Evidence-informed practice – ‘what works’ for continuous quality improvement in early childhood education and care
Part of ACECQA’s role as the National Quality Authority is to support approved early childhood education and care (ECEC) services in promoting and fostering continuous quality improvement through the collection and analysis of data, and the use of research evidence.
Since the National Quality Framework (NQF) commenced in January 2012, there has been an almost universal commitment by Australia’s early childhood services to improve their programs, practices and policies so that children and their families can experience high quality educational and development programs, suited to their interests, needs and unique circumstances.
With more than 16,400 services, we have a rich diversity of ECEC service types from which parents may choose to meet the unique needs of their child.
The NQF reflects the philosophy that the focus of each service is the child and family, and was carefully designed by experts to provide the system, structural and process components needed for an effective and accountable high-quality sector.
In establishing minimum qualifications, such as educator to child ratios and approved learning frameworks, the NQF has built a system which values the whole child. It also enables teachers and educators to use their professional knowledge, autonomy and creativity to respond to, and collaborate with, each child. In other words, a program or practice that delivers optimal outcomes may be unique to that child and their development at that time.
So does this imply that every service must start from scratch in trying to identify optimal practice? Absolutely not. Let me start with context.
ECEC educational leaders, teachers and educators are part of a long and proud profession and, as such, their service, team and individual practices are assessed against the National Quality Standard (NQS).
We see their commitment to development which may mean they are members of an association such as Early Childhood Australia, part of a community of practice network and/or willing participants of professional development and further study enabled by their leadership teams.
Increasingly, we have seen through our data and analyses that high-quality services (Exceeding the NQS or Excellent rated) typically approach quality improvement in certain ways. As examples, approved providers and leadership teams invest in in-service professional development opportunities that respond to children’s needs and the circumstances of their families, thereby growing an effective and contemporary body of shared knowledge and skills. These services generously share their learnings with other services and the sector, helping to raise confidence and expertise across the profession, in the spirit of strengthening the profession as a whole.
They also actively seek opportunities to undertake action research with credible research organisations or higher education institutions – testing, trialling, adapting and evaluating their practices against child development and education theories – and enriching Australia’s research-informed and research-engaged professional practice.
These services embrace change: they document and assess children’s progress and reflect on adaptations of their policies and programs in collaboration with children and their families. What worked one year may be updated, redefined or discarded because needs, interests and priorities do not stay the same.
These practices, as well as effective research and resources, are shared by member associations and educational organisations and, of course, freely available in our monthly newsletter and the ACECQA website. Importantly, Australia’s success story about quality in ECEC services is evidenced by more than 86% of services rated Meeting or Exceeding the NQS.
So ‘what works’ to improve children’s developmental and educational outcomes is as varied and diverse as the sector but continuous improvement starts with a collaborative effort involving children, families, teacher and educator colleagues, service providers, ECEC associations and supportive organisations. That is why we need to keep sharing everyone’s story of success.