What is happening with Assessment and Rating?

It is increasingly becoming a work health and safety issue with members suffering from insomnia, confusion, disillusion and burnout when facing a process so many are finding increasingly demoralising.

Is there something rotten happening with the assessment and rating system for education and care services or is it just bad policy implementation, communication, and training after a change to the system, Early Childhood Consultant Lisa Bryant asks.

Directors and Approved Providers, especially those from NSW where the changes have hit the hardest, are pretty much convinced that there is something rotten happening.

How, they ask, could 57% of services that were previously assessed as Exceeding the National Quality Framework prior to 2018, have been downgraded to Meeting the NQS – or even worse – Working Towards?

Gabe Connell, a Vice President of the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch said she is “hearing a lot of horror stories in regard to the Assessment and Ratings Process ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous”.

NSW Organiser Lisa James tells of members, especially those who are NSW service directors, being “stressed and deflated after putting so much work into preparing for Assessment and Rating.”

She said it is increasingly becoming a work health and safety issue with members suffering from “insomnia, confusion, disillusion and burnout when facing a process so many are finding increasingly demoralising”.

In NSW and in Victoria just over 300 services have been re-rated in 2018 and in 2019 so far in each state.

In Victoria 56% of those who were re-rated retained their Exceeding rating compared to just 43% of the NSW services. 36% dropped to Meeting (47% in NSW) and 7% dropped to Working Towards (compared to 10% in NSW). In comparison 54% of ACT services previously rated as Exceeding lost their Exceeding rating. Lots of services are clearly finding it harder to retain their Exceeding ratings, but NSW services seem to be more likely to lose theirs.

So what has happened?

In 2017 the Education Council determined that there would be a new National Quality Standard from February 2018 and that simultaneously a new way of calculating Exceeding ratings would be implemented. To be rated as Exceeding, a service has always had to have all quality areas rated as at least Meeting the NQS, with four or more Quality Areas rated as Exceeding NQS, with at least two of these being Quality Areas 1, 5, 6, or 7. Complex though it is, this has not changed.

What did change was that to be rated as Exceeding in any Quality Area a service must now receive Exceeding for all the standards in that Quality Area. Obviously this change may lead to fewer services being rated as Exceeding, but given that a service still only need receive an Exceeding rating in four of the seven Quality Areas, one would not have thought the impact would be high on the number of services receiving an overall Exceeding rating.

The change came as a consequence of the first review of the NQF. The proposal was canvassed initially in the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) and later in the Decision Regulatory Impact Statement. At no time did ACECQA, any government or the Education Council declare publicly that was a need for fewer services to be rated as Exceeding. The initial consultation RIS only said that the change was designed to simplify the calculation of the Quality Area rating for Exceeding.

At the time the change took effect, ACECQA said that “governments and ACECQA had developed guidance that clarifies the difference between Meeting the National Quality Standard (NQS) and Exceeding the NQS at the standard level”. They talked about it as an “opportunity to make this higher quality benchmark more readily understood” and said that “feedback from the sector suggested a need for clearer guidance on the difference between Meeting NQS and Exceeding NQS rating levels.” They said that Exceeding meant going above and beyond meeting the NQS and they wanted to clearly explain what “above and beyond” means.

In came the three ‘Exceeding themes’ requiring practice to be embedded, informed by critical reflection and shaped by meaningful engagement with families and the community.

And here is where everything seems to have gone astray. Despite promises that Assessment Officers (AOs) would be retrained, it appears as if the message taken away from that training is that it should be harder for services to obtain an Exceeding rating.

Clearly this was not the intention – at least not the stated intention. So it looks like the sector needs some answers from ACECQA.

  • Was the intention to make Exceeding a harder rating to get?Why have so many services lost their Exceeding rating after the themes came in?
  • Why have more NSW services lost their Exceeding rating than services in other states and territories?
  • Is ACECQA aware that service directors and teachers are losing (have lost?) faith in the ratings system because of the wholesale loss of Exceeding ratings?
  • Was there a communications failure – should ACECQA have informed the sector that the impact of the new themes coupled with the need to get Exceeding in all standards in order for a Quality Area to be rated as Exceeding meant that a substantial proportion of services would be downgraded?
  • If reducing the number of services rated as Exceeding was not the intention, do AOs need retraining again?

If the sector loses faith in the assessment and rating system, the sector loses faith in the NQF. Surely none of us want that to happen?