Early education and care has become a central policy area in many countries. As services expand rapidly, it is crucial to examine whether children from disadvantaged backgrounds receive provision of the highest possible quality.
In this original, topical book, leading experts from eight countries examine how early education and care is organised, funded and regulated in their countries. Bringing together recent statistical evidence, the book gives an up-to-date picture of access to services by different groups, providing rich insights on how policies play out in practice, and the extent to which they help or hinder disadvantaged children to receive high quality provision.
An equal start? reveals the common tensions and complexities countries face in ensuring that early education and care is affordable, accessible and of high quality. Its critical examination of the potential for better policies ensures that An equal start? will be of interest to academic readers as well as policy makers and practitioners.
This is the introductory chapter to a comparative volume examining how successfully, and through what mechanisms, policies in eight different countries ensure access to high quality early education and care for disadvantaged children. The chapter begins by examining the research evidence on the impact of early education and care for children’s outcomes, including a discussion of the importance of the quality of provision. It then explains the purpose and scope of the volume and sets out the rationale for choosing the eight countries and considers some broad similarities and differences between them, drawing on international data. Finally, it provides a brief overview of each of the country chapters, highlighting the key policy issues that arise in each one.
This chapter examines the extent to which disadvantaged children are able to access high quality early childhood education and care in the UK, highlighting both developments over the past 15 years and remaining challenges. Using new data, it examines the social gradient in access to high quality provision within the free entitlement for three and four year olds, finding that children in more deprived areas are much more likely than children from better off areas to attend maintained settings, where staff include qualified teachers. However, outside the entitlement concerns remain about both access and quality. The authors explore the policy mechanisms in operation and offer suggestions for improvements, including expanding maintained nursery classes to deliver the entitlement (including for two year olds), raising and equalizing qualification levels across all settings, and extending supply side subsidies to cover younger children, to make care more affordable for parents.
This chapter draw together the evidence from our eight country case studies to examine how different countries have best addressed the common challenge of the “childcare triangle” – ensuring that early childhood education and care is accessible and affordable to all children, whatever their background, and that is also high quality. It identifies common themes and highlights insights from good practice which might be useful in thinking about the way ECEC is organised, funded and delivered with the goal of equitable access in mind. It seeks not to focus too heavily on contemporary policy debates in any one country but to draw out broader lessons that will stand the test of time.