UOW delivers dramatic results in world first ECEC professional development trial
Researchers at the University of Wollongong (UOW) recently developed a professional development program for early childhood educators which markedly improved their teaching methods, and lead to measurable gains in literacy and numeracy, and a reduction in behavioural issues amongst children participating in the program.
The Early Start Research team at UOW conducted the Fostering Effective Early Learning (FEEL) study in partnership with the NSW Department of Education to establish the most effective ways to lift the quality of early childhood education and care.
The team designed and trialled the evidence-based professional development program ‘Leadership for Learning’. The program was delivered to preschool and long day care staff through in-service sessions, and was the first large-scale randomised controlled trial in the world to examine the impact of a professional learning program on early educators’ practice, and resulting outcomes for children.
The University describes the results of the study as dramatic, with pronounced changes in practice by educators that resulted in positive growth in key learning areas for children.
Dr Catherine Neilsen-Hewett, Academic Director of the Early Years at UOW, said that feedback from staff and parents, as well as objective measures, showed impressive gains in literacy, numeracy and socio-emotional development for children in the intervention group over their peers in the control group.
“We also saw increased engagement and a desire for learning among the children, parents reported increased vocabulary, increased use of questions and curiosity, and an increased passion for learning” Dr Neilsen-Hewett said.
The gains, which were achieved over a relatively short period of time, also resulted in a shift in children’s behaviours, and a reduction in behavioural issues amongst children.
Espousing the research findings, Dr Neilsen-Hewett said that the findings show that effective professional development for early childhood educators has tremendous potential to lift outcomes for children in a short time frame.
The seven-month trial involved more than 1,300 children and 90 educators from 83 early childhood education services. The centres chosen for the trial were a mix of urban and regional areas, with families from a variety of demographics.
Leadership for Learning was designed and delivered as a sustained and ongoing program, based on research which outlines that one-off professional development programs do not result in sustained changes to practice.
Educators participating in the trial reported increased confidence and motivation, a deeper understanding of their role, and developed a deeper understanding of evidence-based child development which underpins effective practice.
Benefits from the study were not restricted to the children, Dr Neilsen-Hewett noted.
“One of the significant outcomes for educators was an increased sense of worth. Beforehand, many (educators) had talked about feeling undervalued, and being ready to leave the field.”
In surveys conducted by the researchers at the conclusion of the study, educators overwhelmingly said one of the benefits of participating in the program was an increase in their sense of professionalism.
“They felt valued, had a renewed sense of purpose…felt the importance of their work had been validated” Dr Neilsen-Hewett said.
“This is crucial as staff turnover and instability can really undermine the effectiveness of early childhood education”
Academic Director of Early Start and Professor of Child Development, Professor Marc de Rosnay, labeled the study as important, with impact beyond Australia.
Professor de Rosnay said that prior to the FEEL study, there was a large body of research regarding the importance of high quality early childhood education, but little research on how to create the right conditions to gain those benefits.
The FEEL study is the first of its kind at scale to look at how best to achieve high-quality in early childhood services.
In-service professional development can make a profound difference to staff and children, and by extension, to families, Prof. de Rosnay said, before calling for the training to be made available across New South Wales and Australia.