidity, collaboration and team work. All educators should be on the same page, informed in the same ways, and knowledgable about the service practices. Furthermore, everyone should know what is in the quality improvement plan as this shows the authorised officer that you have a genuine quality improvement process in place which is collaborative and intentional.
This is such an important tip. Being organised at A&R is vital. Remember this is your chance to sell your service and prove its quality. The more organised you are the less time the authorised officer will have to dedicate to viewing evidence. For example, having a staff folder with all required qualifications and documentation (WWCC etc) means the authorised officer can quickly and efficiently check these black and white type questions of their list, allowing you more time to discuss pedagogy. This also gives the impression of being efficient yourself. Again, this is a little bit of a psychological element in that an organised environment suggests the smooth running of the service. Prior to the A&R visit it is a good idea to ascertain what it is about your service that takes it above and beyond. What makes your services stand out? Whatever you decide that your strength is, organise some documentation to show this to the authorised officer. For example, in my last service I believed it was our approach to mentorship and our commitment to quality improvement that set our service apart and thus I set aside all the documentation relating to these strengths prior to A&R allowing the authorised officer to peruse them at her leisure throughout the visit. Finally, in most cases, if you can produce evidence immediately when the authorised officer asks for it, they will feel reassured that this evidence is genuine and consistent and will not have to spend so much of their time pouring over documentation. Again, this allows more time for you to discuss your educational practices.
The power of language...
Early childhood is a field which has a lot of sector specific language. There is a lot of terminology that may even have slightly different meanings in early childhood to in the wider community. Take ‘scaffolding’ for example. Where the wider community would immediately think of building sites with scaffolding everywhere, educators think of Vygotsky and the ZPD. Language can be used to change a mindset and encourage certain behaviours. For instance, when I was directing I called programming time ‘research and enquiry time’ to change the educators mindset from ‘this is time I use to write up observations’ to ‘this is an opportunity for me to be proactive around my professional knowledge and skill’. Using language to influence people is an old idea and an effective one in the ECEC sector. Being able to use and embed early childhood specific language in to conversation will show a greater knowledge and understanding of pedagogical principles. Try to use this language in your conversations with the authorised officer, proving your passion and knowledge as you do so.
Keep going like any other day….
One of the biggest mistakes a service can make in their approach to A&R is to switch up practice immediately prior to the day. Let me say right now - this never works. The children will give you away every time. “But we don’t usually do this!”, they will say - and nothing looks worse to an authorised officer. If something like this occurs they will naturally assume that any of your practices could be ‘being performed’ for the day. Good practice needs to be embedded long before the A&R visit. You can not ‘fix’ services weeks before. Children need time to adapt to change and so do educators. More importantly still, children deserve good quality at all times. There is nothing to be proud of when you are recognised for a practice which is not genuinely embedded in your service. And more often than not authorised officers will see straight through you. A&R should run like any other day in the service and should simply be viewed as a time when you get to put your exceeding practices on display - but these practices should be embedded in to your service approach, not put on for A&R day. Remember, it is important for your service and educators that your A&R report is a genuine reflection of your service practice so you can ascertain how to continue to improve and build on what you already provide.
As mentioned, this really should be your time to shine! If you are proud of the service you provide and believe in the quality of practices, then you shouldn’t let the stress of being ‘watched’ get to you. Instead, get excited about having a chance to prove the professional you are! Enjoy!