Home' Belonging Early Years Journal : Vol 6 No 1 Contents V6 N1 2017 25
Programs & Planning
In the last decade, Australia’s childcare sector has undergone
many significant changes, some of which can be attributed to
results from the ‘Thematic Review of Early Childhood Education
and Care’, which was conducted in 2006 by the Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In this
review, Australia was identified as one of the lowest-spending
countries on the provision of high-quality education and care
(see Figure 5.3). These alarming statistics have perpetuated
many government and state territory policy changes, the most
significant of which has seen the review of the way childcare
provision is assessed nationally.
In line with the OECD recommendation of nominating a lead
ministry that works in cooperation with other departments
and sectors (2006), the National Quality Framework has
been adopted as the system in place to efficiently assess
and regulate childcare provision. The purpose of the National
Quality Framework (NQF) is for ‘all Australian governments to
work together to provide better educational and developmental
outcomes for children’. A key aspect of the National Quality
Standard (NQS) is to set a high national benchmark and provide
families with a better understanding of quality education and care.
In response to recent events, which I will explain later in
this article, I became particularly interested in the calibre of
professionals who assume roles in assessing services against
National Quality Standards. To my surprise, I found information
in this area to be rather scarce. While the assessment and rating
(A&R) process itself is well documented, limited information
is available about the level of qualification, background and/or
experience of the ‘authorised officer’. The Regular Authority in
each state (under section 225 ‘Functions of National Authority’
in the Education and Care Services National Law) is responsible
for determining ‘the qualifications for authorised officers and to
provide support and training for staff of Regulatory Authorities’.
However, their level of qualification and the type of training
received is not clearly articulated. What is interesting to note is
the information available about the role of the authorised officer.
According to ACECQA, ‘The roles and responsibilities of an
authorised officer are set out in the Education and Care Services
National Law and may include:
monitoring education and care services, and enforcing
assessing applications for approval
conducting assessment and rating visits
investigating incidents and complaints
providing advice and guidance.’
What is an authorised officer?
If the role of the authorised officer ‘may include’ the above
responsibilities, or not, how can we ever get to a position where
national consistency is achieved? In reality, we can’t. Until there
is explicit clarification about what each authorised officer does,
and transparent information about levels of qualification, we are
far from feeling confident that the new A&R system is equitably
enforced by personnel who are adequately trained. ACECQA,
by its own admission, maintains that qualification levels (for
assessment officers) are well overdue for review. Unfortunately,
this won’t occur until 2020, posing serious implications for
services undergoing assessment in the next three years.
The equity issue is one that rings true for many services that have
participated in the process since the system was first introduced.
I continue to reflect on one such experience that has left me and
many of my colleagues hugely disappointed. In January last year,
I had the pleasure of supporting a very eager service to undergo
A&R for the first time. The centre director, proud of her team,
spent countless hours reviewing documentation and reflecting
on educator practices, leaving no stone unturned. The fact that a
‘sister centre’ underwent the exact same process three months
prior, and achieved an ‘Exceeding’ rating, gave the team much
comfort and reduced stress significantly.
It was pleasing to witness the relationship between these two
centres, evident in the way they collaborated and supported one
another. Given that both services were governed by the same
organisation, sharing policies, processes and programs, one
would assume that their A&R experience would also be similar.
On the contrary; one couldn’t be compared to the other. The
approach differed so greatly, in fact, that it appeared that the
authorised officer was using a completely different set of criteria
to assess the service.
Note: Expenditure estimates, based on replies provided by country authorities to an OECD survey in
2004. The figures provided suggest that Denmark spends 2% of GDP on early childhood services
for 0- to 6-year-olds, and Sweden 1.7%. Each country – and Finland – also allocates an additional
0.3% (approximately) to the pre-school class for children 6 to 7 years.
Source: Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education and Care (OECD, 2006)
Public expenditure on ECEC services (0-6 years) in
selected OECD countries
Public expenditure as
This data suggests
officers don’t always
get it right; in fact,
many get it wrong
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