new NQS rules in 2018

What Happens When In The NQS 2018 Revamp

Quality is not an option for the early childhood education sector – it’s a given. The National Quality Standard (NQS) is the benchmark for early education in Australia. And there is a suite of changes coming into effect in February 2018. We’re flagging those as well as other changes that began on 1 October – we aim to keep you in the know.

Less means more clarity – that’s the theme with the changes.

Gone is the conceptual overlap between elements and standards and now there’s clearer language. Importantly, the number of standards has been snipped from 18 to 15, while the 58 elements have been cut to 40. What’s great about the benchmarks is they’re not motherhood statements your service just incorporates into the service vision and mission – there’s clear actionables your business needs to tackle and meet.

No guesswork there.

This article is based on an interview with Michael Petrie, General Manager, Strategy, Communications and Consistency at ACECQA.

Let’s start by backing up a bit. What’s the point of the NQS?

The NQS In A Nutshell

These standards have come about through an agreement of the governments of Australia’s states and territories. That agreement puts a razor-sharp focus on creating a national benchmark and measurements of quality in education and care services to children and families. And the idea is to give families a common understanding of what to look for, what to expect when they’re putting their children into care.

It’s a ratings game and parents are among those watching the figures showing service providers’ performance against quality benchmarks.

It’s All About The Rankings

Want to know more about the rankings? You can tap into the  September 2017 quarterly snapshot from the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). The snapshot gives you a breakdown of the data showing progress and results of quality assessment and rating of services across the nation against the NQS.

There are more than 15,500 services in the sector today, and 73% of them have quality rating that shows they are meeting or exceeding the NQS. States and territories where services are performing best for quality standards (overall) were South Australia (46% of services were exceeding the NQS there) and the ACT, where 42% had gone above and beyond the standards. Meanwhile, services in the Northern Territory need to pull up their socks (with just 15% of services exceeding the NQS, although 43% of services were meeting the NQS).

Ratings Breakdown

We’ll draw your attention to Tables 5 and 6 in this snapshot (page 9 and 10). The snapshot doesn’t finger point to individual services, but offers aggregates based on the location of the service by state/territory, business type or centre-based or family day care, for example. (By the way, it’s not ACECQA that does the assessments, but the relevant regulatory authority in each state/territory).

The latest snapshot shows that 2,419 services have been reassessed and that less than two-thirds (59% or 1,422 of services) had improved their overall quality rating. Actually more than a third (852 services) had maintained their rating level (erh, that means it looks like they didn’t change anything) and another six per cent (145 services) were lower after reassessment compared with the initial assessment. Ouch!

“The bottom line is, says ACECQA’s spokesman, since quality ratings began in mid-2012, Quality Area 1 (Educational program and practice) has “consistently been the most challenging area for services to meet and exceed.”

That is the biggie for our sector.

The next quarterly snapshot is due out this week.

The Back Story to Updating the NQS

Two years after the National Quality Framework was rolled out, it was time in 2014 to review, refine and improve it, so the federal, state and territory governments took to it again.  The ACECQA spokesperson says: “The aim was to ensure that the goal of improving early childhood education and care quality is being met in the most efficient and effective way.

“Governments agreed the NQS could be streamlined by clarifying language, removing conceptual overlap between elements and standards, and reducing the number of standards and elements, while retaining the benefit of the original NQS of promoting quality improvement for children’s education and care,” Mr. Petrie says.

So, What Was The Process For The Revamp?

As part of the review, governments looked at potential changes to the National Quality Framework including the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 (National Law), Education and Care Services National Regulations (National Regulations) and National Quality Standard (NQS).

The review then took proposed options for changes to community, families and the sector seeking feedback from November 2014 to January 2015. Education ministers then took that feedback on board and decided on changes, which they outlined in the Decision Regulation Impact Statement.

New NQS Rule Highlights

Here are the key changes:

  • There’s 15 standards (reduced from 18) and 40 elements (cut from 58)
  • Clearer, simpler language
  • The new rules also mean improved oversight of and support for family day care to lift their compliance and quality.
  • Supervisor certificate requirements have been removed giving service providers more autonomy to decide who the services’ responsible person is – also reduces red tape.
  • Introduces a national minimum ratio of educator to child (1:15) for services educating and caring for school-age children. However, services in the ACT and WA will keep their higher educator to child ratios.
  • Family day care services in their first year of operating must meet the educator to child ratio of 1:15 (at the authority’s discretion); thereafter can lift it to 1:25. Overstep the ratio and new penalties will apply.

What It Means For Your Service Day To Day

In short, it’s time to review your quality plans, says the ACECQA spokesman.

“Providers of services will need to review and update their Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) which is requested by the regulatory authority as part of the assessment and rating process and is taken into account in determining rating levels.”

Here’s a handy QIP template if you don’t have one already.

Also, you might want to get savvy about the number, wording and placement of the revamped NQS elements and standards here. Check out the resource which maps elements and standards from the old to the new – this is your go-to site to zero in on the changes.

By the way, there was talk of making liable (under sections 165 and 167 of the National Law) all educators who failed to “adequately supervise children under their care or take every reasonable precaution to protect children from harm or hazard likely to cause injury”. However, that won’t happen – the liability will stay with the approved provider, nominated supervisor and family day care educator.

Key Dates

  • October 1, 2017 is when changes to the national law and regulations took effect across the nation except Western Australia. There they’ll take effect by October 1, 2018.
  • February 1, 2018 is when the revamped National Quality Standard takes effect across the whole country.

And in a separate update, ACECQ announced that a raft of transitional provisions – some even dating from 2012 when the NQS was introduced – have been extended to 2020. They relate to staffing arrangements and qualifications in the sector. Visit this page for the full list.

The Education Council agreed to extend those regs because it recognised that “attracting and retaining qualified early childhood teachers remains a challenge, particularly in rural and remote areas”.

One-Stop Shop For The Changes

Please don’t be overwhelmed by the changes because ACECQA has formatted them into info sheets, posters, videos, infographics and a comprehensive revised guide to the National Quality Framework. Check out those resources here.

Need a little more help? Feel free to talk to us here at Educa about how our child eportfolio systems keep you one step ahead with the changes.

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