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Designing and maintaining safe outdoor learning environments

19 August 2022

Authorised officers have observed that services are failing to notify the Education Standards Board when changes are made to outdoor learning environments.

Brand new services and services undergoing outdoor renovations or upgrades must ensure that outdoor learning spaces comply with requirements of the National Law. Quality Area 3 – Physical environment outlines the standards services and providers must meet to provide suitable premises, including ongoing maintenance of premises, furniture and equipment (r 103 ).

When to seek a safety inspection

It is best practice to seek regular inspections of outdoor environments by professional early childhood education and care playground safety inspectors. These inspections are necessary when the environment has changed, or if incidents recur.

New services are also recommended to seek a safety inspection before a pre-approval visit by Authorised Officers. This can help to improve efficiency for quicker service approval, as any potential hazards to children can be identified and addressed prior to the visit.

Before undertaking planned changes to the outdoor environment at a service, it’s recommended that providers and services understand the requirements under the National Law and Regulations and become familiar with requirements outlined in the resources below.

Maintaining safe outdoor spaces is important to allow children to explore and experience the natural environment (r 113 National Regulations), get exercise, build balance coordination skills, and improve concentration.

Requirement to notify planned renovations to outdoor spaces

When planning to renovate an outdoor space, services must notify the Education Standards Board (s173 (2)(c) the Act) by uploading the relevant documents via the NQAITS portal.

The notification must include:

  1. Risk assessments showing how the service will ensure children’s safety during the works
  2. The number of children in attendance each day
  3. Plans for the works
  4. Photos of where the works will take place
  5. Site plans showing the amount of unencumbered outdoor space (r 108) and how much space will not be available during the works.
  6. Site plans and photographs to show how the area of works will be adequately fenced during the renovation, and once the renovation is complete (r 104). 

The service may need to apply for a waiver to ensure ongoing compliance with the National Law during the period of the renovation works.

Once the works are complete, it is highly recommended to submit photographs or a site inspection report to the Education Standards Board, by email or via the NQAITS portal.

Resources for services

Playground safety – Kidsafe  

Playground Inspection Service – Kidsafe   

Playground safety inspection – Play Check    

Benefits & Risks of Learning Outdoors – Department for Education and Child Development, Government of South Australia 

Natural play in your environment – video from ECA Learning Hub

Chapter 1: Reflection – Outsideplay.ca with University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital.

Creating safe facilities: a guide to building and renovating education and care facilities (pg 13-16) – Education Standards Board

Australian Standards AS4685 Playground equipment and surfacing

Quality Area 2 – Children’s health and safety – ACECQA

Quality Area 3 – Physical environment – ACECQA 

Education and Early Childhood Services (Registration and Standards) Act 2011 (s167, 173)

Education and Care Services National Regulations 2011 (r103, r104, r108, r113)