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Early Years Research Pedagogy, Curriculum and Adult Roles, Training and Professionalism (2003)

In this document members of the British Educational Research Association’s Early Years Special Interest Group (BERA SIG) present a literature review of some of the research relevant to their specialist area.

The ‘Early Years’ of childhood are internationally recognised as being from birth to eight, and although some of the work presented here is concerned with children within those full age ranges, the majority of the report focuses on research about provision for children aged between three and six years. This focus was hotly debated when the SIG members came together for the first time to work on the task of the review, since it was felt that to leave out any age group within the definition of ‘early childhood’ might be interpreted as regarding those children (usually under threes) as less important educationally. On the contrary, the group members welcome the new Government interest in under threes and the 2001-2002 project, led on their behalf by Professor Lesley Abbott, exploring ways of developing effective practice with this age group. However, the extensive nature of research evidence about under threes – termed ‘infants’ by psychologists – from developmental and cognitive psychology and other relevant disciplines would have made the work far too broad for this first Early Years SIG review.

Like the House of Commons Select Committee (1988-89) and the OECD (2001), we see settings attended by young children as providing both care and education, because for this age group the two processes are inseparable. The majority of the research reported upon here concerns group settings outside the children’s homes, because by and large these are the sites where studies of published research were conducted. The few recent studies of children learning in their own homes tend to be case studies of the acquisition of language and literacy skills, for example, but very few have been sighted in childminders’ homes. Additionally, the group recognised that not only did the age range to be covered present challenges, the amount of research available demanded a narrowing of focus in order for the review process to be manageable.

Thus the group decided to focus on three main areas:-

  • pedagogy
  • curriculum and
  • adult roles, professional development, training and the workforce.

Further, this review focuses on practice rather than policy research. As a result, the group has identified not only notable research omissions in the areas reviewed, it also highlights the need for more early years policy research, particularly at a time when there are so many different initiatives and developments. Many of these are currently being evaluated in terms of ‘effectiveness’ measures but there are few examples of research analysing policy (however, see for example, Lubeck and Jessup 2001; OECD 2001; Valiente 2001).