Author Identifiers

Amelia Ruscoe
ORCID:0000-0002-8315-5803

Date of Award

2021

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

First Advisor

Associate Professor Lennie Barblett

Second Advisor

Professor Caroline Barratt-Pugh

Abstract

The position of a young child beginning school is unique and precarious. Children are capable of making their own decisions about what to participate in and contribute to, but often guided by adults charged with the responsibility of their education and care. The beliefs and values of these adults are pivotal to what a child may experience but are seldom examined to ascertain what they may or may not afford young children in their early education.

Through examination of the literature, neoliberal reform, developmentally appropriate practice and the quality agenda have surfaced as particularly strong discourses influencing early childhood education. These discourses are tempered by notions of wellbeing and post-modern thinking that drive toward an ethos of resistance to reform and of championing marginalised views. Each discourse holds unique affordances and potentialities for children as they transition into school and influence the degree to which the rights of children, particularly of their voice to be heard on issues relevant to them, are upheld. From a Foucauldian perspective, the momentum of dominant discourses, driven by mechanisms including mandated curriculum and policy, seek to communicate truths and determine the thinking of educators. This research sought to identify dominant discourses guiding and instructing practitioners and policy-makers in the field of early childhood education and explored the potentialities of what they afford young children in the first year of compulsory school.

Aninterpretivist epistemology, framed by a post-structuralist approach provided the platform for this study. A qualitative approach was used to explore the complex dynamics that exist within a child’s school-based system of affordance. In Phase 1, a discourse analysis of mandated documents relevant to the first year of compulsory school was conducted, surfacing three clear discourses of power: Inclusion, Achievement and PED (an acronym of play, engagement and development). Findings from this analysis informed Phase 2, which involved the development of visual mediation tools representative of the three dominant discourses and their demands. These tools served as a shared reference for semi-structured interviews with educators and focus group discussions with children across three Western Australia Pre-primary school settings, each holding an orientation to one of the dominant discourses identified in Phase 1.

The study revealed the impact of each of the discourses induced from the discourse analysis upon teachers’ pedagogical decisions and children’s school-based affordances. Four key conclusions were drawn from the study. Firstly, there is disparity between child and adult expectations of school. Secondly, the priorities of adults influence children’s perceptions of school. Thirdly, children hold power to sustain a discourse through their engagement and finally, the dominance of a discourse creates instability in Pre-primary classrooms and early childhood education more broadly. These conclusions illustrate the precarious and negotiated nature of power in the first year of compulsory school, and that power in early childhood education is afforded to children and by children, just as it is for adult.

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