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Speaker biographies

Learn more about the speakers and panellists for the Best Start, Best Life 2023 Educational Leaders Conference.

Master of Ceremonies

Ellen Fanning

Award-winning public affairs journalist

Headshot of Ellen Fanning

In her 20 years as an award-winning public affairs journalist, Ellen Fanning has interviewed every Australian Prime Minister from Sir John Grey Gorton to Malcolm Turnbull.

She spent the first 10 years of her career at the ABC where she presented both the AM and PM current affairs radio programs. She also served as the ABC’s Washington correspondent.

She was later a reporter on the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes and the last presenter of Nine’s Sunday program.

Ellen is the co-host of ABC TV’s “The Drum” and is regularly heard on ABC Radio around Australia.


Professor Iram Siraj OBE

Professor of Child Development and Education, Education Department, University of Oxford

Headshot of Professor Iram Siraj OBE

Iram is Professor of Child Development and Education at the University of Oxford, and Visiting Professor at the Universities of Wollongong, Stavanger and University College London.

She has an international reputation for her longitudinal research and policy expertise. Her research has covered in/effective provision, curriculum, pedagogy and leadership in early years education.

Her recent work has focussed on rigorous evidence-based professional development evaluated through randomised controlled trials which supports the workforce to lift practice and add value to children’s development, especially those from more vulnerable backgrounds. Iram has published over 250 articles and books and 3 widely used quality rating scales aimed at democratising self-assessment for educators. Her 4th quality rating scale Pedagogical Leadership in the Early Years (PLEY) scale will be published by Routledge later this year.

She was awarded an OBE for services to early childhood education and care in 2015.

Professor Jane Bertrand

Program Director at the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation

Professor Jane Bertrand

Jane is the Program Director at the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation, focusing on early childhood practices, policies and research in Canada. Jane is also an Adjunct Professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, an Honorary Fellow, Mitchell Institute, Melbourne, Australia and Advisor to Our Place, Victoria, Australia.

She has been involved in several ground-breaking studies and has worked with the Ontario Early Learning Advisor to the Premier of Ontario. Jane was Professor at the School of Early Childhood at George Brown College until June 2011.

Sir Kevan Collins

Board Member, Goodstart Early Learning and Board Member, AERO

Sir Kevan Collins

Sir Kevan sits on the Board of the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) and has been on the Board of Goodstart Early Learning since 2018.

He became the Founding CEO of the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), a fund dedicated to addressing educational disadvantage, sharing evidence, and identifying ‘what works’ in education.

Sir Kevan has had a varied and distinguished career in education, including working in the UK public service for more than 30 years and leading the English Primary Strategy as National Director. ‘

He started as a primary school teacher in London and completed his doctorate focusing on literacy development at Leeds University in 2005. He was knighted for his services to education in 2015.

Professor Marilyn Fleer, PhD, FASSA

Foundation Chair of Early Childhood Education and Development, Monash University, Australia

Professor Marilyn Fleer, PhD, FASSA

Marilyn holds the Foundation Chair of Early Childhood Education and Development at Monash University, Australia.

She was awarded the 2018 Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellowship by the Australian Research Council and was a former President of the International Society of Cultural-historical Activity Research (ISCAR).

Additionally, she holds the position of an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Education, University of Oxford and a second professor position in the KINDKNOW Centre, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences.


Rachel McKay

State Lead Practice Partner, Vic/Tas, Goodstart Early Learning

Rachel McKay

Rachel Mackay is the Lead Practice Partner for Victoria and Tasmania at Goodstart Early Learning. As an experienced early childhood teacher and leader with a history of working in a range of education settings, including experience in local and state government roles, Rachel has extensive experience in coaching, mentoring and leading teams. Rachel aspires to drive innovation and practice in children’s programs to maximise positive outcomes for children, families and communities.

Sunil Kumari

Educational Leader, Goodstart Early Learning, Goodstart Clayton

Sunil Kumari

Sunil Kumari is an Early Childhood Teacher and educational leader at Goodstart Clayton with experience working in different roles with children aged from 6 weeks to 5 years. She is always open to learning new teaching and learning approaches to help children achieve optimal outcomes. Sunil has a Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care and a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education. Sunil strongly believes that every child is unique and competent learner. She advocates for providing a secure, caring, nurturing, inclusive and supportive learning environment that fosters children’s growth across all developmental areas.

Elfie Taylor

Director of Services, Early Years, Our Place

Elfie Taylor

Elfie has recently been appointed as Director of Services, Early Years at Our Place. Her key responsibility is to support and further develop approaches that enhance high-quality early learning and identify and strengthen policy development opportunities within early years.

Elfie has previously worked as the manager of an Early Childhood Improvement Branch within the Department of Education and has an in-depth knowledge of early childhood reforms, the function and responsibilities required by the Department, the sector, and key stakeholders. Through prior experience both in managing an Early Childhood Improvement Branch, her time in the Quality Assessment and Regulation Division, and her many years working as a Kindergarten teacher/Educational Leader Elfie has a broad range of knowledge and experience from various perspectives.

Kristie Dowell

Educational Leader, Gowrie Carlton Learning Precinct

Kristie Dowell

With 25 years of experience in the Early Childhood sector, currently working as an Educational Leader at Gowrie Victoria, Kristie has undertaken differing roles across a range of settings. She has used a range of teaching approaches such as Reggio Emilia, PYP (International Baccalaureate), Steiner, The Abecedarian Approach (3A), The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) and the EYLF/VEYLDF. Kristie has found deliberate (intentional) and nuanced interactions between a highly skilled educator and a child can transform the learning trajectory. In her current role, she navigates many challenges and a huge volume of information to achieve a genuine educational impact for the educators, children and families she works with.

Reviewed 14 February 2023

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