Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

EARLY CHILDHOOD IN CROSS-NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE - Early Childhood Education and Care in England

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

EARLY CHILDHOOD IN CROSS-NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE - Early Childhood Education and Care in England

Article excerpt

England has universal health care, job-protected and paid parental leave, child allowances, and universal preschool for 4-year-olds. Reform initiatives aim to decrease child poverty, increase opportunity, address social exclusion, and improve health. As a living laboratory for such reforms, England has much to teach the U.S.

IMAGINE a young mother in an economically depressed area in the Midlands as she enters the Pen Green Early Excellence Center for the first time. The center is one of 100 that are being recognized by the government as "beacons of good practice" in the provision of health, education, and social services.1 The former head of center and current research director, Margy Whalley, describes how this mother and her infant could become involved:

She might start to use the baby clinic, which [is] run very informally with big cushions, sagbags, easy chairs, and toys for the children. Volunteers [are] on hand to make coffee, health visitors [are available] to offer counseling and support; and digital scales [are] provided so that parents [can] weigh their own babies. She might then meet some other parents and decide to join an Open University study group during the day; or she might work with the pack on "Living with Babies and Toddlers" in the evening. She might later want company and different kinds of play provision and join a parent and toddler session either run by nursery staff and community service volunteers or by nursery staff and parents. There, in comfortable, roomy surroundings, very young children get the chance to explore with clay, sand, and paint more freely than would be possible at home. In this way, parents decide how they use the center.2

As her child grows, the center offers other services: a toy library run by parents, a parent-run home visiting scheme, groups for divorced fathers, immunizations and checkups for adults and children, a day care for children under three, and a nursery for children between 3 and 5 years of age. In this area of high unemployment, where many parents did not experience school success, fully 85% of mothers and up to 60% of fathers have participated in child study groups. Working with other parents and staff members, they analyze daily logs and video clips (with camcorders borrowed from the center) to understand and support their children's learning.

Once the child enters primary school, she might attend the after-school and homework club that comes to life when the day ends at the local primary schools and school-age children pour into the center, some lugging tubas and trumpets for band practice. She might see senior citizens in the computer lab, learning how to use e-mail. Her mother could take a crafts class or classes in adult basic education, or she could pursue a university degree on site. The list goes on. Pen Green is a work in progress, animated by long-standing efforts to work with rather than for parents and to base services on what people need and want. The staff members have adopted a public statement that links the up close and personal with broader social goals: "What a good and wise parent desires for his or her own children, a nation must desire for all its children."3

Pen Green is an example of coordinated service delivery tailored to the needs of local communities. Yet the Early Excellence Centers Pilot Program is but one facet of a new, broad-based social agenda. Public funds are being used to support a number of initiatives aimed at improving children's life chances, encouraging employment, and combating social exclusion. Since 1997, England has been engaged in reform of "the early years."

Until quite recently, however, English and American approaches to early childhood education and care (ECEC) were seen as more similar than different. In an earlier effort to make sense of cross-national differences, a team of researchers suggested four models of child-care policy, models they labeled Latin-European, Scandinavian, Socialist, and Anglo-Saxon. …

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