Gabrielle Sinclair, CEO of the Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), provides insight into 'what works' for continuous quality improvement in early childhood education and care.
An early childhood educator outside with three children. The educator is kneeling down to speak to them at their level.

Part of ACECQA’s role is to support approved early childhood education and care (ECEC) services in promoting and fostering continuous quality improvement through data collection and analysis and the use of research evidence.

Since the National Quality Framework (NQF) commenced in January 2012, Australia's ECEC services have almost universally committed to improve their programs, practices and policies so that children and their families can experience high-quality educational and developmental programs, suited to their interests, needs and unique circumstances.

With more than 16,400 ECEC services, we have a rich diversity of service types for parents to choose from to meet the unique needs of their child.

The NQF reflects the philosophy that the child and family are the focus of each service. It was carefully designed by experts to provide the system, structure and process 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 that 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 ECEC services (rated as 'Exceeding NQS' or 'Excellent') typically approach quality improvement in certain ways. One example is approved providers and leadership teams investing 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 ECEC 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 – thereby 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 change. 

These practices, as well as effective research and resources, are shared by member associations and educational organisations and, of course, are freely available in ACECQA's monthly newsletter and on the website. Importantly, Australia’s success story about quality in ECEC services is shown by more than 86% of services being rated as 'Meeting NQS' or 'Exceeding 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.

About Gabrielle Sinclair

Gabrielle Sinclair is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority. Ms Sinclair commenced her career as a teacher and has held senior executive positions in a number of Queensland Government portfolios, including early childhood and school education, infrastructure, planning, local government and corrective services. 

The Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority

ACECQA works with all governments to provide guidance, resources and services to support the sector to improve outcomes for children.