Quality early childhood education for under-two-year-olds: What should it look like? A literature review

Publication Details

Recent years have seen increasing participation of under-two-year-olds in early childhood education. This literature review draws together relevant research evidence to better understand what quality early childhood education for children under-two-years of age should look like.

Author(s): Carmen Dalli, E. Jayne White, Jean Rockel, Iris Duhn with Emma Buchanan, Susan Davidson, Sarah Ganly, Larissa Kus, and Bo Wang, Victoria University of Wellington.

Date Published: March 2011

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Chapter 2: The Quality Debate: Past and present discourses


The aim of this chapter is to outline the landscape of scholarly debates about the notion of quality in early childhood education from the rise of childcare research in the 1960s and into the first decade of the new millennium. Two related lines of scholarship are identified: a discursive philosophical line and an effectiveness/ impact measurement line.

In the first part of the chapter changes in discourses about quality in early childhood education research between the 1960s and the end of the 1990s are described as outcomes of three waves of research on childcare, including within the New Zealand early childhood context. The1970s' and 1980s' view of quality as dependent on structural elements of the environment (such as physical space, adult:child ratios, group sizes, and staff qualifications) and key early intervention studies initiated in this period are briefly discussed to set the scene for more detailed discussion in Chapters 5 and 6.

Discussing ecological views of quality that emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s, the more socio-cultural understanding of quality as a multi-dimensional concept is foregrounded. In this perspective, quality exists in the 'eyes of the beholder' and is thus able to be understood from a range of perspectives as a project that is continuously evolving at the level of practice.

In the second part of the chapter more recent debates about quality are discussed including from the perspectives that: quality is that which makes a demonstrable beneficial impact on child development; that quality early childhood education can be considered a right that children have; and that from post-structuralist perspectives quality must be considered as neither neutral nor innocent but as a technology of government. These perspectives illustrate the many theoretical and methodological lenses that are now being brought to early childhood research. No longer is quality viewed in a formulaic manner, but instead, post positivist approaches place context in centre stage and suggest that conversations about the meaning of 'quality' for under two-year-olds might need to also include critical analysis of dominant ideas about our youngest learners and their entitlement to high quality early childhood education

The impact of this shift has been significant since it is now argued that quality can be found in the relationships that take place between adults and infants. The factors that once occupied researchers' attention therefore are now seen as subsidiary to this pedagogical and relational emphasis.

The impact of new neuroscientific knowledge about development on conceptions of quality early childhood education is also discussed.

This chapter considers how "quality" in early childhood services has been constructed in scholarly debates over time, with particular emhasis on current discussions and how they relate to the provision of early childhood services for under-two-year-olds in centre-based settings. It is worth reiterating that the presence of infants and toddlers in formal early educational contexts is a relatively recent phenomenon. This means that while there is much discussion about quality in research focusing on 3- and 4-year-old children, there is a comparatively much smaller empirical literature base (at least within the English-language scholarly literature) that has focused on quality provision for under-two-year-olds.

Starting with a brief history of quality discourses in early childhood education research, this chapter identifies two related lines of scholarship on quality early childhood education: a discursive philosophical line and an effectiveness/impact measurement line. The philosophical arguments around the notion of quality are reviewed in the second part of this chapter, with a particular focus on what is new in the debate. Studies focusing on the measurement of the impact of quality early childhood education provision, or the effectiveness of early childhood education within an early intervention framework, are foreshadowed in this chapter and discussed more fully in Chapter 6.

2.1 A brief history of the quality discourses

As noted earlier, debates within the English-speaking world around the notion of quality early childhood services have now acquired a 30-year tradition. This tradition alerts us to the historical, cultural and paradigmatic embeddedness of the notion of quality and to the need to critically evaluate attempts to define it in immutable and universalistic terms.

2.1.1 Three waves of childcare research: structural views of quality

By the 1990s, English-medium literature had identified at least three "waves" or generations of research on childcare (Farquhar, 1990; Melhuish, 2001; Melhuish & Moss, 1991; Pence & Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2006; Scarr & Eisenberg, 1993). The first wave, dominant during the late 1960s and 1970s, asked whether out-of-home childcare, or daycare in American parlance was bad for children. The eventual consensus that what matters for development is not the use of out-of-home childcare of itself but rather the quality of the childcare, whether at home or out of home (e.g., Phillips, 1987; Schaffer, 1990), opened the way to a second wave of research. It is important to note that most of this research was carried out within the North American context at a time when regulated centre-based care for infants and toddlers in New Zealand was still a relatively recent phenomenon. In this period, participation of New Zealand under-two-year-olds in these settings was still relatively limited, and not empirically investigated (May, 2001).

During the 1980s, the 'second wave' research aimed to identify those elements within the environment, such as caregiver behaviour, adult:child ratios, and the physical environment, that could be manipulated to produce high quality provision for children and families (e.g., Howes & Rubenstein, 1995; McCartney, Scarr, Phillips, Grajek & Schwarz, 1982). Licensing regulations adopted in the 1980s and 1990s in a number of jurisdictions, including in New Zealand, largely relied on this type of research to establish standards. Assessment tools to measure the overall or global level of quality of early childhood centres, such as the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) (Harms & Clifford, 1980) and subsequently its equivalent for infant-and-toddler settings, the Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS) (Harms, Cryer, & Clifford, 1998), also relied on findings from this second wave of research in determining which elements of the environment to include as scale items. Developed within the North American context, the measures swiftly became a popular tool in research where an instrument was needed to produce valid and reliable information across programmes (Harms & Clifford, 1983a, 1983b). Subsequently revised by the original developers as the ECERS-R (Harms et al., 1998), and more recently extended by Sylva, Siraj-Blatchford and Taggart (2006) as the ECERS-E, the ECERS measures remain widely used. The more recently developed Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) (Pianta, La Paro, & Hamre, 2008), also developed within a North American context, and aimed at assessing classroom quality in preschool through to third-grade classrooms, similarly includes research from this period among its references.

2.1.2 A New Zealand baseline for quality

Within the New Zealand context baseline understandings of what constitutes quality in early childhood education and care crystallised in a number of key policy, research and pedagogical documents published over this period. For example, the Meade Report (1988), commissioned by government as part of the wholesale reform of education in the late 1980s, made recommendations on the future of New Zealand's early childhood education and care services on the basis of the following components of quality culled from a review of contemporary research:

  1. appropriate staff/child ratios
  2. appropriate group size
  3. appropriate caregiver qualifications
  4. curriculum planning and implementation that is appropriate
  5. te reo Māori and tikanga Māori
  6. consistent care and education - low turnover of staff
  7. partnership between early childhood services and the parents and whānau
  8. safe and healthy environment
  9. a close relationship with the community.

Written at the end of the 1980s, this list reflected the awareness - which was later to mark out the so-called "third wave research" - that quality did not simply depend on the existence of structural measures but also on the dynamic interactions between these and process characteristics, such as adult caregiving and teaching practices that have since come to be described as 'pedagogy' (this concept is further explained in Chapter 4). A frequently cited example of this type of research is Howes, Phillips and Whitebook's (1992) work which used three independent samples of children attending daycare centres in two American states with different licensing standards, and assessed the quality of in-centre childcare relationships between 414 children (aged 14 to 54 months) and their teachers, and specific developmental outcomes. Using adult:child ratios and group size recordings every 15 minutes as indices of structural quality, subscales from the ECERS and ITERS to measure process quality, and a battery of developmental tests and rating scales to measure children's attachment behaviour, social orientation and peer interaction, the study concluded that "good things go together" (p. 458). In other words, Howes et al. found that licensing standards did make a difference to the quality of care provided for children, and that centres which maintained adequate adult:child ratios and group sizes also tended to employ well-educated teachers and pay relatively high salaries. Furthermore, the authors found that a predictable pathway existed from regulable elements of quality to process quality, and thence to relationships with teachers, and to relationships with peers. They also pointed to the need to research how these variables combined with family variables to affect child development, an issue addressed in other studies (Howes & Olenick, 1986; Melhuish, 2001).

Within the New Zealand context the international scholarly consensus, exemplified in Howes et al.'s (1993) study, that both structural and process components mattered for quality early childhood provision was reflected in the design of a national study of 200 under-two-year-olds in 100 early childhood centres across Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Canterbury, Otago and Southland (Smith, Ford, Hubbard & White, 1995). The results revealed that the quality of education and care these young children received was significantly correlated with working conditions, and the qualifications, training and background education of their educators. Further analysis of the data in this study by Barraclough and Smith (1996) found that parents' choice of childcare centre was typically determined by cost and location, and that support was needed for parents to discern what constituted quality education and care for this age group. In an associated video entitled The Search for Quality Educare, produced by Anne Smith (1993) as a pedagogical and parent education tool, eleven features of quality were listed. New Zealand parents were advised to look for these when choosing an early childhood setting for their child:

  1. sensitive and responsive interactions between adults and children
  2. adult-child ratios
  3. trained staff
  4. stability of staff
  5. group size
  6. planned programmes or curriculum
  7. peer stability and harmony
  8. sensitivity to family and culture
  9. biculturalism
  10. safe and healthy physical environment
  11. cost linked to quality.

Each element was then illustrated through discursive commentary by well-known national and international early childhood experts and through filmed sequences from actual childcare and preschool settings in New Zealand. The features named by Smith (1993) were also included in a literature review by Podmore and Meade (2000). In both cases the authors placed a specific focus on staff qualifications and indicators of quality.

2.1.3 Third wave research on quality: an ecological perspective

"Third wave" research in the late 1980s and early 1990s reflected a more ecological conceptualisation of quality. The research literature, still emanating mainly from North America, focused on aspects of adult behaviours such as involvement in quality interactions with children, and the links of these behaviours to children's cognitive, linguistic and socio-emotional development. Links to the socio-cultural context in which the early childhood experience occurred also became a focus of this wave of research, subsequently leading to a new philosophical orientation that asked 'who says what is quality?' (e.g., Farquhar, 1993; Moss & Pence, 1994; Woodhead, 1996).

Within New Zealand an awareness of the importance of context had already permeated to policy circles. Throughout the 1980s the policy agenda for early childhood education was dominated by the need to respond to the particular issues of the historical inequity of funding and resourcing faced by different parts of the early childhood sector; this eventually resulted in the transfer of the administration of childcare from the Department of Social Welfare to the Department of Education (Meade & Podmore, 2002). During this period, as researchers and other advocates lobbied for policy improvements to regulations and funding arrangements, and policy makers sought to build evidence-based arguments for change, the scarcity of New Zealand early childhood research necessitated a heavy reliance on research findings from outside the country. Nonetheless, it was standard practice for New Zealand researchers (and policy makers) to point outthe pitfalls of such a practice, including the dangers of generalising findings from a North American context to the New Zealand one. Particular difficulties highlighted in these discussions were: (i) the different historical and cultural contexts of early childhood services between the two countries; and (ii) the tremendous variations between the regulatory contexts of the different states internally within the US making comparisons across the US problematic (e.g., Belsky, Steinberg, & Walker, 1982), let alone beyond.

It is noteworthy that another strong theme within New Zealand discussions about quality at the end of the 1980s was to do with cultural variations in understandings of the meaning of quality. In the main this discourse took the form of advocacy by indigenous Māori (e.g., Irwin, 1987) and Pacific Nations people (e.g., Ete, 1993) who in policy settings and sector conferences pointed out that so-called "mainstream" Pākehā perspectives of quality did not satisfy Māori or Pacific aspirations from early childhood education and care provisions. The 1980s was the decade when Ngā Kohanga Reo emerged on the early childhood scene as a uniquely Māori response to the likelihood that the Māori language would be lost to future generations unless something was done to preserve it. The establishment of the first kohanga reo in 1982 with a kaupapa of whānau development around te reo and ngā tikanga Māori made an implicit statement about expectations about quality in early childhood services for Māori. Similarly, Ete argued passionately that early childhood services valued by the Pasifika community were being provided by the churches through practical resources like church halls, as opposed to state funding or other resourcing. Underlying these discussions was an implicit question about the meaning of quality early childhood education in these communities. While in the 1980s and early 1990s these views were not "research-based" in the usual tradition of Western scholarship, they sounded a note that chimed with a new theme that was beginning to emerge in scholarly journals and publications elsewhere (e.g., Lamb, Sternberg, Hwang & Broberg, 1992; Tobin, Vu & Davidson, 1989), namely that quality is not a universal concept, but rather a value-based, relative and contestable one.

The new theme in childcare research in the mid- to late 1990s, therefore, was one that positioned the notion of quality as multi-dimensional, and as existing 'in the eyes of beholder' (Farquhar, 1991; Moss & Pence, 1994), and thus able to be understood from a range of perspectives. In this period a key reference point was Lilian Katz's (1993) proposition that there are at least four perspectives from which programme quality can be viewed: the 'top-down" perspective seen by visiting adults or observers and identified by selected characteristics of the setting; the "bottom-up" perspective of how the setting is experienced by the children in the setting; the "outside-inside" perspective which refers to the experience of parents served by the programme; and the "inside" perspective of the staff who provide the programme.

2.1.4 An expanded scholarly base for early childhood studies: quality as multi-perspectival

Within the international early childhood academic community, the late 1990s also saw an expansion of scholarship that emphasised the need to re-conceptualise the disciplinary base of early childhood education away from an exclusively child developmental focus to incorporate insights from multiple disciplines. For example, Americans Stott and Bowman (1996), called child development knowledge a "slippery base" (p. 169) for practice, firstly because of its changing nature, and secondly because child development research can only approximate reality rather than explain what experience means to the child; which, according to psychologists, is what matters for development. Thirdly, there is the fact that child development theory and research reflect particular historical and socio-political positions. In other words, what is researched, and how, is determined by dominant discourses and values at the time.

Additionally, as increasing numbers of critical writers had begun to point out (e.g., Burman, 1994; Lubeck, 1996; Moss, 1994; Singer, 1993; Walkerdine, 1984; Woodhead, 1996), most theories of development are based on Western ideas and reflect Western values, yetthey claim universal application. This tends to produce views of what is 'normal' that construe and create 'difference' as 'abnormal', inferior or pathological. Some argued that this tendency contributes to disenfranchising the poor and the powerless (Burman). In response to these arguments, the map of the specialised knowledge base of early childhood education began to be re-drawn to take on board the notions that:

  1. theories change and so too, do their implications for practice (Berk & Winsler, 1995)
  2. theories need to be judged not only from the point of view of how well they describe or explain behaviour, but also how useful they are in optimising potential in a given context (Carpenter, Dixon, Rata & Rawlinson, 2001)
  3. values underlie all theory and practice (e.g., Cannella, 1997)
  4. children do not exist outside of a social context (e.g., Jenks, 1996).

The consequence of such arguments has been that since the mid-1990s there has been a greater awareness in early childhood scholarship that in order to enrich our understanding of development, it is important to look to other human science disciplines beyond child development, such as sociology, philosophy, anthropology and health studies. By extension, debates about the nature of quality in early childhood education became increasingly concerned with the idea that quality is multi-dimensional and open to multiple perspectives.

Starting from this premise, Moss and Pence's (1994) edited volume Valuing quality in early childhood services became an instant classic. Working in two diverse cultural contexts, the UK and Canada, Moss and Pence pulled together a collection of writings by international authors, including New Zealanders Smith and Farquhar (1994), who collectively argued that there are many stakeholders with an interest in evaluating quality and simultaneously illustrated the relative, value-based and dynamic nature of the concept of quality. Martin Woodhead's (1996) image of a cube with three visible faces to represent the three dimensions of (i) indicators of quality, (ii) stakeholders' perspectives, and (iii) beneficiaries' perspectives contributed to this new line of scholarship serving to heighten interest in the argument that quality is inevitably perspectival and, as Woodhead argued, context-bound. Woodhead, by background an English developmental psychologist, built his argument on his experience of compiling the reports of four early childhood intervention studies involving children and their families in poor communities in India, Kenya, Venezuela and France. Arguing that any early childhood programme was a complex human system shaped by individual and group interests, values and cultural patterns, Woodhead concluded that existing models of quality were based on Euro-American thinking that assumed that child development could be isolated as a "separable subject both for study and for professional intervention" (p. 10); he argued that this was "both untenable and unhelpful" (p.10) in the majority of world contexts of his studies. Woodhead argued that a distinction needed to be made between the quality issues faced in affluent Western societies - the minority world - and quality issues faced by the developing economies of the Third World where the majority of the world's children live their childhood. Viewing quality as "relative but not arbitrary" (p. 10), Woodhead proposed an approach that was "more contextual, more holistic and more open… to issues of quality" (p. 10) and would take account of the three questions of: "Who are the stakeholders?", "Who are the beneficiaries?", and "What are the indicators of quality?"

The arguments presented by Moss and Pence (1994) and Woodhead (1996) can now be viewed as the beginnings of a steady stream of writings that in the late 1990s increasingly positioned the notion of quality as contestable, perspectival, and open to debate. This included arguments that quality measures, such as the ECERS, were based on particular values that were culturally derived (e.g., Rosenthal, 1999), and thus needed to be applied with caution. In this vein, Munton, Mooney and Rowland (1995) proposed that, as there can be no agreed definition of quality, the best alternative would be to develop a conceptual framework for deconstructing it, a task that Dahlberg, Moss & Pence (1999, 2007) and others undertook in subsequent years.

2.1.5 Quality as a measured outcome

Meanwhile, as these philosophical debates about quality continued to unfold, research and policy interest in the developmental impact of childcare experience had not abated but became connected to discourses about programme effectiveness, and early intervention programmes for at-risk populations, as investments for the future. Research on projects such as the longitudinal Abecedarian study, begun in the 1970s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by Craig Ramey (e.g., Campbell & Pungello, 2000; Campbell & Ramey, 1995), some of the Head Start projects including the newer Early Head Start ones (e.g., Ontai, Hinrichs, Beard & Wilcox, 2002), the Chicago Longitudinal Study (e.g., Ou, 2005), and the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project (Schweinhart et al., 2005) all remained in citation throughout the 1990s and into the first decade of the new millennium (see also Dearing, McCartney & Taylor, 2009).

Additionally, in the 1990s and early 2000s attention increasingly focused on the results emerging from the prospective longitudinal Study of Early Child Care initiated in 1991 by the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) (Peth-Pierce, 1998). The study began partly as a consequence of challenges to the methodological integrity of "first wave" research which erupted in the late 1980s in what became known as the "Belsky controversy" (Belsky, 1987, 1988; Clarke-Stewart, 1988; Phillips, McCartney, Scarr & Howes, 1987). The controversy had re-opened the debate about the impact of infant day care on the child's attachment to the mother. In an effort to settle this ideologically and politically sensitive issue in a scientific manner, the NICHD had invited applications from the researcher community to collaborate in a multi-site study with the aim of:

moving beyond the global questions about whether child care is good or bad for children….[and] focus[ing] on how the different aspects of care - such as quantity and quality - are related to various aspects of children's development. More specifically, researchers are evaluating the relationship between child care and children's cognitive and language development, children's relationship with their mothers, and their self-control, compliance and problem behaviors, as well as peer relations and physical health. (Peth-Pierce, 1998, p. 2)

The final line-up of selected researchers included prominent participants in the Belsky controversy, and a steering committee of NICHD scientists. A total of 1,364 children were recruited at age one month from 10 different sites and a complex study designed which attempted to avoid the limitations of earlier studies. The design took account of many variables, including the characteristics of the childcare and family environment; it also assessed children's development using multiple methods. Phase one of the study followed the children from one month to age three years; since the first results of the NICHD study appeared in the mid-1990s, any discussion of the impact of quality childcare from a developmental perspective inevitably has referenced this work.

By the beginning of the new millennium there were thus two dominant lines of scholarly discussions distinguishable in the international literature: one was concerned with philosophical discussions about the meaning of quality, and the other related to research interested in untangling the impact of various daycare/childcare variables on child outcomes.

2.1.6 Crossing into the new millennium: the New Zealand trajectory

Meanwhile, in the New Zealand context, early childhood research and policy had started a different trajectory. Within a policy context aimed at creating a seamless education system from early childhood to tertiary education, an initiative to develop national curricula for the different educational levels led to the development of the early childhood education curriculum guidelines, Te Whāriki. The result of an extensive sector-wide consultation process, Te Whāriki aimed to allow the diversity of the sector to be expressed around a conceptual and theoretical framework that invites dialogue and "responsive, reciprocal, relationships… with people, places and things" (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 9). Te Whāriki thus implicitly defined quality as based on a pedagogy of relationships with learning outcomes re-conceptualised away from traditional subject areas and towards goals stated in terms of children's well-being, belonging, contribution, communication and exploration: the five "strands" of the curriculum based on the four principles of empowerment, holistic development, family and community, and relationships. This approach led to significant pedagogical changes across all early childhood services, including: the development of new assessment tools using observational and narrative reflections known as 'Learning' and 'Teaching stories' (Carr, May & Podmore, 2002); the action research tool for quality improvement in centres, The Quality Journey, released in 1999 (Ministry of Education, 1999); and professional development programmes using these tools. These key resources, developed to support the implementation of Te Whāriki, together with the document Quality in Action (Ministry of Education, 1998) which provided guidance to early childhood services about how to implement the 1996 revised Statement of Desirable Objectives and Practices, strove to articulate further what quality in early childhood education, across the 0 to 5 years age-range, should look like in this country. As White (2003) has noted, the latter was a deliberate move away from the prescriptive accreditation processes that were being implemented in other countries, such as the US and Australia, and towards a process that used the more empowering evaluation model of self-review (Collins, Davey & White, 2005; Fetterman & Wandersman, 2005).

These New Zealand innovations attracted significant international interest. For example, Te Whāriki is one of four curriculum models cited in the OECD's Starting Strong documents (OECD, 2001); it is referred to in the literature review commissioned by the English Department for Education and Skills (DfES) Birth to three matters (David, Goouch, Powell & Abbott, 2003), and features as a key reference in the first ever national Australian Early Years Learning Framework entitled Belonging, being and becoming launched at the end of 2009 (Council of Australian Governments, 2009).

In the local context, the implementation of these innovations positioned quality as an ongoing quest that is achievable through a continuous system of self-improvement in which the key components are: (i) teachers' ability to engage in evaluation processes; (ii) structural support features; and (iii) an ongoing openness to knowledge of what constitutes quality. Initiatives taken at the beginning of the new millennium as part of the implementation of the 10-year strategic plan for early childhood education, Pathways to the Future: Ngā Huarahi Arataki (Ministry of Education, 2002) further developed this positioning.

The rest of this chapter deals with ongoing philosophical discussions of the notion of quality over the past decade; quality as understood through studies focusing on the measurement of impact and effectiveness are discussed in Chapters 5 and 6.

2.2 Discourses of quality in the new millennium

2.2.1 Developments in New Zealand: quality as continuously evolving practice

Continuing along the same trajectory started in the 1990s, the New Zealand discourse of quality during the first decade of the new millennium was largely constructed around a view of quality as a project that is continuously evolving at the level of practice in early childhood settings. Two key developments marked out this discourse, and each devolved from two of the core goals of Pathways to the Future: Ngā Huarahi Arataki (Ministry of Education, 2002): improving quality services, and enhancing collaboration.

One development was the compilation of Ngā Arohaehae Whai Hua: The Self-Review Guidelines (Ministry of Education, 2006) as an initiative that built on Quality in Action, and The Quality Journey, to further support centres to evaluate their own practice. The Self-Review Guidelines differed from the earlier documents in being conceptually linked to the evaluation methodologies of the Education Review Office (ERO), thus bringing together the goals and priorities of the state monitoring service with those of individual ECS. Evaluating the uptake of this approach by early childhood services, the Education Review Office (2009) reported that:

A challenge for services is to sustain ongoing self review by embedding practices that withstand changes in management, staffing and ownership. Other factors affecting the sustainability of self review included the quality of leadership, the extent to which staff worked as a team and the organisational culture of the service. A lack of self review in some of the services could be attributed to such factors. (Education Review Office, 2009, p. 18)

The second development that contributed to the discourse of quality as continuous self-review and self-improvement was the initiation of the Centres of Innovation (COI) action research programme which, between 2002 and 2009, enabled 20 early childhood services to be nominated a COI through a competitive selection process. Once successful, the staff of the COI were teamed up with an academic researcher to work through a three-year action research process to document, research and disseminate their innovative practice. As the teaching teams presented their work at conferences and published their reports in a series of edited volumes (Meade, 2006, 2007, 2010) a new discourse of quality arose within the practitioner community around the notion of teacher-researchers engaging in systematic reflection, and action, to improve practice (Dalli, 2010; Meade, 2010). Additionally, specific practices implemented by the COIs, became associated with quality provision for under-twos. For example, three COIs, the A'oga Fa'a Samoa (Meade, 2007; Podmore & Wendt Samu, 2006), The Massey Child Care Centre (Hoiho section) (Bary et al., 2008), and the Childspace Ngaio Infants and Toddlers Centre COI (Dalli & Kibble, 2010), highlighted how the use of a key worker system, or primary caregiving system, could enhance the learning experiences of infants and toddlers, while both Te Kopae Piripono COI and the Greerton Early Childhood Centre (Greerton Early Childhood Centre, 2010) showed that practices of shared leadership facilitated family involvement and whanau development.

2.2.2 The international trajectory of quality discourse

Within the international context, meanwhile, discourses on quality were following a path that Melhuish (2001) had accurately predicted in an article aimed at taking stock of the debates about quality in early childhood at the start of the new millennium, and contemplating its likely future. Melhuish (2001), a British researcher with a longstanding career in child care research, considered the ongoing debates to be an illustration of the value-laden nature of the concept of quality but, in his words, "this does not invalidate any one approach to quality, as long as the values underlying the approach are recognised" (p. 1).

Quality as demonstrable difference

Melhuish's (2001) stocktake of "the quest for quality in early day care and preschool experience" was carried out at a time when he had just become involved in the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) project in the UK. In stating his case, Melhuish argued that measurement was a major issue in discussions about quality of care because "measurement objectifies theoretical assumptions about what quality is" (p. 1). Together with the NICHD study of early child care, the EPPE project is currently one of the frequently cited longitudinal studies investigating children's early childhood experiences in the English-speaking world. Having reviewed the ways that different studies had sought to study the developmental impact of quality early childhood provision, and how quality of care had been measured since the 1980s, Melhuish concluded that while measures of quality that relied on observation methods were common, they were also flawed. He offered at least two reasons for this. In the first place, measures of settings (e.g., ECERS; ITERS) do not take account of the fact that even in the same setting, the experience of different children varies. Secondly, alternative methods that seek to remedy this by observing focal children (e.g., Pierrehumbert et al.'s 1996, Observation de lieu de vie de l'enfant (OLIVE) and the NICHD's 1996 Observation of specific children and caregivers (ORCE)) succeed in obtaining more accurate understanding of the experience of specific children, but have the significant drawback of being very expensive of researchers' time and produce results that may not generalise to other children. Melhuish thus predicted that in the new millennium there would be a move away from observational methods that focus on the settings, or specific child and caregiver functioning, and towards paradigms for research that adopt "hierarchical models of children nested within families, families within settings, settings within cultures (communities) etc." (p. 4). Melhuish envisaged that these models would require statistical analysis such as multi-level modelling (Goldstein, 1995, cited in Melhuish, p. 4) or linear level modelling (Bryk & Raudenbush, 1992, cited in Melhuish, p. 4) which would enable an answer to the question of whether a particular institution attended by a child "made a difference" (p. 4).

The issue of making a difference was emphasised by Melhuish (2001) as a way of defining quality in early childhood provisions. In his view, using multi-level modelling to determine whether an early childhood setting made a difference to children would mean moving to a definition of quality which sees quality as indicated by "demonstrable beneficial effects on child development" (p. 4). He argued that this would be an advance on earlier ways of defining quality. Multi-level modelling would identify an institution as either effective (high quality) or ineffective (low quality) so that the specific characteristics of the setting could then be investigated intensively, including through qualitative research, to arrive at an understanding of the processes that underlie the quality of the provision. He argued that this was the approach that the EPPE study planned to follow. Melhuish concluded that as it is now the norm for children to experience some form of out-of-home child care in the early years, it was to be expected that all future longitudinal studies of children's development would include measurement of the childcare experience. He saw this as resulting in the integration of the study of childcare more firmly within developmental psychology.

Melhuish's prediction of the type of research that would ensue in the new millennium has certainly been borne out as evidenced by many of the studies cited in Chapters 5 and 6, including the NICHD's study (e.g., 2003, 2004, 2005a, 2005b) of early child care in the US.

Quality as relative, perspectival, locally constructed and complex

At the same time, a separate and equally vigorous line of scholarship has continued to grow that has elaborated the statement by Moss (1994) that:

Quality in early childhood education is a relative concept. As such, quality in early childhood services is a constructed concept, subjective in nature and based on values, beliefs and interests, rather than on objective and universal reality. Quality childcare is, to a large extent, in the eye of the beholder… (p. 172)

The rest of this section elaborates on this line of research and scholarship; it outlines the discursive nature of 'quality' as it addresses the question of: What are the current issues in relation to debates about 'quality' early childhood education? What is new in the debate?

As signalled already, current scholarship on 'quality' emphasises the importance of carefully assessing how meanings of 'quality' differ; this difference exists not only across time, but also across and within places. An important theme has been the emphasis on critical engagement with 'quality' discourses as a counter measure to the potentially colonising effects of universalistic notions (Cannella & Viruru, 2004; Viruru, 2001). For instance, Islam (2010) recently proposed the need to focus on 'little narratives' (petits récits) as a way of engaging with issues of quality that address cultural and historical difference, while Rix, Paige-Smith and Jones (2008) argued for a recognition of the potentially damaging effects that universal notions of quality can have for children and families, particularly those who potentially benefit from early intervention programmes. Rix et al.'s (2008) argument emerged from their small scale investigation of English parents' perceptions of the quality of an early intervention programme in which their Down Syndrome children were enrolled. They reported that "parents did not identify a single effective approach to their children's learning, but talked about many positive early learning opportunities and experiences in the lives of their families" (p. 75). The authors concluded that these parents perceived early intervention as counterproductive when their children felt they were not in control and did not meet early intervention specialists' expectations. Parents "suggested that these feelings were often engendered by the developmental, target-driven strategies at the heart of much of the current early intervention process" (p. 75). 'Quality' in this context refers to particular opportunities and experiences that enable children's learning. The notion of 'little narratives' captures the emphasis on paying attention to specific characteristics of the situation, in this case how learning is experienced by the child: as enjoyable, enabling and empowering because it relates to the child's specific context. Little narratives of this kind thus enable critical engagement with universal notions of 'quality' and highlight that the concept is contestable.

According to some authors, 'quality' is often assumed as self-explanatory (Dahlberg, Moss, & Pence, 1999; Fleer & Kennedy, 2006)and even given 'iconic status' in much of early childhood policy and research discourse. It has been argued that the current eagerness to optimise outcomes for young children via early intervention programmes (see Chapter 6) can add to this iconic status by rendering 'quality' invisible as a complex, multifaceted construct (Graue, 2005). Moss (2005) warned that dominant contemporary discourses of 'quality' assume that the concept is neutral, measurable, and value-free and raised concerns over the effects of positioning such assumed concepts of quality at the centre of early childhood pedagogical work, policy and its evaluation. Specifically, he argued that when the meaning of 'quality' is taken for granted, other possibilities for talking about pedagogical work are closed off. Moss proposed "an" alternative that would involve talking about pedagogical work as "meaning making" (p. 405) in which "plurality, contingency, subjectivity, provisionality, political process, and ethics" (p. 405) were welcomed. Above all, Moss urged for awareness that when the concept of quality was invoked, there was a political and ethical choice that followed.

Working in different contexts across multiple continents, other critical early childhood scholars like Australian Fenech and Sumsion (2007), English author Julia Manning-Morton (2006) and Canadian researcher Susan Prentice (2009) have made similar statements; each has insisted on the importance of problematising the concept to stimulate the continuation of "conversations so that the measures and enactments of quality can be as complex as the practice" (Graue, 2005, p. 522).

Critical engagement with how quality is conceptualised and enacted in early childhood discourse is particularly important for pedagogical work with infants and toddlers because research on what 'quality' learning and teaching entails for such young children is relatively scarce. Yet, despite this gap, literature about pedagogical work with the youngest learners shows a notable absence of critical analysis about how these young children are discursively shaped. Those few studies that have paid attention to infant and toddler experiences as learners in early childhood settings (e.g., Dalli, Rockel, Craw, Doyle, & Duhn, 2009; Ireland, 2006) thus provide a platform from which 'quality' can start to be re-assessed specifically for this age group.

Some of the small body of existing literature that addresses issues related to 'quality' infant and toddler pedagogy pays particular attention to the interrelationship between teachers' characteristics and complex contextual and philosophical issues, from a range of perspectives. For example, at a time when having university qualified staff employed in infant and toddler settings was still the exception in most Australian early childhood centres, Ireland (2006) carried out case studies in centres that gave priority to employing degree qualified staff with the aim of investigating what happened "when babies have teachers" (p. 1). Ireland's analysis highlighted that these centres succeeded in employing degreed staff through the interrelationship of complex factors including: well-developed leadership within the centre, strong philosophical beliefs about the value of qualified staff, efficient management strategies, and teachers' and centre directors' individual capacity to act ethically and viably to provide high quality early childhood education.

Quality as children's lived experience

Complex interrelationships as a feature of quality practice were highlighted also by Gammage (2003) who drew on research to argue that the best environment for learning is created by teachers who are "well informed" and "have current theory at their fingertips" (p. 353). He argued that the teachers who are well placed to create the best learning environments for young learners are the ones with the abilities to continuously review and evaluate pedagogy and curriculum (see also Chapter 4).

One study that provides an effective insight into Gammage's (2003) argument at the level of lived experience of quality is Eriksen Ødegaard's (2006) research with 1-3-year-olds in a Norwegian preschool. Through analysing videoed recordings of the toddlers' interactions with their friends and adults during 15 mealtimes, Eriksen Ødegaard showed that the children, including non-verbal ones, were initiating and maintaining "co-narratives" that "related to the problems in their lives …. and co-constructed meaning on the emotions of anger, fear, loss and desire in an effort to make meaning and take control of these important life themes" (p. 83). Eriksen Ødegaard identified 39 co-narratives on topics such as: birthdays (a story of anger); "gloomy Santa Claus" (a story of fear) and so on. One story that involved a child who "was not yet two years old" (p. 86) was called "Frida is gone" (a story of loss) and related to one of the preschool adults having left the table to take her break. Two under-two-year-old children and an adult participated in this co-narrative as the children and the adults constructed meaning about the fact that not everyone was present, but that Frida would return. Eriksen Ødegaard(2006) reflected that adults are used to thinking of children as preoccupied with "the here and now" and often may not notice very young children's initiation of emotionally-charged narratives; for infants and toddlers in ECE, she pointed out, life is more dramatic than adults tend to notice: "Such matters are worth talking about, and need stories … to make meaning out of situations and emotional states" p. 89). Eriksen Ødegaard argued for more awareness that dialogue constructs meaning and thinking and creates cultural patterns for expressing and enacting emotions, and experiencing the world.

From the perspective of the quality debate this study illustrates some of the teacher qualities discussed by Gammage (2003) as necessary to create the best learning environments for very young learners: teachers who are "well-informed" and "have current theory at their fingertips" (p.353). Similar micro studies of infants' and toddlers' experiences carried out in New Zealand over recent years (e.g., Alcock, 2007; Brennan, 2005; Dalli, 1999; Dalli & Kibble, 2010; Stephenson, 2009; White, 2009) likewise illuminate a range of different context-specific infant/toddler cultures, even within the same centre. They indicate the importance of generating different context-specific and micro-level understandings of quality alongside traditional ones. As with Eriksen Ødegaard's (2006) study, these New Zealand studies provide evidence that the co-construction of narratives enables toddlers "to come to grips with the problems in their lives" (Eriksen Ødegaard, p. 89). This is a new insight that challenges not only dominant discourses of pre-verbal children's ability to construct meaning, but also throws light on the widely-held and mistaken belief that 'toddlers have no problems in their lives' (Ødegaard). Cumulatively, they point to the need to consider how dominant discourses conceptualise very young children, and consequently 'quality' pedagogy and curriculum for this age group. Gammage (2003) has argued that quality pedagogy demands a high level of academic literacy and the ability of adults to engage with current research (see also OECD, 2001). Additionally, Eriksen Ødegaard's work (alongside that of others) signals the need to move away from the perception that children of this age are limited in their learning through, for example, their inability to focus, or short attention spans.

Smith (1999) made a similar argument cogently in a study (reported earlier) which remains one of the few New Zealand studies that has critically examined the nature of infant and toddler experiences in group-based early childhood settings using a mixed method research approach. Combining analyses of measures of structural quality with qualitative analyses of interactions in the hundred childcare centres involved in the study, Smith concluded that "joint attention episodes may be an important micro indicator of quality in early childhood environments since centres with joint attentional episodes achieved higher mean scores on overall infant quality" (p. 95). However, joint attention sequences were not reported at all in a third of the centres in Smith's study. Reflecting on the findings, Smith noted that it was commonplace among staff working with under-two-year-olds (in 1990s New Zealand) to assume that the children were too young to be engaged in learning; this assumption led to many missed opportunities for rich learning offered at times of "joint attention".

Quality as a right of children

Freeman (2007) has argued that the most fundamental of rights is the right to possess rights. The release of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 prompted questions about what the term 'child's rights' means in theory and in practice. The word 'rights' is difficult to define and there are many diverse and contrary understandings about what constitutes children's rights (Alderson, 2000, 2002; Alston, 1994; Freeman, 1992). For example, a discourse of children's needs has been "a powerful theoretical device for constructing images of childhood, prescribing for care and education, and judging the quality of adult-child relationships" (Woodhead, 1997). On the other hand, children's rights discourse views the child as agentic, capable and competent of expressing an opinion (see for example, Alderson, Hawthorne & Killen, 2005; Lansdown, 2005; Smith, 2003, 2007). In relation to infants and very young children in early childhood education and care settings, General Comment 7 (United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2005) argues for states parties, or countries that have signed UNCROC: to support parents; to encourage child-centred practices in early education; and for early childhood professionals to develop partnerships with parents to realise the intent of the respective articles. Particular articles of UNCROC establish specific rights. For example, Article 28 (1) establishes the right to education, progressively, and "on the basis of equal opportunity" (CRIN, 2007, p. 12); Article 29 (a) entitles children to an education "directed to the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential" (Child's Rights Information Network, 2007, p. 13); and Article 31 has been interpreted as a right to play (Freeman, 2007). These particular articles have direct relevance to the programmes offered in early childhood settings, they embed notions of what quality early childhood provision looks like, and provide the basis for advocacy for children's rights to access early education of high quality.

UNCROC also acknowledges adults' responsibilities to care for children, including respecting children's rights to express, or form, a point of view, and in so doing, assert their rights to be involved in decisions that affect them (Article 12).

These studies suggest that conversations about the meaning of 'quality' for under-two-year-olds might need to also include critical analysis of dominant ideas about our youngest learners and their entitlement to high quality early childhood education (Te One, 2009).

'Quality' for whom? Post-structural questionings of discourses of childhood

As highlighted in the preceding section, in the new millennium a focus on how subjects, concepts and discourses are produced has begun to challenge the nature of knowledge production in the early childhood field. Analyses of childhood as a socio-political construct (Baker, 1998; Bloch, Kennedy, Lightfoot, & Weyenberg, 2006; James, Jenks, & Prout, 1998; Rose, 1990) argue convincingly, and persistently, that subjects such as 'the child', 'the teacher', and 'the infant' are made and re-made in daily encounters, in policy, in educational discourse and on a global level (for example in global policy commentaries such as in OECD and UNICEF reports). Using post structuralist ideas, childhood is therefore seen as an intensively governed domain, and early childhood education as a 'technology of government' (Foucault, 1994), or as a site where subjects are constructed (Ailwood, 2004). The subjects of early childhood education are teachers, children, families and communities, with the task of critical analysis being to understand what conditions and possibilities exist for "subjects who live and work within the early childhood years" (Ailwood, p. 28). These kinds of analyses are exploring the parameters of current discourse by focusing on the interrelations of power and knowledge production (Ailwood, 2003; Duhn, 2008; Fendler, 2001; Løkken, 2009; Osgood, 2006; White, 2005, 2009). Studies in this paradigm point out that it is important to be vigilant about the ways in which discourses and subjects are produced to create spaces for analyses of possibilities and limitations of current practices and theories in early childhood education. Such analyses are the foundation for discussions of 'quality' that intend to go beyond technicist perspectives (e.g., Gammage, 2003; Moss, 2005). For example, White (2005) recorded dialogues with home-based caregivers and separately with diploma-trained coordinators from the same organisation. The results revealed that in a context where there was no shared professional educational background, there were staggering (and in some cases, alarming) differences in beliefs, and associated discursive practices about what constituted quality among the study participants. White concluded that quality was a constructed concept that required dialogue and dissensus, as well as consensus, if it was to be realised in early childhood education contexts.

Analyses of subjects and discourses point out that iconic beliefs and approaches, such as those related to 'quality', 'play-centred' and 'child-centred' practices and pedagogies, are neither neutral nor innocent. Rather, they are Foucaultian technologies of government that shape children's, parents' and teachers' sense of self in specific ways (Ailwood, 2003; Langford, 2010). For example, Lind (2005) has challenged the existing "paradigm that views play as fun: as having no external goals" (p. 264), and argued instead that play is a careful reproduction of the existing social/cultural/economic order. This was illustrated in a study in which a teacher's taken-for-granted beliefs about what was going on during an episode of rough-and-tumble play were totally transformed when she was able to look more closely at what the children were doing, and ask them about it. This revealed that the shapes were "signifying practices" and that the children were using their bodies to make "creations" with meanings (p. 256). Lind argued that disruption of the existing paradigm had led the teacher to re-name and re-interpret, "thus creating a relational space for the children and teachers. Shifting discourses and subject positions emerged as participants [in the event] performed different modes of being teacher and child" (p. 265). Lind saw these new "relational spaces" (p. 266) as offering an opportunity for new learning for the children and the teachers, the "subjects" (Ailwood, 2003) of early childhood discourse.

Similarly, Fleer (2005) has argued for a re-thinking of how subjects are made to challenge universalising discourses, such as child development. With increasingly diverse populations, western notions of child development do not 'fit' every child (see also Burman, 1994; Singer, 1993; Woodhead, 1996). She argued that the term 'child development' has been reified and:

now represents a static and monocultural view of children. We could suggest that the term 'cultural historical development of children' more closely captures the dynamic and complex nature of the interlacing institutional structures, cultural belief systems, and the dynamic processes of children engaged in daily activity together with other people. (Fleer, 2005, p. 6)

From the perspective of infants and toddlers as child-subjects, the challenge to review child development could create powerful new spaces from which new understandings can emerge, such as the previously discussed notion of the pre-verbal child as meaning-maker (e.g., Eriksen Ødegaard, 2006; Johansson, 2001; Smith, 1999; White, 2009).

Quality discourses from demographic trends

Another example of a new/emerging "subject" is the 'only, lonely' child in the western middle class early childhood context (Gammage, 2003). For these children and their families, early childhood education becomes increasingly important as a site that facilitates socialisation for single children. With constantly increasing numbers of infants in early childhood centres, and with their average age at entry decreasing, large scale studies, such as the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) involving 5107 infants, are beginning to open up new understandings about these shifts. For example, within the Australian context Harrison and Ungerer (2005) reported that 36 percent of the infants in their study were cared for during the week by someone other than the parent - this included care by other relatives or caregivers, as well as centre-based early childhood services. The main reason for having infants in early childhood services was parents' work (72 percent). Most infants (75 percent) of those in regular out-of-home care received a single type of care; however, 22 percent experienced two types of care arrangements while 3 percent of infants were cared for in three or more arrangements each week. When starting care, infants averaged 14.9 hrs per week in non-maternal care. The average time spent in combination of formal and informal care was 20.8 to 24.6 hrs per week respectively. Parents rated all types of care as on average high with the highest rating given to grandparents (mean 1.1) and the lowest to all-day centre care (mean 1.4): "however, the difference [in rating] between the two was minimal" (Harrison & Ungerer, p. 29). These findings illustrate the changing context in which children in many different parts of the world now live their childhood, lending significance to Fleer's (2005) call to challenge static views of childhood, and by extension, what a quality experience in early childhood settings might look like.

Quality discourse in social policy: early childhood as early intervention

A further theme in Harrison and Ungerer's (2005) report on the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children echoes one frequently found in US early intervention studies (e.g., the Carolina Abecedarian project and Early Head Start discussed in Chapter 6). They suggested that early childhood services "can be an effective intervention for disadvantaged children or for children with special educational needs" (p. 26). Hungerford and Cox (2006), also working within the Australian context, echoed this view and reported that quality child care experiences (which were interestingly not defined), made a positive difference to self-regulatory behaviour and peer competence of children aged 24 months (this finding applied also to children aged 36 months). This led them to recommend that policy makers should "identify sub-groups of families within the entire heterogeneous low-income population who are in need of intensive services and to develop effective interventions that are tailored to their needs" (p. 650). The study raised concerns regarding the accessibility of quality services, pointing out that the cost of childcare in Australia determined the type of care for infants, with the informal type being the most common due to low or no cost. This concern was raised also in Harrison and Ungerer's (2005) study which reported that: "Mothers with less earning potential may be less able to utilise child care provisions in the formal sector when infant child care is needed. Similar concerns have been raised in Doiron and Kalb's (2005) recent review and analysis of child care demands and household labour supply". (p. 29)

Also writing from a social policy perspective but with a focus on the here-and-now, Cass (2007) started from the premise that "good quality ECE is of benefit in improving social/emotional well-being, and cognitive development outcomes for all children, particularly for low income and disadvantaged children" (pp. 97), and considered what policy priorities might look like in Australia if:

a child-centred social investment approach were adopted to enhance the material, social and cultural resources directed to children on the basis of equity and promotion of a good childhood in the present, and not predominantly on the basis of economic efficiency. (p. 100)

Cass emphasised the importance of early childhood provision for mothers as workers to evade poverty (p. 101), a point underscored also by Ailwood (2004). The latter warned that women are often conceptualised very ambiguously as workers/citizens; she urged that any discussion of early childhood education as a site for early intervention should be supported by critical engagement with women's changing roles as workers/citizens.

Cass (2007) also argued that early intervention perspectives are often dominated by 'human capital' theory in which the young child is positioned as a 'future citizen' within a broader discourse that aims to enhance educational and employment participation by disadvantaged sectors of the population. Within this discourse, childhood is constructed as a time of "intervention, shaping and moulding 'agents of change for the future' (Ailwood, 2004, p. 20) without acknowledgement that, as Gammage (2003) pointed out, for meaningful 'quality' early intervention, the "child must have the opportunity to be as well as become" (p. 349). This is a particularly relevant comment in light of the emerging focus on brain research (see Chapter 3) as a contributing paradigm in which to frame education and care for infants and toddlers.

Quality as informed by neurobiological research

Over the last decade reference to neurobiological research has become commonplace in early childhood discussions particularly when advocating for high quality provision. Most commonly cited are claims that neuro-synapse connections are formed in the post-natal period through children's experiences within their early environment, and that brain development is a highly complex process with many variables (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004, 2007; Siegel, 1999). Gammage (2003), among others, has noted that MRI scanning and bio-chemical techniques have "led us to re-emphasise how interactive and crucial are the first 3 or 4 years of life" (p. 345). While noting that it is dangerous to think of particular phases as "irredeemable critical periods" (p. 344), Gammage (2003) makes the point that neurobiological research has alerted us once more to the fact that the first years of life are without doubt an important phase in children's life.

Based on these ideas, a new quality discourse has emerged that, for the purposes of this review, can perhaps be described as dependent on what Cicchetti & Gunnar (2009) and Meltzoff (2009) have called 'translational research', or research that crosses disciplinary borders. According to Meltzoff (2009), translational research is required since drawing evidence from one discipline alone, such as psychology for instance, limits understandings of very young children and their experiences and thus would not capture the complex nature of quality. This idea is further explored in Chapter 3.

2.3 Summary points

This chapter has traversed writings about the meaning of quality in early childhood education with the aim of (i) providing a backdrop against which to explore current understandings about quality; and (ii) providing a picture of contemporary discourses about this notion. The following statements provide a summary of key points in the literature.

  1. Discussions about quality in early childhood education have tended to come from two distinct lines of scholarship: discursive philosophical discussions of the notion of quality, and studies seeking to measure impact of different structural features on children's developmental outcomes.
  2. Three waves of childcare research between the 1970s and the 1990s resulted in (i) a consensus in the early 1980s that what matters for children's development is the quality of early childhood provision rather that out-of-home care of itself; (ii) identification of elements within the childcare environment that can be manipulated to provide high quality provision, such as adult: child ratios, caregiver behaviour, and the physical environment. These formed the basis of licensing standards and measures of quality such as the ECERS and ITERS; and (iii) a view that quality is an ecological phenomenon and open to contextual variation.
  3. New Zealand understandings about elements of quality during the late 1980s recognised the importance of context and crystallised around the following components:
    • appropriate staff/child ratios
    • appropriate group size
    • appropriate caregiver qualifications
    • curriculum planning and implementation that is appropriate
    • te reo Māori and tikanga Māori
    • consistent care and education - low turnover of staff
    • partnership between early childhood services and the parents and whānau
    • safe and healthy environment
    • a close relationship with the community.
There was also strong awareness of cultural variations in meanings about quality; this was in line with emerging international discourses in the late 1980s of the value-based nature of the concept.
  1. In the 1990s philosophical debates about quality increasingly emphasised the multi-dimensionality of the concept; quality was understood as existing "in the eyes of the beholder" and as able to be viewed from the perspective of different stakeholders. An accompanying argument was that the scholarly base of early childhood education and care needed to be expanded to include insights from multiple disciplines, rather than solely child development. This opened the debate to the position that quality is a contestable notion, able to be deconstructed, and impossible to define in immutable ways.
  2. Internationally, longitudinal studies reported in the 1990s, including the Carolina Abecedarian, and some of the reports from the NICHD study of early child care, linked the issue of quality with that of programme effectiveness in achieving beneficial outcomes for at risk populations. The notion of quality as "making a difference" to children's developmental outcomes underlay these studies. In New Zealand, meanwhile, a new discourse of quality developed around the introduction of the early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki, which impacted greatly on local early childhood pedagogy and swiftly influenced international discourses of curriculum.
  3. During the first decade of the new millennium New Zealand discourses of quality took on notions of reflective practice and self-review, aided with a focus on action research as a tool to achieve this. The COI projects came to be seen as benchmarks of quality practices.
  4. Quality as multi-perspectival, locally constructed and complex was a key idea in philosophical writings in the new millennium.
  5. The view that quality should be understood through little narratives of lived experience focused researchers' thinking on understanding the complex nature of different perspectives on quality.
  6. A new arrival in debates on quality is the argument that quality services are something that children have a right to.
  7. Demographic trends in contemporary societies have been used to support the argument that early childcare is here to stay and thus requires new policy approaches that move away from seeing early childhood services as an investment in the "future citizen" and towards seeing early childhood services as the contemporary contexts of childhood.
  8. Neurobiological research has been used to create arguments to improve the quality of children's experiences in group-based early childhood settings.
  9. Recognition of the contestable nature of the notion of quality has resulted in a call for translational research that would bridge the gap between knowledges from different disciplines that inform understandings of quality.


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  1. The first childcare regulations were promulgated in 1960.
  2. In 1986 Jay Belsky published a paper in which he claimed that a circumstantial case could be made that early infant non-maternal care (in any context) may be associated with an avoidant attachment to the mother, diminished compliance and cooperation, increased aggressiveness and greater social maladjustment in later years. Rebuttals by Phillips et al. (1987) claimed that Belsky's argument was based on a selective and mis-interpretative reading of available data and called for more carefully controlled studies of infant day care because the "evidence on infant day care was not all in" (p. 20).
  3. In the event, despite being offered to each early childhood centre in the country, The Quality Journey was not widely implemented (Collins, 2007) and was subsequently overtaken by the introduction of Ngā Arohaehae Whai Hua: Self review guidelines (Ministry of Education, 2006).
  4. Within the Norwegian context 'preschool' is a generic term for early childhood services.

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