Dr Marianne Fenech: The impact of quality governance and leadership

Dr Marianne Fenech is an Associate Professor and program director of the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) at the University of Sydney. With her research and teaching focused on governance and leadership, we sat down with Dr Fenech to delve into why it’s so important to focus on Quality Area 7.

Dr Fenech teaches the ‘Leading and Managing Quality ECE Services’ unit and 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 said.

“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[1] , 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 its service leaders if the quality is to improve.

This support can include having clear policies and procedures and systems that manage risk, to 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.

Leadership and management responses to support staff

Recent COVID related ECEC research[2] found that having to work throughout this health crisis 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.

These responses included:

  • implementing critical incident plans and infectious disease policies specific to Covid;
  • 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.

Services are well equipped to respond to crises in these ways, allowing them to sustain quality ECEC on an ongoing basis, if they are meeting Standard 7.2, Dr Fenech shared.

“This Standard speaks to two key and interrelated aspects of effective leadership: a positive organisational culture, and the building of a professional learning community.”

Service culture and philosophy

According to the Australian Institute of Indigenous Governance[3], 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.”

“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,” Dr Fenech said.

Professional learning community for ongoing improvement

As noted in recent COVID release 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.”

Dr Fenech referenced the work of Chris Woodrow and Linda Newman[4] who talk about how in this approach, new knowledge and approaches to practice are developed within the service context, “rather than transported in from ‘outside’” (p. 5).

“This is not to say that educators shouldn’t be engaging in, for example, professional development conferences or forums. What it does mean is thinking about how ‘outside knowledge’ might translate into practice within the context in which the service is operating,” Dr Fenech said. “The educational leader is well placed to lead this work, working with teams of educators, but of course needs to be resourced to do this important work,” Dr Fenech said.

In addition to the references Dr Fenech has shared, she encourage all readers to access ACECQA’s extensive range of resources on government and leadership, to support their work in meeting the requirements of Quality Area 7.

Image: Dr Fenech


[1] https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/quality-improvement-research-project-2019.PDF

[2] Logan, H., McFarland, L., Cumming, and Tamara, & Wong, S. (2021). Supporting educator well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic: A case study of leadership in early childhood education and care organisations. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 46(4), 309–321. https://doi.org/10.1177/18369391211040940; The Front Project (2020). Early learning and COVID-19: Experiences of teachers and educators at the start of the pandemic. https://www.thefrontproject.org.au/images/downloads/Early_learning_and_COVID19_experiences_of_teachers_and_educators.pdf

[3] https://toolkit.aigi.com.au/toolkit/2-0-culture-and-governance

[4] Woodrow, C., & Newman, L. (2015). Recognising, valuing and celebrating practitioner research. In L. Newman & C. Woodrow (Eds.), Practitioner Research in Early Childhood: International Issues and Perspectives (pp. 1-16).

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