ISSR welcomes a new multidisciplinary research group with a focus on optimising early experiences through family supports and early education interventions. The team is headed by Professor Karen Thorpe, a developmental scientist with expertise in large scale longitudinal studies and evaluation of educational and parenting interventions in Australia and the UK, and includes academics in psychology, neuroscience, economics and educational policy. Professor Thorpe describes the team as focused on developing solutions to problems that impede positive development, and able to apply a full suite of methodologies and measurement strategies in large-scale quantitative and detailed qualitative studies with children, parents and educators.

“The first six years of life are characterised by the greatest rate of brain development in the human life course and are foundational in the establishment of neural pathways. The quality of experiences children have during this period matter. They establish stronger or weaker foundations for ongoing health, learning and social well being” Prof Thorpe said.

“Provision of positive care and education experiences at this time supports optimal life course development with benefits not only for individual children and their families but also for the economy and society more broadly.”

“Our measurement methodologies include data linkage to public datasets, survey, interview, standard observation, and physiological measurement (including actigraphy, heart rate variability and cortisol monitoring).”

Professor Thorpe’s team is currently introducing machine learning techniques to assess broad social patterns and predict children's trajectories of development, achievement and social inclusion.

Team bios:


Prof Karen Thorpe leads ISSR research in Early Development, Education and Care.

Assoc Prof Simon Smith, Principal Research Fellow, seeks to understand the role of sleep and circadian regularity and irregularity in the health and wellbeing of children.
Dr Sally Staton, NHMRC Fellow (Queensland Young Tall Poppy, 2016), conducts studies of early education practices and policies and their short and long-term impacts on children, families and communities; with a focus on research translation and communication for the early childhood sector.

Dr Tony Beatton, Honorary Research Fellow, applies big data analyses to improve the outcomes of young Australians in terms of life satisfaction: education, labour, health, welfare, wellbeing and happiness.

Ms Victoria Sullivan, Research Group Coordinator, project manages research projects for the group, and also researches the role and experiences of male educators working within the early childhood education and care sector.

Mr Peter Rankin, Research Assistant and applied statistician, analyses objective sleep data, including stability of sleep/wake patterns across time and contexts, and (in E4kids data) differential susceptibility to childcare and parenting environments.

The team also works with the following exceptional emerging leaders on current projects:

  • Ms Emma Cooke, Research Assistant, researching children’s perspectives of wellbeing in early childhood settings;
  • Ms Candice Oakes, Developmental and Educational Psychologist, researching communication between parents and educators in early childhood settings;
  • Ms Hannah Gehret, Occupational Trainee, analysing children’s learning during rest-times in ECEC; and
  • Dr Sandy Houen, Postdoctoral Researcher and early childhood specialist, contributing to the sleep training program.
29 August 2017