Early Childhood in the Anglosphere

Early Childhood in the Anglosphere

In Policy in Focus this week, we unpack a new book ‘Early Childhood in the Anglosphere – Systemic failings and transformative possibilities’ by renowned early childhood researchers Peter Moss and Linda Mitchell.

The pair analyse the early childhood systems of seven anglophone countries, including Ireland, and highlight the similar features and what they call the ‘substantial shared failings’ of each. They then contrast these with two non-English speaking countries – France and Sweden – and conclude by offering solutions to transform early childhood systems in the anglophone world.

Common issues

For this research, Moss and Mitchell define early childhood systems as encompassing early childhood education and care services and parenting leave, including maternity, paternity and parental leave, entitlements.

The authors argue that some of the myriad issues experienced by each country are products of particular ways of thinking about early childhood systems by policymakers, and, therefore, they are ‘neither natural nor inevitable’. The good news is that change is possible, though not easy.

Other issues have arisen due to the somewhat ad hoc nature of early childhood systems, which have grown in a ‘piecemeal fashion’ and rarely benefit from a comprehensive review or planning process. The situation is further exacerbated by the prevailing economic system of our time – Neoliberalism, which, further, to having a negative impact on education policy and planning, has produced a way of thinking about children, parents, teachers and schools that is ‘narrow and technical, instrumental and above all economised.’

The Anglosphere model

Such are the similarities in the early childhood systems of the countries studied the authors have laid out commonalities into what they term the ‘Anglosphere model’. This model is characterised by the predominance of a ‘childcare dominated’ split system in which one serves an employment or welfare function i.e., is focused on providing ‘childcare’ for working mothers in mostly private centre or home-based settings and others that have a predominantly educational aim in school-based settings or kindergartens. Many countries, including Ireland, have taken steps to narrow this split and move towards integrated systems, however, the split persists in the Anglosphere, with ‘childcare’ settings accounting for most of the places available to children.

Other common features of the Anglosphere model include privatised provision of services, inadequate leave for parents and a relatively low level of public funding. Ireland ranks low among its peers when it comes to parenting leave. Sweden, for example, spends five times as much on parenting leave as Ireland and, despite improvements in recent years, Ireland has particularly low spending when it comes to public expenditure on early childhood systems and is below the OECD and EU averages for public funding.

An alternative approach

The road to an integrated and universally available early childhood system in Sweden is long and winding, but it offers a glimpse of what is possible with the will to achieve it. Sweden offers 18 months of parenting leave, of which 13 months are deemed to be well-paid. All children are entitled to a place from 12 months of age, and nearly all services for children between one to six years old are ‘preschools’ – legally classed as a type of school run mostly by local authorities (71 per cent), with the remainder being publicly funded but operated either privately or by community-based organisations.

Some of the benefits of this integrated system are highlighted by the fact that Sweden has one of the highest levels of employment for women with a child under six years among OECD member states; its employment rate in 2020 was 74 per cent for women with a child under three years and 85 per cent for women with a youngest child between three and five years of age.

Parenting leave entitlements mean that hardly any children under the age of 12 months attend preschool, with the overwhelming majority staying at home with their parents until they are ready to enter preschool, while public attitudes towards children’s upbringing and the place of preschool in that process have also changed. Preschools are now seen as a public good that is widely perceived as a benefit for all children and a right that all children and families should have.

Conclusion 

While Sweden is an excellent example of the power of possibility, it is not a blueprint. Each Anglosphere country, while similarly challenged, has its own unique issues. However, all of the countries studied have the potential for change, and the authors argue that working with such potential can be transformative and create an integrated and public early childhood system that is infused with care and recognised as the first stage of the education system; has a graduate workforce of early childhood educators that have parity with other teachers; is universal, multi-purpose and community-based; and creates synergy between well-paid parenting leave and children’s entitlement to education.

Contact us

If you have any questions or would like to engage with Early Childhood Ireland’s policy team, please contact us at [email protected]

For more updates, please follow us on X (formerly Twitter) – @EarlyChildhdIRL

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