Chief Advisor

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The Chief Advisor of the OECE is Dr Sarah Alexander.

Dr Alexander is an expert on quality in early childhood education.

Her qualifications include: Ph.D. (Otago)., M.A(hons)., B.A., Higher Dip Teaching, NZ Free Kindergarten Union Dip, and Montessori Dip (dist) London.

She has a wealth of expertise, and a remarkable depth of knowledge and experience. With her thoughtful approach and a great deal of courage and caring Dr Sarah Alexander has provided strong leadership on critical issues over several decades.  

Biography

Sarah Alexander was NZ’s first qualified early childhood teacher to have progressed through academic study to doctoral level and be awarded a Ph.D. in ECE.  It is likely that she also holds the record for NZ’s youngest qualified kindergarten head teacher (having her 19th birthday just weeks before taking a head teacher position in Southland).

In the late 1980s/early 1990s Dr Alexander engaged in original research on early childhood service quality, and was at the forefront of developing a new paradigm for research on quality. She was part of a top international group of experts from around the world, who met several times for up to a week at a time in cities such as Budapest and Seville. For the NZ Ministry of Education she reported on the implementation of the Before Five (1988) administrative reforms. Specifically she examined quality within diverse services and the impact on services and people of the requirement to develop charters. 

At the Wellington College of Education for two years Dr Alexander taught early childhood teacher trainees. 

In 1997 Dr Alexander founded the NZ Early Childhood Research Network. This was followed with the launch of the first issue of the NZ Research in ECE Journal – the first academic ECE fully-reviewed journal to be published in NZ. 

At Massey University for six years she taught courses in human development, infants and toddlers in ECE, and educational psychology to students enrolled in various education and non-education degree programmes such as nursing. She wrote and delivered the first Masters degree paper in quality early childhood education.

Her other main research areas have included looking at the effects of childcare on children, women’s participation in paid work and childcare issues, and developing breastfeeding-friendly ECE services.  She also researched the experiences of men in teaching, supporting education for gifted children, and the outcomes of parent education and support programmes.

Dr Alexander is author of the “Quality Teaching Early Foundations: Best Evidence Synthesis“, commissioned by the NZ Ministry of Education.

Over the years she has provided advice to many Ministers of Education, and has participated in many government and Ministry of Education advisory groups and panels. 

Between 2008 – 2021 Dr Alexander was the chief executive of ChildForum.

Today, as the OECE’s chief advisor, Dr Alexander is supported by an awesome team and the ECAC. Dr Alexander is hoping to nurture new talent within the next 3 – 5 years to continue to take the OECE forward.

Commitment and Caring

What we see underlying all of Sarah Alexander’s work is her commitment to making a difference for children. She brings a strong intellect and deeply caring approach to all that she does. 

Some examples of areas of focus include:   

  • Reporting on cases of child death and serious injuries to create national awareness of safety problems and deficiencies in current regulations.  See for example Dr Alexander’s investigative report into an incident involving a young toddler choking on food not recommended to be fed to a child of his age. This report along with a planned release strategy led to significant public awareness of choking on food danger in ECE and changes in regulations. 
  • Putting the spotlight on Auckland Kindergarten Association through a series of investigative articles and supporting a parent rebellion. This resulted in a halt to the AKA’s planned programme to change all kindergartens to 7-hour-day year-round childcare. It led to an overhaul of the AKA’s management from a for-profit business to a community-based model. 
  • Requesting transparency from the Ministry of Education in its handling of complaints against ECE services and placing pressure on it through Official Information Act requests and talking with the media.  This led to the ministry’s decision to improve its rate of investigation of complaints and to provide annual public complaint reports.
  • Building awareness and understanding of gender-bias in ECE. Dr Alexander carried out the first known NZ research study on the experiences of male early childhood teachers. She has done much to encourage men interested in ECE teaching to take up the career. Dr Alexander organised the very first ECE Men’s Summit (which led to the formation of EC-Menz), set up scholarships, and has continued to talk and write on the issue of the inclusion of men and women in teaching and caring for children in ECE.
  • Holding NZEI, the teachers’ union, to account for its no-touch policy. Successfully arguing that there was a place for touch in caring for children in early childhood education programmes, which led to NZEI changing its position.  

Personal

Sarah is a mum of 5 children. She was a middle and long-distance competitive runner in her twenties. Today Sarah continues to enjoy running and has taken up hot power yoga.

Leaders' workshop in Auckland with Dr Sarah Alexander
Dr Sarah Alexander, OECE Chief Advisor, presenting a workshop to Playcentre Parents in Auckland on behalf of The Lego Group
Dr Sarah Alexander at Men In ECE International Conference Berlin
International Conference on Men in Childcare. Speaker and invited guest representing NZ in Berlin. Funded by German Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.
Dr Sarah Alexander presents at the China Early Childhood Conference.
Invited to China in 2018 as a special guest to give an address at the China Early Childhood Conference, with over 15,000 attendees

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