Open access peer-reviewed chapter - ONLINE FIRST

Caring about Early Childhood Education

Written By

Dawn Murphy

Submitted: February 11th, 2022 Reviewed: March 25th, 2022 Published: May 12th, 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.104674

Early Childhood Education - Innovative Pedagogical Approaches in the Post-modern Era Edited by Maria Ampartzaki

From the Edited Volume

Early Childhood Education - Innovative Pedagogical Approaches in the Post-modern Era [Working Title]

Dr. Maria Ampartzaki and Associate Prof. Michail Kalogiannakis

Chapter metrics overview

5 Chapter Downloads

View Full Metrics


Early Childhood Education (ECE) is a broad term encompassing the care and education of children in the years before the commencement of primary school education. The purpose of ECE as the beginning of children’s educational journey versus childcare for working parents is widely contested, contributing to a care and education dichotomy within the sector. Education and care are inseparable constructs and particularly so within the early years. Attempts to distinguish between early years care and education support the establishment of a skills hierarchy where care is regarded less favorably than education. This chapter discusses ‘edu-care’ as an alternative way of understanding ECE whereby education and care are recognized as inseparable and equally valued. As the professionalization of ECE continues to gain momentum, this process must take a holistic conceptualization of ECE within which ‘edu-care’ is fundamental. Regulation, increased levels of qualification for early childhood educators and quality provision dominate the discourse of ECE professionalization. However, this narrow emphasis on performativity must not overshadow the immeasurable but essential components of ECE, that of care and love.


  • pre-school
  • Edu-care
  • gender issues
  • professionalization
  • performativity
  • schoolification

1. Introduction

Early Childhood Education (ECE) exists in a complex and messy trajectory which serves to make its purpose conflicted. Increased global economic growth, a return of mothers to the workforce and international recognition of the value of ECE in the furthering of human capital [1] have combined to position ECE to the forefront of the policy agenda. However, the policy emphasis for ECE has largely envisaged the sector as facilitating working parents (specifically mothers) and developing human capital. This conceptualization of ECE has been detrimental to the development of policy that prioritizes education for human flourishing [2]. Caution exists around the increased ‘schoolification’ of ECE [3]. However, despite the inextricable relationship between love, care and education in early childhood, a reluctance exists to embrace love and care arising from concerns that this will undermine the professionalization of the sector [4]. This chapter problematizes what is valued in ECE questioning the rationale for this and arguing for the adoption of ‘educare’ [5] which would provide a holistic understanding of the purpose of ECE, encompassing and equally valuing care and education.


2. Competing discourses in early childhood education

The existence of a distinction between care and education within ECE is consistently documented [6, 7]. While the limitations of this artificial distinction are identified [8] this division of the two persists. Initially economically driven, the development of ECE focused on providing care for children during their early years. While education, in addition to care, was undoubtedly provided to children within these settings, the primary function was care provision that corresponded to the needs of working parents – the needs of the child were arguably secondary [9]. Within this context, it is unsurprising that those employed in ECE, were largely regarded as substitute mothers. Accordingly, a need for training and education to perform this role was not recognized, rather it was regarded as intuitive for women [7].

2.1 The persistence of a care and education divide

The prevalence of a distinction between care and education is an international phenomenon. The positioning of much early childhood provision in the care category is unhelpful for early childhood educators and the sector in general. Provision for children from birth to 3 years is typically understood to be childcare while provision for children from three to 6 years is more commonly identified as education. Among 30 OECD countries, the existence of an education and care divide is so entrenched structural distinctions with ‘divided government responsibilities’ for care and education exist [7]. Among the Nordic countries, where care and education are not artificially separated, the qualification and pay scales of early childhood educators are aligned to that of primary and secondary teachers [7]. However, where distinctions between early years care and education exist, lower levels of qualification and renumeration are deemed acceptable within the provision identified as care [8].

The conflict appears to exist at the policy level as to the long-term goals for the development of ECE. The value of educators with increased levels of qualification is recognized for optimizing, ‘healthy child development’ [10]. However, there is also a realization that higher qualified educators will expect increased rates of renumeration. Accordingly, caution is urged around the proportion of graduates required to work in the sector [10]. Consequently, the solution has increasingly been adopted appears to be the creation of a ‘graduate led workforce’. Such an approach appears to satisfy the requirement for educators with higher levels of qualification, whilst limiting associated renumeration costs. Aside from the divisive nature of this employment strategy, it further reinforces the care and education divide in the sector. Responsibility for leading educational activities within a room is directed toward graduates while care responsibilities are delegated to educators with lower levels of qualification. This devaluing of care relegates it to a ‘lower order skill’ which is ‘taken for granted’ despite providing the foundation for the ‘higher skills of professionalism’ to be laid ([11], p. 87). This creation of a two-tier workforce effectively ensures the continued separation of care and education within ECE, with education positioned as both removed from and superior to care.

In considering ECE, there is an understanding that ‘effective learning environments are nurturing. Caring is educational; education is caring and both are effective when responsive to the child’ ([6], p. 7). Similarly, teaching is recognized as a ‘caring profession and care work is endemic to education’. However, within a neo-liberal agenda, the importance of caring, ‘has been increasingly eroded’ with the emphasis shifting to regulation and a narrow and rationalistic notion of a duty of care ([12], p. 84). Societal and political contradictions between ECE are extensive. This persistent distinction between early childhood educators and primary school teachers reinforces the care and education divide and represents an inequitable valuing of care versus education [13].

2.2 The pursuit of quality

During the last 20 years, the role of ECE has increasingly been recognized as important in supporting the development of human capital [1]. Enhanced child development, increased rates of school completion, reduced incidence of unemployment and incarceration are all identified as positive outcomes resulting from quality experiences of early childhood education [14]. However, the existence of quality provision is consistently identified as essential in the achievement of the maximum outcomes of ECE. Despite the frequency with which quality is referred to both in policy documents and in the public domain, quality is a contextual concept that may benefit from questioning and problematizing [15]. Furthermore, distinctions exist between ‘a good service’ and a ‘quality’ service. The notion of a ‘quality service’ is ‘value laden, reflective of an economic agenda rather than the perspective, knowledge and experiences of ECE professionals, or children and their families’ ([1], p. 7). This political value attributed to the achievement of ‘quality’ provision also serves to legitimize the increased surveillance of ECEC services with the justification of monitoring the governments, ‘human capital’ investment [1]. This rationale for monitoring and striving for quality is difficult to contest [16]. Challenges to such inspection may spark concern that questionable practice exists within a setting which within market models of ECE, is an aspiration all settings will be keen to avoid. Essentially, the prevalent policy discourse of quality provision within ECE translates to a deficit model of the sector [17] where without regulation and the omnipresent fear of inspection [18] settings could not be trusted to achieve such high standards.

At the policy level, there appears to be a merging of the discourse of both professionalization and quality [19] with the achievement of increased levels of qualification among early childhood educators recognized as fundamental to this professionalization process. Each discourse within ECE has its own unique conceptualization of the child, the ‘most appropriate form of provision’ and the type training required for those working in the sector [20]. There has been a shift in emphasis in the purpose of ECE, moving from providing childcare for working parents to supporting children’s development with the intended enhancement of their academic achievement, equating to increased human capital. Accordingly, concern has increased regarding the ability of those working in the sector to support children’s optimal development. Within ECE, multiple identities exist for early childhood educators. The substitute mother, requires no specific qualification, the technician, is capable of implementing prescribed regulations and standards and finally the researcher, ever reflective upon their daily work with children and working to improve upon it [7]. Internationally, third-level qualifications have increasingly been sought for room leaders and more senior positions within early childhood settings, with subsequent distinctions in job titles and roles according to qualification level [21].

2.3 The schoolification of early childhood education

In alignment with this new appreciation for the value of ECE, increased regulation and accreditation have been introduced to the sector. The intention of standardizing children’s early years experiences has largely been to maximize their development during this period [22]. This policy commitment to optimizing children’s development initially appears quite admirable. However, concern exists around the increased ‘schoolification’ of ECE [3] where the introduction of pre-determined learning outcomes for pre-school children, inspection and regulation within the sector is consistently intensifying. Acknowledging the introduction and expansion of the OECD Starting Strong Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) concern about increased performativity demands within ECE appears justified. Gathering international data around the provision of ECE, TALIS aims to undertake international performance comparisons [23] essentially the introduction of Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to ECE. PISA has, ‘become one of the OECD’s most successful products’ which has served to legitimize the role of the organization in education within a now global context ([24], p. 917). From the initial conception of TALIS, additional countries have continued to join indicating the growing momentum of this performance tool.

The introduction of TALIS also comes within the context of the former launch of the International Early Learning and Child Well-Being Study (IELS) again organized by the OECD and initially involving just three countries: England, Estonia and the USA [25]. The introduction of IELS, and arguably TALIS, fits within a ‘global web of measurement’ driven by the OECD. This reductionist perception, limits education to, ‘a purely technical exercise of producing common outcomes measured by common indicators’ with the OECD acting as, ‘the global arbiter, assessor and governor of education’ ([26], p. 207). An apparent international desire to create a ‘functional datafication of early year’s pedagogy’ ([27], p. 302) provides a limited and narrow conceptualization of ECE. This position fails to recognize the multiple important layers within ECE that may be neither measurable nor easily observed, specifically care. One explanation of the current performative emphasis on early childhood education may be:

Quantification is seductive, because it organizes and simplifies knowledge. It offers numerical information that allows for easy comparison. But that simplification may lead to distortion, since making things comparable often means they are stripped of their context, history and meaning. ([28], p. 24)

The current emphasis on ‘inspection and surveillance’ has been prompted by a narrow conceptualization of early years assessment. A prioritizing of numeracy and literacy has resulted in the ‘intensification of school readiness pressure’ within ECE. With the policy for ECE taking an increasingly consistent ‘raising standards’ strategy, the pedagogy of early year’s educators is becoming focused on children’s achievement of pre-determined and standardized learning outcomes. Concerningly, this ‘schoolification’ of ECE is recognized as been contrary to child-centred values of early years educators [27]. As the discourses of quality and professionalization increasingly merge [19] there is a simultaneous conceptualization of quality as measurable performance at the policy level. Accordingly, early childhood educators are faced with accepting and implementing the performative demands of policy or resist and risk been labeled unprofessional and poor quality – a choice with no real option available.


3. The need for care (and love) within early childhood education

More than 20 years ago, there was recognition that ‘caring has become a buzzword in education’. Within this context, care was understood to encompass ‘gentle smiles and warm hugs’, whilst entirely ignoring the ‘complexity and intellectual challenge of the work’. This limited conceptualization of caring was recognized as detrimental to the development of ECE. As an alternative, the adoption of an ‘ethic of care’ as an approach for understanding the true scope of care within ECE was advocated. Caring has historically been recognized as fundamental to the education of young children but this understanding of care as a personal attribute fails to recognize caring as an intentional and intellectual action. Limiting conceptualizations of caring to personal characteristics supports the ‘hegemony of nice’ suggests Swadener, a perception that undermines the knowledge and professionalism of early childhood educators when compared to teachers in primary and secondary school settings. Such limited understandings of care were also identified as resulting in poorer pay, status and visibility of those working within the sector [29].

3.1 Conceptualizations of care

Rather than personal characteristic care may be conceptualized as a relation, potentially present in every interaction [30]. Almost in direct opposition to the rigor of evidence-based practice, regulation and standardization, caring encounters are, ‘variable, situated and unique’ ([29], p. 246). Care is a ‘human affective response’ within which there is an interaction between the ‘one caring’ and the ‘cared for’ [30]. Within this ethic of care approach, no regulations dictating the response of the educator to a child, rather the particular interaction guides and determines the educator’s ‘right’ response [11]. As an alternative to performative professionalism, focused on, ‘universal competence, standards and codes of practice’ professionalism may be founded on an ethic of care ([11], p. 88) within which love may be recognized as an important quality [31].

An online search of dictionary definitions of care reveals consistent references to both love and concern [32]. Despite this generic understanding of care, references to love between educators and children is frowned upon, fueled by fear this could be considered inappropriate and in addition unprofessional. Within ECE competing discourses of care and education, love is ‘unspoken, undefined and taken for granted’. However, far from been unsavory, love is both personal and professional and represents the ‘feelings and strong emotional connection’ between children and early childhood educators [4] echoing Nodding’s understanding of an ethic of care. However, despite its importance to ECE, similar to care, a discourse of love is problematic to the sector with its connotations of nurturing and motherhood, both of which strengthen societal perceptions of women as ‘natural carers’ thereby negating the need for specific training, knowledge and recognition [7, 33]. In addition, the unseen ways of knowing of love and care have little place within the neo-liberal agenda within which, performativity, standardization and narrow conceptualizations of managerial professionalism are so highly prized [4]. Given the current emphasis on the global race for academic success now recognized as starting within ECE [1] it is interesting that such little attention is afforded to the importance of love in supporting children in achieving this success. Early childhood educators express love in their discussions of the children they work with [34] and parents want educators to show their children love [35]. However, love remains unspoken within the policy discourse, a reality that may be largely attributable to the immeasurability of love and its subsequent disconnect with the neo-liberal discourse [33].

3.2 Space for love and care within the policy discourse

The pervasive effects of neo-liberalism are evident within society today, with ECE been no exception. The mark of neo-liberalism in policy for ECE may be recognized through a discourse of accountability, standardization, regulation and school readiness [22, 36]. While early childhood educators escaped the ‘terrors of performativity’ [37] for longer than their colleagues in primary and secondary education, they too are now subject to demands for, ‘accountability, attainment targets a compulsory early years curriculum, and standardized approaches to their practice’ ([36], p. 188). With increased policy emphasis on performativity, and associated funding implications, early childhood educators have had little choice but to prioritize this regime to their detriment of caring approaches.

Love and care are recognized as fundamental to ECE by the educators within the sector, with consistent references to these concepts during educator’s conversations [34]. However, despite this fundamental presence of love within ECE settings, it is largely, ‘invisible, transparent, something that has been taken for granted and deemed unworthy of scholarly attention’ ([31], p. 258). This silencing of love within the discourse of ECE reflects the current prevalence of scientific rationalism within society [34]. As evidence-based practice and scientific knowledge gained increased currency, the intuitive knowledge valued by Froebel, Pestalozzi and Montessori retained less credibility. Understanding and supporting early childhood has increasingly been explained in scientific terms, with ever increasing importance been placed on child development, psychology and behaviorism. A new scientific discourse of care, behaviorist in its foundations, was been promoted, within which there was no space for emotional care. This current conceptualization of care is ‘emotionally detached, favoring the seen over the unseen’ ([33], p. 160). However, the detrimental effects of this scientific rational approach to care on children’s development are being increasingly recognized by neuroscience and accordingly references to emotional care are remerging with the policy discourse [33]. It is somewhat ironic that care and love were initially silenced by science and the current movement to legitimize the two is now been driven by science!

The language used to describe ECE appears to be in an almost constant state of change. In Norway, largely regarded as the leaders in ECE, a move appears to exist to remove ‘care’ from the policy discourse with the recent introduction of the, ‘National Framework for Early Childhood Teacher Education’ [38]. Within an Australian context, the familiar use of term Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) positions care in a secondary position to that of education [32]. Within a neoliberal discourse that, ‘encourages competition’ and ‘values measurement in education’ love and care has effectively been silenced ([32], p. 160). The discourse of learning, currently popular within ECE, makes frequent reference to, ‘pre-defined standards and individualised learning goals’ with which comes a danger that children’s instinctive learning, achieved through, ‘play, freedom of movement, relations and discussions with other children’ will be afforded less time ([39], p. 528).

An analysis of a United Kingdom policy document, detailing the requirements for early childhood educators to achieve professional status, of the 39 standards specified, neither ‘care’ or ‘caring’ are mentioned once [11]. Interestingly, the introduction to these standards makes several references to care and the need for its provision but always within the context of ‘more than’ care been necessary. The additional requirements are then explained within the standards. This framing of care as important but inadequate, effectively creates a ‘hierarchy of skills, attitudes and behaviours’ resulting in care been ranked less favorably than education ([11], p. 87). Within such deficit conceptualizations of care, its presence is assumed and regarded as a starting point on which to build more professional and measurable standards. Similarly, within an Australian context, a discourse analysis of the Early Years Learning Framework found 220 references to ‘learning’, nine references to care, caring and nurturing with no explicit reference to love [32]. Within the policy discourse, the emphasis on measurability further compounds the challenge to make space for love. ‘Love is difficult to define, impossible to measure, and outside the boundaries of generalizability, reliability and validity. It is fuzzy, subjective, personal, loaded’ ([31], p. 258) this does not however make it any less important.

The concept of ‘love within the context of early childhood education and care are poorly understood’ ([35], p. 313). When asked about priorities in ECE settings, parents consistently expressed a desire for their children to be loved by the educators working with them. While love was not always explicitly name, the behavior parents referred to as desired in early childhood educators aligned with conceptualizations of love, specifically ‘professional love’. ‘Professional love’ may be understood as the loving relationships that are established between educators and children in the context of an early childhood setting [35]. Similarly, early childhood educators themselves place considerable value on love between children and themselves [40].


4. Connecting professionalization, care and love

The role of an early childhood educator is complex with the knowledge and skills required to work in the sector often difficult to quantify and at times overlapping with parenting [7]. Furthermore, and arguably consequently, early childhood educators have traditionally devalued their own ‘professional identity [41]. A connectedness exists between love, care and maternalism which has resulted in some conflict as the ECE sector strives for professional recognition [33]. During the 1950’s, John Bowlby recognized the centrality of secure attachments for young children’s well being [42]. Similarly, Dr Maria Montessori recognized love as a characteristic of early childhood educators. More recently, Noddings and Gilligan’s work on an ‘ethic of care’ has again recognized the fundamental importance of love, care and relationships among those working in ECE [33]. However, conceptualizations of love and care within ECE are conflicted. While love and touch are recognized as essential within ECE for children’s development and well-being, they are equally recognized as a potential child protection issue, thus placing early childhood educators in an impossible situation where uncertainty exists as to the appropriateness of love and care between children and educators [42].

4.1 Professionalization and early childhood education

Professionalism is, ‘presented as an apolitical and common-sense construct’ despite its inseparability from the political, cultural and historical construct it occurs within ([16], p. 5). Conceptualizations of professionalization differ with the increasing popularity of a discourse of ‘organizational professionalization’. With this movement from traditional or ‘occupational’ professionalism to organizational professionalism, the values of, ‘partnership, collegiality, discretion and trust’ have been replaced by, ‘increasing levels of managerialism, bureaucracy, standardization, assessment and performance review’ ([43], p. 407). The presence of organizational professionalism is evident in ECE as educators are increasingly subjected to Foucault’s conceptualization of surveillance/inspection and direction [18]. This discourse of organizational professionalism affords little consideration to the immeasurable and intangible concepts of love and care. Minority cases of poor practice within ECE have arguably been disproportionately emphasized to establish and normalize a ‘deficit discourse which positions early childhood educators as failing’ ([17], p. 741). This discrediting of early childhood educators effectively undermines the values they hold in high regard. Consequently, the dominant policy discourse can become firmly established without contestation. With public confidence in the sector shaken, reassurance around quality and standardization are widely welcomed by parents. With care and love difficult to quantify and standardize, it is not surprising they are afforded little attention in the emerging discourse of early childhood professionalization.

With less than 1% of early childhood educators been male [10] the highly gendered nature of ECE may be recognized as further complicating early childhood professionalization. Historically, medicine and law, both male-dominated sectors, have been recognized as professions. However, caring professions, including teaching, nursing, social work and more recently ECE, all typically female professions demand alternative understandings of professionalism [44]. Typically, a grasp of specific and complex knowledge is a feature of professionalism. However, given the nature of ECE and its association with mothering, within which love and care are fundamental, the identification of a specific body of knowledge presents more of a challenge. Arguably then, an alternative understanding of professionalism is necessary for ECE, within which love and care are recognized and valued.

Within ECE as in other ‘contemporary service occupations’ professionalism may be understood as ‘being imposed from above’, resulting in an alternative conceptualization of professionalization being introduced than educators had envisaged [43]. ‘Neo-liberal policies erode the professional identify of ECEC teachers by adopting a paradoxical approach in order to involve them in an active process of self-monitoring that leads them to new forms of self-exploitation’ ([45], p. 810). With its connotations of increased rewards, recognition and status a professionalism discourse is typically embraced by early childhood educators with a dismissal of love and care largely been accepted by educators as necessary for the achievement of professionalization [16]. However, the reality of organization professionalization is the retention and increasing control by organizational managers and supervisors [43]. Early childhood educators enjoy none of the benefits they envisaged professionalization would bring while additional demands continue to be imposed upon them.


5. Alternative possibilities

A case exists for the adoption of ‘educare’ for ECE, within which education and care are recognized as equally important for ‘curriculum development and pedagogy’ within the early years [6]. In its broadest sense, ‘educare’ recognizes ‘the mind and body are inseparable entities’ ([46], p. 5). ‘Educare’ already established within Scandinavian pedagogy for ECE, has the potential to, elevate the status of care and extend conceptualizations of professional roles within ECE. ‘Educare’ presents an educational philosophy grounded in care with this binding of education and care attributing an educational value to care [5]. This acceptance of and furthermore the need for the inseparability of care and education within the early years creates a more holistic conceptualization of ECE which extends beyond the measurability of standardized learning outcomes.

Despite the establishment of a care and education divide within several OECD countries, ‘Educare’ offers an alternative to this artificial division. The increased schoolification of ECE has resulted in the erosion of holistic conceptulisations of education in favor of technical rational approaches. This lack of regard for ‘care’ in ECE is also evident in the education of future early childhood educators with emphasis placed on supporting children’s academic learning [46]. Within a discourse of science and ‘evidence based’ practice, an element of disdain for care and caring may be recognized [29]. Educare supports a conceptualization of ECE within which educators need not feel compelled to sacrifice caring responsibilities to achieve professional recognition. With its potential to ‘elevate the status of care and take it seriously’ Educare provides a way to ‘transform professional roles within education’ [5]. Essentially, educare recognizes care as fundamental rather than secondary to education. Within this model, learning is understood in terms of the social, emotional and cognitive rather than been limited to academic achievement [5]. Furthermore, this inextricable linking of education and care, recognizes the educational value of care rather than reducing it to a secondary consideration.

Within the neo-liberal agenda, education is increasingly regarded as ‘just another service to be delivered on the market’ with little value of this provision as a public good. The very nature of caring makes it difficult to measure and even to attempt to do so is contradictory to the concept. As the emphasis of education, including that of ECE, has become increasingly regulatory and controlling so caring responsibilities have become diminished [12]. It would appear the time for the adopting a holistic view of ECE, one of which encompasses broad understandings of care, has never been more necessary.

As the professionalization of ECE intensifies, consideration of alternative understandings of professionalization are important. While the prevalence of inspection and standardization within ECE may align with understandings of organizational professionalism, occupational or democratic professionalism offers an alternative. Democratic professionalism allows for ‘collaborative, cooperative action between teachers and other educational stakeholders’ [47]. Essentially, it represents a move away from the traditional top-down approach of policy makers and moves toward a ‘ground up’ [48] strategy allowing for the challenging of, ‘the hegemony of expertise and dominant knowledge’ as dialog between early childhood educators and policy makers ‘bridges the gap between ways of being and ways of knowing’. ([19], p. 147). True dialog between early childhood educators and policy makers within which early childhood educators believe their knowledge and perspective is valued has the potential to reposition care as an integral part of ECE.


6. Conclusion

Care is a complex concept that extends beyond a physical act. However, care is contextual and, ‘caring performances are dictated and often restrained by social and political norms and practices’ ([46], p. 6). Critically, professionalization and care are not mutually exclusive. The dominant policy discourse around ECE professionalization has adopted an ‘organizational’ model of professionalization and it is within this specification the incompatibility with care exists. As the place of ECE continues to become more firmly established as part of education, so too the professionalization of the sector is recognized as part of this process. Therefore, the model of professionalization adopted for ECE must be ‘fit for purpose’. The application of traditional or organizational models of professionalization are not appropriate for ECE. Standards and inspection undeniably have a place within ECE and of course a body of knowledge is necessary for early childhood educators. However, within ECE and arguably life in general, it is not only that which is measurable that is important. The performative demands of organization professionalization must not be allowed to overshadow caring responsibilities within ECE. ‘Caring is only visible when not it is not done’ ([13], p. 89) and consequently, it is assumed rather than made explicit in the policy discourse. This invisibility of care results in its societal devaluing and contributes to early childhood educators questioning care as a value they intrinsically hold.

Rather than a battle of supremacy between care and education, the adoption of ‘edu-care’ within a discourse of democratic professionalization for ECE offers a way forward. Recognition of the inseparability of early years care and education acknowledges the fundamental need for care within ECE. Rather than seemingly undermining professionalization, the place is reserved for care within democratic conceptualizations. Similarly, the requirement for standards and inspection of services has space within a democratic model of professionalization. The recognition of educator autonomy and knowledge within democratic professionalism negates the need to reduce every aspect of ECE to that which can be measured. It is somewhat contradictory that as levels of qualification among early childhood educators have increased, there has been a corresponding intensification of regulation and inspection within the sector, a development sadly reflective of organizational professionalization.

Care or ‘human flourishing’ [2] is a fundamental element of all education but especially where the age of those been educated is so young. Contrary to the academic and performative emphasis of the current ECE discourse, care within education must be valued and encouraged and to do so must not be understood as detrimental to the professionalization process. ECE is emerging as a new profession and as such it is essential that the values of care and love, highly prized by educators, parents and children, are validated rather than sacrificed by the professionalization process. Early childhood is consistently recognized as a critical period in children’s lives. Accordingly, it is essential young children enjoy an education shaped by care for their holistic development to be truly supported.



I would like to thank Dr. Geraldine Mooney Simmie, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Limerick for offering a critique of an earlier draft of this chapter.


  1. 1. Hunkin E. Whose quality? The (mis)use of quality reform in early childhood and education policy. Journal of Education Policy. 2017;33(4):443-456. DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2017.1352032
  2. 2. Fielding M. The human cost and intellectual poverty of high performance schooling: Radical philosophy, John Macmurray and the remaking of person-centred education. Journal of Education Policy. 2007;22(4):383-409. DOI: 10.1080/02680930701390511
  3. 3. Moss P. We cannot continue as we are: The educator in an education for survival. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. 2010;11(1):8-19. DOI: 10.2304/ciec.20100.11.1.8
  4. 4. Shin M. To love or not to love, that is the question: Examining the intersection of love, care and education. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. 2021;22(3):282-285. DOI: 10.1177/1463949120902864
  5. 5. Warin J. The status of care: Linking gender and “Educare”. Journal of Gender Studies. 2014;23(1):93-106. DOI: 10.1080/09589236.2012.754346
  6. 6. Hayes N. Perspectives on the relationship between education and care in Early Childhood: A Research Paper, NCCA. 2007. Available from:[Accessed: 11 04 2021]
  7. 7. Moss P. Structures, understandings and discourses: Possibilities for re-envisioning the early childhood worker. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. 2006;7(1):30-39. DOI: 10.2304/ciec.2006.7.1.30
  8. 8. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Starting Strong: Early Childhood Education and Care. Paris: OECD; 2001. DOI: 10.1787/25216031
  9. 9. Hayes N. Childcare? Early childhood education and care/towards an integrated early years policy for young children in Ireland. Early Years. 2010;30(1):67-78. DOI: 10.1080/09575140903503068
  10. 10. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Starting Strong III: A Quality Toolbox for Early Childhood Education and Care. Paris: OEC; 2012. DOI: 10.1787/25216031
  11. 11. Taggart G. Don’t we care?: The ethics and emotional labour of early years professionalism. Early Years: An International Research Journal. 2011;31(1):85-95. DOI: 10.1080/09575146.2010.536948
  12. 12. Lynch KG, B and Devine, D. New Managerialism In Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan; 2012
  13. 13. Grieshaber S, Graham L. Equity and educators enacting the Australian early years learning framework. Critical Studies in Education. 2017;58(1):89-103. DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2015.1126328
  14. 14. Bakken L, Brown N, Downing B. Early childhood education: The long-term benefits. Journal of Research in Childhood Education. 2017;31(2):255-269. DOI: 10.1080/02568543.2016.1273285
  15. 15. Elwick A, Osgood J, Robertson L, Sakr M, Wilson D. In pursuit of quality: Early childhood qualifications and training policy. Journal of Education. 2017;33(4):510-525. DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2017.1416426
  16. 16. Osgood J. Deconstructing professionalism in early childhood education: Resisting the regulatory gaze. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. 2006;7(1):5-14. DOI: 10.2304/ciec.2006.7.1.5
  17. 17. Osgood J. Childcare workforce reform in England and ‘the early years professional’: A critical discourse analysis. Journal of Education Policy. 2009;24(6):733-751. DOI: 10.1080/02680930903244557
  18. 18. Foucault M. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translator by Sheridan A. New York: Vintage books; 1991
  19. 19. Urban M. Dealing with uncertainty: Challenges and possibilities for the early childhood profession. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal. 2008;16(2):135-152. DOI: 10.1080/13502930802141584
  20. 20. Taggart G. Compassionate pedagogy: The ethics of care in early childhood professionalism. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal. 2016;24(2):173-185. DOI: 10.1080/1350293X.2014.970847
  21. 21. European Commission. Early Childhood Education and Care: How to Recruit, Train and Motivate Well-Qualified Staff. Brussels: European Commission; 2020. DOI: 10.2766/489043
  22. 22. Fenech M, Robertson G, Sumsion J, Goodfellow J. Working by the rules: Early childhood professionals’ perception of regulatory requirements. Early Child Development and Care. 2007;177(1):93-106. DOI: 10.1080/03004430500329122
  23. 23. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. TALIS–The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey. n.d. Available from:[Accessed: 12 06 2021]
  24. 24. Sellar S, Lingard B. The OECD and the expansion of PISA: New global modes of governance in education. British Educational Research Journal. 2014;40(6):917-936. DOI: 10.1002/berj.3120
  25. 25. Kettlewell K, Sharp C, Lucas M, Gambhir G, Classick R, Hope C, Kollias C, Rutt S, National Foundation for Educational Research. International Early Learning and Child Well-Being Study (ILES): National Report for England, Government Social Research. 2020. Available from:[Accessed: 01 02 2022]
  26. 26. Moss P, Urban M. The organisation for economic Co-operation and Development’s international early learning study: What’s going on. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. 2018;20(2):207-212. DOI: 10.1177/1463949118803269
  27. 27. Roberts-Holmes G. The ‘datafication’ of early years pedagogy: ‘If the teaching is good, the data should be good and if there’s bad teaching, there is bad data’. Journal of Education Policy. 2014;30(3):302-315. DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2014.924561
  28. 28. Muller JZ. The Tyranny of Metrics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 2017
  29. 29. Goldstein LS. More than gentle smiles and warm hugs: Applying the ethic of care to early childhood education. Journal of Research in Childhood Education. 1998;12(2):244-226. DOI: 10.1080/02568549809594888
  30. 30. Noddings N. Caring. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; 1984
  31. 31. Goldstein LS. Love: Intimacy, commitment and passion in classroom life. Journal of Educational Thought. 1998;32(3):257-272
  32. 32. Rouse E, Hadley F. Where did love and care get lost? Educators and parents’ perceptions of early childhood practice. International Journal of Early Years Education. 2018;26(2):159-172. DOI: 10.1080/09669760.2018.1461613
  33. 33. Aslanian TK. Getting behind discourse of love, care and maternalism in early childhood education. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. 2015;16(2):153-165. DOI: 10.1177/1463949115585672
  34. 34. Recchia SL, Shin M, Snaider C. Where is the love? Developing loving relationships as an essential component of professional infant care. International Journal of Early Years Education. 2018;26(2):142-158. DOI: 10.1080/09669760.2018.1461614
  35. 35. Page J. Do mothers want professional carers to love their babies? Journal of Early Childhood Research. 2011;93(3):310-332. DOI: 10.1177/1476718X11407980
  36. 36. Osgood J. Professionalism and performativity: The feminist challenge facing early years practitioners. Early Years. 2006;26(2):187-199. DOI: 10.1080/09575140600759997
  37. 37. Ball SJ. The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy. 2003;18(2):215-228. DOI: 10.1080/0268093022000043065
  38. 38. Aslanian TK. Remove ‘care’ and stir: Modernizing early childhood teacher education in Norway. Journal of Education Policy. 2020;35(4):485-502. DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2018.1555648
  39. 39. Van Laere K, Peeters J, Vandenbroeck M. The education and care divide: The role of the early childhood workforce in 15 European countries. European Journal of Education. 2012;47(4):527-541. DOI: 10.2307/23357032
  40. 40. White EJ, Gradovski M. Untangling (some) philosophical knots concerning love and care in early childhood education. International Journal of Early Years Education. 2018;26(2):201-211. DOI: 10.1080/09669760.2018.1458602
  41. 41. Harwood D, Klopper A, Osanyin A, Vanderlee M. ‘It’s more than care’: Early childhood educators’ concepts of professionalism. Early Years. 2013;33(1):4-17. DOI: 10.1080/09575146.2012.667394
  42. 42. Aslanian TK. Embracing uncertainty: A diffractice approach to live in the context of early childhood education and care. International Journal of Early Years Education. 2018;26(2):173-185. DOI: 10.1080/09669760.2018.1458604
  43. 43. Evetts J. A new professionalism? Challenges and opportunities. Current Sociology. 2011;59(4):406-422. DOI: 10.1177/0011392111402585
  44. 44. Vincent C, Braun A. Being ‘fun’ at work: Emotional labour, class, gender and childcare. British Educational Research Journal. 2013;39(4):751-768. DOI: 10.1080/01411926.2012.680433
  45. 45. Rogers M, Dovigo F, Doan L. Educator identity in a neoliberal context: Recognising and supporting early childhood and care educators. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal. 2020;28(6):806-822. DOI: 10.1080/1350293X.2020.1836583
  46. 46. Van Laere K, Vandenbroeck M. The (in)convenience of care in preschool education: Examining staff views on educare. Early Years. 2018;38(1):4-18. DOI: 10.1080/09575146.2016.1252727
  47. 47. Day C, Sachs J. International Handbook on the Continuing Professional Development of Teachers. Maidenhead: Open University Press; 2004
  48. 48. Dalli C. Pedagogy, knowledge and collaboration: Towards a ground-up perspective on professionalism. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal. 2008;16(2):171-118.DOI: 10.1080/13502930802141600

Written By

Dawn Murphy

Submitted: February 11th, 2022 Reviewed: March 25th, 2022 Published: May 12th, 2022