Early childhood education and care (ECEC) has developed to meet different aims to encourage children’s holistic development; embed attitudes consistent with lifelong learning; facilitate preparation for and efficient transition into school; enable children to fulfil their rights to education; and support parents to find and engage in employment. It is shaped by the different discourses associated with these different aims – which are sometimes competing, sometimes mutually compatible.
Between May 2019 and February 2020, we set up a series of one-day seminars in the four nations of the UK to explore discourses in play in the discussion of topical ECEC issues. Key questions were developed in consultation with local stakeholders to focus discussions and presentations. After a long delay caused by the effects of Covid-19 on workload, analysis of the data generated during the events has now been published. Each event benefited from the work of an early career researcher (ECR) who contributed to the organisation of the events, analysis of the data, writing the report and sharing their research. We invited five ECRs to write a blog about their research in ECEC and these blogs have been collected together here.
The first blog is by Martina Street who played a central role in the development and organisation of the first seminar in Manchester. Her blog was originally published soon after the event and extends discussion of its central theme, namely readiness, within a children’s rights discourse. She has also written a longer piece, which is available here with other resources from the Manchester event. Martina questions the conceptualisation of the young child within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) as being at once both ‘a unique child’ and ‘every child’, and the consequent disadvantages of expecting ‘every child’ to attain the same educational profile at the end of their reception year when they are four or five years old.
Shaddai Tembo helped to organise our second seminar, which took place in Scotland, and wrote our second blog. Drawing on posthumanism to examine children’s identity and agency in alternative outdoor childhood provision, Shaddai questions traditional social constructivist/constructionist arguments by using a sociomaterial lens of intra-action that is more than child-centric and emphasises the significance of the material environment.
In November 2019 we held our largest meeting in Swansea, at a time when guidance for New Curriculum for Wales was out for consultation. Using a competency view of children, Angie Rekers-Power emphasises how collaboration between multiple institutions can be used to create pedagogical spaces that allow the practitioner to identify and channel the child’s motive orientation, and act as an active agent in bridging the often conflicting demands of the Foundation Phase framework.
A second blog from the Swansea event by Jennifer Clement challenges teacher-led constructions of classroom space. Jennifer considers spatially democratic pedagogy which allows children to design and co-create their classroom spaces. Promoting a democratically aligned view of children’s participation enabled a change in roles and responsibilities of the children, the teacher and the space.
We held our final meeting in Belfast in February 2020, just before Covid-19 restrictions began. Suzanne McCartney examines the developmental needs of two-year-olds and their implications for service provision in Northern Ireland, where provision for this age group remains fragmented with little to no policy guidance. She relates her findings to the wider conversation on professionalism in the early years, which had provided the focus for our final seminar.
Our discussions about key issues for ECEC across the UK aimed to bring tensions out into the open; by foregrounding the work of new researchers in this blog series, we hope to catalyse efforts towards resolving tensions and moving forward with hope, resistance and creativity.