Uncovering the Mystery of the SPARK Certification
If you have visited several childcare centres recently as part of your preschool selection process, you would have probably come across a SPARK certification banner at the front of one of these centres in some instances. As a parent, you came to the conclusion that this centre has been certified by the appropriate government regulating authority and should probably be superior to the centre without a certification. This may or may not be the case and this article aims to provide more clarity on this topic.
What is SPARK certification?
The Singapore Pre-School Accreditation Framework or SPARK is a voluntary quality assurance framework that was introduced in 2011 to assist preschools in raising their quality standards.
Why does a childcare centre apply for the certification?
- Obtain an endorsement of the quality of the preschool and its programmes
- Obtain an objective evaluation of the centre’s strengths and areas for improvement
- Obtain quality benchmarks to guide the preschool in their improvement efforts
What is the criterion for a childcare centre participate in the certification process?
- Meet all licensing and regulatory requirements
- Been in operation for at least one year
- Submit self-appraisal for their past year in operation
- Submit an action plan for the upcoming year to remediate identified areas of improvement
What SPARK certifications are obtainable upon certification or re-certification?
- SPARK Certification
- SPARK Certification (Commendation)
- SPARK Certification (Progress in Teaching and Learning)
SPARK certification is valid for three years upon attainment. The second two certifications are only available on re-certification because these certifications represents progress for a given preschool.
Now that we have obtained an overview of SPARK certification, let’s try to decipher its importance as a selection criteria for your child’s preschool. We can all agree that it is a good barometer of the preschool’s baseline quality standards as it relates to health, hygiene, safety, curriculum and pedagogy. However, it would be premature to consider it as a deciding criteria and can probably be categorized as a nice to have instead.
In understanding the onsite review process of the preschool, which is similar to most quality assurance assessments, the assessors are typically onsite for two days for the initial certification or one day when re-certifying to make their required assessments and draft up their reports. These are planned visits that the preschool would be expected to plan for. As such, how much value can you truly attribute to this certification?
As a parent, I still take greater comfort in my own assessment and observations from my visit to the preschool. My conversations with the teachers and principals would help me to discern about the type of people who work at the centre and their grasp of the curriculum that is being taught. Don’t only visit a centre at the prescribed time. You should also consider dropping by during the peak hours and during meal times to observe if permitted. If the opportunity presents itself, don’t be shy about approaching other parents who have children attending the centre and asking about their experience. They are likely to provide greater insight into the centre’s performance over a period of time.
In reviewing the most recent list of published SPARK certified preschools, I noticed that a large proportion of the centres that are currently SPARK certified are government affiliated, which are typically not the natural choice for many parents. This writer remains firmly uncomfortable to use the SPARK certification as qualifying criteria for my child’s preschool search but the choice remains firmly in your own hands as parents.