Reconfiguring educational spaces for equity: Case studies from early years’ education

Year: 2015

Author: Power, Anne, Woodrow, Christine, Orlando, Joanne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper is concerned with how the re-organisation of dispersed early childhood programs into an integrated school-based provision might better facilitate children’s and families’ educational engagement and success, particularly in disadvantaged communities.
It is developed in the context of an international evidence base that locates early childhood programs as important sites for addressing equity and the persistent educational under-achievement of children living in disadvantaged circumstances. In Australia, the dominant response to this imperative has been to mandate a universal year of preschool for all children before school commencement. There have also been efforts to raise educational quality of Long Day Care and preschool through regulatory mechanisms such as increased qualifications, mandated curriculum, learning outcomes and quality assessment processes.

However, Long Day Care is becoming increasingly conceptualised as a mechanism for increasing women’s workforce participation rather than an education facility addressing equity, and typically operates independent of state education systems. Similarly preschool provision is uneven. The reality is a fragmented service system addressing early learning and development. Research shows that children do not always transition easily or successfully from these dispersed early childhood programs to formal schooling, particularly in communities where families are experiencing difficulties in their social and economic circumstances.
This paper draws on data collected as part of a recent study by the authors investigating alternative innovative policy responses in the ACT for service delivery for children 0-8 designed to address equity concerns. The paper presents case studies of the Koori Preschool program and the Early Childhood School where Long Day Care, preschool and the first years of primary schooling are located on the school site. Governance of both programs is vested in the school leadership. This model relocates children’s transition to when they are in their third year of primary schooling. The Early Childhood Schools also incorporate the co-location of child and family health and wellbeing programs. Thus the early childhood schools constitute both a reconceptualised educational space addressing issues of continuity and equity, and a reconfigured physical space to accommodate a range of services and programs that contribute to child and family wellbeing.

Profiling these cases, the paper explores the structure of these models and considers how the integration of early childhood and primary programs, teachers and health support services provides effective integrated service delivery for children Birth-8 years, and contribute to improved family support, participation and parental engagement; high quality early learning programs and practice and what constitutes effective governance models and leadership structures to support these initiatives.
The study has been conceptualised within the framework of institutional ethnography and has produced an extensive qualitative data set incorporating the perspectives of families, educators across the different settings, principals, together with educational artefacts and de-identified institutional data relating to school attendance and achievement. Conducting a cross case analysis allows insights into the ‘social relations,’ how institutional relations and regimes are organised and how these arrangements might benefit children and their learning.