Choosing a quality service
Quality early childhood education and outside school hours care will give your child the best start in life and provide important opportunities to learn and develop. Use the early childhood education or outside school hours care finders to locate quality early childhood education and care services in NSW. The finders provide reliable and user-friendly information about quality ratings and the National Quality Standard (NQS).
What to consider
To choose a service that’s right for your family, you can consider:
- A service’s quality rating.
- Your child’s age.
- The times and days your child needs care.
- Service location – e.g. close to home, work or a family member’s home.
- Your religious and cultural requirements.
- Any health care needs.
All approved services in NSW are assessed and rated against the National Quality Standard which sets a high benchmark for the quality of all services across Australia.
Services are assessed against seven quality areas, which contribute to an overall rating. It is not a pass or fail system, but is designed to promote continuous quality improvement by identifying service strengths and areas for improvement.
1. Educational program and practice
This relates to the educational programs a service delivers. Educational programs should align with the Early Years Learning Framework or the Framework for School Aged Care and should be play-based and age appropriate. An example of how a service might show it is meeting the standard in this quality area is by demonstrating that children are encouraged to express ideas and participate in decisions about the program.
2. Children’s health and safety
Services must ensure that children are safe at all times and must prioritise the health and wellbeing of children attending the service. This includes through healthy eating, proper management of medication, infectious disease control, safe environments, proper supervision and up-to-date policies and procedures. An example of what an officer might look for when assessing this quality area is ensuring sleep and rest policies are regularly reviewed, followed and updated to ensure practices are in line with best practice principles and guidelines.
3. Physical environment
The physical environment at a service should be both safe and designed to stimulate learning. Indoor and outdoor environments should encourage children to learn through enquiry and play. When assessing this quality area officers will check that rooms and play spaces are safe and in good condition.
4. Staffing arrangements
Services must comply with the National Law and Regulations and ensure that there are suitably qualified and experienced educators, coordinators and staff members. They also must meet educator to child ratios at all times.
5. Relationships with children
Staff at a service should have positive relationships with children that are supportive and encouraging. Staff should also support positive interactions between children. A service that is doing well in this area will be able to demonstrate that children are encouraged to collaborate, learn and help each other through intentionally designed group experiences and games.
6. Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
Education and care services should involve families and communities in their planning and day to day operations. In a service that is meeting the standard in this quality area educators regularly inform parents and carers about their child’s learning and development and use their feedback to improve the service’s operations.
7. Governance and leadership
Good leadership and sound governance contribute to the overall quality of the service. Accurate record keeping and ongoing review of policies and procedures ensure that children are healthy and safe. To demonstrate how they are meeting this quality area a service might show a Quality Improvement Plan or Self-Assessment process that is used to set goals and strategies for quality improvement within the service.
- The first 2,000 days of life is incredibly important for every child. We have an opportunity at this age to be able to ignite their passion for learning.
- And really, really shape how their journey is in life.
- [Rochelle] That they're gaining more and more skills before they start school.
- [Gail] And to encourage them to be lifelong learners.
- Here, we teach children to just be themselves. Having that strong identity. Set up the foundation.
- Then, when they start going off to big school, they can be proud and strong in who they are, and just unstoppable. When looking for an early childhood service for your child, it's important to know not only that the centre that you're going to is local or is close by, but also that they have a quality rating.
- Quality rating is where we go through assessment and rating through seven quality areas.
Quality rating certificate
In NSW, a service’s quality rating is displayed on a certificate using a star graphic. The certificate must be visible at the service and gives families important information about the overall rating of a service, as well as a rating against each of the quality areas.
You can also view a service's quality rating using the NSW early childhood education or outside school hours care finders.
Image: Example of a quality ratings graphic
Quality ratings video for families
Choosing a quality education and care service for your family is a big decision.
Understanding the quality rating of a service is an important step in your decision-making.
Services are assessed and rated along a quality scale. In NSW, this scale is represented by a coloured star graphic, giving you important information about a service’s strengths and areas for improvement.
Quality ratings are not a pass or fail system, they’re designed to promote continuous improvement.
Find out more, ask a service about their quality rating.
Significant Improvement Required - Service does not meet one of the seven quality areas or a section of the legislation and there is a significant risk to the safety, health and wellbeing of children. The department will take immediate action.
Working Towards National Quality Standard - Service provides a safe education and care program, but there are one or more areas identified for improvement. If a service is rated ‘Working Towards’ the standard in any of the seven quality areas it will have an overall rating of ‘Working Towards’ even if it is meeting or exceeding in all of the others.
Meeting National Quality Standard - Service meets the National Quality Standard. Service provides quality education and care in all seven quality areas. The NQS sets a high benchmark, an overall rating of ‘Meeting’ is a great achievement.
Exceeding National Quality Standard - Service goes beyond the requirements of the National Quality Standard in at least four of the seven quality areas.
Excellent rated by ACECQA - Service exceeds the requirements of the National Quality Standard across all seven quality areas. Note this is not awarded by the Regulatory Authority.
There are a wide range of early childhood education and outside school hours care options available to suit family needs. The different service types in NSW are listed below.
Services regulated under the National Quality Framework
The services in the table below are monitored, assessed and regulated by the Department of Education. To find out more about regulated services visit our role as the regulator.
|Long day care||Birth to school age||
Operates generally from 7-8am to 6pm to suit working families.
Children can attend all or part of the day.
Long day cares may offer preschool programs that support transition to school.
|Preschool||Usually 3 to 5||
Operates generally from 9am to 3.30pm during NSW school terms.
Provides a preschool program that supports early learning and transition to school.
Most preschools are community based, not-for-profit services.
|Family day care||Birth to 12||
Educators provide education and care in homes or certain approved venues.
Small groups of up to seven children - with a maximum of four under preschool age - can be cared for in the residence of a registered educator.
|Outside school hours care||School age||
Operates before and after school.
May also provide education and care during school holidays and pupil-free days.
|Occasional care||Birth to school age||
Casual care for short periods of time.
Suitable for families with short-term or last-minute needs.
|Mobile services||Birth to 6||Designed to travel to areas where centre based services are not readily available.|
The In Home Care Program provides access to Government subsidised child care in the family home and is targeted to assist parents or carers who are unable to access other mainstream child care options such as those who work non-standard hours, are geographically isolated or have families with challenging and complex needs is not regulated under the National Quality Framework.
Tips for choosing a service
Take a tour
Call the service to book a tour. This will ensure someone is available to show you around and answer your questions.
Some questions you may find helpful to ask include:
- Are places available for the day/s and hour/s I need?
- What are your operating hours?
- What is your quality rating?
- What is the process if I need to increase or decrease the hours of care?
- What are the fees?
- Are there any fee subsidies? – For more information visit fees and subsidies
- Are there any other costs I’ll be asked to pay over and above the fees? E.g. Enrolment fee, extra for public holidays?
- How will the service’s program support my child’s learning and how will my child’s development be communicated to me?
- What is the approach for transitioning between rooms and transitioning to school when ready?
- What is the educator to child ratio?
- What is the process if my child is unwell, upset, or unsettled?
- Can families be involved in the service and how?
- What is the process for raising concerns?
- Does the service provide meals (and nappies if required) or are these brought from home each day?
- Can you show me where the children sleep and tell me how often you check them?
Download our Choosing a service checklist (PDF, 160KB).
Finding a service
Use the ECE, before and after school care, and vacation care finders to locate services in your area and view their quality rating.
The finders provide key information to help families make informed decisions about early childhood education and care, including information about different services types, what to look for when choosing a service, and, importantly, what the quality rating of a service is.
The ECE finder includes long day care services, family day care, NSW funded community preschools and government preschools.
You can also find lists of community preschools and government preschools below.
Fees and subsidies
Early childhood education and outside school hours care services set their own fees.
Contact your local service for more information.
Subsidies for parents
- The Australian Government’s Child Care Subsidy provides assistance to help families with the cost of child care. Parents and carers enrolling a child in long day care and family day care services may be eligible to claim the Child Care Subsidy and Additional Child Care Subsidy.
- Start Strong is a funding program for community preschools in NSW. It is designed to ensure all children aged three and above have access to 600 hours of quality early childhood education in the year before school. Under this program, community preschools are required to ensure that affordability is not a barrier for families with young children.
- COVID-19 free preschool funding program provides up to 15 hours per week of free preschool for families with children enrolled in community and mobile preschools. The program started in April 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has been extended until December 2021. This is an opt-in program for community preschools, so parents and carers should contact their local community preschool to check if this applies to them.
- Payments for families who require help with the cost of using an early education and care service or raising a child should visit Services Australia for more information.