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Preschool educational leaders: Who are they and what are they doing?


The formal recognition and nomenclature of the educational leader is relatively new to the Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector. Since 2012, and the introduction of the National Quality Framework (NQF), all ECEC settings have been required to nominate a 'suitably qualified and experienced educator, coordinator or other individual as educational leader at the service to lead the development and implementation of educational programs' (Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), 2013, p. 114). The above definition was used for this study as it was current when the data was collected although it is important to note that it has since been expanded as part of the 2017 review of the NQF.

Official language about the role of educational leader has been broad since its introduction (Henderson, 2016). Documents from the ACECQA, the body that oversees the implementation and administration of the NQF, describe the educational leader role as concerned with inspiring, motivating, mentoring, challenging and extending the pedagogy of others (ACECQA, 2018). The National Educational Leader for the ACECQA, Rhonda Livingstone (2014), advocated for a broad description; however, Loo and Agbenyaga (2015) contended that this approach has contributed to ambiguity and confusion of the role.

Some researchers have proposed that the confusion can be traced back to limited understanding by those working in the Australian ECEC sector of what educational leadership entails (Grarock & Morrissey, 2013). Likewise, it has also been suggested that the concurrent introduction of a number of other wide-ranging reforms as part of the implementation of the NQF exacerbated this (Krieg, Davis & Smith, 2014). It is therefore timely for further research to better understand and inform future practices of those who lead the development and implementation of the educational program in their setting.

This article reports on phase 1 of a study undertaken as part of a masters of research program. It begins with a review of the current literature relating to the role of educational leader since the introduction of the NQF. It then reports on the quantitative findings taken from a mixed method study with educational leaders in New South Wales (NSW) preschools and discusses the findings in line with other research. The conclusion advocates for improved organisational support and recognition of the contributions of educational leaders.

The study aimed to understand how the educational leader position is translated into practice in NSW preschools (known as kindergartens in some Australian states/territories). In NSW, preschools operate alongside a number of other ECEC service types including long day care, family day care, occasional care, out of school hours care, and mobile services (Waniganayake, Cheeseman, Fenech, Hadley & Shepherd, 2012). Preschools and long day care services are the main providers of ECEC for children aged three to five years and both offer a 'structured play based preschool program' (O'Connor et al., 2016, p. 31) delivered by degree-qualified teachers. Long day care services have evolved primarily from the Commonwealth Government's responsibilities to support working parents (Tayler, 2016). Catering for children aged from birth to five, long day care services are open longer hours, for more weeks of the year and funded predominantly by the Australian Government and parent fees (Sims, Mulhearn, Grieshaber & Sumsion, 2015). Preschools, on the other hand, are part of the constitutional responsibility for education of state and territory governments (Flottman & Page, 2012). Catering generally for children aged from three to five, preschools have operating hours aligned with public schools. In NSW, children generally attend preschool for a minimum of 15 hours a week as part of a 2- or 3-day program for 40 to 41 weeks of the year (Dowling & O'Malley, 2009). NSW preschools are funded by the NSW Government, parent fees and, since 2009, the Australian Government's National Partnership Agreement for Universal Access to Early Childhood Education (Harrington, 2014).

What do we know about educational leaders?

Educational leadership (also referred to as pedagogical leadership) was initially conceptualised by scholars (such as Katz, 1997) who sought to separate the complex practices of early childhood leaders into individual components. Katz (1997) argued that those who use educational leadership influence others to engage with academic research; examine the relationship between their ideological assumptions, values and practices; and set new directions for early childhood pedagogy. Contemporary literature concerning the role of educational leaders extended this focus and suggested that this role has the capacity to both improve the pedagogical practices of individual educators and advocate for young children and the ECEC sector (for example, Carroll-Lind, Smorti, Ord & Robinson, 2016; Heikka & Waniganayake, 2011; McDowall Clark & Murray, 2012; Waniganayake et al., 2012). Heikka and Waniganayake's (2011) definition succinctly reflected this duality and conceptualised educational leadership as 'taking responsibility for the shared understanding of the aims and methods of learning and teaching in young children' (p. 510). This study acknowledges, therefore, that while the nomenclature and formal recognition of the role of educational leader may be new to the Australian ECEC sector, many educators have enacted the role as part of their professional practice for longer.

References to educational leaders became visible in Australian policy in 2009 as part of the national Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) along with major legislative and regulatory reforms as part of the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood. Henderson (2016) documented the Australian emergence of the educational leader role and noted that early versions of the National Quality Standards (NQS) used the term pedagogical leader to describe someone whose 'primary role was to foster the development of other staff in order to enhance program quality' (p. 2). Other early references found in the Educators belonging, being and becoming: Educators' guide to the Early Years Learning Framework (Australian Government Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations, 2010b) and a resource for this guide (Australian Government Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations, 2010a) encouraged all qualified educators to be pedagogical leaders. These early conceptualisations of educational leaders situated the role as important both for improvements in early childhood pedagogy and the development of the sector.

Research by Grarock and Morrissey (2013) provided a single opportunity to asses where the sector's knowledge of educational leadership was before the introduction of the formalised position. In this study, early childhood teachers expressed discomfort enacting educational leadership in their services and felt they lacked knowledge and authority to lead the pedagogy of others. Grarock and Morrissey suggested that prior to the introduction of the formal requirements for an educational leader, the Australian ECEC sector had limited knowledge of the newly acknowledged role.

Early research investigating the implementation of the educational leader role suggested that the lack of role clarity created challenges as early childhood professionals attempted to translate the broad language of the national strategy into local leadership practice (Loo & Agbenyaga, 2015). Further early investigations identified that individual educational leaders were motivated in their roles but felt they lacked expertise, support and authority (Fleet, Soper, Semann & Madden, 2015; Nuttall, Thomas & Wood, 2014; Rouse & Spradbury, 2015). Participants in these studies expressed confusion about the practices they should be using and felt unsupported by their services and policy bodies.

Nuttall et al. (2014) suggested educational leaders lacked confidence and knowledge about how to be an educational leader and questioned the effectiveness of the role on quality of pedagogy. Similarly, a small-scale study by Rouse and Spradbury (2015) of educational leaders working for a single provider found they felt inadequately prepared for the role and poorly supported. Participants in these early studies expressed interest in using this formalised position to share their knowledge and empower other educators but many felt disconnected from the official hierarchy of the organisation, with little authority to drive change.

A more extensive study on the educational leader role during early implementation was conducted by Fleet et al. (2015) who examined the organisational structures and support in place for educational leaders. The majority of participants in this study indicated they did not have job descriptions, budgets or supplementary pay for the role in their services. Participants reported that they had difficulty balancing what they perceived to be an extra role in already crowded regulatory and positional requirements (Fleet et al., 2015). The work of these early researchers suggests that many educational leaders and their management found the experience of enacting the role to be confusing and somewhat ad hoc.

More recently, one mixed method study by Sims, Waniganayake and Hadley (2018) moved beyond perceptions of the role and examined the characteristics and practices of educational leaders. Quantitative data suggested participants were more likely to see the role of building and maintaining relationships with staff as most important while monitoring staff compliance against the NQS was the least important. However, analysis of their qualitative data suggested that the practices of educational leaders tended to focus on monitoring compliance.

Throughout this literature review, research on the educational leader role has been limited to a small number of studies, many of which had very small sample sizes (Grarock & Morrissey, 2013; Henderson, 2016; Nuttall et al., 2014; Rouse & Spradbury, 2015). Moreover, much of the research was conducted not long after the introduction of the role and focused predominantly on long day care and family day care services (Colmer, Waniganayake, & Field, 2014; Fleet et al., 2015; Grarock & Morrissey, 2013; Henderson, 2016; Nuttall et al., 2014; Rouse & Spradbury, 2015). The experiences of preschool services are noticeably limited in these studies and so while they offer some insights, they do not provide a comprehensive understanding of the role in preschools. This study adds to the emerging body of work across Australian contexts about the role of educational leader and enhances understandings of how educational leaders are leading the educational program within the context of preschools.

Research design, data collection and analysis

The aim of this study was to investigate the practices of educational leaders of NSW preschools. The research questions were:

1. Who are the educational leaders?

2. How do educational leaders lead the development and implementation of educational programs?

The ethical aspects of this study were considered and approved by Macquarie University Ethics Review Committee (Human Research) (Approval number: 5201700644) and the New South Wales Department of Education State Education Research Approvals Process (Approval number: 2017431). Procedures for participant recruitment/consent, data collection and the protection of participant privacy were defined and approved. The researcher (first author) is an experienced early childhood teacher who has been a director but not an educational leader in a NSW preschool for five years. Possible researcher bias due to this background was minimised by employing a range of strategies including a mixed method design, collaboration with university supervisors, presentation of the research proposal to three independent readers and piloting of the survey.

The study applied the principles of practice theory, in particular practice architecture (Mahon, Kemmis, Fancisco & Lloyd, 2017), as a theoretical frame to investigate and explore the practices of educational leaders. In contemporary usage the term 'practices' is often equated only with the activities that are required to perform a role (Edwards-Groves & Grootenboer, 2015). In contrast, practice theory perceives practices not just as descriptions of the ways human activities are performed, but also as analysis of the role of human interactions and actions in making and changing societal systems (Nicolini, 2012). Practice theory seeks to understand how humans make and transform the world by analysing their practices (Mahon et al., 2017). Nicolini (2012) argues that, in doing so, practice theory recognises the importance of human agency as well as organisational structures, systems and policies and proposes that behind all the enduring features of a society there is always the work and effort of humans.

As a subset of practice theory, practice architecture emphasises the importance of praxis. Salamon, Sumsion, Press and Harrison (2016) describe praxis in the early childhood context as the collective moral commitment amongst practitioners to work for the good of individuals and society. Praxis has been applied to support investigation of how practices are formed, how they shape the site in which they operate and, in turn, how they are enabled and constrained by that site (Wilkinson & Kemmis, 2015). Practice architecture was considered appropriate for this study as it provided a framework for understanding what practices look like (sayings, doings and relatings) and what constrains and enables practices (cultural-discursive, material-economic and sociopolitical arrangements). Moreover, practice architecture provided a structure to investigate the role of the educational leader as it recognises the strong interrelationship between individual and social conceptualisations of practice. This connection between the societal and the individual was considered relevant for this study because the role of educational leader was established and is now monitored through national law, regulation and policy but is conceptualised individually at a local level.

Participants in the study were educational leaders in NSW preschools. In phase 1 of the study, 153 participants were recruited through an email invitation sent to all 895 NSW preschools on the MyChild website (a government resource for the public containing a database of early childhood services), along with advertisements on a preschool Yahoo group and an educational leader Facebook page. These invitations outlined participant criteria and provided the link to an online survey. An online survey was chosen to facilitate easy distribution and access for a large number of participants in a cost-effective and timely manner (Tuckman & Harper, 2012). The data was collected in 2017 prior to the revised implementation of the NQS (ACECQA, 2017).

The online survey included eligibility questions, demographic questions and questions informed by the literature and research questions. Table 1 outlines the justification of the survey questions reported in this paper.

IBM SPSS statistics for Mac (Version 24.0) (IBM Corp., 2016) was used to analyse the survey data. Descriptive statistics were created to organise and describe noteworthy features of the data (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2007; Heiman, 2014). Non-parametric inferential statistics were also performed to analyse relationships within the data, specifically chisquare test of independence and Friedman's ANOVA (Lynch, 2013).


The findings are presented in response to the two research questions.

Who are the preschool educational leaders?

All educational leaders who responded to the survey were female and the majority (60%) were aged over 45. Participants had substantial experience in the sector. The length of time participants had been working in the ECEC sector ranged from 1 to 39 years with a mean of 20.33 years (SD = 10.10). In this study, the mean length of tenure at the participant's current preschool was 10.21 years (SD = 9.02) with a range of less than one year to 39 years.

The mean length of time respondents had been educational leader of their service was 4.15 years (SD = 3.88), with a minimum of one month and a maximum of 26 years. Nearly one-quarter of participants (23%) reported that they had been the educational leader of their service since the position had become part of the regulations (approximately five years). One-fifth of respondents indicated that they had undertaken the role of educational leader before the formal requirement was in place. Most respondents (93%) indicated the highest qualification they held was a bachelor degree (or equivalent). Of the respondents, 51% held the dual role of director and educational leader. Table 2 presents the distribution of participant positions according to their highest qualifications, including totals for both variables.

Survey results revealed that 10% of educational leaders received an extra allowance while the majority (78%) did not receive extra remuneration for their role as educational leader. A small number (12%) who worked part-time were employed for additional hours at their normal wage. A minority (7%) indicated they had a budget for their role, while a little more than half (56%) had a job description for their role. Educational leaders in this study were usually appointed because it was an assumed part of their position (mostly directors) or because they were asked by their supervisors (mostly teachers).

Just over half (57%) of the educational leaders received time away from other duties to perform their role. The median amount of time away was three hours per week (interquartile range (IQR) = 1-6). Of those who did have time away, teacher educational leaders were more likely to have time away (68%) than director educational leaders (47%) [[chi square](1) = 6.1386, p = .013]. While the law requires only one person to be nominated as the educational leader for the service, 48% of respondents in this study reported that they collaborated on some aspects of the role. This involved working in a whole-team approach (49%); with a leadership team (25%); or with an unofficial educational leader colleague (25%).

Participants were asked to rate the importance of the educational leader role. These were measured on a five-point Likert scale from extremely important (1) to not at all important (5). Participants overwhelmingly thought the educational leader role was important (99% chose a rating of 1,2 or 3). When asked to name three personal qualities they thought educational leaders should have, the most frequently identified qualities were good communication (40%), professional knowledge (39%), relationship builder (37%) and enthusiastic (32%) (see Figure 1).

How do preschool educational leaders lead the development and implementation of educational programs?

Participants used a five-point Likert scale to rate the importance of eight practices described in the literature relating to their role. These were abbreviated for analysis as follows:

* Leading other staff in the development of the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP);

* Ensuring staff compliance with the NQS and National Law and Regulations (Compliance);

* Mentoring other staff with their teaching decisions (Mentoring teaching);

* Mentoring other staff with their documentation (Mentoring documentation);

* Mentoring other staff with other issues (Other mentoring);

* Leading staff in critical reflection of the preschool program (Program reflection);

* Leading the development of staff knowledge about the preschool program (Program knowledge); and

* Sharing the preschool's educational direction with families and other community members (Families and communities).

Each of these roles was rated as either extremely important or very important by the majority of respondents.

Educational leaders were also asked to indicate what practices they used to enact their role (10 options and an open-ended other option were provided). Figure 2 summarises the total frequency of response for each method. Most educational leaders endorsed a variety of methods of enacting their role, choosing a mean number of 7.98 practices (SD = 2.69) from a minimum of one to a maximum of 12. The practices of casual talks, sharing research and resources and contributing to the QIP were the three most frequently chosen responses, provided by over 90% of participants. The least frequently chosen were spending time in other classrooms and other. The open-ended responses in other were analysed and included contributing to the program (n = 4), leading whole team guided reflection (n = 3) and having a regular item on the staff meeting agenda (n = 4).
Figure 1. Qualities of educational leaders across all participants.

COMMUNICATION           40%
ENTHUSIASTIC            32%
LEADERSHIP              28%
REFLEXIVE               23%
CONFIDENT               16%
TEAM PLAYER             11%
ORGANISATION             9%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Figure 2. Practices used to perform educational leader role according
to position.

                              Total  Direvtor  Teacher

CASUAL TALKS                  95%    96%       94%
SHARE RESEARCH AND RESOURCES  93%    95%       91%
CONTRIBUTE TO QIP             90%    97%       83%
PREPARE WRITTEN INFORMATION   84%    87%       81%
DEVELOP/ARRANGE TRAINING      68%    89%       44%
RUN MEETINGS                  66%    81%       50%
REVIEW/WRITE POLICIES         65%    73%       56%
MEET FORMALLY                 61%    75%       47%
REVIEW PERFORMANCE            59%    87%       30%
CONDUCT RESEARCH              50%    56%       44%
SPEND TIME IN CLASSROOMS      39%    48%       29%
OTHER                         24%    27%       21%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Figure 3. Most effective practice for enacting the educational leader
role according to position.

                              Total  Direvtor  Teacher

CASUAL TALKS                  28%    23%       33%
SHARE RESEARCH AND RESOURCES  18%    18%       17%
MEET FORMALLY                 11%    11%       11%
RUN MEETINGS                  11%     9%       13%
ALL                            9%    15%       39%
DEVELOP/ARRANGE TRAINING       7%     8%        6%
CONTRIBUTE TO QIP              5%     3%        6%
SPEND TIME IN CLASSROOMS      39%     5%       29%
OTHER                          4%     3%        5%
REVIEW/WRITE POLICIES          1%     1%        0%
PREPARE WRITTEN INFORMATION    1%     2%        1%
REVIEW PERFORMANCE             0%     0%        0%
CONDUCT RESEARCH               2%     1%        2%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Patterns of responses according to demographic features (qualification level, position, and time in sector) were explored descriptively. Directors reported higher incidents in all roles than teachers. Noticeable differences between the roles included developing training (directors n == 67, teachers n--31), running meetings (directors n--61, teachers n = 35), meeting formally (directors n = 56, teachers n = 33) and reviewing performance (directors n = 65, teachers n = 24) (see Figure 2).

Participants also indicated which of the presented practices they found most effective in the role. Some respondents chose more than one option. Noticeable differences occurred across the director and teacher roles, with more educational leaders who were teachers (n = 29) than directors (n = 20) reporting that casual talks were the most effective, and more educational leaders who were directors (n = 13) than teachers (n = 3) reporting that they found all roles effective (see Figure 3). There were no other obvious associations between demographic factors and how participants were appointed (see Figure 3).


This study found similarities in the personal characteristics of the NSW preschool educational leader participants and parallels in the educational leader specific organisational structures, roles and practices they reported. The unique demographics of the educational leader in preschools in NSW and how they impact on the enactment of the role are discussed below and implications for policy and practice are outlined. While this study sample is not a complete picture of this cohort it does add to the limited knowledge of the preschool educational leader role and to the emerging body of work about the role of educational leaders across settings and contexts.

Preschool educational leaders demographically different

Comparison of the demographic features of the preschool educational leaders who participated in this study with the National ECEC Workforce census illustrates differences between these participants and the early childhood workforce in general (Social Research Centre, 2014). The demographic results of the study revealed that while there was a range in age and qualification, as a whole, participants were mature (60% were aged over 45), well qualified (93% had university qualifications or equivalent) and experienced in the sector (mean = 20 years). In comparison, according to the workforce census in 2013, only 30% of early childhood educators were aged over 45, 15% held a university qualification or equivalent and 32% had worked longer than 10 years in ECEC. The Social Research Centre (2014) reports that in Australian preschools there is a general demographic trend towards an older, more qualified workforce.

In 2013, more educators in the national preschool workforce were aged over 45 (48%) and held a university qualification or equivalent (38%). Length of experience for preschool workers was not reported in the census. Of the educational leaders surveyed in Sims et al.'s (2018) mixed service national study, 82% held at least a degree qualification and the majority had worked in the sector for over 10 years (age is not mentioned). Therefore, while the findings of this study reflect the general trends of the preschool and educational leader workforce, the participants in this current study were an even more mature and experienced group. The ways that educational leaders in preschools enact their role may therefore vary from those who hold the position in other early childhood contexts and are worthy of further research.

Similarities to other studies exist in terms of how educational leaders are supported by their services. The findings of this study largely concur with the findings of Fleet et al. (2015) in regard to the presence, or rather lack thereof, of educational leaders with a job description (42% in Fleet et al. (2015) and 56% in this study), extra remuneration (approximately 10% in both) and budget provisions (less than 10% in both). The fact that there are limited differences between these two sets of data suggests that, in NSW preschools, the organisational elements around this role have been equally slow to evolve. Formalising these organisational elements were found by Fleet et al. (2015) to contribute to feelings of effectiveness as educational leaders. The study reported here supports these findings and also contends that time away from other duties to conduct the educational leader role might be considered as a further component of the efficacy of the educational leader role. Time quarantined for educational leader work was received by less than two-thirds of participants and there was considerable variety in the amount of time received. These findings strengthen the need for greater recognition for organisational time and value to be given to those in the educational leader role.

Practices of preschool educational leaders

In practice architecture, the doings of a practice are the modes of action or the way the practice is performed (Mahon et al., 2017). The doings of the NSW preschool educational leaders in this study explore the roles and methods of enactment of the participants. Examining these doings, and the associated material-economic arrangements that shape a practice, provided further insight into how educational leaders are leading the development and implementation of the educational program (Wilkinson & Kemmis, 2015). Educational leaders in this study rated all of the prompted practices as important in their leadership role and a majority of participants also indicated that they performed close to all of the 12 practices that were offered (excluding spend time in other classrooms and the other option). While it would be useful for further research to uncover more detail around the specificity of these practices, this result suggests that educational leaders believe that the modes of action (doings) of their role are wide-ranging and various. These findings concur with those of Fleet et al. (2015) and are in line with ACECQA guidance on the role, which highlights the open nature of the role specifications and the need for context specific interpretation.

Reflecting on the theory of practice architecture, enactment of the roles and actions of educational leaders creates material-economic arrangements that can enable them in their role. This study illustrated differences in the practices and arrangements of those educational leaders who were designated as directors and those designated as teachers. Given also that the educational leader role is mandated across the national ECEC sector, in a range of services that vary considerably by type, size and organisational structure with a variously qualified and experienced workforce, flexibility in the role description is required (Livingstone, 2014). Furthermore, as the educational program is considered to be 'all the interactions, experiences, activities, routines and events, planned and unplanned, that occur in an environment designed to foster children's learning and development' (Australian Government Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009, p. 9), there is also variety within each service in the philosophical approach, pedagogies and practices led by an educational leader. For the preschool educational leaders in this study, broad role definition allowed them to adapt their practice not only to the material and economic set-ups of their own responsibilities, staff and preschool, but also to the different aspects of the educational program where their leadership may be required.

While the results of this study suggest that it is appropriate that the educational leadership role continues to be broadly defined and enacted, we have also argued that this broadness has contributed somewhat to the sector's confusion about the educational leader position and limited structural provisions to support educational leaders in their role. This has, in turn, impacted the efficacy of the role at the local level. We would assert therefore that policy-makers should continue to develop supports for service providers, individual educational leaders and the sector as a whole on the nature of educational leadership. This would promote opportunity for on-going knowledge development about the roles of educational leaders across diverse contexts.

In the ECEC sector, the roles and relationships between early childhood educators and their colleagues, children and families are fundamental features of the socio-political arrangements that prefigure their practice (Salamon et al., 2016). Findings from this study suggest that educational leaders create sociopolitical arrangements that enable their practice by encouraging others to have a sense of agency and involvement in their own professional growth. Almost all participants reported that the key practices they used were casual conversations and the sharing of research and resources. A possible explanation for the frequency of these subtle and knowledge-based ways of leading is that educational leaders might avoid directive and authoritative leadership strategies and instead seek to create what Ronnerman, Edwards-Groves and Grootenboer (2015) refer to as 'spaces for new ways of thinking' (p. 75). On the other hand, it is also possible that these casual strategies are implemented by educational leaders who are time and resource poor. Further research relating to the decisions behind educational leaders' preferred practices is required.

As Kemmis and Grootenboer (2008) note, all practices have their own shared language (sayings) that represents taken-for-granted assumptions about particular practices. Examination of these sayings and the cultural-discursive arrangements that are created can provide insight into the practices (Kemmis & Grootenboer, 2008). ACECQA (2018) documents state that effective educational leaders view their role as "a collegial, joint endeavour enacting their role through mentoring, guiding and supporting educators (p. 2)." The sayings of educational leader participants in this study valued the relational aspects of their role, privileging positive relationships and open communication. These findings are consistent with those of Sims et al. (2015), Henderson (2016) and Sims et al. (2018) who also identified the importance of relationship building in educational leadership work. Therefore, an educational leader may find it harder to be successful if they do not first have the buy-in of the staff they are meant to be inspiring. There is scope for further research to unpack these relational aspects in the work of educational leaders.

Implications and future research

Analysis of the results of this study suggest the need for greater recognition of the value of the educational leader to build professional knowledge and relationships and acknowledgement of the time required to effectively carry out the role. The complexity of the relational qualities of educational leaders and the uniqueness of the role in contexts where highly qualified, experienced and long-term staff are involved is also an area for further study. The study's findings suggest there is scope for further work to develop more formalised systems which recognise and champion the knowledge and experience of educational leaders. This formal recognition could be established through compulsory professional learning that explores the complexity of the educational leader role and develops leadership understandings. Recognition may be further advanced through professional accreditation systems, championing the role through sector awards and ultimately industrial recognition.


The educational leader role is potentially a significant and influential role in NSW preschools. This research suggests that, in general, the people who are the educational leaders of NSW preschools are mature, experienced and highly qualified. In this study many educational leaders used practices which focus on leading from within the team and developing professional knowledge. Educational leaders in NSW preschools, however, still appear to lack organisational supports that are necessary for them to perform the role effectively, in particular dedicated time to enact the role. There is scope for further study to better understand how the sayings, doings and relatings of educational leadership can contribute to more satisfying roles that achieve their stated aim of improving the learning outcomes of young children participating in ECEC settings.

Declaration of conflicting interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.


The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.


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Kate Barnes

Macquarie University, Australia

Fay Hadley

Macquarie University, Australia

Sandra Cheeseman

Macquarie University, Australia

Corresponding author:

Kate Barnes, Macquarie University, North Ryde, 2109 Australia.


DOI: 10.1177/1836939119870905
Table 1. Survey questions, links to the literature and research

Survey part
and questions  Data collected                     Informed by

Part 1         Determine participant eligibility  National Quality
               New South Wales preschool/         Standards (NQS)
               Nominated educational
Part 2         Demographic information            Sims et al., 2018

Part 3         Educational leader                 Fleet et al., 2015
               Employment characteristics         Rouse & Spradbury,
               Remuneration, job                  2015
               description, time, budget.         Fleet et al., 2017
               Informally share role
               Appointment to educational
               leader role
Part 4         Educational leader roles and       Sims et al., 2018
               practices                          Sims et al., 2018
               Importance of possible roles
               Practices to perform role
Part 5         Attitudes towards educational      Nuttall et al., 2014
               leader role
               How important?

Survey part    Practice
and questions  architecture      Research question

Part 1

Part 2         Sayings, doings,  Research question 1
Part 3         Doings            Research question 1

Part 4         Doings            Research question 2

Part 5         Sayings            Research question 2

Table 2. Distribution of position of survey participants according to
highest qualification.


Position                       Non-teaching  Teaching

Masters                         4 (3%)        2 (1%)
Graduate diploma                2 (1%)        2 (1%)
4-year degree (or equivalent)   1 (1%)       29 (19%)
3-year degree (or equivalent)   5 (3%)       28 (18%)
Vocational diploma              1 (1%)        2 (1%)
Total n (%)                    13 (9%)       63 (42%)

                               Early      Early
                               childhood  childhood
Position                       teacher    educator   Other   Total

Masters                         2 (1%)     0         1 (1%)    9 (6%)
Graduate diploma                3 (2%)     0         0         8 (5%)
4-year degree (or equivalent)  41 (27%)    0         0        51 (33%)
3-year degree (or equivalent)  15 (10%)    0         0        74 (48%)
Vocational diploma              0         11 (7%)    0        11 (7%)
Total n (%)                    61 (40%)   11 (7%)    1 (1%)  153 (100%)
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Title Annotation:Article
Author:Barnes, Kate; Hadley, Fay; Cheeseman, Sandra
Publication:Australasian Journal of Early Childhood
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2019
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