The Australian National Quality Framework is one topic no critical engagement with the Australian educational sector can sideline. It has been hailed in various quarters as a significant innovation capable of transforming the practice and process of education in Australia, particularly childhood education and care. However, the pressing question remains; what is the national quality framework actually about? This publication presents a broad, condensed overview of key facts and information about the framework. These facts and information are discussed under the following headings:
- Brief background to the Australian National Quality Framework
- Components of the Australian National Quality Framework
- Aims and objectives of the Australian National Quality Framework
- Regulatory Authorities
Brief background to the Australian National Quality Framework
The National Quality Framework, NQF, sets regulatory benchmarks for Australia’s early childhood education and care services. The framework essentially aspires towards ensuring constant improvements in education and care services in addition to upholding maximum levels of quality. The framework functions as a guide for the design, implementation and evaluation of childhood education and care services across the country. It specifies the number of requirements for a broad range of issues pertaining to the quality of instruction/instructors, physical design, assessment and rating systems, health, safety, learning policies and procedures. The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) oversees the application and execution of the framework.
The National Quality Framework, NQF, came into force on January 1, 2012. Its conception and implementation progressed from widespread, longstanding dissatisfaction with the poor quality of Australia’s performance pertaining to childhood education provision and regulation. Australia’s handling of early childhood service has received considerable criticism for its inability to attain practices and standards of optimum quality. The NQF emerged as an upgrowth of attempts by the Australian federal and state governments to effect significant changes that would transform standards and raise the quality of education and care received by young children in Australia.
Components of the National Quality Framework
The framework is structurally constitutive of the following components:
- A national legislative framework
- A national quality standard
- A national assessment and process rating
- Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority
(i). National legislative framework
The legislative framework consists of two pieces of legislation: the Education and Care Services National Law and the Education and Care Services National Regulations. This component creates a streamlined approach to education and care services regulation and quality assessment that eliminates numerous and several processes. It mandates the existence of a regulatory agency in each Australian state and territory to oversee the implementation and administration of the framework in their respective domains of authority. Similarly, it provides the legal basis for the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority to oversee the framework’s implementation and administration at the national level. The Education and Care Services National Law emphasizes six core values, namely:
- The primacy of the children’s rights and best interests: This value aligns with global conventions on child rights. Accordingly, it advocates an approach defined by a rooted commitment to upholding the liberties and rights of children.
- A strong belief in children’s learning competency: This value underlies the framework’s commitment to ensuring an inclusive learning process where children are active participants in the learning process as well as decisions regarding their learning. Each child is recognized as a special individual.
- A commitment to equity, inclusion and diversity: This advocates an approach where diverse learning styles and methods of children are recognized and appreciated.
- Respect for the values of Australia’s aboriginal communities: The framework commits to, through this value, reduce inequities and inequalities of access to education by indigenous Australian communities.
- Recognition of the roles of parents and families: This framework commits to recognizing the fact that children come from families by way of building relationships and partnerships with families and parents. This also derives from an acknowledgement that families are important influences in a child’s education.
- A commitment to ensuring education and care services provision aligns with best practice.
(ii). National quality standard
The national quality standard specifies the requirements and criteria mandatory of childhood education and care providers in Australia. It is primarily rooted in the following principles: ensuring safe and healthy learning environments where children can acquire education of the highest possible standard. The national quality standard is further subdivided into seven elements, and it is termed as ‘quality areas’:
1. Educational programme and practice: This element addresses issues pertaining to learning frameworks, information management and document
2. Children’s health and safety: This element focuses on 17 issue areas. Some of the areas addressed within the compass of this element relate to supervision, hazards, health, personal and food hygiene, infections, transportation, communication, first aid and injuries.
3. Physical environment: This element contains specifications, advisory information and regulations for physical infrastructure such as fencing, swimming pool, glass, toilet etc.
4. Staffing arrangements: This contains information on eligibility requirements for educators and care personnel, provisions of behaviour and conduct and the organization of the learning space and care environments.
5. Relationships with children
6. Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
7. Governance and leadership: This part focuses on principles and precepts affecting general administration, information management practices and conflict management within the context of childhood education and care providing institutions and structures.
(iii). National quality rating and assessment process
The third component of the National Quality Framework stipulates the process for rating and assessing Australian childhood education and care providers’ performance in terms of the seven quality areas of the national quality standard.
(iv.) Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA)
The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority, ACECQA, oversees the administration and implementation of a national quality framework nationally. The agency, which is an independent body, works in concert with the Australian government at all levels, inclusive of the state and territory. Based in Sydney, the agency’s core functions incorporate implementing measures and protocols and ensuring compliance with the national quality framework across Australia. The agency sets and publishes information on qualifications and requirements required of Australian education and care services providers such as preschool, kindergarten, daycare services institutions.
A chief executive officer (CEO) heads the agency. Twelve nominees from the Australian states, territories and the Commonwealth serve three-year terms on its governing board.
Aims and objectives of National Quality Framework
As captured in the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority’s 636-page document on the National Quality Framework captioned ‘Guide to the National Quality Framework, the framework is predicated on the recognition of the immense social benefits of attaining quality and excellent standards in child education and care services. Thus, the framework commits to a broad objective of ensuring optimal standards and quality of education for children. In specific terms, the framework seeks the following outcomes:
- Safety, health and welfare of children receiving education and care services
- Improved educational and developmental outcomes for children within the context of education and care services
- Promotion of continuous improvements in quality education and care services provision
- Improved knowledge of and access to information about education and care services quality among the public
- Establishment of integrated and shared responsibility between all levels of government in national education and care services quality framework administration
- Reduction of regulatory and administrative burden for education and care services through information sharing between all levels of the Australian government
Regulatory authorities are institutions that mirror the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) ‘s administrative functions at the state and territory level. These institutions, which are typically domiciled within state/territory education departments or agencies, exercise a broad array of functions that include approving childhood education and care services providers and services and undertaking assessments and ratings in line with the national quality standard. These regulatory authorities also collaborate with the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority, ACECQA, to uphold maximum standards and quality improvements. Joint engagements between both bodies include community and sector-based enlightenment campaigns as well.
These bodies are characteristically responsibly taking care of the issuance and receipt of a number of documents like application and notification forms, education and care provider and service applications and approvals, certificates for supervisors, waivers (temporary and service), assessments, ratings etc.
The various regulatory authorities in Australia are as follows:
Australian Capital Territory: Early Childhood Policy and Regulation, Education Directorate, Children’s Education and Care Assurance, Australian Capital Territory Government.
New South Wales: Early Childhood Education Directorate, New South Wales Department of Education
Northern Territory: Department of Education, Care NT and Quality Education.
Queensland: Regulation, Assessment and Service Quality, Early Childhood and Education Improvement, Department of Education
South Australia: Education Standards Board
Tasmania: Department of Education, Education and Care Unit
Victoria: Department of Training and Education.
Western Australia: Department of Education, Care Regulatory Unit and Communities.