Early Childhood Education: The New Agenda

Early Childhood Education: The New Agenda

Early Childhood Education: The New Agenda

Early Childhood Education: The New Agenda


Recent years have seen unprecedented attention paid to early childhood education in Scotland. In this book Eric Wilkinson outlines the main policies introduced under New Labour, including the Childcare Strategy, the Curriculum Framework, the Care Commission and Sure Start, and he draws attention to the growing regulatory framework in which early childhood education is now located. The influence of research findings on policy formulation and the tensions of Third Way policies in Early Years education are also examined. Finally, Professor Wilkinson attempts to balance contemporary concerns to protect vulnerable children with the desire to give all children the best opportunities to develop and learn.


1.1 Setting the Scene

In her book Early Education: The Current Debate Watt (1990) set out a number of critical issues in the provision of services for the education of young children in Scotland. These were: co-ordination and continuity of services; the curriculum; and teacher professionalism. She also raised issues concerned with the social context of education, that is, parents and communities. On the issue of co-ordination, concern was expressed not only in Scotland but throughout the UK about the division between 'care' and 'education' in early childhood services. Not only were care and education given different priorities in different kinds of early years settings — day nurseries, nursery schools and classes, playgroups, and family centres — they underpinned the duality of professional qualifications in the field, that is, nursery nurses and nursery teachers with the former being identified as having primary responsibility for the care of children and the latter with their education. But the co-ordination issue was more complex. Given the fragmentation and uneven spatial distribution of early childhood services in Scotland, there was a tension between the three different types of provider — the public sector, the independent sector and the voluntary sector. Many parents were confused about the most appropriate provision, where available, for their child.

If the calls for co-ordination were more directed at the politicians — both local and national — the pressures for curriculum reform delved deep into the professional province of nursery teachers. As shall be seen later in this chapter, the Conservative governments' zeal for control of the curriculum in the period 1979–1997 proved ground-breaking. The drive for national curricular guidelines in the formal school sector in Scotland in the late 1980's was paramount. It was only a matter of time, therefore, before the traditions of early childhood education would be challenged.

But if national curriculum guidelines for early childhood education were just round the corner in the early 1990's there was also concern for what it meant to be a professional in early years services. What were the bodies of knowledge and practice appropriate to being a professional . . .

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