How to keep improving

Self-assessment against the National Quality Framework (NQS) drives continuous improvement and is essential to providing quality outcomes for children. NQS Element 7.2.1 requires an effective self-assessment and quality improvement process to be in place, IEUA NSW/ACT Early Childhood Council member Marie Jacobsen writes.

In NSW, there are two tools to consider: The first is the ACECQA self-assessment proforma, designed to inform the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). It allows you to:

  • assess current practice
  • identify service strengths, and
  • identify areas for improvement.

It asks services to critically reflect on how they achieve quality outcomes for children and families.

There are sections to record strengths and then an opportunity to record further information under the three Exceeding themes.

Any areas or gaps would be added to the plan for continuous improvement for each of the seven Quality Areas.

The second is the NSW Department of Education proforma for self-assessment that may be used instead of the QIP. Centres in NSW currently have the option to use this document when they are called up for Assessment and Rating.

It requires services to provide evidence of the key practices for each standard of the NQS with up to five examples. There is no need to record compliance as this is an opportunity to showcase where the centre believes it has outstanding practices. If these practices align with the Exceeding themes, then these form part of the five pieces of evidence.

How did this come about?

The new Assessment and Rating process started in 2016. Assessors worked with a more streamlined process, however there were still issues within the sector. Services believed that on the day of assessment they did not have an opportunity to really showcase their centres and the ratings did not accurately reflect the great work that was happening. After enduring the one to two days of assessment, the services waited and then received their draft report and rating.

Remember that? The disappointment of receiving a report following your Assessment and Rating visit that didn’t truly reflect all the great work you have been doing. Perhaps the Assessor didn’t ask for it or see it happening on the day, or you were so nervous you forgot to talk about it or you couldn’t find the evidence on the day.

Services who felt disenfranchised often gathered whole reams of feedback, lots of paper, carefully annotated and sent back to the Assessor to prove they really were at an exceeding rating.

Consequently the Department was drowning under the weight of feedback and decided to come up with a better plan. The Department redesigned the documentation to make it easier. Now centres simply add evidence, five pieces for each standard, and there are examples on the ACECQA website to assist you.

(S) Sight (D) Discuss (E) Evidence

Will the Assessor see this great practice on the day? Think relationships with children, parents, health and safety.

Discuss If it isn’t going to happen on the day, on any day, then you need to be able to talk about it. So, be clear and concise and just answer the questions. Think staff induction, orientation for new families, transition from one room to the next.

Evidence find documentation and have it ready. This does not mean seven folders of photos and paper like we did in the bad old days – it means having information available – to showcase quality practice.As you add the evidence, code it as you go.

Thinking, reflecting and choosing the five pieces of evidence can be difficult and with a word limit you need to be precise and articulate. If that’s not your strength ask someone to proof-read it for you. It’s a process that requires participation and time. Evidence must be open and honest – if you can’t find evidence then don’t put it in.

Use terms like embedded, critical reflection and partnerships with families and communities to reference the three Exceeding themes in each key practice box. For example, ‘the Circle of Security is embedded within our nursery, where educators are thoughtful and mindful of where children are and how and when they need reassurance or support entering and exiting play with peers’.

Be mindful of not wasting characters such as ‘at XXX centre, we….’ Get straight to the evidence eg ‘staff meetings Feb 2020 – evidences staff’s critical reflection on child rights discussion’.

If you work through the self-assessment document, sitting it alongside the QIP you have worked on in the past, you will see the gaps as you add the evidence. This will be an opportunity for the team to discuss what has been missed, or what might need to become a goal for the year.

Don’t forget to reference your previous Assessment and Rating report. What were the areas the previous Assessor identified as improvement areas? Read them. Note them. Make sure they are identified in the self-assessment and the follow-up. Have you addressed them or is there a plan of action?

No easy process

Completing the self-assessment document isn’t an easy process. It’s time-consuming but worthwhile and it creates reflective discussion and deeper thinking. There’s an opportunity to think about what’s happening and how teams can do it better/differently. In my centre it took 25 hours to prepare but as a result the day went much more smoothly and ultimately it gave my educators a deeper understanding of quality practices.

Prepare well and on the day of Assessment and Rating there will be no surprises. You’ve gathered your evidence and you can talk to all the great exciting learning experiences your children and families experience. There’s nothing left to do except relax and enjoy the process.

The Department provides a dedicated quality support team to help services through the self-assessment process: