In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Early Childhood Education Policy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Critical Educational Policy Discourse on Childcare Services

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Education Early Childhood Education Policy
Chris Peers
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0105


The Oxford English Dictionary defines “policy” with reference to three main topics: the conduct of public affairs, the constitution of a contract with respect to governance, and the regulation of a state or civil society. This article deals with “policy” specifically relating to the domain of early childhood education. Increased interest in early childhood education policy is due to three critical factors, all of which demonstrate the relevance of this new domain as a branch of government and regulatory frameworks. (1) Since 98 percent of the early childhood sector workforce is female, policy making in this sector is significantly informed by economic research about the inclusion of women in the workforce. Both the demand for childcare places (which is intimately related to whether or not a mother is in paid employment) and the provision of qualified childcare staff to undertake the service of childcare (in jobs dominated almost exclusively by women) are factors that directly lead early childhood education policy studies back to the question of female workforce participation. This is further relevant as a way of addressing labor market expansion and measures of economic productivity; this study relates directly to the broader issue of regulation of the family as a basis for social and economic cohesion. (2) Early childhood development is a branch of human development studies and encompasses a wide range of specialized forms of inquiry with respect to pediatric health, psychological development in young children and its impact on educational achievement, social and economic factors that measurably impact early childhood development and that are seen to characterize the causes of subsequent social and economic performance, and corresponding measurements of epidemiological factors contributing to population health and economic productivity; early childhood education policy refers to and is influenced by debate within each of these cognate fields of enquiry. (3) The impact of globalization in economic and educational research requires the reporting of social factors that characterize the gap between developed and developing economies. The field of early childhood education policy is concerned with the ways in which education for young children in different economic settings will determine subsequent social and economic performances. The management and implementation of Global Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) constitutes a chief measure of the impact of globalization on early childhood education policy, because it represents a benchmark for delivery of infrastructure and services in developing economies.

General Overviews

The attention to women in the workforce provided by economists is a source of data for early childhood education policymakers, but the significant issue here is the differences between the three areas of policy formation that pertain to early childhood education. Some economists write quite directly about early childhood education policy (Esping-Andersen 2008), while others are addressing factors that indirectly inform policy debates. In such cases, the conceptualization of education is made in similar ways but applied so as to resolve unique problems, usually relating to questions of how investment can be returned at maximum rates. On the other hand, education writers are working from a historical and discursive context quite separate from, and in distinct isolation from, economic research, and much of the debate in early childhood education policy is fragmented specifically because of the tension between economic and educational disciplinary premises (Kirp 2007, Penn 2007). In these cases, the perspective on economics shifts from a statistical or econometric conception to a sociological commentary. The dissonances between educational, economic, and pediatric approaches to early childhood education have produced a basis for robust debate within the broader community. For example, the early childhood education profession is almost exclusively composed of women in most contexts internationally, and the question of women’s participation in the workforce is often closely tied to (1) the issue of how much childcare staff should be paid, and hence to how early childhood services are costed (Doiron 2004); (2) the question of whether women should remain at home (i.e., not participating in the workforce) during the first part of a child’s life (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development 2007); (3) whether the quality of professional care services is suitable and appropriate in a given context (Clark and Baylis 2012); and (4) whether such services are accessible on the basis of wealth (Clarke 2007). Many of these issues have stirred moral, religious, and social debates about the role of women in the family that in turn provoke argument from feminists, theologians, and so forth. In this article, we will initially address the most significant examples of debate within each of the related discourses relevant to early childhood education policy.

  • Clark, Rory McDowall, and Sue Baylis. 2012. “Wasted down there”: Policy and practice with the under-threes. Early Years 32.2: 229–242.

    This article not only provides necessary attention to the core functions of early childhood educational practice, but it addresses it as a new tier of the educational system and part of the institutional edifice to which a whole new area of public policy has been devoted in the last thirty years or more. It focuses on policy within the United Kingdom but raises important concerns that are relevant across the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) context.

  • Clarke, Karen. 2007. From “cycles of disadvantage” to “SureStart”: Discourses of early intervention in families. Critical Policy Studies 1.2: 154–169.

    DOI: 10.1080/19460171.2007.9518516

    This article raises the moral implications of early-21st-century policy shifts relating to the care of children in disadvantaged families; it considers the stigmatization of single mothers as the cause of risk and vulnerability for young children. It places the discourse about intervention into the broader context of social and public policy reform in Britain in the past two decades.

  • Doiron, Denise. 2004. Welfare reform and the labour supply of lone parents in Australia: A natural experiment approach. Economic Record 80.249: 157–176.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4932.2004.00170.x

    This article discusses the policy implications of welfare reform in Australia; the impact of welfare reform is explored with respect to incentives to employment for single parents who might otherwise be recipients of social transfer payments. The article provides a historical analysis of the emergence of such incentives over time and their impact for the labor market.

  • Esping-Andersen, Gosta. 2008. Childhood investments and skill formation. International Tax and Public Finance 15.1: 19–44.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10797-007-9033-0

    This discussion provides considerable economic evidence with respect to the argument that the way in which parents rear a child should be understood as a form of investment; while implicit, the relationship between the state and the family is viewed with respect to econometric variables, for the sake of predicting the impact of intra-familial decisions on broader economic indices of growth and productivity.

  • Kirp, David L. 2007. The futures market. In The sandbox investment: The preschool movement and kids-first politics. By David L. Kirp, 76–92. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    This chapter provides a user-friendly outline of the way in which economic policy and market reform have impacted the childcare sector. The author traces examples of competition and market pressures that are generating significant attitudinal and value shifts in administration of childcare and access especially in wealthy, developed economic contexts.

  • Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. 2007. Babies and bosses: Reconciling work and family life: A synthesis of findings for OECD countries. Paris: OECD.

    The Babies and bosses series provides a distinct set of analyses across different OECD countries through the first part of the 21st century. The series has set the tone for much debate about economic reform within the early childhood sector in order to align such change with related policy on women’s labor force participation and family intervention.

  • Penn, Helen. 2007. Childcare market management: How the United Kingdom government has reshaped its role in developing early childhood education and care. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 8.3: 192–207.

    DOI: 10.2304/ciec.2007.8.3.192

    This article discusses the adoption of mercantilist policy within the childcare sector through an analysis of the British childcare sector as it has changed since 1997. It canvases shifting theoretical understandings of public policy in social services, i.e., the shift from welfare to social investment models.

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