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 her education and care service, she’s likely to do better at school. She has a better chance of keeping up with her peers, staying in school and enjoying learning right through her 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 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 lots of opportunities to:

  • try new things
  • play games
  • ask questions
  • get attention
  • interact well with educators and other children.

These activities help your child develop the skills he’ll need for learning at school and later in life – for example, language, maths, motor (moving), social and life skills.

High-quality education and care is also built on strong, warm and respectful relationships and communication – between children, parents, staff and the community.

And a high-quality service is clean and well-supervised. It encourages good nutrition, good personal hygiene and plenty of physical activity for your child. It provides an environment where your child is safe, stimulated and allowed to take well-managed risks.

Finally, the service educators and managers must be open to working with you to help your child, and to accepting and acting on any feedback or concerns you might have about the service.

Most education and care services will welcome you to visit and ask questions 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.

It’s best to concentrate on the quality of early childhood education and care that you choose for your child, and how well this type of care fits in with your family values and interests. These things are more important than whether child care is good or bad for children.

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 to oversee 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 National Quality Standard, or NQS, looks at the following areas to see whether services are offering high-quality programs:

  • what kind of relationship the service builds with your child
  • how a service supports your child to learn and develop
  • how the service cares for your child’s health and safety
  • what the service’s physical environment is like
  • how many staff a service has, and how well trained and well qualified they are
  • what kind of relationship the service builds with families and the community
  • how well the service leaders – for example, the director and senior educators – lead and manage the service.

Assessing the quality of early childhood education and care services

The state and territory agencies assess early childhood education and care services against the NQS. Services get rated against each quality area listed above and are also given an overall rating.

Services can get the following ratings:

  • Excellent
  • Exceeding NQS
  • Meeting NQS
  • Working towards NQS
  • Significant improvement required.

If you think that your service isn’t meeting the standards, you can contact your state or territory regulatory body.