Early childhood education and service operations

Stage 3 stay at home restrictions

In line with advice from the Victorian Chief Health Officer, the Victorian Government announced a return to Stage 3 Stay at Home Restrictions for some Victorian postcodes in response to increased coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission in these areas.

That means, if you live in these postcodes, there are only four reasons to leave home:

  • shopping for food and essential supplies
  • care and caregiving
  • exercise
  • study or work – if you cannot do it from home.

These restrictions will be in place for four weeks from midnight on 1 July to midnight 29 July 2020.

All early childhood education and care services in these restricted postcodes should continue to operate, except where there is a confirmed case of a child or staff member with coronavirus (COVID-19).

Children and staff who live outside the restricted postcode area can continue to attend services within the restricted postcodes.

Children and staff who live in a restricted postcode can continue to attend services outside the restricted postcodes.

Closures

A majority of early childhood education and care services have operated throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Children who have not been engaged in on-site learning (except those with health concerns) should be attending kindergarten programs at both sessional and long day care services. Service providers should be actively encouraging families to return.

If your service is directed to close as a preventative measure, you'll be advised directly and given detailed advice to support you through this process.

If individual services are closed, they'll be listed at: Emergency closures

Reporting closure

If your service closes, you're required to report the closure to the Regulatory Authority.

Services under the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 (National Law):

  • All services, including family day care, are required to 'notify the Regulatory Authority within 24 hours of any incident that requires the approved provider to close or reduce the number of children attending the service for a period'.
  • You need to lodge a notification through the National Quality Agenda IT System (NQA ITS) within 24 hours of closure.

Services operating under the Children's Services Act 1996 (Children's Services Act):

On-site learning

Families who may have chosen to keep their children at home are now returning to early childhood education and care. Schools have now transitioned back to on-site learning.

As the additional Victorian Government funding for sessional kindergarten requires that services be open for all enrolled families who wish to attend, services should continue to accommodate families who return, while applying appropriate risk mitigation strategies.

Re-establishing on-site attendance for children (personal health circumstances permitting) as soon as possible will support their wellbeing, learning and development, and reduce the risk of disengagement from kindergarten.

Services are asked to be particularly mindful of the needs of vulnerable children and families, including families from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and refugee backgrounds. We encourage you to continue to connect with families at home, to understand their plans, encourage them to return to on-site learning, and give parent/carer(s) notice about planned changes to the learning from home program.

Some families may feel anxious about their children returning to on-site learning. As detailed in the health and safety advice:

  • "the available evidence within Australia and globally largely indicates that transmission between children in the early childhood environment is low. This growing evidence, coupled with the low levels of community transmission in Victoria, means that the risk posed to staff and children attending early childhood services at this current time is very low".

Additionally, the advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has been updated and there is no longer a recommendation of four-square metres per person, so this should not be a barrier to children attending.

If a staff member has any of the symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), however mild, they should seek advice and get tested. Encourage them to visit the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) website for more information.

If you're a kindergarten provider and increased attendance means you're having staffing difficulties for unavoidable reasons (such as staff on medical absence), you should call the Department's dedicated coronavirus (COVID-19) phone advice line on 1800 338 663 to discuss your situation.

Outside school hours care and vacation care

Outside school hours care (OSHC) will continue to be available but with risk-mitigation measures in place. This is on the advice of the AHPPC.

Schools are required to staff and provide supervision to enrolled students who are attending on site during school operating hours. OSHC service staff will not be supervising students during school operating hours.

School councils and OSHC providers are encouraged to continue working together to provide care for their communities during this time, including during school holidays, wherever possible.

OSHC providers can provide education and care on official pupil-free days, where this is consistent with their service approval. If a variation to a service approval is required, contact the Regulatory Authority's advice line on 1300 307 415.

OSHC and Vacation Care programs will not be able to operate from schools that have been directed by DHHS to close due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Programs cannot operate from these schools until advised otherwise.

Excursions

Following updated advice from the Victorian Chief Health Officer and DHHS, any kindergarten and early years classes which are conducted indoors or outdoors as part of an agreed program of early years education can continue to occur. There is no gathering limit to the number of children. 

This means that bush kinder can operate. Any excursions outside of this normal program are currently not recommended, other than to local parks.

Early childhood centres and services should not visit residential aged care facilities until further notice. This will help minimise the spread of infection to vulnerable Australians.

Meeting educator to child ratios and qualification requirements

The educator to child ratios under the National Quality Framework have not changed, although flexibility is being provided on qualification levels.

You may apply for a service waiver (for ongoing issues) or temporary waiver (for issues that can be addressed within 12 months) due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Waivers are important for supporting education and care services to maintain their level of service to families during unforeseen circumstances while protecting the safety, health and wellbeing of children. 

Waivers can be sought for staffing qualifications. A detailed list of requirements which may be waived can be found in the Guide to National Quality Framework - Waivers.

To apply for a waiver, log onto the National Quality Agenda (NQA) IT Service portal. The Department will not charge an application fee for waivers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

In the current circumstances, services should take all reasonable steps to meet the ratios and qualification requirements.

Services must ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of all children being educated and cared for by the service.

This includes:

  • providing adequate supervision
  • taking adequate precautions to protect all children from harm or hazards likely to cause injury
  • conducting a risk assessment to inform decision making
  • designing and delivering an educational program that meets the needs of each child and addresses current circumstances.

The role of an early childhood teacher may be filled by an educator actively working towards or holding a diploma level qualification, in extenuating circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Where services are unable to meet the requirements of the educator to child ratios (not the qualification requirements), they must notify the Regulatory Authority.

Notifications for National Quality Framework services should be made through the National Quality Agenda IT System

Notifications for children's services should be made by email: licensed.childrens.services@edumail.vic.gov.au

Mixed age educator to child ratios

In calculating educator to child ratios, ratio requirements are determined by the age and number of children the service is educating and caring for at any one time.

Staffing and educator to child ratio information is available for:

You can also read more about early childhood teachers in centre-based services

The educator to child ratio calculator can help you calculate mixed age ratios.