Following a review of the National Partnership Agreement on the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care, the Australian, State and Territory Education Ministers have agreed to changes to the National Quality Framework (NQF).
The review found that, after five years of operation of the NQF, some technical and operational improvements were warranted.
In order to ensure that the quality of early childhood education and care in Australia continues to improve, the law and regulations will be changed. From 1 October this year (2017), changes to the National Law and Regulations will come into effect in Victoria, and on 1 February next year (2018), the Revised National Quality Standard will commence.
Countdown until the changes commence to the National Law and Regulations …
Changes to the National Quality Standard for all service types …
The revised National Quality Standard (NQS) will:
- remove duplications that occur in both the elements and standards,
- use clearer language, and
- reduce the number of standards from eighteen down to fifteen, and the number of elements from fifty-eight to forty.
The full details of the changed NQS will be released at some stage later, but prior to the 1 February 2018 commencement date.
The Victorian Department of Education and Training’s resources will be aligned with the revised NQS and other changes to Assessment and Rating.
Changes to the National Law and Regulations for all service types …
The following points summarise the decisions made by the Federal, State and Territory Education Ministers, which will be made to the National Law and Regulations for implementation on 1 October, 2017.
- The definition of ‘Significant Improvement Required’ will replace ‘unacceptable risk’ with ‘significant risk’.
- In order for a Quality Area to be rated as Exceeding NQS, from February 2018, all standards in that Quality Area must be rated as Exceeding NQS.
- From February 2018, the fee for Excellent rating applications will be removed and applications will be limited to services rated as Exceeding NQS in all Quality Areas.
- The Minor Adjustments Policy, through which the Department of Education and Training allows providers an opportunity to address minor issues identified during Assessment and Rating before finalising the service’s rating level, is to be ‘broadened’.
- The National Law will be amended to allow one or more nominated supervisors to be appointed at the same time, for each service. Also, written consent will no longer be required, if the approved provider, as an individual applicant, is also to be a nominated supervisor. Under the amendments, the approved provider will be responsible for notifying the regulatory authority, if a nominated supervisor changes or there is a change to their name or contact details.
- Due to the shift of responsibility for assessing fitness and propriety to the approved provider, the existing requirements for approved providers to notify the regulator of changes to nominated supervisor fitness and propriety, will be removed.
- Nominated supervisors and persons in day-to-day charge of a service will need to have undertaken child protection training as prescribed by the Department of Education and Training.
- The requirement to display information, about the prescribed class to which a nominated supervisor belongs, will be removed, as the concept of ‘prescribed class’ will be removed from the National Law and National Regulations.
- A fee for an application to extend a temporary waiver will be introduced, and will be the same amount as the fee for an initial waiver application. The amendments will enable a revocation of a service waiver to take effect fourteen days after the provider was notified (instead of the current sixty days), or another period by agreement.
- The amended National Law will require the maximum number of children, as specified on a service approval, to form part of the service approval conditions, so that exceeding the maximum number of children will constitute a breach of those conditions. It is not a breach of the condition regarding the maximum number of children where a child, or two more children from the same family, are being cared for by the service in an emergency and the approved provider is satisfied on reasonable grounds that this will not affect the health, safety and wellbeing of other children at the service.
- Changes to the rules about first aiders will allow any staff member (not only an educator) or nominated supervisor to be the person, who is immediately available and who holds an approved first aid, anaphylaxis and emergency asthma management qualification.
- The requirement for supervisors of volunteers or educators under eighteen years to either hold or be actively working towards a Diploma level qualification, will be removed. However, the person, who is supervising, must still be over eighteen and ‘an educator’ in accordance with the meaning as defined in the National Law.
- Approved providers will be required to have policies and procedures in place about sleep and rest for children and infants.
- The time periods, during which an alternative qualified person may be taken to be an early childhood teacher in the teacher’s absence, will be made clearer.
- The amended National Law makes it an offence to make a false declaration about a prohibition notice, and includes a financial penalty. Providers are already obliged not to engage any person to whom a prohibition notice applies.
- The National Law and National Regulations will also be clearer about requiring an approved provider to notify the regulatory authority of a serious illness, injury or trauma for which a child attended, or should have attended, a hospital.
- The definition of ‘serious incident’, for notification purposes in relation to the attendance of emergency services, will clearly specify that notification of the regulatory authority is only necessary, where emergency services attended a location at which education and care is being provided, as a result of an emergency and not, for example, as a precautionary measure.
- The definition of ‘emergency’ will be clarified to mean an incident, situation or event where there is an imminent or severe risk to the health, safety or wellbeing of a person/s at a place where education and care is being provided.
- The National Regulations will also be changed so that the prescribed matters, which require a notification to be made to the regulatory authority, will include:
- any incident where the approved provider reasonably believes that physical and/or sexual abuse of a child has occurred, or is occurring, while that child is being educated and cared for at an education and care service, or
- an allegation that sexual or physical abuse of a child has occurred, or is occurring, while that child is being educated or cared for at an education and care service.
- Changes to the National Regulations will ensure that the requirement for a ‘working with children check’ applies to all staff members at the service.
Changes to the National Law and Regulations for family day care services …
- Approved providers of family day care services will be required to:
- hold a service approval in each jurisdiction where their family day care educators provide early childhood education and care services, and
- ensure a minimum family day care coordinator to educator ratio of:
- 1:15 for the first twelve months of operation. and at any other time at the discretion of the regulatory authority, and
- 1:25 after the first twelve months of operation.
- Approved family day care providers, who breach minimum ratios, will be subject to new penalties. New penalties will also apply to approved providers and family day care educators, who fail to ensure that family day care educator assistants’ activities are limited to the circumstances as specified in the National Regulations. The revised National Regulations will make it clear that family day care educator assistants are only able to stand-in for a family day care educator, in the event of unforeseen or exceptional circumstances. The revised National Regulations will provide additional advice on what constitutes an ‘appointment’.
- Approved providers of a family day care service will be required to:
- notify the Department of Education and Training of a change to the location of the principal office at least fourteen days before the change, and
- provide proof of the address of the new principal office.
- When applying for family day care service approval, the approved provider will be required to provide proof of the address of their principal office.
- A family day care service is only allowed to operate at a venue, other than the educator’s residence, in exceptional circumstances and with the approval of the Department of Education and Training. New monetary penalties will apply to the approved provider for failing to comply with this.
- A family day care service is not allowed to operate at a new venue until the regulatory authority amends the service approval.
- Family day care educators must notify the approved provider, in the event of either:
- a serious incident,
- a complaint alleging that a serious incident has occurred or is occurring or that there has been a breach of the National Law or National Regulations,
- any renovations or changes that may pose a risk to children’s health, safety or wellbeing, or
- any changes in the persons aged eighteen or over, who reside at the residence.
- Family day care educators, who fail to notify this information to the approved provider, will be subject to new penalties.
- Approved providers must keep information on the register of family day care educators about family day educator assistants and family day care coordinators (in addition to information about family day care educators). Failing to maintain an accurate register at the principal office or failing to provide the Department of Education and Training with this information, within the required timeframe, will be an offence.
- The National Regulations will require a risk assessment to be completed for all regular outings, by family day care educators, at least once annually.
Changes to the National Law and Regulations for the regulator …
- New powers of entry will empower an authorised officer to enter a family day care residence during usual operating hours, or if the officer reasonably believes that the service is operating.
- The ‘scope of undertakings’ will be expanded in order to allow the Department of Education and Training to consider undertakings where they may have otherwise issued a prohibition or suspension notice. This is to ensure that the regulatory authority is not barred from prosecuting offences relating to a failure to comply with an undertaking.
- The National Regulations will be amended to:
- allow the regulator to publish the service approval number for a family day care service,
- include the issuance of an emergency action notice in the list of enforcement actions about which the regulatory authority can publish information,
- clarify that information can be shared within departments and to other state or territory government agencies, where it relates to the funding of a service,
- enable the regulator to publish information about enforcement actions, which identifies a person with management or control of a service, where it is in the public interest to do so,
- allow the regulator to grant a sixty-day extension of time for ‘first tier reviews’ where it considers there are special circumstances,
- allow the regulator to determine that the information in relation to a soil assessment and/or a planning permit may not be required to be provided, if the approved provider of OSHC is seeking to locate the service on the site of a school,
- allow the regulator to determine that any of the information referring to applications for service approvals (centre-based services) may not be required in exceptional circumstances, and
- allow the regulator to impose conditions on the grant of a service waiver or temporary waiver, and to remove or change these and reissue the service approval at any time.
- Authorised officers will be able to lawfully enter any premises, including a residence, without a search warrant, for the purpose of determining whether an education and care service is operating without a service approval at or from those premises. However, written consent of the occupier of the premises must first be obtained and there must be a reasonable belief that a person is operating an education and care service without a service approval.
- Where a search warrant may be issued under the National Law, a Justice of the Peace, or other relevant court or tribunal, will be able issue it.
- The National Law will be changed in order to:
- provide that, where the regulator requests further information in response to an application for service waiver or temporary waiver, the time period for responding to the request is excluded from the sixty-day limit within which a decision must be made, and
- allow ACECQA to disclose information about persons, who are subject to prohibition notices, to approved providers on request, and where the provider requires the information, in compliance with the Law.
- As the category of certified supervisors will be removed from the National Law and National Regulations, ACECQA will no longer need to maintain the register of certified supervisors. Under the amendments, approved providers will be responsible for appointing nominated supervisors and/or persons in day-to-day charge, who are aged eighteen years or older, fit and proper, and have suitable skills. The Department will publish guidance materials to support approved providers to select persons, in line with the requirements.
- The regulator will have the power to restrict a person from being a nominated supervisor, either entirely or subject to conditions.
A more detailed version of the changes is available on ACECQA’s website at ACECQA’s summary of all decisions