Dr Marianne Fenech on the impact of quality governance and leadership in ECEC
The Sector > Workforce > Leadership > Dr Marianne Fenech on the impact of quality governance and leadership in ECEC

Dr Marianne Fenech on the impact of quality governance and leadership in ECEC

by Freya Lucas

September 01, 2022

Associate Professor Dr Marianne Fenech has spoken with the NSW Department of Education about the importance of Quality Area Seven for early childhood education and care (ECEC) services. 


Governance impacts no matter how good of a teacher you are 


Dr Fenech teaches the unit Leading and Managing Quality ECE services at the University of Sydney as part of the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood). 


She often tells her early childhood education students that no matter how good a teacher they are, the governance and leadership of the service will impact them and their practice.


“Effective governance and leadership will strengthen their practice, while ineffective governance and leadership can weaken it,” Dr Fenech explained.


“Good governance and strong leadership are essential to delivering quality outcomes for children in ECEC, and these quality contributors are recognised in the National Quality Framework (NQF), Quality Area 7.”


“Both effective governance and leadership support quality early childhood education. And we also know that effective leadership within a service requires the backing of a governing body that is committed to providing quality ECEC,” Dr Fenech said.


Dr Fenech shared that a recent study by Harrison and colleagues, which investigated services’ quality improvement, found that governing bodies – whether this be a parent management committee, a not-for-profit community organisation, a sole trader, or a corporate chain – need to support service leaders if the quality is to improve.


Support includes things like having clear policies, procedures and systems that manage risk, as well as providing leaders and educators with the programming time they need, opportunities for professional development, and recognising and remunerating leaders and educators for the work they do.


“When we think about managing risk in ECEC, we usually think about making sure that the children attending our services are kept safe.”


“The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has really extended this focus to the safety and wellbeing of staff,” Dr Fenech said.


How managers respond impacts on staff wellbeing and morale 


Recent COVID-19 related ECEC research found that having to work throughout the pandemic has impacted the physical health and emotional wellbeing of many educators.



These studies also identified a number of leadership and management systems responses that supported both staff wellbeing and retention during the crisis, including: 


  • implementing critical incident plans and infectious disease policies specific to COVID-19;
  • having clear communication processes that involved information dissemination and consultation;
  • introducing practical strategies aimed to minimise physical risk;
  • establishing wellbeing programs and resources;
  • enabling and supporting staff through change management processes, for example, when using technology in new ways with children and families; and,
  • acknowledging the efforts and achievements of staff, and advocating publicly for recognition of the work they were doing.


Standard 7.2 speaks about the two key and interrelated aspects of effective leadership: a positive organisational culture, and the building of a professional learning community, Dr Fenech said, noting that services which are well equipped to respond to crises in the ways listed above are often able to sustain quality ECEC on an ongoing basis.


Culture and philosophy underpin Element 7.1.1


According to the Australian Institute of Indigenous Governance, culture is “a whole system of knowledge, beliefs, ideas, values, powers, laws, rules and meanings that are shared by the members of a society, and together form the foundation for the way they live.”


“Critical to a service’s culture is their philosophy. We know that sometimes a philosophy statement is something that is developed by one person, or that is done to tick off the meeting of Element 7.1.1,” Dr Fenech said.


“When leaders work with all stakeholders in the service – children, families, staff, management – to develop the philosophy, it works like glue that holds everyone together and provides the foundation for practice: what educators do, how they are they doing it,” she continued.


Professional learning community for ongoing improvement


As noted in recent COVID-19 ECEC research, services whose quality rating improved to Exceeding demonstrated a commitment to developing and working with their philosophy in these ways.


“Building a professional learning community that is committed to ongoing improvement – irrespective of whether your service is rated as Working Towards or Excellent – should be embedded into a service’s culture and philosophy,” Dr Fenech said.


“Two things that we see effective governing bodies and leaders doing are firstly, approaching professional development as being much more than one off mandatory training sessions, and secondly, bringing educators together, so that professional development is undertaken in teams, not in isolation by individual educators.


“These approaches are collaborative and inquiry based, where the learning is shared, practiced, discussed, and supported in an ongoing way.”

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