Skip to content


BERA Research Commission 2019–2020: Competing discourses in early childhood education and care

Tensions, impacts and democratic alternatives across the UK’s four nations

The BERA Research Commission 2019–2020 sought to explore how the four nations of the UK negotiate the tensions, impacts and democratic alternatives perceived and experienced in early childhood education and care (ECEC) provision as consequences of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) (Sahlberg, 2012).

The principal features of GERM have their roots in neoliberalism’s business and economic approach towards early childhood education. They are based upon strong neoliberal values and beliefs – namely competition, choice and calculation – and these have come to influence the ways in which we think about, talk about and do ECEC.

Despite the powerful force of neoliberalism’s economistic values and beliefs, and its huge impact upon early childhood, this report discusses how it is resistible and is resisted, particularly in Wales and Scotland.

This research commission responds to the concluding comments of the BERA–TACTYC review (2017, p. 119) concerning the lack of research into policy and the need to hear the ‘voices of members of the ECEC professional community […] in practitioner research, in independent academic research, and in critical analyses of policies and their effects’. Evidence from organisations representing the ECEC in the UK demonstrates the sector’s concerns, as well as signs of resistance and subversion.

To capture local responses to concerns in the sector, the research team set up a series of one-day seminars in the four nations of the UK to debate key questions developed through discussions with local stakeholders. Local leads – Martina Street (Manchester), Shaddai Tembo (Paisley), Jane Waters-Davies (Swansea) and Glenda Walsh (Belfast) – played a central role in arranging venues, speakers and contact with delegates, with the support of the BERA office. Each event also benefited from the work of three early career researchers (ECRs): Katherine Gulliver, who supported each event; Nathan Archer in Paisley, Swansea and Belfast; Siew Fung Lee in Manchester. 

This final report describes the four events in more detail and summarises analyses of the focus groups, before concluding with some recommendations for next steps. The report also highlights research by an ECR whose work relates closely to the topic covered at each event. This research is captured in more depth in a series of posts written by the ECRs for the BERA Blog, available here.


Profile picture of Jan Georgeson
Jan Georgeson, Dr

Associate Professor at Plymouth University

Dr Jan Georgeson is Associate Professor of Education at University of Plymouth with a professional background as teacher of young children with special educational needs. She has also worked and volunteered as a Portage worker supporting parents...

Profile picture of Guy Roberts-Holmes
Guy Roberts-Holmes, Dr

Associate Professor at IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society

Guy Roberts-Holmes was awarded the 2016 BERA Public Engagement and Impact Award for his work in challenging the goals set out for Baseline Assessment for assessing and tracking the progress of 4-5 year olds within the primary system, which led to...

Profile picture of Verity Campbell-Barr
Verity Campbell-Barr, Dr

Associate Professor in Early Childhood Studies at Plymouth University

Verity Campbell-Barr is an Associate Professor in Early Childhood Studies and Associate Director for Research at Plymouth Institute of Education, University of Plymouth. Verity has over 15 years of experience researching early childhood education...

Profile picture of Nathan Archer
Nathan Archer, Dr

Director - International Montessori Institute at Leeds Beckett University

Dr. Nathan Archer is Director of the International Montessori Institute at Leeds Beckett University. He has a professional background as a Montessori Primary teacher and has worked in early childhood education for over twenty years in practice,...

Profile picture of Siew Fung Lee
Siew Fung Lee, Dr

Postdoc Researcher at U C L Insitute of Education

Siew Fung Lee’s research interests include the social and economic impact of policy on ‘disadvantaged’ children and families, ethnography, policy genealogy and critical methodology in education. She is a Research Fellow with the Healthier...

Profile picture of Katherine Gulliver
Katherine Gulliver, Dr

Lecturer and Researcher at Plymouth University

Katherine Gulliver is a Lecturer and Researcher at University of Plymouth. Her work focuses on Early Years, inclusion and special educational needs and/or disabilities. Her PhD explored innovative methodological approaches towards researching...

Profile picture of Martina Street
Martina Street, Dr

Senior Research Associate at Manchester Metropolitan University

A former early years locality lead for Manchester City Council, Martina Street has recently been seconded to Manchester Metropolitan University to take up the role of senior research associate. Building on her previous work of co-ordinating...

Profile picture of Glenda Walsh
Glenda Walsh, Professor

Head of Early Years Education at Stranmillis University College

Dr Glenda Walsh is an international expert in the field of play and playful pedagogies. Major research projects include the longitudinal evaluation of the Early Years Enriched Curriculum Project that informed the Northern Ireland Primary...

Profile picture of Jane Waters-Davies
Jane Waters-Davies

Associate Professor at University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Jane Waters is an associate professor in the Athrofa: Institute of Education at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. She worked as a classroom teacher before joining higher education to lecture in Early Childhood Studies and Initial...