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Early childhood in England: time for a real transformation

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 10 May 2024

A dad adjusts a toddler's seat on an adult bicycle while a child wears a colourful helmet. Credit: Cavan via Adobe Stock.

Credit: Cavan via Adobe Stock.

Peter Moss.

A recent editorial in The Guardian asserted that ‘childcare and nursery education in England is in the process of being transformed’. It referred to the government’s policy of extending ’30 hours free childcare’ to children from 9 months of age, providing they have employed parents earning over a certain amount. There is, however, nothing transformative about this policy; rather, it is more ‘reformist tinkering’ that simply doubles down on what the Nuffield Foundation recently described as ‘a dysfunctional system in need of a radical re-think.’ (more…)

The Thomas Coram Research Unit at 50: looking back to look forward?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 31 October 2023

Group photo at a garden party celebrating TCRU's 50th anniversary. Credit: Mary Hinkley for UCL.

Credit: Mary Hinkley for UCL.

Peter Moss.

In a contemporary context of profound transitions and converging crises, it seems time to reconsider and reprioritise the role that social research can play in creating public policies, including services, that are relevant to rebuilding a world that is more just, more democratic, more sustainable and more caring. In this scenario, strategic social research, including an element of experimentation, may have a major part to play in what has been described by one commentator, Geoff Mulgan, as ‘expand[ing] our shared possibility space, the options for our societies… to populate our fuzzy pictures of the future with complex, rich, plausible [i]deas, pictures of the possible’.

Such concerns and such an approach are not new; they were founding principles of the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU). They have, though, not always been easy to sustain. As TCRU marks its 50th anniversary, it is an important moment to reiterate that broader (more…)

Early childhood education and care – taking a long view

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 7 September 2023

Small children sit around a table

Credit: Rodnae Productions.

Alison Clark, Claire Cameron and Peter Moss.

Political parties are preparing their offers on early childhood policies for the next election. While it’s encouraging to see consensus exists that early childhood education and care is a priority, the myopic and short-term approach shared by all parties – more and cheaper ‘childcare’ seems to be the common theme – is deeply disappointing. Tinkering with a dysfunctional system is preferred to taking the long view and transforming early childhood in England.

Taking the long view on early childhood is the subject of the next event in our programme marking the 50th anniversary of the Thomas Coram Research Unit.  Since 1973, TCRU has conducted ground-breaking national and international research on early childhood policy, provision and practice, research that has collectively presented a more ambitious path for the early years. (more…)

We need an overhaul of England’s early childhood system, not ‘just’ more childcare

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 23 March 2023

Peter Moss.

A child's hands handling toy building blocks

Credit: FeeLoona / Pixabay

Ahead of his UCL Lunch Hour Lecture on 11th May, Emeritus Professor Peter Moss sets out why ‘just more childcare’ is not the answer to England’s early years needs.

Last week’s Spring Budget saw the latest of many attempts by successive governments to fix England’s broken early childhood system. More funding was directed at childcare. But expensive childcare is just one symptom of a flawed system, itself the product of decades of government neglect followed by a failure to think critically and holistically once early years gained policy attention from 1997.

The result today is a hodgepodge of fragmented services, coupled with weak and poorly co-ordinated leave provision. (more…)

Our youngest children deserve better than a fragmented patchwork of services

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 5 February 2014

Peter Moss

Hardly a month goes by without yet another report – from government, charities or think tanks – about the need to fix England’s early childhood services. Split between ‘childcare’ and ‘early education’, with a fragmented and incoherent patchwork of services, and combining high cost to parents with a poorly paid and poorly qualified workforce: we find ourselves in a hole, and don’t seem to know what to do. The hole, though, has been there a long time, and we’ve had opportunities to get out.
Back in the early 1970s, in the midst of a half century of post-war government neglect of early childhood services, some reformers saw the way forward. Appalled at the fragmented, incoherent and unresponsive state of these services, Jack Tizard, IOE Professor and founder of the Thomas Coram Research Unit, argued for the creation of “multi-purpose children’s centres offering part and full-time care with medical and other services, to a very local catchment area”. These services would be both responsive and free – since “for a society which provides free education, including free higher education, and free child health services, a free pre-school service is a logical corollary”.
But he did more than argue for change: he acted. Two demonstration Children’s Centres were established, in Camden and Westminster, to examine the feasibility and possibilities of this type of provision. Others followed suit.
Governments of the day, though, showed no interest; and when Children’s Centres did finally gain a place in early childhood policy under New Labour, it was a case of too little, too late. Instead of being the basis for a comprehensive system of multi-purpose services readily available to all, they were tacked on to a ramshackle system that had grown more fragmented, incoherent and unresponsive since the 1970s, adding yet another type of provision to the existing confusion of day nurseries, playgroups, nursery schools and nursery and reception classes – all jostling for customers in a chaotic marketplace.
Now, under austerity, those Centres that were established are being eroded by cuts and undermined by an increasing emphasis on provision for the most disadvantaged children. The original dream of a universal, inclusive and responsive service has not been realised, the opportunity lost.
Other countries were more far-sighted. Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s took the opportunity to recast its split services, to build what is today a fully integrated system of early childhood education and care. This offers an entitlement for all children from 12 months to 6 years, with a well qualified workforce, made affordable by a combination of free attendance and capped fees. All this is based on the ‘preschool’, a centre providing for all children in its local community, where (in the words of the Swedish Preschool Curriculum) “care, socialisation and learning form a coherent whole” and democracy is affirmed as a fundamental value.
England has had its opportunities to get its act together, not just in the 1970s but also in 1997 when New Labour came to power pledged to make early years a priority. But instead of getting out of the hole, instead of taking time to consider what we wanted and needed, we kept digging, taking the seemingly easy route of more of the same.
Are we destined for an endless round of overblown government rhetoric (‘More great childcare’!), parental complaints and peripheral changes? Are we unable to learn from places that really do have ‘world class’ services? Perhaps the answer is ‘yes’ – but it’s still worth one final attempt at producing a proper Early Childhood Strategy, with a ten-year goal of a fully integrated system, a well qualified professional workforce and Children’s Centres offering a responsive and inclusive service to all our children.