Selling a New Model

Childcare is a tired term, and there is an argument for using pedagogical or educational thinking to give children their space in society.

A fascinating article appeared in the January edition of the National Institute Economic Review[1]. This is not a journal that I normally read, but the title of the piece Farewell to Childcare was sufficiently eye-catching to gain my interest. It was written by Peter Moss from the Thomas Coram Research Unit at the Institute of Education, and he started by giving an historical analysis of early years provision in England, particularly since New Labour came to power in 1997, and more specifically since the transfer of the responsibility for day care services to education in 1998.

But this is not some academic social policy analysis. What is so important about the piece is Peter Moss’s argument “…that in the early years field England has started a process of change from what I term a ‘childcare discourse’ to a ‘pedagogical discourse’, the former representing a fragmented approach to services for children, the latter the sort of integrated and holistic approach to which the Every Child Matters policy aspires”.

If I have understand his analysis correctly, his view is that in the past child care provision within the United Kingdom has largely been dominated by the notion of ‘domestic care’ for working parents and carers, whereas the point about the ‘pedagogical discourse’ is that it is a discourse “…about the provision of a service for all young children and families, irrespective of parental employment status”. This he views as “…a complement to, not a substitute for, the home, offering children qualitatively different experiences and relationships”.

To help the reader make sense of the language, Peter Moss introduces the notion of ‘space’ in these pedagogical settings where the space for the child is not seen as a purely educational concept, or even a space for play, but “…life spaces, sites for human relationships and the learning that accompanies relationships, springing from social interaction”.

The really important aspect of this is that the concept of providing spaces not only offers a child a holistic experience, but it also changes the nature of the professional involvement in which generic professionals can transfer their skills between settings such as residential children’s services and youth services.

In the article Moss compares the United Kingdom’s development with other countries and talks about the discourse in this country still being dominated by the traditional concept of child care, but goes onto look at the New Zealand system which uses the term ‘early childhood education’ in contrast to the pedagogic systems found in continental Europe.

One of the major problems which he alludes to is the continuing split between state education and private child care provision. The new integrated children’s centres in deprived areas may be seen to be based on a pedagogic model rather than the child care model which is likely to be adopted in the majority of the country.

In reading this article I began to feel that potentially we really could be at a cross roads that could lead us along a road to developing children’s services into an integrated service which could really benefit families. Although my usual optimistic persona looks forward positively to the dawn of a new age, my slightly jaded professional character still wonders whether what we are entering is just another bureaucratic maze that is dominated by performance management and procedures. I hope my professional side is proved wrong.

What strikes me as important in the notion of integrated services is that if it is going to achieve anything, professional barriers need to be broken down and the involvement of parents and carers in the running of the centres is going to be vital. These centres should play a central role in the lives of the community – inclusive centres which engage with their communities rather than being seen as separate.

The Government’s emphasis on community was emphasised again recently by David Milliband’s speech[2] at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations Annual Conference, in which he put forward the notion of ‘double devolution’, a concept that aims to devolve power to the local community.

If this notion is going to be merely another form of centralised control in which the centre sets the agenda and the criteria for delivery are specifed by a quango then it will be another policy intiative that will fail. If, however, the label ‘integrated children’s services’ means what is said on the tin, then children will be at the centre of service delivery with a service that provides them with ‘space’ to develop their full potential.

As Moss says in his concluding sentence, “My argument in this article is that ‘childcare’ is increasingly inadequate and outdated as a concept, and that at least one alternative is in the offing, with the potential of measuring up to contemporary conditions and needs”.

1. Peter Moss (2006) Farewell to Childcare? National Institute Economic Review No. 195 January 2006
2. David Milliband’s speech

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