Announcing the first event in the Westminster Sociology Open Talks Series 2016: Val Gillies and Naomi Rudoe on Early Childhood and Social Policy

National College of Ireland

Westminster Sociology Open Talks in 2016 bring together Sociology staff with external speakers to explore a shared topic of interest. In the first Open Talk of 2016, Dr Naomi Rudoe is joined by our newly arrived Professor Val Gillies to talk on early childhood and social policy. Refreshments will be provided.

Date: 20 October 2016

Time: 5pm

Location: The Boardroom, 1st Floor, 309 Regent Street

This event is open to academics, students and anyone else who’s interested in this important topic. External attendees should email in advance.


Val Gillies

The Politics of Early Years Intervention: Hopeful Ethos or Cruel Optimism

Few policy ideas unite contemporary politicians as unanimously as the logic of ‘early intervention’. The notion that family based risks can be identified in early childhood and managed to transform children’s lifechances enjoys a cross party consensus and features heavily in strategies for tackling poverty and increasing social mobility. It is hailed by left and right as a progressive, forward thinking approach. In this paper I examine the political and economic presumptions driving this ‘stitch in time’ rationale. Drawing on my co-authored book on the subject I set out some key objections to what has become an unquestioned policy trope. In particular I highlight the negative connotations that flow from a preoccupation with prevention.

Naomi Rudoe

Nursery schools, ‘quality’, and early years education policy in England

Early years education policy in England involves a ‘story of quality and high returns’ (Moss, 2014) whereby investing in ‘quality’ early years education provides high returns in the form of better achievement and social outcomes for children. Education and childcare for 0-5-year-olds involves a messy and confusing patchwork of provision, much of which can be described as a childcare market that includes a significant amount of private provision. The ‘second story’ of early education, argues Moss, is ‘the story of markets’. Moss dislikes both of these stories in relation to early years, proposing instead a different vocabulary of potentialities, possibilities, wonder and meaning-making. In this paper I interrogate the story of ‘quality’ in the nursery school, a fast-disappearing form of state provision in England that ‘ticks the box’ in terms of structure and process quality – two common ways of measuring quality in early years education (Mathers et al, 2012). Through analysis of nursery school head teachers’ understandings and narratives of ‘quality’ in their schools, I will discuss whether ‘quality’ can or should hold any sort of objective or common meaning here, and whether it can be leveraged to re-focus on new ways of thinking about the purpose and value of education and care for the youngest children in the school system.

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