Get to know your AO - Kathy Dryden

Learn more about NSW’s lead assessor and how she supports authorised officers and the sector to deliver best outcomes for children.

Photo from the shoulders up showing a smiling woman with shoulder-length reddish-brown hair. Photo from the shoulders up showing a smiling woman with shoulder-length reddish-brown hair.
Image: Kathy Dryden, Statewide Operations Manager and NSW Lead Assessor at the NSW Department of Education.

If you tuned into the recent ECE Connect sessions or other webinars hosted by the NSW Department of Education for the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector in recent years, Kathy Dryden's name and face is one you’ll surely recognise. Having started with the department as an authorised officer in 2005, Kathy regularly provides her expertise on a wide range of topics, most recently on the upcoming changes to assessment and rating during the June 2023 ECE Connect sessions.

Kathy is a Statewide Operations Manager and a Lead Assessor for the department, which is the NSW Regulatory Authority for ECEC services across the state. One of 3 statewide operations managers, Kathy supports and manages 3 teams that work across the southern part of the state as they oversee monitoring, compliance, approvals, and the assessment and rating of services. In her role as NSW’s lead assessor, Kathy works with ACECQA and other jurisdictional lead assessors contributing to national policy, practice and training to support the implementation of the National Quality Framework.

Shaping authorised officers to support the sector

Over her 40 years working in the sector, Kathy has gained a deep knowledge of early childhood. Originally wanting to be a nurse, Kathy fell into her career in early childhood after her children were born, when she worked in family day care to supplement her income. Since then, she has worked in preschool, long day care, occasional care, sat on committees for outside of school hours care services and has been a trainer at TAFE. She also studied in the field, completing a Master of Teaching in Special Education and Cert IV in work-based training.

It is this rich understanding of the sector that enables Kathy to ensure that authorised officers (AOs) receive the training they need to effectively support the sector.

For Kathy, the mentoring provided by the department is one of the most important initiatives for new AOs: “I want that person that starts tomorrow to be the person that replaces me when I retire – I want them to also have that passion.”

Supporting and engaging with services

Kathy’s sector experience ensures she understands the challenges and complexity of the work services engage in each and every day. “As we approach our role as a regulator, this is at the forefront of our minds and I think about this when engaging with service leaders,” she reflected.

“Relational regulation is important,” Kathy said. “It's about understanding a service's why and continuing to have ongoing conversations.”

“We respect that services have a job to do – they're busy and work in an unpredictable environment. Meanwhile, services respect that we are coming from a place of knowledge and support to ensure that they're compliant with the National Law and Regulations.”

Kathy works with officers to ensure they’re giving services relevant and timely information and support to ensure compliance and improved outcomes for children. Providing formal training, peer coaching, debriefing and working on collaborative projects are some of the ways Kathy supports professional development. Communication, relationships and a respectful approach are all important.

Kathy is also involved in the development of new resources and supports for services, including the recent ECE Connect sessions and the upcoming Safe Transport Regulatory Priority Program.

Planning for the future

It’s her passion for the future of children, including her grandchildren, that drives Kathy’s work. "I want to leave the world in a better place for my grandchildren, leave the world and education in a better place for all the children because they deserve that."

After 18 years with the NSW Department of Education, Kathy remains passionate about the role she plays in the lives of our littlest learners. “What motivates me is that I feel that, in my small part, I can make a difference to the life of a child,” she reflected.

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