Inequality and Australia's Early Childhood Education and Care Sector: A Policy Frame Analysis

Year: 2019

Author: Nolan, Andrea, Molla, Tebeje

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In Australia, inequality in early childhood education continues to be a persistent challenge. Australian governments recognize that for some children, early childhood education and care outcomes are poor with a widening gap.Unequal participation in early childhood education can be an outcome of a range of characteristics, including local area variation, socio-economic characteristics of families, Indigenous background of families, non–English speaking background (NESB) of families, and children with special health needs. In response, in the second half of the 2000s, Australian governmentsembarked on a reform process to improve issues related to governance, quality and equity.In this presentation,weexamine three major equity policies in the Australian early childhood education and care sector. To do this we draw on critical frame analysis, identifying and problematising devicesthat policymakers apply to name and frame policy issues in ways that resonate with priorities and aspirations of the public.In mapping out framing and reasoning devices of the policies, our analytical interest is to highlight the representation ofinequality as a problem and unmask underlying assumptions of the equity responses. A policy problem is a discursive construction, and the way in which the problem is framed determines both the nature of the policy instruments and the possibility of resolving it.The findings show that disadvantage in Australia’s early childhood education and care sector has been framed as a lack of access, limited navigational capacity and cultural exclusion; and the framings are informed by economic, educational and social rationales.Targeted funding, teacher professionalization and performance monitoring serve as instruments in the enactment of the initiatives.The analysis also reveals problematic categories, issue-omissions, and conceptual shifts within the texts.Practical implications of the frame contradictions and silences are highlighted. We propose that through examining the framing of inequality in early learning, and how such a framing has come into existence, further research can shed some light on what kind of politics operates behind specific policy pronouncements and implications for transforming the problem.