Researchers need help to learn more about ECT quality
The Sector > Jobs News > Research is key to understanding the supply of a quality ECT workforce in Australia

Research is key to understanding the supply of a quality ECT workforce in Australia

by Freya Lucas

April 11, 2024

The University of Sydney’s Associate Professor Marianne Fenech is working with a team drawn from Macquarie University, Queensland University of Technology, Griffith University, Southern Cross University, and the University of New South Wales to investigate the career motivations, aspirations, and trajectories of first and final year students enrolled in a birth-5, birth-8, or birth-12 teaching degree. 


Findings from the Australian Research Council (ARC) funded study will inform initiatives to support the future sustained supply of a quality early childhood teacher (ECT) workforce in Australia. 


The fact that the researchers were successful in obtaining funding is significant, given that early childhood education and care (ECEC) research is typically poorly represented in academic circles, and as the success rate varies each year.


We recently spoke to Associate Professor Fenech to learn more about the importance of the survey, interesting findings already emerging from the data, and the significance of this work to the Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector. 


Attraction, preparation, sustainability and quality


The research team are keen to learn more about what attracts, prepares, sustains, and retains a quality ECT workforce in Australia.


As well as tracking the career motivations, aspirations,  and trajectories of first and final year students, the research will develop an innovative tool – the Teachers in Early Education (TEE) tool – designed to be used by researchers to assess the quality of an ECT’s practice relative to the context in which they are working. 


Leading early childhood experts from peak bodies, providers, regulatory authorities, and universities are working with the research team to develop the TEE tool, which is anticipated, in time, will be used by teachers to support their professional development. 


Case studies will also be undertaken with some survey participants, Associate Professor Fenech explained, with an anticipated focus on students and graduates in rural/remote areas, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students/graduates, as well as diploma-educators upskilling to an ECT qualification, to obtain more nuanced data about what factors can best support ECT supply and quality.


“We are also scoping current provisioning of early childhood teacher preparation programs – Birth-5, Birth-8, and Birth-12 – and will interview leaders of early childhood teacher education programs – to capture the incredible diversity of programs available across Australia, and explore which features of these programs best support student retention and graduate preparedness to effectively work in early learning settings,” Associate Professor Fenech said.


Who is leading the research?


The TEE research team comprises leading Australian early childhood and educational psychology academics, and a leading international partner investigator:


  • Associate Professor Marianne Fenech: Lead Chief Investigator; Director of the BEd(EC) program at the University of Sydney; Co-Chair of the Australian Early Childhood Teacher Education Network, a peak body representing leaders of early childhood initial teacher education programs; and member of the Early Childhood Workforce Strategy’s Strategic Reference Group. Marianne has led extensive research on the regulation of early childhood teachers and services in Australia.


  • Professor Sandie Wong (Macquarie University): Sandie is a leading international scholar on early childhood educators’ wellbeing and a chief investigator on the ARC-funded Exemplary Educators at Work project. Sandie was also employed as the inaugural Research Fellow for Goodstart Early Learning (2017 – 2023). Sandie is currently leading the development of a tool to support EC educators’ pedagogical practices with children aged birth to two years (Observe, Reflect and Improve Children’s Learning [ORICL].


  • Associate Professor Megan Gibson (Queensland University of Technology): Megan has extensive experience as an early childhood teacher and leader, and has positions on six ECE board/executive advisory boards. Megan was a chief investigator on the ARC-funded Exemplary Educators at Work project and is a Research Associate with Gowrie Training and Consultancy Tasmania. Megan has partnered with the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia (ELACCA) to develop and deliver From the Ground Up, a leadership program for early childhood educators.


  • Professor Susie Garvis (Griffith University): Susie is an international expert on measures and quality improvement in ECE and has worked with governments, NGOs, and professional organisations nationally and internationally to support quality initiatives in ECE. She is currently an executive member of the AITSL Teacher Education Expert Committee to support quality ITE in Australia. In 2021-2023 Susie led the Access Quality Teachers project to support preservice teachers in regional and remote placements within low socio-economic schools.


  • Associate Professor Wendy Boyd: Wendy is Chair of Early Childhood Education at Southern Cross University. She is a leading scholar on early childhood initial teacher education, having researched the perspectives of preservice teachers, employers, and academics nationally and internationally.


  • Dr Tracy Durksen: Tracy has an awarded  fellowship in the University of New South Wales’  Scientia Program (2021-2025). Tracy is an invited consultant on the OECD’s questionnaire expert group developing the 2024 Teaching & Learning International Survey, and recently completed Phase 1 of a longitudinal research project with the NSW Department of Education, evaluating the implementation of a teacher recruitment and selection framework. Internationally, Travy collaborates with the Teacher Selection Project, developing and testing online scenario-based tools to identify and develop characteristics of quality teachers.


  • Professor Magdalena Janus (McMaster University): Magdalena has extensive experience  developing measurement tools for the early years. Her outstanding global impact has included leading the establishment of a UNICEF-funded Early Childhood Development Index, a Global Scale of Early Development funded by the Gates Foundation, and WHO-funded Infant and Young Child Development indicators. She has utilised her sophisticated quantitative analytical skills and expertise in mixed-methods research to develop the ORICL.


Associate Professor Fenech, Dr Durksen and Professor Wong are leading the survey component of the research.


 Building a clear evidence base 


“Government, higher education, and early childhood provider initiatives have long attempted to improve service quality by increasing the supply of ECTs,” Associate Professor Fenech said.


“While these initiatives have been plentiful and variedincluding intensive early childhood ITE programs; accelerated pathways for vocationally qualified educators to attain a teaching qualification; and recognition of primary and secondary-qualified teachers with an early childhood vocational qualification as ECT-equivalent they have lacked a clear evidence base to support their efficacy.


“This issue is significant given that: there lacks consensus as to what quality early childhood teaching comprises of; research does not unequivocally show that the employment of ECTs improves children’s outcomes (suggesting that variability in EC ITE program content and pathways is one influence on teaching quality); and there is no measure specific to ECE (birth-five years) to assess early childhood teaching quality, and thus provide an evidence-base to inform such workforce policies,” she added.


“There is increasing diversity in early childhood initial teacher education programs across the country, with considerable variation in aspects such as content specific to the early years, the number of professional experience with children aged birth-five years, and the amount of credit approved for previous study for diploma-qualified educators.”


“Essentially, what researchers and policy makers don’t yet know is what features of these programs best support the supply of quality ECTs.”


Early insights


Before the ARC funding was awarded the researchers issued a national pilot survey to  first and final year students enrolled in B-5, B-8 and B-12 programs in April 2023. 


The questionnaire included questions around students’ demographics and current studies; career motivations, aspirations, and plans; motivation and engagement with current studies; beliefs about teaching; and perceived adaptability; resilience and teacher self-efficacy (i.e. characteristics associated with teacher quality).


Over 580 replies were received, representing 45 institutions across 8 states/territories in Australia.


Some interesting early findings have emerged, however it is important to consider that the respondents studied during the COVID-19 pandemic, and would have been impacted by a sudden and dramatic pivot to online learning and other program adjustments owing to the pandemic. 


  • 504/539 respondents (93.5 per cent) stated that teaching is their first career choice. However, of the 504 respondents, 371 (73.6 per cent) stated that teaching children B-5 years was their first career choice. Notably, responses to this question varied by program age focus, as shown in the screenshot below.

  • Preliminary results also show that students enrolled in Birth-5 programs are overrepresented (compared to B-8 and B-12 students) in student profiles with high adaptability, resilience and efficacy scores


Researchers would like to hear from students in either their first or final year of a Birth to age 5, Birth to age 8, or Birth to age 12 teaching degree program, irrespective of their intention to work in early childhood, primary, or not in education. This includes students with a diploma in early childhood who are entering a degree program in its first, second, or third year.


To support the work of the research team, and to contribute to building a fuller picture of quality in the ECT space please see here. Those who complete the survey will be given an opportunity to enter a draw to win one of ten $100 gift cards.

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