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Your first step into early childhood education & care

Understanding the National Quality Standard for early childhood education and care services

The National Quality Standard (NQS) has seven quality areas that are important for better health and education outcomes for children. Early childhood education and care services are assessed and rated against the NQS by regulatory authorities in each state/territory.

This factsheet explains the NQS quality areas (QA) and how they impact your child and the quality of education and care across long day care, family day care, preschool, kindergarten, and outside school hours care services.

QA 1 - Educational program and practice

Educators develop and deliver education and care programs based on the culture, interests, abilities and needs of each child at the service. The program at your child's service should reflect your child's interests, meet their needs, and evolve over time to support their learning progress.

Each service will meet the standard in different ways to suit their unique circumstances, but there are some quality markers that you can look for:

  • each child has the opportunity to develop their particular interests
  • children are encouraged to express ideas and participate in decisions about their program
  • the educators recognise that your child is competent and capable even if they need some extra support
  • the diversity of the children at the service is reflected through learning opportunities
  • all aspects of the program, including routines, maximise children’s learning.

QA 2 - Children's health and safety

Being healthy helps your child actively participate in a learning environment. Educators and other staff must take every reasonable step to protect your child from harm and hazards, illnesses and injuries, and children must be adequately supervised at all times.

Your child should be given daily opportunities to be physically active and practice new skills, both indoors and outdoors.

QA 2 supports your child's wellbeing. When children have a strong sense of wellbeing, they feel secure and can be fully engaged in learning. Depending on your child's age, educators will help them learn about healthy lifestyles including nutrition, hygiene, physical fitness, emotions and social relationships.

Some quality markers that you can look for:

  • educators providing for children’s wellbeing and comfort e.g. appropriate opportunities to meet each child’s need for sleep, rest and relaxation.
  • communication with families about health practices and procedures e.g. if there is an outbreak of an infectious illness
  • physical activity built into the educational program every day
  • healthy menus
  • support for breastfeeding mothers.

QA 3 – Physical environment

Services need to design their indoor and outdoor spaces to provide accessible and age-appropriate opportunities for each child to learn, play and develop their skills. The premises doesn’t need to be purpose-built, but should be suitable for their purpose. Furniture and equipment can be used in creative ways to meet children's needs, ensuring the environment is also safe.

The physical environment needs to promote inclusiveness, so that each and every child can take part in play and learning. Educators plan spaces that support children to become physically competent, to explore their environment independently, and to learn through play.

Some quality markers that you can look for:

  • children exploring, experimenting and creating in indoor and outdoor environments
  • rooms and play spaces that are safe and in good condition
  • adequate materials and learning resources for all children.

QA 4 – Staffing arrangements

The educators and staff at your service play a critical role in your child's learning and development. The NQF has requirements for the qualifications of educators.

Legal requirements for educator to child ratios ensure adequate supervision for safety, welfare and wellbeing of children, including excursions, and allow each child’s learning and development needs to be met. The ratios are different depending on the age of the children, and some states and territory have different requirements.

A service’s quality also improves when staff practice open and transparent communication.

Some quality markers that you can look for:

  • suitably qualified and experienced educators, coordinators and staff members
  • staffing practices that reflect the philosophy of the service
  • educators treating one another with respect, and working well together.

QA 5 – Relationships with children

All children need to know that others care about them, and are interested in what they do, think and feel. This is essential for their wellbeing, learning and development.

Educators are responsible for developing positive relationships with every child by being responsive to and respectful of their needs and ideas. Their interactions should be warm and meaningful, building trust and self-esteem. The goal is for your child to feel secure, confident and included.

Children will be supported to build strong positive relationships with each other. When children play and learn together, they can build their skills in problem-solving, negotiation and decision-making.

Your child's educators should be role models for children by demonstrating and encouraging positive behaviour and the development of strong relationships.

Some quality markers that you can look for:

  • an atmosphere that is generally relaxed and happy
  • children displaying kindness and compassion
  • educators and children engaged in genuine and meaningful conversations.

QA 6 – Collaborative partnerships with families and communities

You are your child’s first teacher and their biggest influence. Research shows that the quality of education and care children receive is enhanced when families and educators develop respective, supportive relationships and work in partnership.   

Your child's service should also work to engage with the local community to build your child's sense of belonging in the wider world.

You should start by telling the educators about your child's interests, strengths and abilities and give them regular feedback about how well their program is meeting your child's needs.

Some quality markers that you can look for:

  • effective enrolment and orientation processes and access to current information
  • educators communicating respectfully with you
  • educators informing you about your child’s learning and development
  • families being involved in decision-making and being able to express concerns freely
  • educators supporting and empowering you in your role.

QA 7 – Governance and Leadership

Effective leadership and service management contributes to a positive workplace culture and a safe and healthy learning environment for children. Governance refers to the systems in place that support the effective management and operation of the service, consistent with the service’s statement of philosophy.

To achieve the best outcomes for children and families, a service requires a skilled and engaged workforce, thorough administrative and risk management systems, well documented policies and procedures, and a safe and healthy learning environment for children.

A service with an ongoing cycle of self-assessment, planning and review, including engagement with families, creates the climate for continuous quality improvement in children’s education and care. 

Some quality markers that you can look for:

  • a sense of pride and cohesion among management and educators
  • a Quality Improvement Plan with the services current goals and strategies for quality improvement policies and procedures that are current and available for families
  • documents displayed at the service. For example: service’s NQS rating, license, who the nominated supervisor is and any waivers
  • quick and effective responses to complaints.

Read more:

National Quality Framework – how can it help me?