Creating a self-assessment culture for continuous improvement

As part of our Quality in Practice series, ACECQA have explored Quality Area 7 of the National Quality Standard with a focus on self-assessment for quality improvement.

23 September 2020

Quality Area 7 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) has two standards that focus on governance and leadership. Competent governance and effective leadership support services to deliver quality education and care. This delivery is most effective when continuous self-assessment and quality improvement are embedded in the service’s culture and daily practice.

Standard 7.2

Service culture development is integral to the intent of Standard 7.2: Effective leadership builds and promotes a positive organisational culture and professional learning community. Research demonstrates that there is a strong link between leadership and improved outcomes for children. Findings from a recent Australian quality improvement project commissioned by ACECQA have also identified that leadership is critical for genuine and sustained quality improvement (Harrison, L.J., Hadley, F., Irvine, S., et al., 2020).

Effective leaders are clear about the purpose of their education and care service and have the skills to successfully communicate shared goals and expectations. They foster a positive work culture that is focused on quality and encourages management and staff to continuously improve the service for the benefit of children and their families. Effective leadership builds and maintains a professional workplace in which all staff members can communicate and raise issues openly, participate in respectful debate and contribute to each other’s ongoing professional learning.

Standard 7.2 has three distinct elements that focus, respectively, on continuous improvement, educational leadership and the development of professionals.

Standard 7.2 Leadership Effective leadership builds and promotes a positive organisational culture and professional learning community.

Element 7.2.1

Continuous improvement

There is an effective self-assessment and quality improvement process in place.

Element 7.2.2

Educational leadership

The educational leader is supported and leads the development and implementation of the educational program and assessment and planning cycle.

Element 7.2.3

Development of professionals

Educators, co-ordinators and staff members’ performance is regularly evaluated and individual plans are in place to support learning and development.

Element 7.2.1: There is an effective self-assessment and quality improvement process in place.

Quality services maintain a culture of ongoing professional reflection and self-assessment and document continuous improvement in their quality improvement planning.

A current, accessible improvement plan is a condition of service approval (Regulation 31 of the Education and Care Services National Regulations). There is no prescribed way to develop an improvement plan, however it must include the service’s Statement of Philosophy, assessment against the NQS and National Regulations, and identify areas for improvement (Regulation 55). The improvement plan also needs to be reviewed and revised at least annually, or as directed by the regulatory authority (Regulation 56).

Self-assessment involves reflecting and evaluating your service practice, recognising strengths and identifying opportunities for improvement. It should provide an honest account and informed picture of your unique service context, your current practice and the quality of education and care experienced by children and families attending your service. It is the starting point for determining and planning quality improvements, with the self-assessment directly informing the development of your improvement plan. There should be clear links between your service’s self-assessment and identified quality improvement priorities.

Importantly, both self-assessment and quality improvement benefit from being a shared and collaborative process that engages and captures the voices and perspectives of all members of the service community, including children. When there is genuine and regular engagement with the process (for example, collaboratively reflecting on progress towards identified improvement goals) it helps to develop a shared understanding of ‘quality’. Such engagement also helps to embed self-assessment and quality improvement within the everyday culture of the service, it becomes ‘what we do’.

Inclusion of a wide range of perspectives from children, staff, families and community members also ensures that all voices and opinions are heard and considered. Opportunities for this to occur needs to be integral to everyday practice. Creating systems and processes for engagement and feedback ensures it is ‘usual practice’ and embedded within the culture of the service.

Self-assessment and quality improvement are intrinsically cyclical processes that are ongoing. Quality is never ‘finished’ therefore self-assessment and quality improvement are continuous. This requires an ongoing commitment to attend to critical reflection, to analyse practice and to be open to the possibility of change, motivated by quality improvement and the best interests of children and families. How this is reflected in practice will look different for each service.

Key steps in this ongoing, cyclical process are illustrated in the diagram below.

Key steps in the ongoing, cyclical process of self-assessment.

Supporting continuous improvement

An ACECQA information sheet outlines practical ideas to support continuous quality improvement that have been identified in the above mentioned quality improvement research. Ideas include:

  • Ensure the service philosophy is the foundation for quality improvement.
  • Make quality improvement a team effort.
  • Develop a strategic QIP that uses specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) goals.
  • Keep the QIP up-to-date, with regular progress notes and periodic evaluations of progress towards priority goals.
  • Engage with the assessment and rating process and use any feedback from the regulatory authority as a key driver for quality improvement.

Element 7.2.2: The educational leader is supported and leads the development and implementation of the educational program and assessment and planning cycle.

Pedagogical leadership – leading the development and implementation of the educational program and assessment and planning cycle – requires a unique set of professional skills. The most effective educational leader views their role as a collegial, joint endeavour, enacting their role through mentoring, guiding and supporting educators. Effective educational leadership builds the capacity of educators and, through inquiry and reflection, supports ongoing learning, improvement and professional development.

Element 7.2.2 requires the educational leader to be supported in their role. This support could include capacity-building opportunities, empowerment, and/or resourcing (including allocating time to effectively undertake the role). Provision of support to the educational leader can, in turn, lead to further capacity building and empowerment of educators.

Regulation 118 requires the approved provider to designate, in writing, a suitably qualified and experienced educator, coordinator or other individual as educational leader at the service to lead the development and implementation of educational programs in the service. In addition, Regulation 148 requires the staff record to include the name of the person designated as the educational leader, in accordance with Regulation 118.

Supporting the educational leader and continuous improvement

An ACECQA information sheet outlines practical ideas to support continuous quality improvement that have been identified in quality improvement research. Ideas include:

Recruit and support an effective educational leader who:

  • has extensive knowledge and understanding of curriculum and pedagogy
  • can lead learning, collaborative critical reflection, teamwork and practice change
  • ensures learning is visible in service-planning (e.g. improvement planning) and practice
  • knows and works with individual teachers and educators to support professional growth and goals.

Create and maintain a supportive workplace by:

  • provision of time for collaboration between teachers and educators
  • regular meetings between the educational leader, team and individual teachers and educators.

Educational Leader Resources

ACECQA has developed a comprehensive suite of resources, including The Educational Leader Resource to support the role of the educational leader. These are freely available to download.


Element 7.2.3: Educators, co-ordinators and staff members’ performance is regularly evaluated and individual plans are in place to support learning and development.

Effective performance management has the potential to support the continuous improvement of educators. Performance planning and review ensures that the knowledge, skills and practices of educators and other staff members are current, and that areas requiring further development are addressed.

An effective performance review provides opportunities for educators to assess their own work performance against their job description, relevant code of ethics (for example Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics) and the service’s code of conduct. The process recognises the specific strengths and contributions of each educator, which has the potential to encourage continuous quality practice and motivate them to continue to learn and develop professionally.

Educators who are committed to ongoing learning and performance improvement lift the quality of the service, potentially benefitting children, families and communities, as well as the service team. When educational and/or service leaders take on an active mentoring role, in collaboration with educators, learning and development can be enhanced.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to the performance review, planning and improvement process. The main focus should be on developing an effective and efficient process for quality improvement.

Supporting performance management and continuous improvement

An ACECQA information sheet outlines practical ideas to support continuous quality improvement that have been also been identified in the previously mentioned quality improvement research. Ideas include:

Create and maintain a supportive workplace by:

  • providing access to quality professional development
  • mentoring the team through training
  • engaging with other professionals.

In services rated Exceeding NQS, it was observed that:

  • teachers and educators view quality improvement as a professional responsibility, with all team members accountable to each other
  • across the service team an embedded culture of shared learning, critical reflection and commitment to continuous quality improvement was evident.


References

ACECQA, The Guide to the National Quality Framework

Harrison, L.J., Hadley, F., Irvine, S., et al. (2020) Quality Improvement Research Project, Report commissioned by the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority, ACECQA, Sydney.


Resources

In addition to linked resources, ACECQA has developed two ‘We Hear You’ blogs to support services:

  • News
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