Early childhood education and care: why quality is important
Early childhood education and care services with high-quality play and learning programs are more likely to help your child learn and develop well, both in the short and long term.
If your child has a high-quality experience at their education and care service, they’re likely to do better at school. Your child will have a better chance of keeping up with peers, staying in school and enjoying learning right through the teenage and adult years.
As a parent, you probably also want to feel confident that your child’s education and care service – whether it’s long day care, family day care, preschool, kindergarten or outside school hours care – is providing quality care and education.
What does ‘high-quality’ mean in early childhood education?
If you’re interested in an education and care service for your child but you’re worried about whether child care is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for children, it might help you to know that the quality of care is what really matters.
Here’s how to tell whether the education and care service you’re interested in is high quality.
A high-quality service is one where enough well-trained and qualified staff give your child plenty of opportunities to:
- talk and play well with educators and other children
- choose what to play with, who to play with, and when to play
- ask questions and solve problems on their own or with educators or other children
- enjoy relaxed and social mealtimes
- try new things and succeed at them.
These opportunities help your child develop the skills they’ll need to develop and learn at school and later in life. These include language, reading, maths, movement, social and life skills.
A high-quality service also:
- provides a safe, clean, stimulating and well-supervised environment – for example, educators encourage good nutrition, good personal hygiene, outdoor play, plenty of physical activity and safe risk-taking
- builds strong, warm and respectful relationships and communication among children, parents, staff and the community
- has educators who know the community and can give you helpful information about services and resources to support you in raising your children well
- is open to working with you to help your child, and open to feedback or concerns you might have about the service.
You should feel welcome to visit education and care services and ask questions and contribute to decisions about the learning program, the environment or setting, meals and nutrition, and the daily schedule. If you’re not sure what questions to ask, you can find ideas in our article on getting started with child care.
What is the National Quality Framework for early childhood education?
The National Quality Framework (NQF) is a plan that all Australian governments have agreed to. The NQF aims to raise quality in early childhood education and care services. It also aims to support services in continually improving what they do.
The NQF consists of:
- laws and regulations that services must follow, including requirements for staff qualifications and for the number of staff working in services with children
- a quality rating and assessment process for services
- state and territory agencies that manage and rate services
- a national body that oversees the NQF – the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA)
- a National Quality Standard (NQS), which says what education and care services need to do to offer high-quality programs
- the Early Years Learning Framework, which guides educators in the development and delivery of children’s programs.
To check whether a service is offering a high-quality program, the National Quality Standard (NQS) looks at the following 7 quality areas:
- Educational program and practice – the service lets children learn by following their own interests yet also encourages them to try new experiences.
- Children’s health and safety – the service looks after children’s health, safety and wellbeing.
- Physical environment – the physical environment is interesting for children and includes experiences in nature.
- Staffing arrangements – the correct number of staff work with children at the service, and staff have required qualifications.
- Relationships with children – educators build nurturing and respectful relationships with children, and children feel safe and accepted.
- Collaborative partnerships with families and communities – educators work well with families and communities.
- Governance and leadership – directors and senior educators lead and manage the service well.
Assessing the quality of early childhood education and care services
State and territory agencies assess early childhood education and care services against the National Quality Standard (NQS). Services are rated against each quality area listed above and are also given an overall rating.
Services can get the following ratings:
- Exceeding NQS
- Meeting NQS
- Working towards NQS
- Significant improvement required.
You can find quality ratings for services at Starting Blocks.
Services should display their ratings for you to see.
If you think that your service isn’t meeting the standards, you can contact your state or territory regulatory authority.