Parents are choosing Aussie childcare based on the service’s location, the vibe, the cost, the staff, the availability, the philosophy, the environment and much more. Often concepts of ‘quality’ are assumed by a services slick marketing, the cost, word of mouth recommendations from friends or a tour of the service beyond the website. But a new site, Starting Blocks, is set to put quality first. We caught up with Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Chair Rachel Hunter to ask a few questions about the new site and how it is going to help parents choose quality childcare?
There is something that can help you in your decision-making, not something to replace your chats, searches and tours but as an addition or a talking point with your service, it’s called Starting Blocks. This is a website brought to you by the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) who are responsible for promoting quality and continuous improvement in early childhood education and care and outside school hours care in Australia which rates Australian registered childcare through a National Quality Framework (NQF), which has been developed to improve the standard of education and care and support parents when selecting child care and preschool options for their children. Recently I had the pleasure of a catch up with their very busy Chair and early years education advocate, Rachel Hunter, to talk about the new website and how it can assist parents in choosing quality childcare that works best for them.
We all have different concepts of quality as parents but what ACECQA does through Starting Blocks is to represent Australian registered childcare like childcare centres, out of school hours care, family daycare, kindergartens across 58 quality elements which boil down to one of five possible ratings:
- Excellent rating, awarded by ACECQA in addition to the below
- Exceeding National Quality Standard
- Meeting National Quality Standard
- Working Towards National Quality Standard
- Significant Improvement Required
These elements are all evidenced as providing high quality childcare. Elements such as qualifications, staff ratios, room sizes, education programs all add up to make quality childcare. Some might consider childcare over regulated in Australia but when the care, safety and the education of our children is at stake and there is a way for parents to easily understand the standard of care being provided from Out of School Hours Care to Long Daycare, I think the majority of parents would vote to keep those standards and benchmarks as high as possible. Everyday new research comes out in support of early years education and the crucial under 5 years in terms of brain development. We are developing the palaeontologists, paediatricians, police, pastry chefs and prime ministers in sandpits across Australia and accessing quality childcare is the key to increasing opportunity and providing the building blocks for allowing our Aussie kids to reach their potential.
So here are a few questions I put to Rachel Hunter Chair of ACECQA. Note: I have para-phrased her answers as I can’t write notes like a ninja and have a conversation at the same time, and am sooo not a journo. So now that’s cleared up, you may read on:
So what if a parent was enrolling in a childcare service with a ‘working towards’ rating? What does that mean?
Parents can draw comfort from the NQF, the diversity of services that it covers and the continual service improvement it seeks as part of the framework. ‘Working towards’ recognises the service is making progress. Your child’s safety is NOT at risk and the service is not ‘failing’. There are 58 quality elements so parents can talk to their service about what sits beneath the rating.
When parents are searching for childcare, how can they use the ratings to inform their choice?
Assessment and ratings are conducted by each state and not by ACECQA. Ratings offer a point of discussion with your childcare service. Just like any other critical decision parents make regarding their child’s engagement in sports, the arts and school, parents need to match a service with their child’s development needs and the nature of the service provided. The overall rating is an indicator of how it is tracking nationally.
What does an ‘excellent’ rated service look like?
Childcare services who receive an ‘exceeding’ the National Quality Standard rating are invited to apply for the ‘excellent’ rating by ACECQA. There are three core criteria:
1. How well they demonstrate exceptional care of children
2. How the service demonstrates leadership in children’s education and care?
3. Do they demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement?
What was the thinking behind Starting Blocks?
ACECQA was established to educate and inform the community on quality childcare. Their research found parents were unsure of how to choose the best childcare for them and were relying on word of mouth and local knowledge, but this information can’t always be readily accessed. They also found parents found some of the language used in the National Quality Agenda hard to understand so the site was established to make the quality ratings and conversations more accessible.
Starting Blocks is in it’s infancy. It’s a great idea for parents first steps in connecting parents with the concept of quality in childcare and it’s connection to ratings. It won’t book you a childcare spot or guarantee a return to work, but you can use it as the first step in beginning your childcare search.
Check out Choosing Childcare our Top 5 Tips for more info:)