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 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 lots of opportunities to:

  • talk and play well with educators and other children
  • choose what to play with and when to play
  • ask questions
  • try new things and succeed at them.

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 provides a safe, clean, stimulating and well-supervised environment. It encourages good nutrition, good personal hygiene, outdoor play, plenty of physical activity and safe risk-taking.

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.

You should be welcome to visit education and care services 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.

To check whether a service is offering a high-quality program, the National Quality Standard, or NQS looks for the following:

  • The service lets children learn by following their own interests.
  • The service looks after children’s health, safety and wellbeing.
  • The physical environment is interesting for children and includes experiences in nature.
  • Qualified staff build nurturing and respectful relationships with children, and children feel safe and accepted.
  • Staff work well with families and communities.
  • Directors and senior educators lead and manage the service well.

Assessing the quality of early childhood education and care services

The state and territory agencies assess early childhood education and care services against the National Quality Standard (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.

You can find quality ratings for services at Starting Blocks.

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