What would you do if your service only had one business day to submit your Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) and just eight business days to prepare for an assessment and rating by the NSW regulatory authority? This happened to Emma Armitage, Centre Coordinator of Victoria Avenue Children’s Centre, a 47-place long-day care service managed by the City of Canada Bay, Sydney, when their written notification was lost in the mail. Emma’s been at the three-year-old service since day one and built her team from the ground up. Here’s their story, as told to CELA writer Margaret Paton.
Lost in the mail
It was 3.30 on a Thursday afternoon. I was finishing up the last of my ‘to do list’ and packing up for an eight-day break, when I took a phone from the NSW Regulatory Authority. “I’m enquiring about your QIP submission? It was due over a week ago,” I heard. My jaw dropped. I had no idea. The caller continued: “And, your assessment and rating meeting is scheduled for Wednesday week.”
You can imagine my shock and surprise. My initial response was to appeal the timeframes, but after a couple of deep breaths I realised it didn’t matter. We had been working towards this moment since opening our doors two and half years before.
“Hey team,” I said. “We don’t need time. We are ready! The assessment and rating (A&R) visit is a chance to show the assessor who we are, what we do and how far we’ve come. It is our time to shine!”
They agreed with slight nerves. Only six of 13 staff members had been through an A & R process. We picked up the pace locating and flagging documents on the system to ensure we could assess them instantly on the day. We prepped each other asking reflective questions and giving advice if we felt flustered. We even had a working bee and staff meeting to boost confidence and better prepare for the visit.
“…the way the children interact. You can’t fake that.”
On the day
A & R visit day came with the assessor arriving as our doors opened and leaving just after closing time. She spent time in every space and spoke with most staff. She worked her way through documents and requested more information as needed. Our educational leader confidently explained our curriculum approach and I spent about three hours in the office at day’s end with the assessor focusing on quality areas 4, 6 and 7. Meanwhile our children were oblivious to anything out of the ordinary happening.
As she packed up, I was tempted to ask “how did we do?”, but no point. We’d have to wait for the report to come through. A five-week wait, mind you. My hands were a bit shaky and my heart raced as I scanned the overall rating summary. Running from the office, I called for the team to come to the outdoor space as I had some great news.
“Not only have we got an overall rating of ‘Exceeding the National Quality Standards”, but we also exceeded every standard and every quality area,” I said, thrilled to bits as were the team.
In a nutshell, the rating represented our hard work, dedication and commitment and was a reason to celebrate. It wasn’t about putting on a show the day the assessor came, but making sure that everything in our QIP was what we did. That shone through on the day as the assessor was able to see evidence in our documentation or displays on the wall, the way the children interact. You can’t fake that.
Keep calm and QIP it
So, how did we do it?
- Our QIP is a living document. That means all staff review the service’s practices against the National Quality Standards. Quality areas are delegated to educators and staff based on their interest areas or skills. So, each staff member has at least one goal to nail and have ownership of. It helps that they’re often cross-linked to their performance reviews and work plans. Progress reporting is made easier with Post-It notes on the QIP display. We also discuss the QIP regularly in staff meetings.
- We’re on top of the NQS and regulations. Each staff member must know these and use them in reflecting on practices. The National Quality Framework is the office bible and well-thumbed.
- We’ve got their back. A supportive team gives everyone traction to achieve the vision and values of a service and ensure we have the right resources to do our job.
- Holding up the mirror. It’s second nature for us to engage in reflective practice and identifying opportunities for improvement. Staff/room meetings, performance reviews, general chat, diaries, questions, QIP development, priority planning and PD are ways we do this.
- Team on side. Our team took two years to set up and we gel together well because each of us brings a diversity of strengths, skills, experiences and energy to our service.
- QIP big on detail: No motherhood statements here with nothing to back it up. This plan gives specific examples on how we achieve each standard. This meant the assessor only had to verify if we were walking the talk – it was a great time saver.
- Control of the day. With so many things to show case and such little time during an A&R visit, we didn’t wait to be asked questions. We threw everything we had at the assessor to highlight our achievements and practices. Since the rating, we’ve given ourselves 12 months to work towards an ‘Excellent’ rating with ACECQA. The team are giving 110% to ensure our programs, practice and project are exceptional and reflect the children and families in our community. We do want to be Excellent because it means we are constantly improving and refining what we do and raising the bar of early childhood education and care.
What happened next?
Since the rating, we’ve given ourselves 12 months to work towards an ‘Excellent’ rating with ACECQA. The team are giving 110% to ensure our programs, practice and project are exceptional and reflect the children and families in our community. We do want to be Excellent because it means we are constantly improving and refining what we do and raising the bar of early childhood education and care.