Since the introduction of the National Quality Standard 2011 there has been a shift in approach to the quality improvement process. With online national registers which parents can use to find out a service’s rating, there is increasing pressure on providers to maintain a higher standard of quality. There has also been greater accountability placed on all educators, with an expectation that they will know and understand the national quality standards - a belief which simply didn’t exist under the previous accreditation system. But even with this rising focus on quality there remains vast gaps across the early childhood sector, with 23% of services still rated as working towards (ACECQA, 2018, p.11 ). In a time when educators fight for professional recognition and higher wages the question of quality becomes increasingly significant. However, in order to drive a more standardised level of quality, it is important for professionals in the sector to understand the value of a strong quality improvement process.
Service leaders are aware they are required to complete a quality improvement plan (QIP) which is updated annually, a minimum requirement first set out in the Education and Care Services National Regulations (2011). But to truely embed a culture of improvement within the early childhood service it is paramount to have a meaningful QIP, something which is difficult to create on an annual basis. Having a regularly updated QIP which is a true reflection of the service growth helps promote an organic continuous improvement culture. A QIP should be a representation of your strengths and the ways in which you continue to work on and develop your service. Too often service leaders can get distracted by the day to day issues that arise, and a document like the QIP is an easy one to push to the side if the true value of it is misunderstood. Those small issues that arise are usually symptoms of a larger need for improvement, and rather than distracting one from the plan, should encourage us to revisit the document instead.
Embedding a culture of quality improvement is also much more than just the QIP. For a QIP to be effective and meaningful, all stakeholders must be involved in the improvement process. Many services aim to achieve this by creating beautiful displays around their improvement plan and this is certainly one way to involve families. Often there will be discussions during staff meetings around the QIP to involve educators. But the quality improvement process is really about the changes you make to ensure continuous improvement. A truely meaningful process will not just involve the stakeholders in plan development, but in the actual journey of change. What is in the QIP? How do we achieve our goals? How can educators and families contribute to this achievement? These are questions which reflect a meaningful approach to the quality improvement process, not just the plan itself.
Element 7.2.1 of the NQS (ACECQA, 2017, p. 306) requires services to have a quality improvement process in place - it is one single element out of forty. Having said this, it could be argued that focusing on this one element will make all of the others fall in to place. Embedding a strong culture of improvement ensures the service is always reflecting, reviewing and revising. This leads to a natural and meaningful process of change and development. With this sort of consistent reflection one is likely to find they are inherently addressing all the standards and elements of the NQS and creating a truely quality early childhood service.
Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). (2018) NQF Snapshot Q4 2017. ACECQA: Sydney
Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). (2017) Guide to the National Quality Framework . ACECQA: Sydney
Education and Care Services National Regulations 2011 (NSW) s 3.1 (Aust).