Critically Discuss And Evaluate The Labour Government

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Labour Government came to power in 1997, bringing a huge investment to the early years care and education of children. Announcing in the Childrens Plan, how it aims to make this country the best place for children to grow up. (Winter, 2008) The National Childcare Strategy aimed to promote the well-being of children, whilst supporting parents to achieve a balance between work and family life by providing high quality childcare (Potter, 2007). Previously Governments had left childcare primarily to family and private services, however the Labour Party are at the forefront of promoting the benefits of having a high quality education. The National Curriculum subjects of 1988 provide the backbone of the curriculum and there was considerable mismatch between the new aims and the specifications for the various subjects. (Ward, 2009) Since 2003 attempts in the UK to support an aims-based curriculum - that is to say, a curriculum in which aims, once selected, are to be realised by the most appropriate curricular means, rather than one in which aims and curriculum remain separate.

Both Holmes and Nunn argued, in different ways, for a developmentalist account of learning, and this in turn left trace in both the Hadow and the Plowden Reports. (Alexander, 2009) However, in the late 1960s Robert Dearden produced a powerful critique of the 'child-centred' position represented in these reports. Richard Peters emphasised the acquisition of knowledge and understanding for its own sake and several prominent theorists have followed him in this. More popular accounts over the last forty years of what education should be for have tended to polarise this view and the view that children should be allowed to develop naturally, usually to the disadvantage of the latter. (Alexander, 2009)

Robert Dearden's own account, in terms of equipping learners for a life of personal autonomy within a moral framework, has been developed further by later writers. In recent decades the tendency of philosophical writings has been towards placing specific aims like Dearden's within larger settings, so that their rationale becomes more perspicuous. (Alexander, 2009) There has thus been much work on the promotion of personal well-being as a key aim, this being seen as a more inclusive concept than personal autonomy. These philosophical explorations are now becoming increasingly relevant to policy-making, given that well-being underpins the 2004 Children's Act, the five Every Child Matters outcomes and the 2007 Children's Plan. The relationship between personal well-being and morality has also been explored. The importance of education for continued development and global awareness has become especially prominent in recent years. (Parton, 2006)

Many of these ideas have impacted on government policies on aims over the last forty years, and have proved influential in curriculum deliberations. Pressure for governments to produce not just lists of aims but also defensible rationales for how they fit together continues, the increasingly holistic accounts of the theorists could well be of service. (White, 2008)

The interest in the early years has also been spurred by new research and scholarship in fields such as neuroscience, developmental psychology, and economics. The release of the National Academy of Sciences report From Neurons to Neighborhoods (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000) brought new attention to research on early brain development and the importance of experiences in the early years for child health and developmental outcomes. At the same time, economist James Heckman was emphasizing the importance of the early years for human capital formation, arguing that investments made in the early years would lay the foundation for learning in those years and in the future (Heckman and Lochner, 1999). Heckman has also joined with developmental psychologists in emphasizing that both cognitive and non-cognitive aspects of development are consequential for later life chances (Heckman, 2003).

Further drive for the growing interest in early years policy is the availability of rigorous evidence that high-quality interventions can improve child development in the early years. Studies of programs such as Nurse-Family Partnerships have found that high-quality early years programs can improve child health and development for disadvantaged children, in both cognitive and non-cognitive domains (Springate, 2008). These results provide grounds for optimism that well-crafted policies could play a role in narrowing gaps in school readiness. At the same time, however, there are clearly some limits to what early years programs can accomplish (White, 2008). Some portion of the differences that emerge in the early years will be due to factors that are not readily altered by policy. A further challenge is that not all early years programs are equally effective, high-quality programs are not inexpensive, and even the most promising model programs may not work as well when delivered on a large-scale. (Springate, 2008) There are also thorny issues to be grappled with regarding the extent to which such programs are best delivered universally or targeted to disadvantaged groups.

However, the historical legacy found in the re-emergence of the developmental approach in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) for children aged 0-5, overlapping the primary phase of Early Learning Goals are specified for each of the six EYFS Areas of Learning and Development are in England the continuity of traditional subject, (Kwon, 2002) but the subjects had to be responsive to a new set of national aims, interdisciplinary work encouraged, and settings freer to devise their own curricula within statutory constraints. The overall national aims are three-fold: to enable all young people to become successful learners, confident individuals, and responsible citizens. (Pugh, 2005)

The curriculum is one that integrates care, education and pedagogy and this is evident in the curriculum document which emphasises how children should learn rather than what children should learn. The EYFS comprises legal requirements relating to learning, development and welfare. It brings together the learning, development and welfare requirements and ends the distinction between care and learning and between the birth to three and three to five provision. (Kenny, 2006)

Multi-agency partnership is essential to the delivery of the EYFS aims. Percy-Smith (2006) provides a review of the evidence related to the development, delivery and effectiveness of strategic partnerships. She argues that local strategic partnerships overseeing and commissioning children's services have an important part to play in delivering the Government's Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda. Change for Children agenda, the Children Act 2004, guidance on Lead Professionals, projects such as the implementation of the Newborn Hearing Screening Programme, and the expansion of Sure Start. (Perry-Smith, 2006) The national evaluation of Early Support (ES), the central government programme designed to improve multi-professional service provision. (Young, 2006)

As well as research and evaluation of programs presenting a strong case for highly qualified staff in early childhood settings there is also the question of what type of staff will be needed in the future. As we move towards more integrated service delivery staffing becomes an issue (Cameron, Mooney & Moss, 2002). In New Zealand considerable government expenditure has been directed towards achieving a fully qualified teacher workforce by 2012 (New Zealand Education Review Office, 2004). A highly trained and skilled workforce is essential to providing high quality childcare. Currently the sector as a whole invest little in staff training and development, wages are also chronically low. (Broadhead, 2007) If the EYFS is to be delivered effectively training and support is essential not only for new entrants to the workforce but also for existing staff. It is likely that government funds will need to be invested to ensuring that all settings are able to deliver the curriculum. The presence of highly qualified and experienced staff has been consistently linked to high quality interactions between children and adults, and this is an important factor in the social, language and cognitive development of children in group settings. Research indicates that specialised early childhood staff engage in substantially more developmentally appropriate interactions with children of all ages (Phillips, 1987). The links between higher levels of qualified staff and positive outcomes for children have been established (Phillips, Mekos, Scarr, McCartney & Abbott-Shim 2001).