Waivers of outdoor space requirements for centre-based services located in the Melbourne Central Business District (CBD)

The importance of outdoor play

Research supports the overwhelming benefits for children when they are able to engage in free play in a natural environment. The importance of outdoor learning environments is acknowledged in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF):

‘Outdoor learning spaces are a feature of Australian learning environments. They offer a vast array of possibilities not available indoors. Play spaces in natural environments include plants, trees, edible gardens, sand, rocks, mud, water and other elements from nature. These spaces invite open-ended interactions, spontaneity, risk-taking, exploration, discovery and connection with nature. They foster an appreciation of the natural environment, develop environmental awareness and provide a platform for ongoing environmental education’ (EYLF, 2009, p15-16).

Natural environments allow children to experience risk taking, problem solving and to face challenges and learn to cope with different situations. They also allow children to begin to understand the natural world around them. Importantly, outdoor play should allow children opportunities to learn and gain competence across a varied range of motor skill activities. It should provide occasions for children to refine skills in:

  1. Motor skills: such as walking, running, jumping, climbing, hopping, skipping, sliding and tricycling;
  2. Manipulative skills: such as throwing, catching, kicking, striking and bouncing; and
  3. Stability skills: such as bending, stretching, swinging, twisting and balancing.

A natural environment that provides challenge and exploration contributes to children's overall physical health and emotional wellbeing, and access to a natural environment accords with the broad objectives of the National Quality Standard (NQS), the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 (the National Law) and Education and Care Services National Regulations 2011 (the National Regulations) to ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of children; to improve educational and developmental outcomes for children; and to promote continuous improvement in the provision of quality education and care services.

Policy statement

Genuine outdoor space is always preferable to simulated outdoor space.

The importance of outdoor learning environments is embedded within the requirements of the National Quality Framework (NQF).

It is therefore the policy of the Department of Training and Education (the Department) to only consider granting a waiver for outdoor space requirements of the National Regulations where genuine outdoor space cannot be achieved and where certain criteria are met. This policy statement outlines these criteria.

Approved Providers considering relying on a waiver to comply with the space requirements of the National Law as part of the application for a service approval are encouraged to consult  with the Victorian Regulatory Authority during the concept and planning stages as there should be no assumption that a waiver will be granted.

Purpose

The National Law allows regulatory authorities to issue service waivers with respect to requirements for outdoor space. These waivers may be used to allow indoor space to be allocated as outdoor space to compensate for the reduced access to actual outdoor space.

In Victoria, the regulatory authority for the purposes of the National Law is the Department of Education and Training. This document sets out the Department's policy with respect to the granting of waivers for outdoor space requirements in the Melbourne CBD, and provides guidance on the compensatory measures that would be expected to be put in place when a request for a waiver is made.

Context

This policy has been adapted from the New South Wales Department of Education policy statement regarding waivers of regulation 108 – outdoor space.

The National Regulations set out specific space requirements for the provision of indoor and outdoor space in centre-based education and care services. It stipulates that outdoor spaces provided at the education and care service premises must allow children to explore and experience the natural environment.

In addition, the NQS, against which services are assessed and rated, contains a number of standards and elements under Quality Area 2 (children's health and safety) and Quality Area 3 (physical environment) which impact directly on the provision of outdoor spaces.

The National Law and National Regulations allow regulatory authorities to issue service waivers with respect to certain elements of the NQS and the National Regulations. Space requirements and the elements under Quality Area 3 are listed as matters for which a waiver may be granted.

Relevant legislative requirements and National Standard provisions

Regulation/Standard ​Requirement ​Waiver may be granted

​Regulation 108
National Regulations

​Premises must have at least 7 square metres of unencumbered outdoor space for each child being educated and cared for by the service. ​Yes

​Regulation 113
National Regulations

​Approved providers must ensure that outdoor spaces provided at the education and care service premises allow children to explore and experience the natural environment. No​

​Standard 2.2
National Quality Standard

​Physical activity is embedded in the program for children. ​No

​Standard 2.2
Element 2.2.2
National Quality Standard

​Physical activity is promoted through planned and spontaneous experiences and is appropriate for each child. ​No

​Quality Area 3
National Quality Standard

​The physical environment is safe, suitable and provides a rich and diverse range of experiences which promotes children's learning and development. ​No

​Standard 3.1
Element 3.1.1
National Quality Standard

​Outdoor spaces are suitable for their purpose. ​Yes

​Standard 3.1
Element 3.1.3
National Quality Standard

​Facilities are designed or adapted to allow interaction between indoor and outdoor space. ​Yes

Policy criteria when applying for a waiver of outdoor space requirements

    1. The premises are:
      •  located in Melbourne city central business district with limited access to outdoor space in the immediate locale; and
      •  there is a demonstrated high level of ongoing demand for the provision of an education and care service in that area (see below);
    2. An equivalent area of indoor space (exclusive of indoor space requirements) is provided; and
    3. The design of the allocated outdoor space allows the benefits of an outdoor learning environment, that is:
      •  the design provides access to natural experiences that mimic the outdoors, such as water play, sand play, bark play, accessible plantings, or other elements from nature;
      •  the area is suitable and provides sufficient area for gross motor activities for different age groups and ample flexibility for continued challenge to meet children’s needs and abilities; and
      •  the service makes some provision to allow adequate ventilation and access to natural light
    4. Where appropriate the service accesses outdoor space through regular excursions to community parks and facilities
    5. There is substantial evidence of unmet demand.  The evidence provided could include:
      •  Details of existing early childhood education and care services in the area and how the proposed service would complement or add to the supply of places;
      •  Information from community or other organisations that may have data on unmet demand in the area;
      •  Copies of the service’s waiting list or expressions of interest; and/or other relevant demographic data on the need and demand for early childhood education and care in the area.

The Department may consider granting a waiver without some or all of the above conditions applying.

Premises outside of the Melbourne CBD

In other exceptional circumstances a waiver for outdoor space may be considered. The approved provider is encouraged to engage with the Regulatory Authority before the commencement of the project.

Temporary Waivers

A temporary waiver for outdoor space may be granted by the regulatory authority in the event that there is limited access to outdoors for example, where the outdoor play area is being renovated and cannot be accessed on a temporary basis, or where a service is temporarily relocated following significant damage to the usual service premises.

Further information

The Department of Education and Training is the regulatory authority in Victoria.

Phone: 1300 307 415
Email: licensed.childrens.services@edumail.vic.gov.au
Web: Regulation and quality assessment

The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) is the national, independent statutory authority governing the National Quality Framework.

Phone: 1300 422 327
Email: enquiries@acecqa.gov.au
Web: ACECQA