IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Markets, money and managerialism are bad news for early childhood education, new book argues

28 April 2021

Neoliberalism has been bad news for early childhood education (ECE) and the sector’s workforce, according to a new book by UCL Institute of Education (IOE) academics.

Toddler stood in a bright classroom holding a plastic cup

‘Neoliberalism and Early Childhood Education: Markets, Imaginaries and Governance’ argues ECE (including childcare) has become dominated by an approach that is technical, managerial and economic, reflected in a language of ‘outcomes’ and ‘quality’, ‘investment’ and ‘human capital’, ‘markets’ and ‘business’.

The book looks at the impact of neoliberalism on how we think and talk about young children and ECE and on how early childhood services are provided. Neoliberalism is a political movement that favours free markets and privatisation and a strong managerial approach. The UK, with the US, has been the epicentre of neoliberalism, with the UK having the most marketised and privatised ECE in Europe.

The authors, Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes and Emeritus Professor Peter Moss, argue that despite the widespread introduction of markets and private for-profit providers into early childhood services, governments have made little attempt to research how they work. Nor have they looked at the consequences or compared them with alternative ways of organising early childhood services. The authors write that “markets in ECEC, and in particular those providing so-called ‘childcare services’, are [not] a roaring success, even in their own terms; overall, they do not seem to deliver their supposed benefits and manifest considerable problems.”

The book also looks at how young children, educators and services are increasingly strongly governed under neoliberalism, with England at the forefront. In particular this is done through inspection, testing and collecting “a tsunami of data.”

As well as analysing neoliberalism as a concept and its impact on ECE, Dr Roberts-Holmes and Professor Moss look at how neoliberalism can be resisted in the sector. They argue understanding what it is and developing critical thinking is the first step in doing this. They add that while neoliberalism is a very powerful force and “deeply problematic, [it is also] eminently resistible and eventually replaceable.”

The book ends with a ‘Pandemic Postscript’, in which the authors argue: 

“now is the time for a radical re-thinking of education freed from the constraints imposed by neoliberalism, a ‘Great Reset’…Early childhood education and care can and should take its part in this ‘Great Reset’, no longer dominated by the logic of the market but firmly situated in the public domain, a public service taking its rightful place in a renewed public education.”

Dr Roberts-Holmes said: "This book is important because understanding more about what neoliberalism is, how it works and its devasting impacts upon early childhood enables us to better resist and refuse it. This can lead us to embrace early childhood's myriad of alternatives and possibilities based on trusted democratic public settings and professionals.”

Professor Moss added: “Over 20 years of neoliberal government in England has left its baleful mark on every aspect of early childhood education, and closed down democratic debate about what we want for our young children and their families. It is time now to look to a post-COVID future and a transformed early childhood education.”

‘Neoliberalism and Early Childhood Education: Markets, Imaginaries and Governance’ was published by Routledge on 28 April 2021.

Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes and Professor Peter Moss will talk about their book in a webinar ‘Why should we bother with neoliberalism when we have to teach children?’ on Tuesday 4 May 2021.



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