All early education and care services are required to implement a Quality Improvement Plan. Here we explore what a QIP is and why it is important for ensuring quality within early childhood services across Australia.
What is a QIP?
Since the introduction of the National Quality Standards (NQS) in 2012, early childhood education and care services across Australia have been required to examine and reflect on the services they provide for children and families, and to implement processes that help them to strive for continuous improvement. An assessment and rating process was also developed to ensure that all services that are educating and caring for young children are meeting requirements under 7 Quality Areas. As part of the regulation process, early learning services such as child care centres, preschools, family day care and before and after school services, are all required to develop and implement a Quality Improvement Plan – or QIP as they are better-known. So, what is a QIP in childcare and how does it drive improvement? Below we unpack the purpose and ingredients of a successful Quality Improvement Plan for childcare settings.
What is the purpose of a QIP in childcare?
A Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) is intended to provide childcare services with a way to self-reflect on the quality of education and care that they are providing and to help them plan for clear and targeted improvements. The QIP is also used by each state’s Regulation Authority to help inform the assessment and rating process that will give the site a specific rating that is published online and must be displayed at the site. These ratings include:
· Significant Improvement Required
· Working towards National Quality Standard
· Meeting National Quality Standard
· Exceeding National Quality Standard
The QIP will support educators to identify Quality Areas that are strengths, and also identify those areas that are in need of improvement. The development of a QIP should involve a collaborative process with staff, families and children all being involved to identify goals and strategies that will help the service to improve across all 7 National Quality Standards. Goals should be realistic, achievable and have clear strategies outlined as well as success measures and a timeline guide.
What makes a good QIP?
Whilst there is no particular format or prescribed template that must be used for a QIP in childcare, most states have developed their own template which can be used and the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) also offers a template as a guide here: Quality Improvement Plan | ACECQA
A good QIP will have clear and realistic goals that have been determined based upon self-reflection and evidence at the service. Goals should be attainable but not too easy and the actions or strategies for achieving the goals should have specific timelines for completion. Evidence of a clear plan for implementation is important as a good QIP should be a fluid document that is engaged with regularly – rather than a document that is completed at the start of a year for compliance and then set aside and forgotten about until it is time to review. Setting aside times for regular reflection as a staff team will ensure that goals are intentionally worked towards and actions are completed in a timely manner so that the plan for improvements are indeed achieved.
Families of the service can be asked about their ideas in terms of what they believe the service’s strengths are and where they would like to see any improvement. Community members can also be invited to participate and have meaningful input into the QIP. Community members may include regular visitors to the service such as extra curricular teachers, staff members from sister centres or outside visiting professionals.
You can even get the children involved in contributing to the QIP! In the past I have sat children down in a group and had a discussion about ‘How can we make kindy better?’ Their responses were insightful, amusing and constructive! Responses included “More spaghetti for lunch” (menu input), “More finger painting” (program ideas) and “We want to play with the sand inside” (input into planning the environment). These were all included in our QIP along with ideas from staff and families. For further ideas on how children can participate in formulating the QIP, see an article by CELA: Involving children in Quality Improvement Planning.
A good QIP will also include descriptions of Exceeding themes. The 3 Exceeding themes describe how;
- Practice is embedded in service operations
- Practice is informed by critical reflection
- Practice is shaped by meaningful engagement with families and/or community.
These may not be linked to all elements of the NQS but usually a service will be able to describe how at least a few elements may meet some of these exceeding themes.
What 3 things must go in a QIP?
The ACECQA website lists 3 key things that must be included in all QIPs. Firstly, a QIP must include a self-assessment of the programs and practices at the service against the National Quality Standards (NQS) and National Regulations. The ACECQA website provides a useful self-assessment tool that can help with this process. You can find the tool here: Self assessment tool | ACECQA. Secondly, a QIP must identify areas for improvement and detail how these can be achieved, with clearly defined strategies. Finally, a QIP must include a statement about the service’s philosophy. ACECQA also suggests that a QIP should ‘document and celebrate the service’s strengths.’
Some strengths within a service can be easily overlooked so it’s important to gain feedback from as many stakeholders as possible, as what one staff member may perceive as normal, everyday practice, a parent may perceive to be a great strength of the service that other centres may lack. For example, in one centre I worked in, one parent described the following strength; “When I arrive with my child, I am always greeted by a smile, a warm welcome from staff and my child is greeted enthusiastically and made to feel included in daily activities.” This was not something that staff even thought of when it came to the strengths of the service as they perceived it to be “normal, everyday practice”, yet for this parent, she had experienced the opposite in centres elsewhere and appreciated the warm, friendly, engaging staff and went on to recommend our service to others because of her positive experience. For this reason, it’s so important that these kinds of things are noted in centre strengths and that input is gained from a wide array of sources.
For further information related to the NQS and NQF, you can find the Guide to the National Quality Framework here: Guide to the National Quality Framework.
What are the 7 quality areas?
The 7 areas that are assessed and rated for quality within education and care settings are as follows:
1. Educational Program and Practice – This area relates to how children are supported to participate in learning and play.
2. Children’s health and Safety – This area ensures that children are protected from illness and hazards.
3. Physical Environment – This area ensures that education and care environments are safe and well-maintained.
4. Staffing Arrangements – This area is to ensure that appropriate child:educator ratios are maintained and that educators have appropriate qualifications.
5. Relationships with Children – This quality area is to ensure that every child is able to develop a sense of belonging through being supported and welcomed.
6. Collaborative Partnerships with Families and Communities – Ensuring that the beliefs and values of families are respected and connections with local communities’ form part of the program.
7. Governance and Leadership – Ensuring that each child is cared for in a well-managed environment.
Further information about the 7 Quality Areas can be found here: National Quality Standard | ACECQA
Summary of QIPs in Childcare
A Quality Improvement Plan – or QIP – is a vital document for ensuring a strong focus on continual improvement within early education and care services across Australia. Whilst developing and writing a QIP in childcare can be time consuming, the process is invaluable in terms of supporting services to explicitly reflect and plan for improvement. Since the implementation of the NQS, we have seen vast improvements across the country and a strong shift has occurred to place much greater emphasis on the education aspect of childcare services. This can only be seen as a huge positive for the children and families of Australia. Next time you are visiting an education and care service, why not ask about their quality rating and plans for improvement?