‘There Is a Quantum Difference Between the Provision of Age-Appropriate Play-Based Care and an Early Learning and Care Environment’: The Quality Agenda for Australian Early Childhood

  • Elise HunkinEmail author


The quotation in this chapter heading comes from a policy document co-written by future Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (Rudd and Macklin in New Directions for Early Childhood Education: Universal Access to Early Learning for 4 Year Olds, Australian Labor Party, Canberra, ACT, 2007) prior to the election. It frames the focus of this chapter which asks, how did quality reform come about? What was ‘quality’ reform assumed to be and do in the Australian context? The chapter discusses the socio-political happenings and reviews Australian policy documents to identify the dominant truth assumptions being made about quality and how those linked to global conversations. It is shown that quality in early childhood settings remained a deficit discourse even as it was reimagined by social investment theory. This constitutes a selective quality investment agenda that has created both opportunities and tensions, highlighted in this chapter.


Quality reform agenda Early childhood Social investment Human capital theory Lifelong learning 


  1. Adamson, E., and M. Brennan. 2014. “Social Investment or Private Profit? Diverging Notions of ‘Investment’ in Early Childhood Education and Care.” International Journal of Early Childhood 46 (1): 47–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ang, L. 2014. “Preschool or Prep School? Rethinking the Role of Early Years Education.” Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 15 (2): 185–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Apple, M. 2018. The Struggle for Democracy in Education: Lessons from Social Realities. New York, NY: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). 2012. National Quality Standards.
  5. Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). 2008. “Naitonal Assessment Program.”
  6. Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). n.d. Australian Curriculum.
  7. Australian Services Union (ASU). 2009. ASU Submission: Inquiry into the Provision of Child Care. Carlton South, VIC: ASU.Google Scholar
  8. Baker, M., J. Gruber, and K. Milligan. 2008. “Universal Childcare, Maternal Labor Supply and Family Well-Being.” Journal of Political Economy 79: 709–745.Google Scholar
  9. Bown, K. 2014. “Insider Perspectives on Influence and Decision Making in the Australian Political Sphere: A Case Study of National Quality Policy in ECEC 2006–2009.” Australasian Journal of Early Childhood 39 (4): 54–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brennan, D. 1998. The Politics of Australia Child Care: Philanthropy to Feminism and Beyond. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brennan, D. 2007. “Babies, Budges, and Birthrates: Work/Family Policy in Australia 1996–2006.” Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society 14 (1): 31–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brennan, D. 2014. “The Business of Care: Australia’s Experiment with the Marketisation of Childcare.” In Australian Public Policy: Progressive Ideas in the Neoliberal Ascendency, edited by C. Miller and L. Orchard, 151–167. Bristol: Public Policy.Google Scholar
  13. Brennan, D., B. Cass, S. Himmelweit, and M. Szebehely. 2012. “Marketisation of Care: Rationales and Consequences in Nordic and Liberal Care Regimes.” Journal of European Social Policy 22 (4): 377–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carney, S. 2009. “Negotiating Policy in an Age of Globalisation: Exploring Educational ‘Policyscapes’ in Denmark, Nepal, and China.” Comparative Education Review 53 (1): 63–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cleveland, G. 2012. “The Economic of Early Childhood Education and Care in Canada.” In Recent Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Care in Canada, edited by N. Howe and L. Prochner, 80–109. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  16. Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes Study Team. 1995. Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers. Denver, CO: Department of Economics, University of Colorado.Google Scholar
  17. Council of Australian Governments (COAG). 2006. Attachment a National Reform Agenda: Human Capital Stream.
  18. Council of Australian Governments (COAG). 2008. “National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education.”
  19. Council of Australian Governments (COAG). 2009. National Partnership Agreement on the National Quality Agenda for Early Childhood Education and Care.
  20. Dahlberg, G., P. Moss, and A. Pence. 2006. Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care: Languages of Evaluation, 2nd ed. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Dalli, C, E. J. White, J. Rockel, I. Duhn, E. Buchanan, S. Davidson, and B. Wang. 2011. Quality Early Childhood Education for Under-Two-Year-Olds: What Should It Look Like? New Zealand Government.Google Scholar
  22. Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). 2009. Belonging, Being & Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
  23. Department of Premier and Cabinet and Department of Treasury and Finance (DCP and DTF). 2005. Governments Working Together: A Third Wave of National Reform—A New National Reform Initiative for COAG: The Proposals of the Victorian Premier. Melbourne: DCP and DTF.Google Scholar
  24. Doherty, R. 2007. “Critically Framing Education Policy: Foucault, Discourse and Governmentality.” In Why Foucault? New Directions in Educational Research, edited by M. A. Peters and R. Besley, 193–203. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  25. Elliot, A. 2006. Early Childhood Education: Pathways to Quality and Equity for All Children. Melbourne: ACER Press.Google Scholar
  26. Esping-Anderson, G. 2002. “A Child-Centred Investment Strategy.” In Why We Need a New Welfare State, edited by G. Esping-Anderson, D. Gallie, A. Hemerijck, and J. Myles, 26–67. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Esping-Anderson, G. 2005. “Social Inheritance and Equal Opportunities Policies.” In Maintaining Momentum: Promoting Social Mobility and Life Chances from Early Years to Adulthood, edited by S. Delorenzi and P. Robinson, 14–31. London: Institute for Public Policy Research.Google Scholar
  28. Fenwick, T., E. Mangez, and J. Ozga. 2014. “Governing Knowledge: Comparison, Knowledge-Based Technologies and Expertise in the Regulation of Education.” In World Yearbook of Education 2014, edited by T. Fenwick, E. Mangez, and J. Ozga, 25–28. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Foucault, M. 1991. “Governmentality.” In The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, edited by G. Burchell, C. Gordon, and P. Miller, 87–104. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  30. Garrett, P. 2011. “My School 2.0 Delivers a New Era.”
  31. Gellop, G. 2008. “Australia’s Productivity and Participation Reform Agenda.” 3 June, OECD Forum, Paris.Google Scholar
  32. Gillard, J. 2008. Budget 2008–2009: Education Revolution.
  33. Harrison, L. 2008. “Does Child Care Matter? Associations Between Socio-Emotional Development and Non-parents Child Care in a Representative Sample of Australian Children.” Family Matters 79: 14–25.Google Scholar
  34. Havnes, T., and M. Mogstad. 2009. No Child Left Behind: Universal Childcare and Children’s Long-Run Outcomes. Discussion Papers No. 582. Oslo: Statistics Norway, Research Department.Google Scholar
  35. Heckman, J. 2000. “Policies to Foster Human Capital.” Research in Economics 54 (1): 3–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Heckman, J. 2006. “Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children.” Science 312: 1900–1902.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Heckman, J., and D. Masterov. 2007. “The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children.” Review of Agricultural Economics 29 (3): 446–493.Google Scholar
  38. Heckman, J., S. Moon, R. Pinto, P. Savelyev, and A. Yavitz. 2010. “The Rate of Return to the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program.” Journal of Public Economics 94 (1–2): 114–128.Google Scholar
  39. Hill, E. 2007. “Budgeting for Work-Life Balance: The Ideology and Politics of Work and Family Policy in Australia.” Australian Bulletin of Labour 33 (2): 226–245.Google Scholar
  40. Hunkin, E. 2016. “Deploying Foucauldian Genealogy: Critiquing ‘Quality’ Reform in Early Childhood Policy in Australia.” Power and Education 8: 35–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hunkin, E. 2018a. “Whose Quality? The (Mis)uses of Quality Reform in Early Childhood and Education Policy.” Journal of Education Policy 33 (4): 443–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hunkin, E. 2018b. “If Not Quality, Then What? The Discursive Risks in Early Childhood Quality Reform.” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. Scholar
  43. Hunkin, E. 2019. “Being Seen and Being Changed: A Story of ‘Quality’ Early Childhood Education and the Global Education Reform Movement.” In Thinking About Pedagogy in Early Education Series: Policy Intersecting Pedagogy, edited by M. Gasper and L. Gibbs, 193–209. London and New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jenson, J. 2010. “After Neoliberalism: The Social Investment Perspective in Europe and Latin America.” Global Social Policy 10 (1): 59–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kagan, S., N. Cohen, and M. Neuman. 1996. “Introduction: The Changing Context of American Early Care and Education.” In Reinventing Early Care and Education: A Vision for a Quality System, edited by S. Kagan and N. Cohen, 1–20. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  46. Kilderry, A. 2015. “The Intensification of Performativity in Early Childhood Education.” Journal of Curriculum Studies 47 (5): 633–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lingard, B. 2010. “Policy Borrowing, Policy Learning: Testing Times in Australian Schooling.” Critical Studies in Education 51 (2): 129–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ludwig, J., and D. Phillips. 2007. The Benefits and Costs of Head Start. Working Paper No. 12973. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
  49. Mahon, R. 2010. “After Neo-Liberalism? The OECD, the World Bank and the Child.” Global Social Policy 10 (2): 172–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. McCain, M., and J. F. Mustard. 1999. Reversing the Real Brain Drain: Early Years Study Final Report. Toronto: Ontario Children’s Secretariat.Google Scholar
  51. Mersky, J., J. Topitzes, and A. Reynold. 2011. “Maltreatment Prevention Through Early Childhood Intervention: A Confirmatory Evaluation of the Chicago Child-Parent Center Preschool Program.” Children and Youth Services Review 33 (8): 1454–1463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Moss, P. 2014. Transformative Change and Real Utopias in Early Childhood Education: A Story of Democracy, Experimentation and Potentiality. Oxon: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Muennig, P., D. Robertson, G. Johnson, F. Campbell, E. Pugello, and M. Neidell. 2011. “The Effect of an Early Education Program on Adult Health: The Carolina Abecedarian Project Randomized Controlled Trial.” American Journal of Public Health 101 (3): 512–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC). 2001. Putting Children First: Quality Improvement and Accreditation System. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
  55. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network (NICHD-ECCRN). 2001. “Child Care and Children’s Peer Interaction at 24 and 36 Months: The NICHD Study of Early Child Care.” Child Development 72: 1005–1498.Google Scholar
  56. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network (NICHD-ECCRN). 2003. “Does Amount of Time Spent in Childcare Predict Socio-Emotional Adjustment During the Transition to Kindergarten?” Child Development 74: 976–1005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network (NICHD-ECCRN) and G. Duncan. 2003. “Modeling the Impacts of Child Care Quality on Children’s Preschool Cognitive Development.” Child Development 74: 1454–1474.Google Scholar
  58. O’Connell, M., S. Fox, B. Hinz, and H. Cole. 2016. Quality Early Education for All: Fostering Creative, Entrepreneurial, Resilient and Capable Learners. Melbourne: Mitchell Institute.Google Scholar
  59. Olssen, M. 2008. “Understanding the Mechanisms of Neoliberal Control: Lifelong Learning, Flexibility and Knowledge Capitalism.” In Foucault and Lifelong Learning: Governing the Subject, edited by A. Fejes and K. Nicoll, 34–47. Abingdon, Axon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  60. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). 1996. The Knowledge-Based Economy. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  61. Osgood, J. 2009. “Childcare Workforce Reform in England and ‘the Early Years Professional’: A Critical Discourse Analysis.” Journal of Education Policy 24 (6): 733–751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Pence, A., and V. Pacini-Ketchabaw. 2008. “Discourses on Quality Care: The Investigating ‘Quality’ Project and the Canadian Experience.” Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 9 (3): 241–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Penn, H. 2011. Quality in Early Childhood Services: An International Perspective. Mainhead: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Perry, B. 1996. The Mismatch Between Opportunity and Investment. Chicago: CIVITAS.Google Scholar
  65. Powell, W., and K. Snellman. 2004. “The Knowledge Economy.” Annual Review of Sociology 30: 199–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Press, F., and A. Hayes. 2000. OECD Thematic Review of Early Childhood Education and Care Policy: Australian Background Report. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  67. Press, F., and C. Woodrow. 2005. “Commodification, Corporatisation and Children’s Spaces.” Australian Journal of Early Childhood 49 (3): 278–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Productivity Commission. 2006. Potential Benefits of the National Reform Agenda.
  69. Quiggin, J. 2014. “Macroeconomic Policy After the Global Financial Crisis.” In Australian Public Policy: Progressive Ideas in the Neoliberal Ascendency, edited by C. Miller and L. Orchard, 45–62. Bristol: Policy Press.Google Scholar
  70. Radich, J. 2002. Confronting the Realities: What Next for the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System? Contribution to the Environmental Scan Undertaken by the National Childcare Accreditation Council to Support Its Future Strategic Planning.
  71. Ramey, C., and F. Campbell. 1991. “Poverty, Early Childhood Education, and Academic Competence: The Abecedarian Experiment.” In Children in Poverty: Child Development and Public Policy, edited by A. C. Huston, 190–221. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Reynolds, A., A. Temple, and D. Robertson. 2002. “Age 21 Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Title 1 Chicago Child-Parent Centres.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 24: 267–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Rizvi, F., and B. Lingard. 2010. Globalizing Education Policy. Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  74. Rowe, K., J. Tainton, and D. Taylor. 2006. Key Feature of the Quality Improvement Accreditation System (QIAS) Administered by the National Childcare Accreditation Council (Australia). Surrey Hills, NSW: National Childcare Accreditation Council.Google Scholar
  75. Rudd, K., and J. Macklin. 2007. New Directions for Early Childhood Education: Universal Access to Early Learning for 4 Year Olds. Canberra, ACT: Australian Labor Party.Google Scholar
  76. Rudd, K., and J. Gillard. 2008. Quality Education: The Case for an Education Revolution in our Schools.
  77. Rush, E. 2006. Child Care Quality in Australia. Discussion Paper No. 84. Canberra: The Australia Institute.Google Scholar
  78. Rush, E., and C. Downie. 2006. ABC Learning Centres: A Case Study of Australia’s Largest Child Care Corporation. Discussion Paper No. 84. Canberra: The Australia Institute.Google Scholar
  79. Schweinhart, L., J. Montie, X. Zongping, W. Barnett, C. Belfield, and N. Milagros. 2005. Lifetime Effects: The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40. Ypsilanti: High/Scope Press.Google Scholar
  80. Shonkoff, J. P., and D. Phillips. 2000. From Neurons to Neighbourhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, DC: National Academic Press.Google Scholar
  81. Sims, M. 2009. “Neurobiology and Child Development: Challenging Current Interpretation and Policy Implications.” Australasian Journal of Early Childhood 34 (1): 36–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Sims, M. 2017. “Neoliberalism and Early Childhood.” Cogent Education 4: 1–10.Google Scholar
  83. Sims, M., A. Guilfoyle, and T. Parry. 2005. “What Cortisol Levels Tell Us About Quality in Child Care Centres.” Australian Journal of Early Childhood 30 (2): 29–39.Google Scholar
  84. Sumsion, J. 2006a. “The Corporatization of Australian Childcare: Towards an Ethical Audit and Research Agenda.” Journal of Early Childhood Research 4 (2): 99–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Sumsion, J. 2006b. “From Whitlam to Economic Rationalism and Beyond: A Conceptual Framework for Political Activism in Children’s Services.” Australian Journal of Early Childhood 31 (1): 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Sumsion, J. 2012. “ABC Learning and Australian Early Education and Care: A Retrospective Ethical Audit of a Radical Experiment.” In Childcare Markets: Can They Deliver an Equitable Service, edited by E. Lloyd and H. Penn, 209–226. Bristol: Policy Press.Google Scholar
  87. Sumsion, J., S. Cheeseman, A. Kennedy, S. Barnes, L. Harrison, and A. Stonehouse. 2009. “Insider Perspectives on Developing Belonging, Being & Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia.” Australasian Journal of Early Childhood 34 (4): 4–13.Google Scholar
  88. Sylva, K., E. Melhuish, P. Sammons, I. Siraj-Blatchford, and B. Taggart. 2004. The Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) Project: Findings from Pre-school to the End of Key Stage 1. Nottingham: DfES Publications.Google Scholar
  89. Sylva, K., E. Melhuish, P. Sammons, I. Siraj-Blatchford, and B. Taggart. 2011. “Pre-school Quality and Educational Outcomes at Age 11: Low Quality Has Little Benefit.” Journal of Early Childhood Research 9 (2): 109–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Urban, M., and C. Rubiano. 2014. Privatisation in Early Childhood Education: An Explorative Study on Impacts and Implications. London: Education International.Google Scholar
  91. Verger, A., M. Novelli, and H. Altinyelken. 2012. “Global Education Policy and International Development: An Introductory Framework.” In Global Education Policy and International Development: New Agendas, Issues and Policies, edited by A. Verger, H. Altinyelken, and M. Novelli, 3–33. London and New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  92. Zittoun, P. 2014. The Political Process of Policymaking: A Pragmatic Approach to Public Policy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RMIT BundooraRoyal Melbourne Institute of TechnologyBundooraAustralia

Personalised recommendations