Changing Early Childhood Education: Policy, Practice and Perceptions
Submitting InstitutionManchester Metropolitan University
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Summary of the impact
This case study describes the impact of a sustained programme of research
conducted over more than 10 years, which has changed conceptualisations of
young children's abilities and needs, and shaped national and local
provision from birth to five. The research has influenced early years
policy, secondary legislation, professional standards and training,
curriculum, and the daily experiences of babies, children and
practitioners in every childcare setting in England. It has produced
innovative resources to enhance multi-professional practice, and
significantly contributed to the deployment of high-quality,
interdisciplinary research findings to improve provision, stimulate debate
and challenge conventional wisdom about children and childhood.
The impact is underpinned by a sustained programme of research and
development from 2001 onwards, by a team whose collective expertise spans
early years education, language and literacy development, applied
linguistics, discourse analysis, art and film theory. The underpinning
research is distinctive for its disciplinary and methodological rigour.
Key findings evidenced the need for:
- a holistic, interactive and positive view of young children's
- national policy and provision for babies and toddlers;
- a well-educated, well-trained workforce;
- research-informed policy, practice and curriculum;
- a multi-professional model of provision;
- better understanding of classroom cultures and stereotypes of
- interdisciplinary interventions to reshape public perceptions.
The research programme.
The programme is anchored in a portfolio of externally-funded projects
(total income almost £2M since 2001). It developed initially from Abbott's
pioneering `Birth to Three Matters' which inaugurated a major shift in
policy, repositioning educare of the very young as a public concern. A suite
of subsequent projects addressed training and qualifications (Abbott, with
Holmes & Barron):
(1) Birth to Three Matters (B-3M) (DfES, 2001-3).
(2) B-3M Training Matters (Esmée Fairbairn, 2003).
(3) B-3M Training Matters: FE & HE Awarding Bodies (DfES, 2004).
(4) B-3M Training of Trainers (DfES/SureStart, 2004).
(See also Abbott and Langston (eds) Parents Matter
Hall developed the B-3M focus on communication, providing a
research-based developmental model, materials and training package.
Lancaster further strengthened the research base, identifying
precursors to grammar in the under-3s:
(5) Communicating Matters (Hall, with Lancaster and MacLure; DfES/Sure
(6) Grammaticisation in Early Mark Making: a Multimodal Investigation
(Lancaster; ESRC RES-000-22-0599, 2004-6).
Children's creative development has been a continuing focus from B-3M
onwards, leading to interdisciplinary research with museum and gallery
curators, educators and artists:
(7) Young Children in the Art Gallery (Abbott, Holmes; Esmée Fairbairn,
(8) Imaginative Journeys: Museums Education Project (Holmes; Esmée
(9) The Secret Life of Objects: An Artist Residency in an Early Years
Classroom (MacRae; AHRC, 2009-10, AH/H008403/1).
B-3M began the task of freeing the child from normative stereotypes.
Subsequent projects investigated more fully the influence of classroom
cultures and public expectations, informed by MacLure's work on discourse
and language development, and with an increasingly interdisciplinary
(10) Becoming a Problem (BAP): How Children Develop a Reputation as
`Naughty' in the Earliest Years at School (MacLure, Jones; ESRC
(11) Addressing `Problem Behaviour' in the Early Years: An Innovative Film
Resource (Holmes, MacLure; ESRC RES-189-25-01220, 2010) (Follow-on funding
awarded to maximise the impact of BAP, in collaboration with users from a
range of professions and disciplines.)
(12) Generating Alternative Discourses of Childhood as a Resource for
Educational Policy Making (Holmes; ESRC Seminar Series RES-189-25-0122,
has also included a range of Sure Start evaluations, LA-funded projects on
young fathers and on children's talk in multicultural settings, and an
evaluation of a prison mother and baby unit (Action for Children).
Lesley Abbott. Professor. Retired 31/07/2008
Nigel Hall. Professor. Retired 31/08/2008
Liz Jones. Appointed SL 01/01/2000; Reader 11/06/2006; Professor
Maggie MacLure. Appointed Professor 01/06/2003
Rachel Holmes. Appointed SL 01/09/2000; Reader 01/07/2010
Ian Barron. Appointed SL 01/09/2000; PL 01/09/2001; HOD 01/12/2008
Lesley Lancaster. Appointed SL 01/06/1998; Reader 08/07/2009
Christina MacRae, PhD student 01/10/03-01/04/08; RA from 2006, left MMU
2011 to become `lead teacher' for Foundation Stage in infant school.
References to the research
1. Abbott, L. & Langston, A. (2005) Birth to three matters: a
framework to support children in their earliest years. European Early
Childhood Education Research Journal, 13(1), 129-143.
2. Lancaster, L. (2007) Representing the ways of the world: how children
under three start to use syntax in graphic signs. Journal of Early
Childhood Literacy 7(2), 123-154.
3. MacLure, M, Jones, L, Holmes, R. & MacRae, C. (2012) Becoming a
problem: behaviour and reputation in the early years classroom. British
Educational Research Journal 38(3), 447-71.
4. Holmes, R. (2007) East is East: using film to disrupt university
classroom narratives around childhood and identity. Pedagogy, Culture
and Society 15(3), 367-384.
5. MacLure, M, Holmes, R, Jones, L. & MacRae, C. (2010) Silence as
resistance to analysis. Or, on not opening one's mouth properly. Qualitative
Inquiry 16(6), 492-500.
6. MacRae, C. (2011) Making Payton's rocket: heterotopia and lines of
flight. International Journal for Art and Design Education, 30(1),
The quality of the work is demonstrated by a range of indicators
including: Research Council and Foundation funding:
L. Lancaster. Grammaticisation in Early Mark Making: A Multimodal
Investigation. ESRC RES-000-22-0599. Apr 2004-May 2006. £44,990.
L. Abbott (with R. Holmes). Young Children in the Art Gallery. Esmée
Fairbairn Foundation. Jan 2004-Dec 2005. £19,400.
M. MacLure, L. Jones. Becoming a Problem: How and Why Children Acquire a
Reputation as `Naughty' in the Earliest Years at School. ESRC
RES-062-23-0105. Sep 2006-Feb 2008. £137,400
C. MacRae. The Secret Life of Objects: An Artist Residency in an Early
Years Classroom. AHRC. Nov 2009-Nov 2010. £24,735, AH/H008403/1.
R. Homes, M. MacLure. Addressing 'Problem Behaviour' in the Early Years:
An Innovative Film Resource. ESRC RES-189-25-01220 (Follow-on Funding
Scheme). Oct-Dec 2010. £29,232.
R. Holmes. Generating Alternative Discourses of Childhood as a Resource
for Educational Policy Making. ESRC RES-189-25-0122 (Seminar Series). Oct
2010-Jul 2012. £18,000
Peer-reviewed research outputs
articles in high quality journals (inc. BERJ, BJSE,
QSE, Qualitative Inquiry, Qualitative Research, J Philosophy of
Education, Evaluation, IJRME, Children and Society; International
Journal of Art and Design; Pedagogy, Culture and Society, Contemporary
Issues in Early Childhood; J Early Childhood Literacy, Cultural Studies
⇔ Critical Methodologies, IJ Early Years, Biosemiotics).
Invited contributions to international handbooks: Cannella and De Soto
(Eds) Childhoods: A Handbook, Peter Lang (3 chapters); Yelland
(Ed) Critical Issues in Early Childhood, Open University Press (2
chapters); Brooker et al (Eds) Handbook of Play and Learning,
Invited participation in peer-reviewed/invitational
conference presentations inc. AERA (x 7); BERA (x 11)
Reconceptualising Early Childhood Education Conference (RECE) 2011;
Australian Association for Research in Education (x4); NZ Association for
Research in Education (x2); International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry
(x4); Gender and Education Association (x2).
6 international symposia, including BERA Keynote Symposium, RECE Opening
Prizes and recognition:
Abbott received an OBE in 2005 for her contributions to early years
education and research. Communicating Matters was commended in the Rose
Review of early reading (2006,10). MacLure's book, Discourse in
Educational and Social Research (OU Press) received the 2004
Critics' Choice Award from the American Educational Studies Association.
Jones and Holmes were appointed Velma
E. Schmidt International Fellows (2010-2013) in the College of
Education at the University of North Texas.
Jones was awarded the Erskine Scholarship, University of Canterbury, NZ
2011 in recognition of her research in early childhood. She was appointed
Visiting Professor ii to Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied
Sciences (August 2013).
presentations were given (UK, Australia, New Zealand, Norway,
Details of the impact
In 2008, B-3M was incorporated into the statutory Early Years Foundation
Stage (EYFS). The research thus influenced secondary legislation, and
impacted upon all registered early years providers and practitioners in
England, and the children in their care. This phase (2008-12) of uptake of
B-3M represents the culmination of a policy trend that the original
research had inaugurated, toward high quality educare for the under fives.
Communicating Matters (CM) has continued to influence CPD. Local
CM training was recommended in the National
Strategies EY Inclusion Development Programme (2008, p19), and its
policy significance was cited in support of `communication friendly
museums' by a Nesta-funded
consortium (2009). The CM programme was still being offered in
period by Local Authorities including Lincolnshire
Bedfordshire (2011); Plymouth
Start St. Helens (2008-9) (indicative list).
Following Abbott's early lead, the research team continued to contribute
to the development of professional standards and a graduate workforce.
Under Barron's leadership MMU was selected by the Children's Workforce
Development Council (CWDC) in 2011 as main provider in the North of
England of Early Years Professional Status accreditation and leads the
Early Years Professional Northern Alliance, a consortium of nine
providers. EYPS is recognised as having `significantly improved quality' (Nutbrown
Review 2012, 8). Jones served on the Scientific Advisory Board for
the CWDC/University of Wolverhampton Longitudinal Study on Early Years
B-3M is not explicitly referenced in the latest iteration of EYFS (1 Sep
2012). Nevertheless, its holistic, child-centred ethos is still evident in
its three `prime areas' of communication and language, physical, and
personal, social and emotional development, described as `particularly
crucial for igniting children's curiosity and enthusiasm for learning, and
for building their capacity to learn, form relationships and thrive' (DfE
2012, 1.4). The key tenets of B-3M have entered the language and the
architecture of English EY policy to a point where they no longer
require specific citation.
Moreover the B-3M training materials (booklet, cards and poster) are
still being disseminated, testifying to their continuing significance. The
EYFS-endorsed website, Foundation
Years has made them available for download stating that they
`contain useful information relevant to the reformed (2012) EYFS', and the
materials are also accessible via LA websites including Hampshire,
In Touch website, and Nursery
World magazine (11.06.2012).
The ESRC and AHRC research has impacted on professional practice,
stimulated practitioner debate and challenged conventional wisdom about
children and childhood. The Becoming a Problem (BAP) report
attracted media coverage in September 2009, including: Telegraph,
Sunday Telegraph, Observer, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Independent on
Sunday, Sunrise (Australian TV), The Week With George Galloway
(Jones, radio interview), and blogs (UK, Ethiopa, Japan, Denmark,
Indonesia and India). It was cited in the Policy.co.uk (`Opinion
Formers'), Social Policy Digest, ResearchGate (Berlin) and Wellbeing
The BAP research identified barriers to change from cultural assumptions
about young children, and generated a prototype film as an alternative to
more traditional research-based CPD materials. ESRC
Follow-On funding was awarded to maximise the impact of the film by
developing a cross-professional
educational package in collaboration with users from constituencies
including LA Children's Services, GTC, educational psychology, journalism,
CAMHS services, social work, psychotherapy, educational psychology, parent
groups, EY trainees and practitioners, school staff and students.
The research has been taken up in ITT, CPD and cross-professional
education in the UK and overseas; eg: 2 multi-professional seminars,
Sheffield Unversity (7.30,2012; 12.07.13); workshops and presentations:
Chester University (2011), University of the West of England (2012),
Staffordshire County Council EYP National Conference (2012); Oslo and
Akershus University College, Norway (2012, 2013), Universities of Helsinki
and Oulu (2012), Organization Mondiale pour l'Education Prescholaire,
University of Canterbury, NZ (2011); Summer School on the Rights of the
Child, Ministry of Justice, Rome (June, 2012).
responses to the film package testify to its strong impact and value
for training; eg: "I could see your film being part of cross-professional
training. I think teachers would see it very differently to how we've
viewed it" (CAMHS team psychologist). "I think the film has huge potential
across children's services, social workers, early years practitioners in
children's centres, youth workers" (LA Director of Children's Services).
"It'd be a great training tool... I'd love to use it in one of my
sessions" (Teacher Educator). "I have thought a lot about your film and
its purpose to promote alternative conceptualisations of children —
without being too directive. I think that this is a real issue in our
society and much needed" (Education Consultant/Educational Psychologist).
International impact on teacher education: the ESRC and AHRC research has
been evaluated and used by educators including D. Britzman, Ontario; A.
Palmer & H. Lenz-Taguchi, Stockholm; A.M. Otterstad, N. Rossholt,
Oslo; S. Grieshaber, Hong Kong; J. Sumsion, & J. Reid, Deakin, Aus.
From the widely-used and appreciated B-3M and CM packs to the BAP film,
the materials generated during the research, and their uptake by diverse
communities, exemplify the transformative potential of cultural artefacts
and resources that creatively encapsulate high quality research. These
materials have been significant in scaffolding multi-professional and
interdisciplinary engagement with young children and their education.
Interdisciplinary and multi-professional impact has been sharpened
through spin-off activities involving artists and professionals. Holmes'
ESRC Seminar Series (2010-12) brought together museum curators,
policy makers, artists, teachers, teacher educators, school students and
academics from sociology, cultural studies and art and design.
Sources to corroborate the impact
The sources below are selected to represent the wide range and reach of
the impact of the research across diverse stakeholder groups (* = those
individuals ("a maximum of five") whose details are entered separately;
other names and addresses can be supplied on request).
Impact on practitioners and professional services
National College of School Leadership (Area Director), former LA Director
of Children's Services* Children's Workforce Development Council member
and former Chair, National Children's Bureau* Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
Professor of Child & Youth Studies, Stockholm University
Impact on public policy:
DfES (2008) The Early Years Foundation Stage: Everything You Need to
Know: "The EYFS is based on existing standards already used in all
types of childcare: Birth to Three Matters. Curriculum Guidance for the
Foundation Stage..." (p.3); "the combination of the Birth to three matters
and Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage in the EYFS removes the
possibility for confusion for practitioners and means a better experience
for children" (p.4; practitioner view).
Vice President of an international child and youth research network and
Professor of Sociology*
Impact on EY curriculum:
Early Years Teacher Consultant, ENTRUST*
Impact on creativity and interdisciplinary practice
Manchester City Art Gallery (Principal Manager — Learning)*
Museum of Childhood, V&A Museum (Director)