How to achieve Quality Area 1 and improve your NQS rating

Many services want to better understand how to achieve Quality Area 1 to more competitively for occupancy and maintain a high-quality level of care in line with national quality regulations. The National Quality Standard (NQS) rating of a service is a good indicator of the quality of care and education it imparts, as well as its compliance with laws and regulations. 

Administered by the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), the NQS works like an external assessor and lays out requirements, such as approved learning frameworks and educator-to-child ratio qualifiers. Based on seven core quality areas, these qualitative ratings allow families to compare services in an area and guide service owners in achieving key outcomes for children in care. High NQS ratings create an ecosystem of success for services by generating more revenue through higher occupancy and maintaining a reputation for quality.

Services that failed to meet the NQS had a reported ADR of $97 compared to the national average of $103 and a difference of $121K in revenue. 
– Early Years Research 2020

The importance of learning frameworks for Australian childcare services

Quality Area 1 is related to program and practice—essentially how you structure learning at your service. Learning frameworks play a pivotal role in shaping the quality of early childhood education and care services in Australia. These frameworks provide a structured approach to curriculum planning, delivery and evaluation, ensuring that children receive holistic and developmentally appropriate experiences. Let’s delve into the significance of learning frameworks for Australian childcare services.

Two female educators discussing how to achieve Quality Area 1 while a young child sits on one of their laps.

Guidance for educators and leaders

  • Nationally approved frameworks outline principlespractices, and learning outcomes that guide educational leaders and educators.
  • Educators can use these frameworks to make informed decisions about curriculum design, teaching strategies and assessment methods.
  • By adhering to these frameworks, educators ensure that their programs align with best practices and promote positive outcomes for children.

Individualised learning experiences

  • Learning frameworks emphasise tailoring educational experiences to each child’s unique needs, interests and developmental stage.
  • Educators consider individual differences, cultural backgrounds, and abilities when planning activities.
  • This personalised approach fosters a sense of belonging, encourages exploration and supports children’s overall growth.

Consistency and quality

  • Whether using nationally approved frameworks or provider-created ones, frameworks provide a common language and shared understanding across childcare services.
  • Consistent implementation of the frameworks ensures that all children receive a high-quality education, regardless of the service they attend.
  • Quality assurance mechanisms, such as the National Quality Standard (NQS), assess services based on their adherence to the frameworks.

Holistic development

  • Learning frameworks recognise that children’s development is multifaceted—physical, cognitive, social, emotional and creative.
  • Educators design activities that address all domains, promoting well-rounded growth.
  • For instance, a play-based activity involving building blocks not only enhances fine motor skills but also encourages problem-solving and social interaction.

Professional development and reflection

  • Educators engage in ongoing professional development to deepen their understanding of the frameworks.
  • Reflective practice allows educators to assess their teaching methods, adapt strategies and refine their approaches.
  • Regular self-assessment against the frameworks leads to continuous improvement.
A father and his daughter, wearing pink butterfly wings, smile as they look a a phone together

Family engagement

  • Learning frameworks encourage collaboration between educators and families.
  • Parents/guardians gain insights into their child’s learning journey, goals and progress.
  • Educators involve families in decision-making, ensuring a cohesive learning experience both at home and in the childcare setting.

Alignment with educational goals

  • Nationally approved frameworks align with broader educational goals, such as the Australian Curriculum.
  • By integrating learning outcomes from the frameworks, educators bridge the transition from early childhood education to formal schooling.

Learning frameworks serve as compasses, guiding educators toward effective practices and positive outcomes for children. They promote consistency, individualisation and quality, ultimately shaping the future of our youngest learners.

What is Quality Area 1 under the National Quality Standard (NQS)?

There are three standards under Quality Area 1, each with three elements. The Quality Area 1 standards and their respective elements are as follows:

Quality Area 1, Standard 1 (Program)—The educational program enhances each child’s learning and development

Quality Area 1 of the NQS is related to education program and practice. Its position as the first quality area of the NQS should indicate its importance. Quality Area 1 helps establish the foundation of your service. Whether you decide to use one of the nationally approved learning frameworks (Early Years Learning Framework 2.0, My Time Our Place 2.0) or opt to create your own, this framework will guide decisions and practices at your service.

  • Element 1.1.1, Approved learning framework—Curriculum decision-making contributes to each child’s learning and development outcomes in relation to their identity, connection with community, wellbeing, confidence as learners and effectiveness as communicators.
  • Element 1.1.2, Child-centred—Each child’s current knowledge, strengths, ideas, culture, abilities and interests are the foundation of the program.
  • Element 1.1.3, Program learning opportunities—All aspects of the program, including routines, are organised in ways that maximise opportunities for each child’s learning.
Five sets of hands, with index and middle fingers in a V shape are connected to create a 10-pointed star shape

Quality Area 1, Standard 2 (Practice)—Educators facilitate and extend each child’s learning and development

  • Element 1.2.1, Intentional teaching—Educators are deliberate, purposeful and thoughtful in their decisions and actions.
  • Element 1.2.2, Responsive teaching and scaffolding—Educators respond to children’s ideas and play and extend children’s learning through open-ended questions, interactions and feedback.
  • Element 1.2.3, Child directed learning—Each child’s agency is promoted, enabling them to make choices and decisions that influence events and their world.

Quality Area 1, Standard 3 (Assessment and Planning)—Educators and co-ordinators take a planned and reflective approach to implementing the program for each child

  • Element 1.3.1, Assessment and planning cycle—Each child’s learning and development is assessed or evaluated as part of an ongoing cycle of observation, analysing learning, documentation, planning, implementation and reflection.
  • Element 1.3.2, Critical reflection—Critical reflection on children’s learning and development, both as individuals and in groups, drives program planning and implementation.
  • Element 1.3.3, Information for families—Families are informed about the program and their child’s progress.

Source: ACECQA Online Guide to the NQF > Section 3: National Quality Standard and Assessment and Rating Quality Area 1: Educational program and practice

How to achieve Quality Area 1: Education Program and Practice 

Standard 1.1 under the first QA of the NQS focuses on maximising a child’s learning journey by providing an environment that supports their interests and strengths. It requires services to adopt an approved learning framework and develop a child-centred curriculum that promotes children’s wellbeing as effective communicators and learners.

One of the recommended curricula is the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) for children under 5 in centre-based care and My time our place for school-age care in Australia. Both frameworks are governed by five key learning outcomes that must guide educators in preparing child-based learning plans.

An image showing the five primary learning outcomes in the Early Years Learning Framework, critical to how to achieve Quality Area 1
The five primary learning outcomes in the Early Years Learning Framework, Source: ACECQA

Standard 1.2 explains how child-directed learning can be put to practice by creating intentional teaching plans that are responsive to children’s ideas and unique to their experiences. Purposeful planning is recommended weekly or fortnightly to reflect each child’s progress and knowledge and should include visual observations for better insights. 

One way to do this is to ensure that each child’s portfolio is maintained in a planning tool and referenced when creating weekly plans. By keeping children at the centre of the learning process, educators will maximise opportunities for children and fulfil NQS standards.

An example of a child's portfolio that can be created with programming and planning software
An example of a child’s portfolio that can be maintained in a P&P software. 

To successfully implement child-centred programs, standard 1.3 points to the need for assessment and evaluation of learning outcomes against objectives of relevant learning frameworks. Educators must critically reflect on learning plans that were carried out during the week and use this assessment to modify learning activities for the following week if needed.

Sharing child progress with families 

Information sharing needs to be more engaging and interactive than ever before, and centres must do the same when sharing child updates with families. Creating a daily synopsis video where children are recapping their day can help parents reflect and provide feedback to educators. Child-led communication of this sort can help your centre appear more thoughtful and engaging than others in your area. It is possible to use educator apps and family engagement software that automates all such updates.

The cover of the Xplor Education guide that can help centres understand how to achieve Quality Area 1

Improve NQS Ratings

Want to know how to achieve Quality Area 1 and improve NQS ratings for your service? Discover how programming and planning Software can help.

How to achieve Quality Area 1 with the help of software

Early learning and care centres may be doing their best to impart high-quality care and education to children who are at the heart of the childcare system. However, to achieve a high NQS rating, it is essential to follow best practices and document and present all centre activities to external assessors who can then pass a rating. 

The average number of Exceeding the National Quality Standard (NQS) services was also 13% higher for those that utilised software. 
– Early Years Research 2020

While it may be necessary, frequent and regular documentation of child activities can be burdensome for educators. Not only does this mean more paperwork for staff, but if left undone, it leads to families feeling disconnected from their child’s progress. 

The use of software can help solve problems of manual work for childcare staff. Among early learning solutions, Child Care Subsidy (CCS) platforms are used by many to automate administrative tasks and support subsidy management. Additionally, other tools and apps are available to take care of the rest of the childcare tasks, such as preparing child-centred learning programs, tracking health & safety, storing NQS documentation and developing Quality Improvement Plans (QIP). 

Such tools include Child Care Subsidy (CCS) platforms, programming and planning(P&P) tools, waitlist management solutions and parent engagement software (PES). 

An iPad, showing a group observation including a child's image and tagged learning outcomes, both great steps on how to achieve Quality Area 1

Here are a few ways early learning software can help your centre grow faster and more efficiently:

High NQS ratings

At the time of assessment, detailed records of educators’ plans and activities prove that a service goes above and beyond to meet national standards. Early learning solutions help centres store large amounts of data and present information in innovative ways to achieve their goals.

Family engagement 

Moreover, sharing this information with families regularly helps centres build positive relationships and collaborations with communities, setting your service apart from the competition. This can be done through family engagement apps that provide parents/guardians with real-time updates on their child’s learning, sleeping, eating or resting habits in the care centre. 

Child learning opportunities 

Creating a planned approach to teaching and care will help your educators promote child learning and development by using individual records to plan ahead. These can be maintained in the P&P software, with photos and videos of child observations that act as evidence for NQS assessors. 

Safe data storage

Cloud-based platforms make it easy to store and track individual and group learning, providing easy access to a child’s individual records to all authorised individuals. The same information can be used to match and fulfil multiple NQS standards and can be shared with families instantaneously.

In contrast to common misconceptions about the use of software, early learning solutions can be incredibly easy to adopt, especially as data is stored and accessed electronically. Educators can use records to create ongoing planning cycles, fulfil learning outcomes for each child and prepare for the NQS without getting burned out by manual work. 

Xplor Education uses bank-level security to keep child data safe. In addition, services can enjoy our Single Sign-On (SSO) solution to enhance security and efficiency at your service.

If you’d like to chat with one of our experts about how to achieve Quality Area 1 with our ecosystem, just click the “Let’s Chat” button below.