Literacy teaching in early childhood in an Australian context: Contested policies and practices

Year: 2015

Author: Bromley, Tamara, Oakley, Grace, Vidovich, Lesley

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The aim of this study was to investigate the construction and enactment of rapidly evolving school literacy policy in Australia at national, State and local (school) levels, with the latter being the primary focus. There is currently much controversy and debate over both literacy and early childhood policies and practices, and hence this study stands to make a significant contribution to the field.

The conceptual basis for the study was a ‘policy trajectory’ framework which structured the research questions.Data was collected using both documents and semi-structured interviews along the policy trajectory at macro (national), meso (State) and micro (school) levels. Data analysis employed both thematic and critical discourse analysis procedures. At the micro level, three case study schools were selected for detailed focus on literacy policy processes, and cross case analysis was later conducted.

The study found that neoliberal mechanisms of accountability and performance measures, in conjunction with the use of funding levers, were designed to enhance correspondence between literacy policy intent and policy enactment. That is, the policy elite in government could be seen as exerting power to coerce and control literacy policy enactment in schools. However, literacy policy enactment played out in diverse ways in the unique context of each case study school. These central mechanisms and levers interacted with myriad other external and internal influences on individual schools, their leaders and the early childhood teachers who worked within them. In the ‘chaos’ of confluence of different policies within schools, immense struggles and conflicts in literacy policy enactment ensued, not least of which were the struggles surrounding ‘quality’ and ‘equity’. While the policy elite placed these key goals within an economic discourse linked with Australia’s international ranking in literacy, school leaders and early childhood teachers had very different notions of ‘quality’ and ‘equity’ in literacy teaching, which at times seemed to be in opposition to that of the policy elite.