On 15 January 2019, ACECQA announced that Forrest Out of Hours School Care had become the latest service under the National Quality Framework to be awarded the Excellent rating. Forrest is one of only three School Age Care services in the country to receive this highest rating under the NQF.
Based in Canberra, Forrest has a long-standing reputation as an innovative and inspiring program. The Framework spoke with Ali Sewter, the Executive Director and Nominated Supervisor of Forrest about this incredible achievement for her and her team.
The Framework: How does it feel to be one of three School Age Care services in Australia to be rated Excellent?
Ali Sewter: We truly believe in what we are doing, and we do it with such passion and conviction. We have worked hard to overcome barriers to ensure that what we do, results in quality outcomes for our children and our families. This rating gives a strong sense of validation that we are on the right path and what we are doing truly matters.
I’m also immensely proud of what we have achieved and the programs we offer. I am proud of our amazing team who keep the standard high and their commitment to ensuring everything we do is always in the best interest of the child. I am proud of our leadership team who consistently coach, mentor and support our educators to grow and develop.
I’m so grateful for our community and management committee who work tirelessly to support our practice. We’re very excited for what the future holds.
Tell us a bit about Forrest.
Forrest Out of Hours School Care is a community-based not-for-profit service located in a public school in Canberra, run by a volunteer management Parents and Citizens Committee. The committee employs 40 staff, a large number of who attended the service as children. We offer a Before and After School Care program as well a School Holiday Program. We’re a pretty big program, with 150 children attend the service daily, and 340 across the whole week at the moment. More than two-thirds of the school’s students use our service, and we’ve had a big increase in enrolments since we made some significant changes.
What do you think makes Forrest special?
It’s so hard to capture our essence in words – we are the sum of all our parts. Our children, their families, our Philosophy and Playwork approach, our team of educators and our Management committee .
It all begin back in 2014 where we were revising our philosophy and started exploring the guiding theory of Playwork through an exploration of Nature Pedagogy. After copious hours reading, and several Study Tours overseas, our Educational Leader, Kylie Keane, found what we had really been looking for. We then worked hard to ensure that children have the opportunities for risk taking, access outdoors in all weather conditions and most importantly the time, space and freedom to play.
Forrest is unique as it provides opportunities not afforded to children in many other settings, the children feel a genuine sense of belonging because they have ownership of their play spaces and what they are doing. To the untrained eye loose parts, our Play Spaces and our approach may appear messy, chaotic and dishevelled, however in the eyes of a child it is full of possibilities.
Forrest is a place where children and their families want to be because they know that we are truly offering a program that is in the best interests of all children.
Tell us about the process of achieving the Excellent rating – what did you need to do?
We have been working towards this for a long time, sometimes without even realising it! It was a natural progression for us, a journey we were on and there was no getting off. We were committed and had embraced it.
We had set the standard and we were determined to provide the level of education and care our children and families rightly deserved. Our planning cycle helped us to identify the areas that needed more focus, but our guiding light was our Quality Improvement Plan – which we discussed as a standing agenda item at weekly staff meeting. It helped track our progress and gave us the impetus to achieve our goals.
As a team we set the outcomes we wanted to achieve involving some Action Research, improving our documentation in specific areas, seeking help from other professionals both locally, nationally and even internationally. W
How did you approach the application to ACECQA for the Excellent rating?
When it came to formalising our application, our whole team created a “think tank” environment where all the criteria were placed on large poster sheets and staff were free to contribute and use the evidence we had collected.
Our application was presented on PowerPoint with film clips, formal feedback and supporting statements as well as embedded documents to support our application. It was a huge effort but very rewarding and the whole process made us reflect on all the wonderful aspects of our service.
As the leader of an Excellent School Age Care Service, what do you think are the most important things for other leaders to focus on in their services?
Services need to have a vision, something they aim towards and strive for. This however needs to be collaborative and clearly defined so it is achievable for all involved.
There are two leadership values that we hold close. The first is: The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. The expectations need to be clear so we all can strive towards that important common vision. This value also empowers individuals to be able to act without hierarchy or prejudice to effect change and take ownership of our practice.
Our second value is: Everything we do is always in the best interest of the child. This too is a springboard for our critical reflection and underpins our every day practices. Everything we do is always in the best interest of the child. It’s something we all believe in strongly.
What is your next goal for Forrest?
Where do we begin? We have many goals. For example, we are currently working with ACT Downs Syndrome Association to employ educators with varying abilities. This will hopefully result in an employment program where people with varying abilities can be employed by our service and be supported to develop the required skills in education and care. We believe this would truly enrich our service and be a genuine and authentic opportunity for children to experience inclusion in its truest form.
We will continue to grow “Communities of practice” within our sector and beyond where services can share and exchange their practices in a non-threatening professional environment. We have so much to learn and so much to share. It has only just begun.
Thank you to Ali Sewter for her time in sharing Forrest’s extraordinary journey to Excellence.