Constructions of quality within Australian Early Childhood Education and Care policy between 1972 and 2009
Quality is a pivotal issue in ECEC because it has implications for children's development and early childhood pedagogy, and benefits for society (Galinsky, 2006; Siraj-Blatchford, Sylva, Muttock, Gilden, & Bell, 2002; Sylva, et al., 2003). Yet it is a term that is widely used, taken for granted and often loosely defined (Clark, Trine Kjorholt, & Moss, 2005). Because it is used in such diverse ways for so many different purposes it risks losing all meaning. Numerous assumptions and an eclectic mix of philosophical beliefs and perspectives contribute to different understandings of quality (Duignan, 2005). By considering multiple perspectives of quality, this study will make explicit constructions of quality in Australian long day care (LDC).
The most commonly used type of formal care for children in prior to school settings in Australia is LDC, with 43% of children requiring LDC in 2008 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008). As the dominant form of prior to school child care provision, LDC encourages workforce participation and fosters the development of children (Rush, 2006).
The period between 1972 and 2009 was identified for two key reasons. Firstly, my starting point of 1972 was chosen because of the introduction of the Child Care Act 1972 (Cth) which acknowledged the Commonwealth government's responsibility for child care provision in Australia (Brennan, 2009). Prior to 1972 few long day care centres existed (Brennan, 1998). While the Child Care Act 1972 (Cth) did not explicitly refer to quality, the Act implicitly promoted quality through funding linked to the employment of qualified staff and the provision of capital and recurrent grants to non-profit long day care centres. Secondly, 2009 was selected as an end point for the study as quality became a centrepiece of significant unified national reform with COAG reaching a National Partnership Agreement on the National Quality Agenda ECEC.
The study draws on Foucauldian perspectives of knowledge and power that are constituted through discourses. The study explores assumptions underpinning discourses that have shaped constructions of quality in ECEC policy and how these constructions of quality are historically constituted over time.