Constructions of meanings of quality within Australian Early Childhood Education and Care policy between 1972 and 2009

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In Australia, high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) has become a key policy objective, and is connected to national concerns such as improved outcomes for young children, increased workforce participation, gender equity and economic growth. These concerns have contributed to some constructions of quality becoming prominent over others in ECEC policy. Consequently, an emphasis on some constructions skews understandings of quality toward particular meanings and diminishes space for other explanations of quality.
This thesis investigates the question “how has quality been constructed in government policy concerning centre–based long day care in Australia between 1972 and 2009?”. This was a time of transformative policy developments in the Australian ECEC sector. During this period, the number and type of ECEC services, particularly long day care (LDC) services, expanded rapidly for children younger than school age.
In order to answer the research question, a historical policy analysis was undertaken. The analysis drew upon two methodological perspectives: a history of the present (Foucault, 1977) and Pierson’s (2004; 2005) perspectives of policy history. A Foucauldian-influenced history of the present facilitated an in-depth analysis of discourses contained within ECEC policy between 1972 and 2009. This approach problematised constructions of quality by drawing attention to how the concept has been shaped within rationales for policy. Pierson’s perspectives were drawn upon to identify macro-contextual factors of national importance such as social, political and economic dynamics. Although not directly related to early childhood policy, macro-contextual factors appeared important because they influenced how understandings of quality were framed within policy.
The data corpus included legislation, official government policy documents, policy advocacy documents and a list of elite policy informants as potential interview participants. This selection reflected an understanding of policy as more than text alone; it also encompasses words, actions, intent and enactments (Ball, 1994). A data set was then drawn from the corpus of data for close analysis. The data set comprised 10 key policy documents and 13 interview transcripts from individual interviews conducted with 13 elite informants. Together these sources reflected the complexity of policy making processes across almost 40 years of policy developments.
The data set was analysed using two methods. First, a thematic approach was used to identify common themes and patterns in relation to the research questions. Second, Bacchi’s (2009) What’s the problem represented to be? (WPR) approach to policy analysis was applied to the data to problematise constructions of quality in policy rationales. These constructions identified how quality has shifted from a marginal feature of ECEC policy in 1972 to a central tenet of the National Early Childhood Development Strategy in 2009. The shifts highlighted the presence of path dependent processes and macro-contextual factors that preceded key moments of policy change, conceptualised as critical junctures. While multiple discourses exist across the period under investigation [1972 – 2009], the study highlighted tensions between three prominent discourses of community, market and investment. These tensions create challenges for provisions of high-quality in ECEC but also provide insights to enhance understandings for achieving high-quality in contemporary ECEC policy.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
  • Sumsion, Jennifer, Principal Supervisor
  • Press, Frances, Co-Supervisor
Award date01 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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