Chapter 14: An agenda for the future of early childhood education

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Chapter authors

  • Cathy Nutbrown
  • Beatrice Merrick

Chapter overview

This chapter is a little different from the others. It considers the key issues which have dominated the last 100 years, so that we might anticipate a future of rich possibilities for young children, those who work with them, and their families – in early years settings across the UK.  The Centenary Year of Early Education in 2023, saw extreme and multiple challenges for ECE and the wider world. This book has been written at a time of intense global challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic; escalating concerns around global environmental damage; war and conflict in several parts of the world – including Europe; increasing numbers of young children who are homeless, refugees and asylum seekers; many forms of exclusion and discrimination, and rising poverty – with increasing numbers of families relying on food banks. The contributors of this book have offered positive messages of what is needed to ensure high quality experiences and services for young children around the UK. Building on their conclusions we offer an agenda for the future of early childhood education.

Our agenda is underpinned the chapters in the book. For further reading and resource materials please visit other chapter webpages here.

This book demonstrates that early childhood education settings and services around the UK have some high-quality practices which can be shared across the whole country. We have also seen how enabling policies truly enhance learning, and where policy is found to cut across meaningful pedagogy and children’s rights and interests, there are examples from our neighbouring countries in the UK which can assist and be built on.

Since the organisation was established in 1923, members of Early Education have played a strong role in lobbying for policy change. Our first President Margaret McMillan, lobbied for free school meals for young children; Nursery education; health checks and well qualified staff to work with young children. In our Centenary year of 2023, many children are still hungry, and many settings continue to work to mitigate the very present daily effects of poverty.  Some early years settings, including maintained nursery schools, have closed, while others struggle for adequate funding.  Early years practitioners are undervalued and underpaid, leading to a recruitment and retention crisis that is both caused by and compounds the funding crisis. The eight points of our agenda for the future of early childhood education is an agenda for action.  Realising these changes will take political will, driven by public pressure.  We invite all like-minded individuals to join us in our continuing campaigning by becoming members of Early Education, strengthening our voice and adding to the pressure for change.

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