50 Years of Early Years Provision 1971-2021

Foreword: John Diamond | Contributors: Sonia Jackson, Gillian Pugh, Naomi Eisenstadt, Teresa Smith and Roger Bullock. Seminar held in March 2022.

John Diamond’s Foreword to the report is reproduced below.
The full report is included on the site in PDF format.
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John Diamond

This set of papers covering aspects of the history of early years provision across the last 50 years, is a collaboration between the Dartington Centre for Social Policy and the Mulberry Bush Child Care History Network. Our original intention was to run a two day conference on the subject, but due to the complexities of the impact of Covid, this had to be cancelled. We then decided that the papers would be edited into a special edition of the Mulberry Bush online Therapeutic Care Journal, (www.thetcj.org) and the edition was published on June 1st.

We were delighted with the quality of the papers created from such an eminent group of writers with direct research, policy development and service delivery, and so we also decided to create this monograph as a way of ensuring lasting access to these important papers.

Our first paper by Sonia Jackson reflects on ‘How the work of the Plowden Report (1967) sent Early Childhood care and Education in Britain down the wrong path, and why we have never found our way since’. The paper explores how over the last 50 years, depending on the party in power, the needs of young children and their families has ‘either been a focus of attention, or receded into the background, and consequently the basic shape of early childhood education and care as set in the Plowden recommendations has not changed’.

The next paper ‘Transforming the early years 1975- 2005; a personal perspective’ by Dame Gillian Pugh, offers a detailed account of the history and development of early years services from her experience at the National Children’s Bureau, the Coram Centre and as an advisor to the Dept of Education. Gillian traces the historical development of these services, and the reluctance of successive governments to support them until the tide began to turn, leading to the establishment of Sure Start in 1989.

This story is picked up in the paper ‘Sure Start Review’ by Naomi Eisenstadt who was the first Director of the Sure Start programme. This paper explores the achievements and difficulties of establishing the service under the New Labour administration. As Naomi writes ‘Sure Start was aimed at local areas with very high concentrations of poverty. Initial funding of £450 million over three years was allocated for 250 Sure Start Local Programmes. Each programme would cover between 400 and 700 under fours living in some of the poorest neighbourhoods in England’.

Teresa Smith in her paper ‘Narrowing the Gap? EPAs to Children’s Centres 1971- 2021’ offers a focused overview of 50 years of research on implementation and outcomes for early years education and care.

In the last chapter, Roger Bullock reviews the changes that have been charted in the light of wider social, political and economic trends.

Finally, I would like to thank Michael Kelly for editing and formatting the report.

We hope you will enjoy these papers as an important analysis of the socio-political dynamics that surrounded the development, and in some cases the demise, of early years provision in England.