Evidence and Perspectives - Edited by Jacqueline Fallon

Evidence and Perspectives

  Edited by Jacqueline Fallon


SECTION 1: INTRODUCTION                            1


2.1    Introduction                                4

2.2    Childhood in retrospect                     4

2.3    Families changing in changing times         5

2.4    Children’s rights                           6

2.5    Care and education                          7

2.6    Curricular context                          8

2.7    Developments in provision                   9

2.8    Diversity                                   11

2.9    Language                                    12

2.10   Play                                        13

2.11   Conclusion                                  14

2.12   Implications for the NQF/ECCE               14

AND DEVELOPING CHILD                               15

3.1    Introduction                                15

3.2    Child-centred learning and development      16

3.3    Holistic learning and development           17

3.4    Environments for learning and development   19

3.5    Relationships in learning and development   21

3.6    Diversity in learning and development       23

3.7    Communication in learning and development   25

3.8    Play for learning and development           26

3.9    Conclusion                                  28

SECTION 4: CONCLUSION                              29

REFERENCES                                         31

APPENDIX 1: SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY                    33

BCCN: Border Counties Childcare Network

CCC: City and County Childcare Committees

CECDE: Centre for Early Childhood Development and Education

DES: Department of Education and Science

DHC: Department of Health and Children

DIT: Dublin Institute of Technology

DoE: Department of Education

DSCFA: Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs

ECCE: Early Childhood Care and Education

ECEA: Early Childhood Education Agency

EEC: European Economic Community

EOCP: Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme

HSCL: Home School Community Liaison

NAPS: National Anti-Poverty Strategy

NCCA: National Council for Curriculum and Assessment

NCCC: National Coordinating Childcare Committee

NCO: National Children’s Office

NQF/ECCE: National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education

NVCC: National Voluntary Childcare Collaborative

NVCO: National Voluntary Childcare Organisation

OECD: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

PCSP: Primary Curriculum Support Programme

SDPS: School Development Planning Service

UN: United Nations

UNCRC: United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

UNESCO: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
Section 1

The Centre for Early Childhood Development        The development of a strong consensus
and Education (CECDE) is pleased to publish       position among key agencies with
this discussion paper, Early Childhood in         responsibility for young children will benefit
Ireland - Evidence and Perspectives. This         the future co-ordination and cohesiveness of
document is the last of the four pillars of       ECCE in Ireland.
research which the CECDE has put in place
to support the development of the National
Quality Framework for Early Childhood Care        1.1   The Centre for Early Childhood
and Education (NQF/ECCE). It encapsulates               Development and Education
the perspective from which the child’s                  (CECDE)
interests are being incorporated into the
NQF/ECCE. It is also hoped that it will           The CECDE was established by the Minister
provide a useful resource for the ECCE sector     for Education and Science in October 2002,
and a basis for fruitful debate and discussion.   with a brief to co-ordinate and develop ECCE
It articulates well with the National             in Ireland in pursuance of the objectives of
Children’s Strategy, Our Children, Their          the White Paper on Early Childhood
Lives (Department of Health and Children          Education, Ready to Learn (DES, 1999a). It is
[DHC], 2000) and Towards a Framework for          managed jointly by St. Patrick’s College and
Early Learning (National Council for              the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). The
Curriculum and Assessment [NCCA], 2004).          remit of the CECDE covers all settings for

Section 1 Introduction

children between birth and six years, paying         children (from 0 to 6 years) develop and
particular attention to the needs of children        learn. (CECDE, 2001:2)
experiencing disadvantage and children with
special needs. It bridges traditional divides
between care and education and childcare         1.2.1    Review Document
settings and the formal school system. In this
context, the CECDE has three main                Initially, the CECDE commissioned a
objectives:                                      literature review on the five developmental
                                                 domains (physical, socio-emotional, cognitive,
1. The development of the NQF/ECCE, which        moral and spiritual)1 in the birth to six years
   will define quality standards for early       age group. This resulted in a substantial and
   childhood settings, is the core project for   extensive review which will be of interest to
   the CECDE. In addition to defining            students, researchers, practitioners and
   quality, the framework will propose           others with a focus on the development of the
   appropriate support mechanisms for those      young child. This initial paper was
   working in ECCE in Ireland. A system of       augmented by two further sections which
   assessment and evaluation will be devised     were researched and written by CECDE staff.
   to ensure that the quality standards will     The first of these sections reviews the
   be realised and maintained. These three       historical and cultural context of ECCE in
   elements, defining, assessing and             Ireland from the end of the nineteenth
   supporting quality, form the structure of     century to approximately 1990. The second
   the NQF/ECCE.                                 section discusses current perspectives on
                                                 ECCE in Ireland from 1990 to the present.
2. To develop and implement targeted             The resulting complete document, known as
   interventions in the areas of special needs   the Review Document has formed the basis for
   and disadvantage with children in the         this discussion paper. The Review Document
   birth to six years age group. There are       will not be published, but will be available on
   currently three such targeted intervention    request from the CECDE.
   projects in progress under the auspices of
   the CECDE.                                    Once the Review Document was finalised, the
                                                 CECDE used it in a number of ways.
3. Finally, the CECDE is charged with            Primarily, it informed the development of the
   preparing the groundwork for the              NQF/ECCE and, secondly, it provided the
   establishment of the Early Childhood          evidence base for this CECDE discussion
   Education Agency (ECEA) as envisaged by       paper on early childhood in Ireland. The
   the White Paper on Early Childhood            evidence has been condensed and distilled for
   Education, Ready to Learn (DES, 1999a).       the purposes of this paper in order to
                                                 illustrate the values which characterise the
                                                 NQF/ECCE. In this context, references have
1.2     Early Childhood in Ireland -             not been included throughout this document.
        Evidence and Perspectives                However, a select bibliography of literature
                                                 published since 1990 is included in the
Increasing knowledge about childhood, and        Bibliography. This does not reflect the
early childhood development and learning,        entirety of the literature consulted in the
has much to contribute toward understanding      preparation of the Review Document.
the nature of quality in ECCE. The primary
purpose of this document is to contribute to     1.2.2 Terminology
the NQF/ECCE for Ireland. The CECDE
Programme of Work (CECDE, 2001) and the          Because of the rapidly developing landscape
CECDE Research Strategy (CECDE, 2003)            in ECCE in Ireland, many issues to do with
prioritise the preparation of a conceptual       terminology have not yet been resolved. There
framework discussing how children from birth     are occasions within the text when terms are
to six years learn and develop:                  used as a summary of a very wide range of
                                                 terminology in current use. For example,
      It is envisaged that the first action
      relating to the development of quality     1 The CECDE would like to acknowledge the work of
                                                 Suzanne Clendenning and the Psychology Department,
      standards will involve setting out a       Queen’s University Belfast, for their work in preparing
      conceptual framework describing how        the literature review.

Evidence and Perspectives

personnel who work with young children use             research in the Review Document. The
a wide range of descriptive terms and titles.          sections in the Review Document on child
In order to be inclusive of the broad range of         development and learning were analysed to
people who work with young children and the            identify the key points relating to the
equally broad range of people such as parents,         aforementioned five developmental domains.
grandparents, family and friends who are also          According to our view that all learning and
involved, all of these people are referred to as       development is inter-related and inter-
adults or significant adults. The term has no          dependent, it was decided to present the
significance other than to refer to the adult          information thematically. The themes were
who is supporting the child at any given time          identified by close textual analysis and are as
and on any given occasion.                             follows:

Likewise, there is ongoing debate on the               l   Child-centred learning and development;
relationship between the concepts of learning
and development. For the purposes of this              l   Holistic learning and development;
document, both ‘learning and development’
and ‘development and learning’ are used                l   Environments for learning and
interchangeably. Because of the importance of              development;
clearly understood language, the NQF/ECCE
itself will have a glossary of terms and their         l   Relationships in learning and
associated meanings.                                       development;

                                                       l   Diversity in learning and development;
1.3     Structure of the document

Section 2 - Historical and Cultural                    l   Communication in learning and
Perspectives discusses specific issues which               development;
are, to a greater or lesser degree, the subject
of debate currently within the ECCE sector             l   Play in learning and development.
and beyond. It draws on both Section 1:
Historical and Cultural Context of Early               This order is not intended as a hierarchy and
Childhood Care and Education in Ireland                the themes are inter-connected. They are not
1890 – 1990 and Section 2: Current                     intended as stand alone elements but must be
Perspectives on Early Childhood Care and               understood as a whole. Each theme concludes
Education in Ireland from the Review                   with a number of implications for the
Document. The discussion is not exhaustive             development of the NQF/ECCE, in relation to
and does not address every issue raised in the         defining, assessing and supporting quality.
Review Document. Instead, it paints a broad
picture of the context in which constructions          Section 4 - Conclusion recaps on the
of early childhood have evolved here in                document and its purpose, and outlines the
Ireland over the past century or so.                   next steps in the development of the
Section 3 - Thematic Perspective on the
Learning and Developing Child presents                 The CECDE recognizes that research and
the substantive discussion on child                    debate on early childhood is constantly
development and learning. Again, this                  evolving, and presents this document in that
discussion is firmly based on the evidence and         spirit.

Section 2

Historic and Cultural Perspectives
2.1     Introduction                               conditions over the past century in Ireland. It
                                                   reminds us that children have to negotiate
Childhood is constructed over time and in a        these dynamics without such hindsight. It
particular cultural context. An understanding      also reminds us of the responsibility we
of the ways in which early childhood has been      collectively bear to provide solid footing for
understood in Ireland in the past provides a       children when almost the only constant is
frame of reference for our current analysis.       change.
The Review Document contains a wealth of
information on the context in which childhood
evolved over the past century or so. In light of   2.2     Childhood in retrospect
this, some issues which are currently the
                                                   The National Children’s Strategy
subject of debate are discussed in this section.
                                                   (Department of Health and Children [DHC],
These include, among others, the history of
                                                   2000:18) has, as one of its national goals,
national curricula for young children in
Ireland, the changes in family life over time
and the impact of the growing diversity of our           Children’s lives will be better
society. The discussion is not exhaustive, but           understood; their lives will benefit from
attempts to illustrate the changing nature of            evaluation, research and information
childhood and the dynamics of interaction                on their needs, rights and the
between childhood and larger socio-cultural              effectiveness of services.

Evidence and Perspectives

Certainly very little is known about the lives             insights, they do not give a comprehensive
of children historically in Ireland. In recent             picture and are drawn on judiciously.
years, a body of literature has emerged in
which, sadly, the dominant image is of
children’s lives blighted by abuse. This image             2.3.1   Historical context
appears to have been a constant theme
throughout the past century. Undoubtedly,                  The environments in which our youngest
this was not the reality for many children and             children live, grow and play have changed
there is some anecdotal information from                   dramatically over the past century. For the
isolated anthropological studies and memoirs               best part of the twentieth century, young
to this effect. In general, given the volumes of           children were cared for in the family home
Irish history which have been written, the                 and went to school sometime after the age of
paucity of literature on the lives of children is          three. For much of that time, Irish society
regrettable.                                               was largely agrarian based and children
                                                           worked on the farm; work which had
One could take the view that conditions                    economic value to the family. Families were
existed in which abuse could happen. One of                large, twice as large on average as those in
those conditions, possibly, is that the children           the rest of Europe for most of the century.
were rendered invisible, whether within the                Children lived in households which frequently
family or institutions. The legislative and                comprised members of the extended family.
constitutional framework applicable to                     Emigration was a way of life and many
children contributed to this situation and will            children must have grown up in the
be outlined in the section on children’s rights.           knowledge that they would leave and not
Children, by and large, cannot ensure their                return. The Catholic Church and the State
own visibility within our society as can other             operated a symbiotic relationship in relation
citizen groups. Therefore it is incumbent on               to many aspects of Irish life, including
society to recognise and honour the child’s                education, following Independence. In
citizenship.                                               particular, the Church appears to have had
                                                           considerable influence in terms of family life,
The National Children’s Strategy (DHC,                     a position consolidated by the 1937
2000) includes several strands of research                 Constitution.Changes began to occur in the
into children’s lives which will hopefully                 1950s when increasing industrialisation and
sharpen the focus on, and raise awareness of,              urbanisation began to have an impact.
children’s lives. Of course, with the gift of              Around this time, too, family size began to
hindsight, the absence of the child’s own point            reduce. It was not until the 1970s, though,
of view over the past century is now obvious.              that substantial numbers of women began to
This realisation has been growing here in                  enter – and stay in – the paid workforce. This
recent years, and it is now generally accepted             was partly due to the lifting of the marriage
that including the child’s opinions on issues              bar in the civil service and the beginnings of
which affect him2 will have to be a part of                movement towards parity of pay and rights
developments in the future.                                for women with their male colleagues
                                                           following Ireland’s entry into the European
                                                           Economic Community (EEC). Out-of-home
2.3    Families changing in changing                       care arrangements for children then became a
       times                                               necessity for some families.

Family life is unique, depending on all the
variables which any given family experiences.              2.3.2   Contemporary experience
That said, there is very little information
available on relationships within families over            With changes in family patterns, more
the course of the last century. There is a                 children are now living in smaller families,
small number of anthropological studies,                   one parent families or in disparate families.
mainly conducted by international observers                Young children in contemporary Irish families
at extended sporadic intervals, and a number               are experiencing substantially different
of memoirs. While these provide valuable                   parenting trends, not least of which is that
                                                           many now have the more active involvement
2 The male and female pronouns will be used in alternate   of their fathers as well as their mothers.
sections.                                                  Traditionally, parents tended to concentrate

Section 2: Historic and Cultural Perspectives

more on the physical well-being of their           volumes, development of green spaces and
children, whereas now they are increasingly        fear for children being out and about without
concerned with their children’s holistic           adult supervision contributes to a contraction
development, including their cognitive,            of freedom for children. Additionally, it would
emotional and social development.                  appear that children are spending increasing
Widespread dissemination of research on            time in front of computers and televisions
child development in popular and accessible        with consequent health risks, including
media formats, such as television                  diminished outdoor play, physical inactivity
programmes and self-help books on child            and obesity. It is to be hoped that the
development and parenting, indicate interest       implementation of the National Play Policy
among the population on such issues. Such a        (National Children’s Office [NCO], 2004) will
media profile for child development also           expand play opportunities in ways which are
suggests an increased awareness among              compatible with parental and caregiving
parents of the importance of this stage of life,   adults’ sense of security, and are also
and of the importance of supporting children’s     attractive to children.
optimal development. However, there is also
the possibility that such media will exert
pressure on parents in suggesting that             2.3.4   Employment and childcare
parenting is a complicated and fraught
occupation, with the margins for error being       While unemployment was endemic during
frighteningly wide, and the possibilities for      most of the 1980s, Ireland has experienced
success intimidatingly narrow. In fact,            increasingly high levels of employment over
parents get it right even in difficult             the past ten years or so. Employment growth
circumstances.                                     and a greater demand for labour, coupled
                                                   with the need for dual income households to
                                                   meet the cost of housing, impacted on female
2.3.3   Impact of socio-economic change            work force participation rates. Mothers’
                                                   employment participation rates in Ireland are
While there is greater sensitivity to children’s   comparatively high. Because of relatively
needs in the holistic sense, there are depleted    short leave entitlements after the birth of a
resources, notably time, within families and       child, more mothers of young children are in
communities to meet them. Many aspects of          employment in Ireland than in other
the socio-economic context, including the          Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
organization of work and work/life balance,        Development (OECD) countries. The obvious
are not child friendly. House prices have risen    consequence of these circumstances is that
enormously and consequently, the difficulty in     more children are now being cared for outside
finding affordable housing in central parts of     the home than heretofore, despite continuing
cities such as Dublin has meant that many          shortages of provision. Much of the increase
people, particularly young couples, have had       in supply has occurred in the private
to move out into the surrounding counties.         commercial sector where costs to parents are
The road and rail infrastructure is unable to      among the highest in Europe. Substantial
meet the new demand and many people have           percentages of mothers working full-time and
had to succumb to lengthy hours of                 part-time use no paid childcare at all,
commuting. Stress and tiredness caused by          indicating a reliance on informal provision
parents’ commuting and work is likely to put       provided by family or friends. There is very
pressure on children’s quality of life within      limited information on the nature and quality
their families.                                    of the many and varied forms of childcare and
                                                   pre-school provision for children who attend
There is an element of irony in the fact that      out-of-home settings.
while children are experiencing more
environments in their day-to-day lives in
comparison to children even thirty years ago,      2.4     Children’s rights
we now find it necessary to plan for children’s
access to, in particular, the outdoor              A discourse which has gained momentum
environment. Parental and adult concern for        here in Ireland in recent years concerns
the child’s safety and security means that the     children’s rights. In reviewing the issue, the
range of places in which children can play has     CECDE has found no discernible debate on
shrunk, particularly in urban areas. Traffic       children’s rights prior to the 1970s.

Evidence and Perspectives

2.4.1   Legislative context                           of care and education as being separate forms
                                                      of provision. It is not difficult to see how this
However, the legislative context can be traced        fracture developed historically here in
back to the 1908 Children’s Act (Hayes,               Ireland.
2002:39), which remained the dominant piece
of legislation concerning children in Ireland
for almost the entire century. In the 1908 Act,       2.5.1   Home and school
the child was deemed to have a right to care
and protection, but not to liberty before the         The national school system was established in
law. This particular view, in which children          1831 and there were enough infants (3-5 year
can call on the State for care and protection         olds) in the system by 1872 to warrant a
but not for vindication of their rights as            specific infant programme. Figures from the
individual citizens, was further entrenched in        mid-1940s indicate that by then, over 48,000
Articles 41 and 42.5 of the Constitution of           children between the ages of three and five
1937 (Government of Ireland, 1937). This              were in the system. These figures represent
remains the defining position of State                substantial numbers of young children in
involvement in children’s lives today,                school. It is possible that this indicates that
notwithstanding the ratification by the               parents placed a high value on their
Government in 1992 of the United Nations              children’s education and may explain why the
Convention on the Rights of the Child                 national or primary school system here in
(UNCRC) (UN, 1989). State involvement in              Ireland has, since its inception, been regarded
provision for children outside of the primary         as concerned exclusively with ‘education’.
school system focuses, by and large, on               Throughout the period referred to above,
children at risk from disadvantaged or other          children were ‘cared for’ at home up until the
circumstances, and on children with special           point at which they began to attend school.
needs arising from a disability. The growing          These two contexts of ‘care’ and ‘education’
momentum and discourse around the child as            were quite different, and that difference
an individual citizen, with rights associated         seems to have been translated to mean
with that citizenship, may well in time               mutually exclusive.
change the nature of the child/State
relationship.                                         While there is very little documented evidence
                                                      about the care of young children at home, it
                                                      appears that care was primarily the
2.4.2   Implications for ECCE provision               responsibility of the mother. Families were
                                                      large and older siblings were involved in
There are several implications emanating              looking after younger children. While there
from this position, but just one will be              were differences in urban and rural contexts,
considered here; that of the young child’s            the extended family, particularly
right to educational provision. To be                 grandmothers, who often lived in the family
meaningful, life-long learning must be                home, were involved. Home and school were
conceptualised on a continuum which begins            the two contexts in which children spent time
at birth. There are good reasons, based on the        so, even before the concepts were considered,
knowledge we now have on the efficacy of              it is possible to see the genesis of our
early education and the magnitude of young            traditional conceptualisation of care as what
children’s potential for learning, for making         happens up to the age of three or so, and
provision for children from birth. However, a         education as what happens after that.
more fundamental argument relates to the
young child’s right to education in the same
way that older children are entitled to               2.5.2   Policy and implementation
educational provision. This position is
underpinned by the UNCRC (UN, 1989).                  At programme level, the view that childcare
                                                      and early education are two separate but
                                                      related issues still prevails. Key policy
2.5     Care and education                            documents from the three main government
                                                      departments involved in supporting provision
Provision for young children in Ireland has           of ECCE display consensus on the inseparable
been fragmented and many of the fault lines           nature of care and education (DES, 1999a;
can be traced to the historical understanding         Department of Justice, Equality and Law

Section 2: Historic and Cultural Perspectives

Reform [DJELR], 1999; DHC, 2000), but                 consolidation of a discrete ECCE sector is
programme implementation has so far not               unlikely to be realised until there is better co-
reflected this position. State action is being        ordination at inter-departmental level, to the
driven by different agendas – childcare policy        point where the DJELR, DHC and the DES
by the need to expand provision to meet the           implement a common programmatic approach
childcare needs of working parents and early          to the care and education of young children.
education policy by recognition of the                The White Paper on Early Childhood
importance of positive early years                    Education (DES, 1999a) has already
experiences, especially for children                  suggested the way forward in this regard in
experiencing disadvantage and those with              proposing the establishment of the ECEA as a
special needs. However, the beginnings of a           structural expression of such a common
significant shift in this pattern are evident         approach.
and the emergence of a distinct ECCE sector
is becoming apparent.
                                                      2.6     Curricular context

2.5.3   Co-ordination and integration                 Early years’ curricula are currently the focus
                                                      of much attention with the publication of the
The instigation of coherent co-ordinating             consultation document, Towards a
structures, including the National Co-                Framework for Early Learning (National
ordinating Childcare Committee (NCCC), the            Council for Curriculum and Assessment
County Childcare Committees (CCCs), the               [NCCA], 2004). While this is the first time
CECDE and the NCO, represent important                that Ireland is to have a national curricular
milestones. To a greater or lesser degree, each       framework for the birth to six age group, the
has a remit for both childcare and early              history of State curricular provision for young
education. For example, in the case of the            children – specifically those in the infant
CECDE, this remit includes the development            classes (3-6) in primary schools – stretches
of an overarching NQF/ECCE. Furthermore,              back over a century.
policy initiatives in specific areas are
beginning to take effect; greater
standardisation in staff training and                 2.6.1   Revised Programme, 1900
qualifications is emerging, and curricular
developments are leading to greater                   One of the most remarkable stages in that
integration of childcare and early education.         history was the Revised Programme of 1900
                                                      (Commissioners of National Education in
Under the provisions of the Equal                     Ireland, 1901), though this is a somewhat
Opportunities Childcare Programme (EOCP),             arbitrary starting point. Even before this
funding was provided to the National                  time, the philosophies of Rousseau, Froebel,
Voluntary Childcare Organisations (NVCOs)3            Pestalozzi and Dewey had influenced
to form an umbrella group to enhance                  individuals who put such theories into
communication and co-ordination between the           practice here. In fact, one might locate the
groups involved. Networks of providers have           provenance of the concept of child-centred
been established, such as the Border Counties         practice with these theorists.
Childcare Network (BCCN) and more
localised networks under the auspices of              The Revised Programme is strikingly familiar
CCCs. A High Level Working Group has been             to the modern reader. It was influenced by
convened by the NCO, and the CECDE has a              Frobelian principles and incorporated
Consultative Committee which is                       heuristic approaches to teaching and
representative of stakeholders in early               learning. It advocated development from
childhood provision.                                  within rather than moulding from without,
                                                      promoted the integration of subject areas and
Increasing the level of integration and co-           emphasised the environment as a context for
ordination of policy, legislation and provision       the child’s learning. The Revised Programme
for young children is now widely accepted as          advocated teaching content in an integrated
necessary to progress. However, the                   manner, breaking with the tradition at that
                                                      time of compartmentalising knowledge.
3 This group has been reconstituted as the National   Unfortunately, however, the necessary
Voluntary Childcare Collaborative (NVCC).             finances for equipment, training and

Evidence and Perspectives

implementation were never put in place.               increased over the following decades, and
While the Revised Programme led to                    while class size remained an issue at this
improvements in the dire state of infant              time, the number of teaching posts in the
education, the Dale Report (Dale, 1904) still         system increased substantially. This relates
found that this was one of the weakest                to the introduction of schemes such as
elements of the system. Then, as now, no              Home/School/Community Liaison (HSCL) and
matter how good the curriculum, it is                 the expansion of Special Needs provision.
dependent for effectiveness on resourcing,
training and investment.
                                                      2.6.4   Revised Curriculum, 1999

2.6.2   1922 and 1948 curricular change               The most recent curricular change occurred in
                                                      1999 with the introduction of a Revised
A very different approach was taken in the            Curriculum for Primary Schools. The 1999
curriculum introduced in 1922 following the           Revised Curriculum (DES, 1999b) is designed
foundation of the Irish Free State (National          to nurture children in all dimensions of their
Programme Conference, 1922). This approach            lives. In-service training is ongoing for
moved the focus off the young child onto              teachers and structures (e.g. the Primary
curriculum content, specifically the Irish            Curriculum Support Programme [PCSP] and
language, which was to be re-established as           the School Development Planning Service
part of the socio-political transformation of         [SDPS]) have been put in place to support its
Ireland following independence. The                   roll-out into schools. A close study of these
curricular changes introduced meant that the          consecutive curricula illustrates the evolving
restoration of the Irish language became the          understandings of concepts such as child-
primary aim of infant education. Following            centred and holistic education in Ireland.
some years of implementation of this
programme, teachers expressed deep
reservations about its effect, stating that it        2.7     Developments in provision
inhibited the child intellectually, repressed
the natural urge for self-expression and led to       One of the consequences of the relative
some children being mentally and physically           economic prosperity of the 1960s was to
damaged. This programme was replaced by               increase interest and focus on education.
the Revised Programme for Infants                     From around this period, education became a
(Department of Education [DoE], 1948) in              new catalyst for social mobility, possibly on
1948, which returned to the values and                account of the introduction of free secondary
direction espoused by the 1900 Revised                education. Parents became increasingly
Programme. However, due to continuing                 anxious that their children’s future
requirements regarding the teaching of Irish,         opportunities would be enhanced through
it proved difficult to implement the                  education. Ireland’s increased involvement
philosophy of this programme.                         with international organisations such as the
                                                      United Nations Educational, Scientific and
                                                      Cultural Office (UNESCO), the OECD and
2.6.3   New Curriculum, 1971                          the UN, allied with the aspiration to become a
                                                      member of the EEC, contributed to a
Major curricular change occurred in 1971              lessening of the insularity which had been a
with the introduction of the New Curriculum           feature of the previous period. There was a
(DoE, 1971). Play was an integral part of this        shift in focus from social expenditure in
curriculum which was designed to cater for            relation to education and children to one of
the full and harmonious development of each           investment in the individual, the economy
child, with an inherent flexibility to adapt to       and society.
the needs of children of varying abilities and
cultural backgrounds. However, the economic
recession of the 1970s meant that the                 2.7.1   Special Education
comprehensive network of supports for
teachers which was envisaged did not                  The first remedial teachers were introduced
materialise. Class size remained very large           into schools during this period, the 1960s, and
during the period following the introduction of       the Commission of Inquiry on Mental
the New Curriculum. Spending on education             Handicap (Commission of Inquiry on Mental

Section 2: Historic and Cultural Perspectives

Handicap, 1965) raised awareness of the issue    2.7.3    Childcare policy development
of special education. This led to the
beginnings of integration of children with       A number of child advocacy groups were
special needs into mainstream schools in the     established in the 1970s and, following
following decade. Most of the special schools    pressure from such groups, a number of
in existence today were established in the       Committees were convened over the first half
1960s and the 1970s. The roots of this           of the next decade to examine the role and
development lay in the setting up of             need for childcare facilities outside the home4.
community and parent advocacy groups in the      Unfortunately, there was very little tangible
preceding decade. The Voluntary Agencies         response to this wave of reports. It may well
involved in service delivery for children with   be that attitudes among the population as a
special needs grew out of those early advocacy   whole did not support movement on this
groups. In the nineteenth century, in the        issue. As recently as 1972, the Report on the
absence of any State provision, religious        Status of Women (Commission on the Status
orders had established schools for children      of Women, 1972) urged mothers to stay at
who were deaf and blind. These schools were      home with their child until the age of three,
the very first to be designated as special       and only return to work if they had strong
schools and were the basis for the               reasons to do so. That said, the report also
development of the system.                       called for a national infrastructure for
                                                 childcare to facilitate working women, but
                                                 that recommendation had little effect either.
                                                 Nonetheless, these decades witnessed a
2.7.2   Pre-school provision                     change in attitude, indicated by the number
                                                 of calls for State provided childcare that
                                                 would have been unthinkable in the earlier
The early enrolment of children in primary
                                                 half of the century. The perception that
schools in the first half of the twentieth
                                                 mothers were no longer the only carers of
century and the low number of mothers in the
                                                 their child, and that out-of-home childcare
workforce resulted in a low priority for pre-
                                                 was needed, now entered the zeitgeist.
school education. While there were some
examples of pre-school provision and services
prior to the 1960s, social change and
                                                 2.7.4    Parental involvement
individual effort brought about accelerated
changes from that time. Additionally, from
                                                 In schools, the attitude to parental
the late 1960s, the ‘social risk’ model of
                                                 involvement has changed enormously, even
provision for young children – which
                                                 since the introduction of the New Curriculum
underpinned the practice of placing children
                                                 in 1971. One of the problems identified with
in institutional care – was replaced by a more
                                                 the implementation of the curricular changes
developmental view.
                                                 then was that lack of information and
                                                 communication with parents led to confusion
This period coincided with the arrival of        about the new principles and ideologies
Barnardos in Ireland, the founding of the        underpinning the curriculum. However, the
Irish Pre-school Playgroups Association          HSCL scheme, established in 1990 in
(IPPA), the establishment of the first           designated disadvantaged schools, reflected a
Naíonraí and an expansion in Montessori          growing emphasis and recognition of the
training opportunities. As with provision for    importance of parental involvement to the
children with special needs, the current         success of children in school. Other examples
landscape of early childhood pre-school          of the growth of awareness of the importance
provision began to take shape at that time, in   of including parents in their children’s
the absence of State involvement. The            education was the inclusion of parents on
Rutland St. Pre-school Project (Holland, 1979)   Boards of Management since 1975, and the
was established in 1969 as an early              establishment of schools to cater for various
intervention programme for children in a
disadvantaged area of inner city Dublin. This    4 The Task Force on Child Care Services (Department of
remained the State’s only pre-school project     Health, 1980)
                                                 The Working Party on Childcare Facilities for Working
until the Early Start pre-schools were           Parents (Department of Labour, 1983)
established in the mid 1990s in some             The Committee on Minimum Legal Requirements and
                                                 Standards for Day Care Services (Department of Health,
designated disadvantaged schools.                1985)

Evidence and Perspectives

interests, such as Gaelscoileanna (Irish-              around the concept of diversity as we now
medium schools) and non-, inter-, and multi-           engage in it. Looking back, indeed, the
denominational schools under the auspices of           impression is of a society which thought of
parent groups.                                         itself as homogenous, or at least acquiesced in
                                                       the Church/State consensus which projected a
While there is little historical documentary           society based on the sanctity of the nuclear
evidence available on the development of               family united in faith. Those who did not
parental involvement in services outside the           meet the criteria and who deviated from the
school system, it appears that Community               acceptable model of the family as a married
Playgroups, in certain instances, grew from            couple with children were often treated
the work of local parent groups. The                   harshly.
contemporary situation is much clearer. A
recent national review of policy, practice and         Reference has already been made to the many
research pertaining to quality in ECCE found           children who ended up in institutional care,
consensus across all groups on the issue of            predominantly children from disadvantaged
parental involvement. Parental involvement             backgrounds or from families in
is considered a key and essential indicator of         disadvantaged circumstances. Recent years
a quality service by all provider groups               have exposed the scandal of young women
engaged in the promotion of quality in ECCE            confined in the Magdalene laundries because
(CECDE, 2004a).                                        of giving birth outside marriage or for
                                                       behaviour deemed to be at odds with the
                                                       prevailing orthodox morality. Further to this
2.8     Diversity                                      was the trafficking and export of babies of
                                                       unmarried mothers to the United States
The rate of change between the 1960s and the           during the 1950s and 1960s. The Travelling
end of the 1980s accelerated dramatically in           community, for the most part, seem to have
the 1990s with the advent of the economic              been shunned. It seems obvious from even a
boom, a phenomenon quite new to Ireland.               cursory examination that Irish society was
The environment in which children born since           not as homogenous as Church and State
1990 are growing up appears very different to          would have wanted and sanctions were in
anything we have experienced before. Much of           place to control those who did not conform.
the material available on the lives of children
within the family in Ireland in the past
consists of polarised descriptions and, as such,       2.8.2   Socio-cultural change
are typical of the range of perspectives found
on the family from this period. It is clear that
                                                       Ireland gradually moved away from the
there was no unified, consistent or uniform
                                                       isolationism which characterised the period
experience of childhood in Ireland in the past
                                                       up to the 1950s, but it has only been since the
century. Such evidence as is available
                                                       beginning of the 1990s that the growing
indicates that, for example, the children of
                                                       diversity of the socio-cultural landscape in
the Travelling community, children with
                                                       Ireland has impacted on our consciousness as
disabilities, children from different socio-
                                                       a nation. We now have a multiplicity of family
economic backgrounds or children from
                                                       models: two parents, both working; single-
differently configured families had very
                                                       parent headed families; remarried
different experiences of life here. This is not a
                                                       couples/parents; adoptive and other families.
judgement on whether those childhoods were
                                                       Indeed, the family, based on a division in
happy or not, but rather to reflect that
                                                       parental roles with the father as breadwinner
childhood was never without its
                                                       and the mother as a full time housewife
complications. There was, and is, no single
                                                       caring for the children, is no longer the
Irish childhood.
                                                       dominant model in Irish society. Evolving
                                                       expectations of fathers’ involvement with
                                                       their children, along with increasing numbers
2.8.1   Responses to difference                        of mothers in the workforce and more single-
                                                       parent families, have changed the profile of
While the experience of childhood during the           family life in Ireland; there has been an
past century in Ireland was not the same for           increase in smaller families and in the
all children, there was no discourse evident           diversity of family structures.

Section 2: Historic and Cultural Perspectives

2.8.3   Disadvantage and special needs              but there is no nationally articulated
                                                    framework for the relationship between the
Despite the growth in the economy, many             Voluntary Agencies and State provision.
Irish families experience poverty. The              Negotiating the system is currently difficult
inequality in circumstances that exists             and challenging for parents seeking to access
between Irish families is marked with an            services for their young children.
accelerating inequality of incomes between
the lowest income groups and the highest.
Those most affected include children, early         2.8.4   Cultural diversity
school leavers, lone parents, unemployed
people, Travellers, ethnic minorities, refugees     Ireland has experienced growing racial and
and asylum-seekers, older people living alone       ethnic heterogeneity over the last decade. The
in areas of urban and rural disadvantage,           number of applications for asylum in Ireland
people with disabilities and small farmers.         rose substantially in the years from 1992 to
Despite improvements in recent years,               2001, but this appears to have fallen
Ireland still has one of the highest rates of       dramatically in recent years. It is estimated
child poverty in the European Union. In a           that in the year 2000, in excess of 5,000
society which is proud of its educational           asylum-seeking children arrived in Ireland,
system, it is still an uncomfortable fact that      and we must be concerned as to how their
children from working class backgrounds are         needs are being met. In January 2003, the
at higher risk of educational disadvantage.         Supreme Court ruled that the non-national
Consequently, they are much more likely to          parents of an Irish citizen child could be
leave school without qualifications and much        deported, but the judgment also
less likely to obtain third level qualifications.   acknowledged that the rights of the Irish
                                                    citizen child under the Constitution must be
Children from the Traveller community               given consideration, and the rights of the
experience extreme poverty and educational          child’s parents and siblings must be
disadvantage. Infant mortality is twice the         respected. It is not yet clear what impact the
national average and although large numbers         decision will have on the future of this group
of Traveller children attend primary school at      of Irish children.
any given time, very few transfer to
secondary schools, fewer still complete the         Another recent phenomenon has been the
Leaving Certificate and a tiny number attend        adoption into Irish families of children born in
third-level college. The revised National Anti      countries such as Romania, Russia and
Poverty Strategy (NAPS), Building an                China. This increasing cultural diversity has
Inclusive Society (Department of Social,            severely tested the capacity of Irish society
Community and Family Affairs [DSCFA],               and its services to accept or integrate
2002) gives specific consideration to the           minority groups, as society’s relationship with
aforementioned vulnerable groups and                Travellers has demonstrated over previous
includes a number of commitments to                 decades. Nonetheless there have been many
combating educational disadvantage. There           examples of efforts to combat racism and
have been numerous initiatives by the DES in        promote anti-bias education for children. The
schools to combat educational disadvantage          best known example is probably the Éist
and a major review of these is in train. The        project (Murray and O’Doherty, 2001). Anti-
EOCP, while not focused primarily on the            bias programmes address not only racism, but
children, is a very substantial State               all forms of discrimination. They should be in
investment in the infrastructure of ECCE            place in all settings, and not just in settings
provision in disadvantaged areas. Other             which include children from diverse
initiatives originating from various                backgrounds and circumstances.
government departments also target socio-
economic disadvantage.
                                                    2.9     Language
However, in terms of provision for children
with special needs, there is a lack of a            Our history of bilingualism adds another
comprehensive, State funded system for              dimension to the consideration of diversity
children with special needs and their families.     here, given the special position of the Irish
The current system of provision is dependent        language in Irish law. Language is generally
on the contribution of the Voluntary Agencies,      the primary means of communication within

Evidence and Perspectives

any culture, and in the light of the growing          Equally, it must be recognised that
cultural diversity of our society, merits             Sign/Lámh is, in many cases, the first
attention.                                            language of children who are deaf. We must
                                                      be concerned, also, that the child with serious
                                                      language impairment is enabled to develop
2.9.1   Irish language
                                                      augmentative alternative forms of
The effort made in the early days after the
foundation of the State to use young children
                                                      Not only is language an important part of our
as the conduit through which Irish would be
                                                      ability to function in society, it is also an
re-established as the primary language of the
                                                      expression of identity. The history of support
people has already been described. While the
                                                      for the Irish language here is evidence of our
approach was unsuccessful, the originators of
                                                      appreciation of the power of language in this
the scheme were correct in identifying the
                                                      regard. It behoves us, given the lengths to
child’s early years as an optimal time for
                                                      which Ireland has gone to preserve and
introducing second language learning. In the
                                                      promote our own language, to offer support to
late 1960s, a number of Naíonraí groups were
                                                      those who wish to preserve their language
established with the support of Comhdháil
                                                      even as they learn English.
Náisiúnta na Gaeilge and Conradh na
Gaeilge. Naíonra groups are similar to other
playgroups but, in addition, the adults speak
                                                      2.10    Play
Irish exclusively. Children are free to
converse in either English or Irish. In 1973,
                                                      Play is an activity very closely associated with
the organisers formed a voluntary
                                                      childhood, and it is inconceivable to review
organisation – Na Naíonraí Gaelacha under
                                                      constructions of childhood in Ireland without
the auspices of Conradh na Gaeilge. An
                                                      attending to children’s play. However, while
Comhchoiste Réamhscolaíochta Teo (now
                                                      in recent years there has been substantial
renamed Forbairt Naíonraí Teo.) was then set
                                                      attention paid to the place of play in the
up and is a joint committee of Na Naíonraí
                                                      child’s learning and development, there is
Gaelacha and Bord na Gaeilge in support of
                                                      very little information on how children have
preschooling through Irish. Over the past
                                                      played in the past, at least here in Ireland. A
thirty years or so, the number of
                                                      number of collections of street rhymes and
Gaelscoileanna outside the Gaeltacht has
                                                      games capture the vivacity and carefree
grown steadily, with increasing numbers of
                                                      nature of children in Dublin in the middle
children receiving their education through
                                                      part of the century and they indicate the time
                                                      afforded to children for play and recreation.
                                                      Other studies in rural areas indicated that
2.9.2   Second language provision                     young children were often given make-believe
                                                      tasks in preparation for future work either in
Increasingly, schools and ECCE services               the house or on the farm. Observers of family
include children whose first language is              childcare practices during the period when
neither English nor Irish. Indeed, the DES            families became smaller and the presence of
makes some provision for language support             extended family became rarer, tend to
for foreign national children in schools. There       indicate that children spent long periods
is evidence that children learning a second           alone (Arensberg and Kimball, 1940; Scheper-
language need support for their first                 Hughes, 1979). These are isolated
language. The child’s facility with his first         observations and must be treated with
language impacts on his development of the            caution, but as play is an important social
second language and on all aspects of his             activity for children, one wonders what
development. This has implications for the            impact such conditions would have had? On
provision of services for young children who          the other hand, several memoirs make
are at a crucial stage in language                    mention of playful exchanges between parents
development. It is possible that this will            and children (Walsh, 1995; Kerrigan, 1998).
require the presence of adults in settings for
young children who are competent in the               The largest body of information on play from
child’s first language. This has not been             most of the past century relates to its place in
addressed to any great degree in service              curricula. However, while this tells us how
provision here in Ireland.                            play was envisaged as supporting the child’s

Section 2: Historic and Cultural Perspectives

development and the types of contexts and           2.12    Implications for the NQF/ECCE
equipment to be provided, it tells very little of
the child’s actual experience. So there is very     This discussion has suggested implications for
little that can be said of the changing             the CECDE in our development of the
experiences of the child at play in Ireland         NQF/ECCE.
over the time period being considered here.         l The availability of resources, training and
                                                        investment has always been crucial to the
                                                        successful implementation of curricular
Currently, there is no argument here as to
                                                        change in Ireland, and will remain so.
the place of play in children’s lives. Many
policy documents throughout the 1990s and           2 Maintaining a high profile for the rights
before have made the case for play as one of            and needs of children and ensuring their
the most important contexts in which the                visibility in the wider society is necessary
child will learn and develop.                           for their well-being and for the quality of
                                                    3   Supporting parents towards work/life
                                                        balance and in parenting practices
2.11    Conclusion                                      enhances the child’s life.
                                                    4   Developing and maintaining structures
This has been a brief overview of some of the           which enhance communication and co-
strands of change which have impacted on the            ordination within the ECCE sector, both
way in which children live their lives in               at service and policy level, will benefit
Ireland. We have no reason to suppose that              provision.
children’s lives will be any less subject to        5   Enhancing relationships between service
changing circumstances in the future, any               providers and parents benefits the child.
more than we can suppose that society at
                                                    6   Children and the wider society need
large will become static. We have choices to
                                                        support in order to promote the
make on the basis of the certainty of change,
                                                        development of positive attitudes to
choices about how we can value childhood and
                                                        diversity and equality.
support children. While we can certainly look
back and recognize that society failed children     7   The child’s first language must be
in many cases, it would be a mistake to take            supported while additional languages are
no more than that from the lessons of                   being learned.
experience. Rather, it should strengthen the        8   There is a need for research to document
resolve of everyone involved in ECCE or in              how children play in their everyday lives
advocacy for children to secure their full              in order to record the presence of children
citizenship and rights.                                 in our society.

Section 3

Thematic Perspective on the Learning and
Developing Child
3.1    Introduction                             most important points to emerge from the
                                                research; they are included because of their
As outlined in the Introduction, seven themes
                                                appropriateness for the particular theme
emerged from the analysis of the child-
                                                under discussion. The discussion revolves
development sections of the Review
                                                around children from birth to six years of age,
Document. The enormous amount of
                                                but recognises that there are differences in
information contained in the extensive
                                                approach for specific age groups in that range.
literature review has been considered very
                                                While it was not possible to go into detail
closely. Following intensive analysis, the
                                                about each age sub-group, some mention is
material has been condensed into the seven
                                                made of the particular approaches necessary
thematic areas presented in this Section.
                                                for very young children. Because the themes
These themes are not intended as stand alone
                                                centre on fundamental principles for practice,
elements, but must be considered together.
                                                they are intended as inclusive of all settings
Each theme interacts with and complements
                                                and age groups. The discussion which follows
the others and the order in which they are
                                                considers the CECDE perspective on the
presented is not intended as a hierarchy.
                                                context for quality practice with young
Certain specific points of research from the    children. Following the discussion of each
Review Document are used to illustrate          theme, the implications for the NQF/ECCE
various points throughout the chapter. These    are included under the headings of Defining,
are examples only and are not necessarily the   Assessing and Supporting Quality.

Section 3: Thematic Perspective on the Learning and Developing Child

3.2   Child-centred learning and                    development. A child living in circumstances
      development                                   of disadvantage, experiencing marginalisation
                                                    on racial, ethnic or cultural grounds, or
Taking a child-centred approach to a child’s        because of having special needs arising from a
development and learning requires that the          disability, has the same rights to quality
adults supporting the child focus on the            experiences as her peers. It is the child who
child’s unique individuality as the starting        must benefit directly from interventions, and
point for learning. This ensures that the child     all interventions involving children must
is at the centre of the endeavour rather than       primarily focus on child outcomes which
a body of knowledge that she must absorb.           follow from the child’s needs. Too often, it is
The child is an active agent in her own             the child’s life which is used as a site of
learning and development. She has, among            intervention in fulfilling other obligations,
other things, her own interests, strengths,         such as releasing parents from childcare
needs, learning dispositions and potential.         commitments to participate in the labour
These co-exist with her cultural identity,          force. The child’s well-being must be the
gender, relationships, competencies and             primary concern, and the child’s life must be
abilities. This complexity, of course, is much      respected. Perhaps that is the essence of a
more than the sum of its parts. Childhood is a      child-centred approach, that the child and
distinct and valuable time during which this        childhood are afforded respect and dignity by
unique individuality must be acknowledged           parents, significant adults, the State and
and appreciated, supported, treasured and           society.
nurtured towards fulfilment and joy through
relationships with the significant adults in        Current research knowledge provides useful
her life. A recognition of the child’s rights       insights in the implementation of a child-
provides a context for this dynamic process         centred approach. For example, from a
which could be supported by rights-based            physical point of view, the child needs
legislation and policy.                             balanced and healthy nutrition, but children
                                                    living in poverty are most at risk of deficient
The child will benefit from reciprocal              diets. This finding is of particular concern in
communication with significant adults who           Ireland, which has one of the highest rates of
gain knowledge and understanding of her life        child poverty in the EU. In terms of
through that communication. Recognising             preventative health care, the child’s health
that the child has a distinct voice in our          and well-being is supported in the crucial
society, allied with the recognition of the         developmental years by consistent, seamless,
child’s active agency in life, brings an            multi-disciplinary service provision in the
acknowledgement of the child’s right to a           context of knowledge of the child’s individual
sense of control over outcomes in her life at       needs and circumstances. Physical activity is
an age appropriate level. For young children        a key and necessary element in a child’s
especially, it is the significant adults in the     development and is strongly associated with
environment who will ensure she becomes             parental modeling, and facilities and
aware of her own sense of self-reliance,            attitudes in childcare centres, pre-schools,
independence and control. This emphasises           schools and other out-of-home settings.
the importance of high quality, dynamic and         Although developmental pathways have been
reciprocal interactions between the child and       mapped, and provide a useful paradigm, it
the adult. The activities and opportunities for     must be recognised that children have
play and discovery made available to the child      individual developmental trajectories and
through quality services and supports must          abilities influenced, but not determined, by,
foster the child’s sense of purpose and give        for example, gender and abilities.
meaning to her engagement with the world.
Crucially, the child must be allowed to             As the young child grows and develops
exercise choice as a requisite part of active       socially and emotionally, caregivers will need
participation.                                      to recognise the web of elements which make
                                                    up her individual profile. Emotional
A child-centred approach based on knowledge         regulation, i.e. the ability to exercise control
and understanding of the child’s life must          over one’s emotions, internally and externally,
recognise also that the circumstances in            in accomplishing one’s goals, and the ability
which a child lives her life are not always         to recognise and label emotions in oneself and
optimally conducive to her harmonious               in others, is a facet of the child’s development.

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