Learning-rich leadership for quality improvement in early years services

Elizabeth Ann Wood , Joce Nuttall, Louise Kay, Linda Henderson

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Learning-rich leadership for quality improvement in early years services
This symposium reports from a cross-national study of Early Years Teachers (EYTs) in England and early childhood Educational Leaders (ELs) in Australia, funded by the Australian Research Council (DPXXXX). The study aims to theorize ‘learning-rich leadership’ to support quality improvement in early years services (ECE), in the context of reform of the early years sector in both countries.
We report from the mid-point of the study, focusing on interviews with forty EYTs and ELs across a range of centre quality assessments. The symposium addresses a central question for the study: When comparing Australian and English policy implementation, what can be said about the ongoing effects of policy on ECE leaders’ self-reported practices for quality improvement?
Paper 1
Researching ‘learning-rich’ leadership in early childhood services: aims, concepts, design, and ethics
This paper contextualizes the project in research, policy, and practice, and describes the research aims and design.
In Phase 1 of the project (Authors, in review) we systematically examined English and Australian policy texts about leadership in early childhood services, using concepts of formation and responsibilisation (Shamir, 2008), as well as conducting interviews with EYTs and ELs across a range of centre quality ratings. Our conclusion at the end of Phase 1 is that ECE is approaching a critical juncture in the direction leadership development will take: relationality versus compliance.
Phase 2 is employing the interventionist research methodology of Change Laboratory (Virkkunen & Newnham, 2013) with twelve early childhood services in Australia. Iterative data analysis is being used to develop a theory of ‘learning-rich’ leadership based on insights from Phases 1 and 2.
Concepts from cultural-historical activity theory (Engeström, 2000) are described in this paper, including their role in intervention and theory-building. The paper concludes by reflecting on the ethics of intervention methodologies in leadership development in the context of policy reforms that are highly consequential for the ECE profession.
Paper 2
Navigating the role of Educational Leader
In England in the EYT role is a recognized qualification with specified content. In Australia, by contrast, the Educational Leader role has no specification beyond one sentence in the National Regulations. How, then, are ELs translating policy into practice?
This paper reports analysis of twenty interviews with ELs. Using Membership Category Analysis (Freebody, 2003), we argue that ELs self-reports are characterized by their commitment to their own learning and to lifting program quality. However, when analyzing descriptions of their work contexts, they vary in their capacity to navigate the dynamic relationship between national frameworks and centre-level policies.
The paper problematizes a binary of compliance versus relationality evident in the ELs talk. We argue this binary arises from two simultaneous challenges: the discourses of leadership historically available to ELs, and lack of clarity about the motive object of activity for ELs. We connect these claims to the research aim of developing a field-specific theory of leadership in the early years.

Engeström, Y. (2000). Activity theory as a framework for analyzing and redesigning work. Ergonomics, 43(7), 960-974. DOI: 10.1080/001401300409143
Freebody, P. (2003). Qualitative research in education: Interaction and practice. London: SAGE.
Shamir, R. (2008). The age of responsibilization: on market-embedded morality. Economy and Society, 37(1), 1-19. DOI: 10.1080/03085140701760833
Virkkunen, J., & Newnham, D. S. (2013). The change laboratory: A tool for collaborative development of work and education. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sept 2019
EventBritish Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2019 - University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Sept 201912 Sept 2019


ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2019
Abbreviated titleBERA 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • early childhood education and care
  • Educational leadership
  • cultural historical activity theory

Cite this