Time for Advocacy and Activist-Scholarship Movements in Early Childhood Education and Care: Why it matters now

Jo Albin-Clark, Nathan Archer, Lynette Morris, Julie Ovington

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Our hot topic session brings focus to the urgency for advocacy work amidst national and international policy intensification of early childhood education and care (ECEC). In 2022, the Department for Education in England further intensified government intervention in initial teacher education through its creation of a National Institute of Teaching that rejected many long standing teacher education universities in its first round of controversial re-accreditation (Fazackerley, 2022). Such a marketised, school-led model further troubles the role of universities, where England remains an outlier within international systems (Fazackerley, 2022). Our fear is that the need for autonomous, critical and theoretically rich thinking centred on research scholarship are further sidelined in this move, replaced with technicist, prescriptive, short term ‘one size fits all’ approaches (Peiser, Duncalf and Mallaburn, 2022). Because of this, we reposition advocacy work as an urgent concern. Advocacy work involves attending to barriers that inhibit young children’s learning experiences (Mevawalla and Archer, 2022). Advocacy, activism and resistance are a growing field in ECE that look beyond developmentalist and standardisation practices (Archer, 2021, Albin-Clark, 2018, Albin-Clark and Archer, 2021; Hollingsworth et al, 2016; Guddemi et al, 2021; Rood, 2022). The work of activist scholarship has the potential to illuminate nuance to discussion of child and practitioner agency for social change (Cannella et al., 2016). Building on reconceptualist movements that challenge standardisation, we heed the call for increased advocacy in practice (Bloch et al. 2018) and ponder how far research practices can build awareness of advocacy as acts of activist-scholarship (Yelland and Bently, 2018). We position the motivations for building advocacy work as of escalating concern, as it offers a prism for counter narratives in the contested ECEC curriculum space (Fairchild and Kay, 2020).

A focus for our advocacy work is illuminating the risks of sidelining the autonomous, relational and playful professional identity of educators through standardisation and schoolification agendas. This is all the more pressing in light of COVID-19 lockdowns. Our concerns lie in how far current practice attends to the consequences of learning disruption alongside the pressures of quick-fix catch-up agendas with school-readiness informing a narrowing assessment driven foci. The lasting social and emotional fallout for our youngest children may well require a different, complexified, individualised slowness of pedagogical pace (Clark, 2021). How the effects on children’s right to play appear are, as yet, unclear (Doek 2022).

The rise of advocacy work mirrors a deep unease at the state of ECEC that has ‘deeply problematic consequences [as a result] of the English government’s tightly controlled and managerial approach’ (Robert-Holmes 2020: 179). At its heart, our advocacy work brings focus to how ECEC educators are providing ‘potential opportunities to construct themselves as worthy, insightful, autonomous professionals’ (Osgood, 2012: 14). In addition, 2022 brings further factors in play that challenge an hegemonic discourse of centrally prescribed professionalism as the attainment of higher qualifications, such as the proposed National Professional Qualification in Early Years Leadership (NPQEYL). Furthermore, this is compounded by sector-led pushback against the cost-cutting relaxation of statutory adult–child ratios.

As four ECEC scholars working in practitioner and teacher university education, we draw from our recent empirical research with post-structural and posthuman theories to illuminate and exemplify advocacy in motion (Albin-Clark, 2021, 2022; Archer, 2021; Ovington, 2020; Morris, 2021). We propose two strands to our conceptualisation of advocacy. Firstly, we frame advocacy practices as explicit and implicit movements. Advocacy doings are materialised with and through documentation practices and put to work explicitly to foreground playful learning (Albin-Clark, 2021). Advocacy in motion in terms of professional identity can also be more nuanced, and positioned implicitly as c/overt, local and hidden (Archer 2021). Our second strand to advocacy foreground the relational and ethical. Advocacy in this iteration is bound with care pedagogies and manifested through ethical risk and rule-bending (Morris, 2021). Advocacy and ethics are also entangled with multiple (re)presentations of child voice as a reciprocal development (Ovington, 2020).

From those differing viewpoints we illuminate how advocacy has shifted from the periphery into the foreground of our research enquiries in forms of activist-scholarship (Yelland and Bently, 2018). Through these movements we posit that advocacy work takes multiple visual, material and temporal forms. Such work varies between the short-lived, but highly visible acts, to slower practices intentionally hidden from view. From there we problematise how much activist-scholarship can mobilise advocacy, against an uneasy backdrop of the haste and creeping normalisation of schoolification within ECEC.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2022
EventBritish Educational Research Association (BERA) Conference - University of Liverpool , Liverpool, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Sept 20228 Sept 2022


ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association (BERA) Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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