'Exceeding' Centres
How did they do it?

All the staff are on board and that makes it work for us. The assessment report that we received from ACEQA actually highlighted the quality of our relationships
The introduction of an accreditation process for preschools has been a testing time for teachers and directors, but some have risen to the challenge and achieved a rating of Exceeding National Quality Standard in the first round of assessments by the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACEQA). Bedrock Journalists Sue OSBORNE and Michael OLIVER talk to some successful teachers, directors and assistants about how they exceeded the standards.

From left to right: Alana Ryall, Sandy Gorton and Janelle Borgges.

Beneficial process

The floors of Augusta C&K Kindergarten in Augustine Heights, Ipswich are clean and tidy. Coloured pencils sit in cups, shirts are laid out and posters with children’s names and photos line the wall as the staff prepare for their first week of kindy for 2014.

In 2013, Director Janelle Borgges, with Assistants Alana and Sandy, ensured Augusta Kindergarten achieved “Exceeding the National Quality Standards” under the National Quality Framework (NQF).

Janelle has been the Director/Teacher at Augusta Kindergarten since its opening in 2012. She spoke about what exceeding the standards meant for a centre of just one year old.

“When we first found out about the NQF we really weren’t sure what to make of it,” says Janelle “Would it be like the previous system of accreditation or something very different?”.

Janelle says that despite it being a new framework, there was plenty of information available to navigate her way though.

“The information from the NQF website, as well as the further help provided from C&K, made the whole procedure a lot less intimidating, even though it was our first time and in some senses we were flying blind.

“But that is not to say it wasn’t hard work. A lot of hours went into paperwork, and gathering evidence, but I truly believe the process of preparing for assessment has benefitted us,” she says.

Assistant Alana was pleased that in contrast to the previous system of accreditation, the requirements of the NQF involved more collaborative and reflective processes that allowed her to consider how she could improve.

“Under the previous system an inspector would come out and not say much. We often didn’t know how we did or if what we were doing was any good. Sometimes it could be quite intimidating.

“But this time the inspector asked us not only what we were doing, but why.”

Janelle says she took every measure to involve parents in the NQF process.

“We told them what it was, and how they could contribute. As part of our submission we even included the results of a survey that we asked parents to fill out.”

Janelle, Sandy and Alana all agreed that while the qualification process did take a lot of time and effort, that very robustness and stringency meant that these standards had substance and contributed to recognition and respect for early childhood educators.

Janelle points out that although they do display their rating proudly in the window of the foyer, it isn’t what impresses the parents or encourages enrolments.

“It is the development and growth of their children, the communication and collaboration with parents that we maintain through newsletters and presentations that leads people to know that we a great kindy, and that I and my assistants are good at what we do.

“The parents of our children have always been impressed by our results preparing children for school, helping them to learn to socialise and grow. Our Exceeding rating helps cement in parents’ minds that we are educators.”

Talking about good conversations

Kindamindi Preschool caters for about 100 children a week from the Inverell area in northern NSW. About half the Preschool’s children are Indigenous. Kindamindi is auspiced by Inverell District Family Services.

Director Jan Carr says the centre is lucky to have a team of teachers and educators that “work beautifully together and share everything”.

Jan says ensuring all relationships at the centre are respectful, kind and friendly, and having clear policies which emphasise that, are key to the Preschool’s success.

“There are lots of positive and friendly interactions with everyone who walks through our doors, “ Jan says.

“We reflect on relationships a lot during our staff meetings, and work really hard at making sure they are positive with the children, the families, the community and staff.

“All the staff are on board and that makes it work for us. The assessment report that we received from ACEQA actually highlighted the quality of our relationships.”

Jan says since the changes to the early childhood assessment system were introduced the whole team had been proactive at looking at ways to explore the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and National Quality Framework (NQF) and had broken down their different components to explore during staff meetings.

“We make sure we really listen to children and families and children are really visible in our community.

“Advocating for early childhood education is a big part of this and we share what we do, whether it’s by the way we set up our rooms, what we put in our newsletters, our conversations with parents or more intentional explanations.

“It can be as subtle as in a conversation about what a child learnt through playing today or it could be more formal information for families.”

The Preschool encourages parent participation in many ways. It has a ‘wonder board’ — a whiteboard where families can write about their child’s questions, aspirations and interests. Families can add to the program and share their time and skills with the centre.

The Preschool also asked parents to write on flags about their children’s wishes, and those flags now fly in the garden, reminding everyone who walks through the door of the value of early childhood.

“Some of the comments are beautiful like ‘to have fun’, 'love and trust’, ‘to smile’, to play’,” Jan says.

Kindamindi communicates its philosophy to parents formally, but Jan says there are lots of little things happening all the time, like wine and cheese nights, an annual art exhibition, or simply making sure every parent is spoken with regularly at pick–up and drop-off times.

Jan says children are given a strong voice in the Preschool, and guide the teacher’s choice of experiences, room set-up and resources.

“We are careful about what we present as a resource, and work really hard at choosing things that will allow creativity and imaginative play and open-ended learning.

“We may not provide dress-ups where a child has to be a pirate, but we may provide fabric so a child can be whatever their imagination chooses.

“If I was going to give tips to another centre, reflecting on resources would be one and highlighting the value of relationships would be another.”

Jan says all the staff work really hard but enjoy what they do and have fun “The children pick up on that joy and that creates beautiful days.”

While the qualification process did take a lot of time and effort, that very robustness and stringency meant that these standards had substance and contributed to recognition and respect for early childhood educators.

Always striving for improvement

Even though they achieved an overall rating of ‘Exceeding the National Quality Standards’ last year, the team at Williamtown Child Care Centre will continue to strive for improvement and review their practices every day.

The Mission Australia Early Learning Service is a Defence priority centre, so that 90% of its families are Williamtown RAAF Base personnel, with the remainder coming from the nearby community, in the Newcastle area of NSW.

Centre Manager Dianne Sanger says striving to exceed is a way of life for everybody at the Centre.

“Our Centre philosophy underpins everything that we do.

“Our Quality Improvement Plan is used as a basis for keeping our practices at a high standard. We are constantly adding things that we would like to improve on,” Dianne says.

“Before we submitted our QIP for Assessment and Rating we worked through it with our families and community and all staff had input – we make sure our casuals are included in all of our conversations as much as everybody else.”

Networking with the community was one of the standards which was highlighted in the Assessment report.

Close links with the wider community are important to the Centre. They communicate with parents regularly through surveys, newsletters and emails and distribute material from ACECQA and other organisations with families.

The Fire Brigade come to visit the Centre, and the children have been on an excursion to the base post office. There have been celebrations for International Mud Day and National Tree Day. The Centre has also fostered a relationship with various services that support children with additional needs and these services regularly attend the Centre.

“It’s all part of our ‘Being and Belonging’ within the community,” Dianne says.

“Keeping the conversation open with everyone is important.”

Part of that conversation is working as a team towards goals, and Dianne says mentoring is a big part of creating that team spirit.

“We are continually working on improving our own skills and our staff mentor each other. If someone has a particular interest or skill they can share it. For example one of our teachers has taken on board sustainability and shared that with the others, and the community.

“We asked for input from our families about our indoor and outdoor environments and what would be of interest to their children.

“As an Educational Leader I mentor staff and help them with their programming. I view and discuss their learning stories and help them to improve the quality. I gather information about quality practices and ideas to share with my team and talk about ways of keeping the parents informed.”

“We have a school readiness program that is not just for the preschool children, because we believe that it should reflect a child-centred approach and that it starts as soon as the children start here.”

“The Assessor noted that our children are encouraged to gain skills independently. A few of the children took her on a tour of the Centre and one told her he was a scientist and had a conversation about experiments that they have done.”

“The Teacher, Kristy Holt, had encouraged him to explore and experiment and had scaffolded on to his interest and developed his ideas.”

“The idea should be that the job is never finished, no matter how successful you are, you must be continually reviewing and open to change and improvement.”