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Home arrow Geography arrow Global Perspectives on Human Capital in Early Childhood Education: Reconceptualizing Theory, Policy, and Practice


England’s Foundation Stage Child in a Shifting World: Troubling Grids of Reasoning of “Children with Potential,” “Normalization,” and “Value-Added” Curriculum

Ruth Lynn Peach

In many countries national dialogues about education for “early childhood” or “early years” children have become a priority. These dialogues ask important questions about the quality of curriculum, the preparation of practitioners, the types and levels of funding, the value of education for younger children, and the prioritization of programs for all young children or solely for children “at risk.” Advocates for young children have long urged that all of these questions be considered and many nations have recently implemented policies that vary widely in their national responses to these questions and commitment to early childhood learning. England has chosen intriguing solutions to these questions and this chapter will analyze and critique a few of these ideas while looking at points of rupture in discourses about young children as citizens and proto-citizens.

In England a “new” kind of child was brought into existence through the reconstitution of young children, creating the early years foundation stage (EYFS) child. A scaffolding of events and practices intertwined to create this movement in discursive understandings of children and education in the England in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries so that the new EYFS child was an effect of these events. Defined in 2000 as a “significant landmark in funded education in England” that “for the first time . . . gives this very important stage of education a distinct identity” (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority [QCA], 2001, p. 3), the name refers to children who are under the age of five (or close to that, depending on birth dates.) Young children had been running around England for many years—of course, known as infants, preschoolers or nursery schoolers, reception year, and as primary school or school-agers—but the new ideas about early years children are part of a grid of reasoning that reconfigured them as EYFS. Although changes and reforms in English policies have involved all age groups, for the purpose of this chapter I focus primarily on this particular point of rupture, the EYFS child.

I posit that this point of rupture signifies a reframing of prior discursive grids of reasoning about the young child and valuing early childhood learning/schooling that now includes language such as “children with potential,” “normalization,” and “value-added” curriculum. As brain research in preverbal infants and even in babies before birth showed them to be active individuals and learners, beings with “potential” that can be enhanced or expanded through the application of the “correct” methods, the caregiver(s) of young children have increasingly become redefined as needing, and even desiring, more direction from psychologists and legislators.

Over the past three decades, the rate of generation of new knowledge about early childhood development has been staggering . . . ranging from theoretical and conceptual advances to dramatic leaps in both the measurement technology and the computer-based analytic capacity available to the behavioral and biological sciences. (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000, p. 20)

Specific practices were prescribed to ensure a child who would be a normal, or supernormal, citizen who could enhance the nation, be of “benefit” to the nation, rather than be part of its “cost” in the globalized neoliberal society of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This point of rupture in the new subjectivity of young children included the ideas of human capital theory, formally introduced in the 1950s but notably applied to under-fives as they were added to the national curriculum. Later they became part of the key stages that categorized primary and secondary schooling, as EYFS children. This is reflected in the idea of a value-added curriculum, which is part of the discourse of the young child as human capital for the nation.

While the primary focus of this chapter is interrogation of current discourses that surround our present-day reasoning about childhood, schooling, learning, and development, the methodological approach I take for this work requires examining continuities and ruptures in discursive reasoning. I examined late twentieth- and early twenty- first-century documents, as well as many documents that help to focus on reasoning about childhood and education. This chapter is part of a larger study.

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