This time last year, I was looking forward to presenting the first conference paper produced by the Acorn Action Research Group, and our topic was the beneficial impact of home visits for children about to transition to a nursery setting. Oh how things have changed in the course of a year! From home visits and an open door policy, to the current doorstep handover and wearing of masks. I recently spoke to a parent whose daughter started nursery during lockdown and she mentioned that she’d only actually been inside the nursery building once, when it was empty, for an out-of-hours show-round. Fortunately, parental partnerships have been creatively and successfully nurtured despite the Covid restrictions, but we’re looking forward to the day when we can resume our home visits and welcome parents inside again.
Roll forward a year, and I’m now looking forward to a very different BECERA experience, presenting a paper by myself, on Zoom, about Relational Pedagogy and the Need for an Embedded Ethic of Care. This one is not a team effort, but is based on part of my doctoral thesis, and although my day job is firmly within the early years sector, I am a part-time PhD student within a School of Business and Management. My research has taken me on a multi-disciplinary journey over the last three and a half years, and although the lockdown hampered the last stages of my data-gathering, the importance of an ethic of care has never been more evident than at the present time, not only in the early years sector, but also socially and politically.
My main thesis explores the impact of ethical intentions on early years provision in the UK, and uses the perspective of an ethic of care combined with practice theory to consider the influences on practice, from macro to micro, and particularly focussing on leadership within the setting. I argue that a relational pedagogy is both the result of, and is dependent on, an embedded ethic of care within early years provision. My interviewees, across a range of early years organisations, have included sector leaders, nursery managers, practitioners and parents. My findings show that sensitive, care-full practice is heavily influenced by the underlying purpose and intentions of leaders and managers, and that a range of factors, from personal morality to sector training and government guidance, influence the ability of nurseries to meet the individual needs of children with sensitivity and professional love. My findings also confirm the importance of caring for care-givers and educators, and of the need to value care practices within a relational pedagogy.
My presentation will focus on the relevance and importance of an ethic of care to early years provision, and I will explain why its embeddedness is essential, to underpin relational pedagogy. I will also explain how practice theory offers new insights into the way in which ethical intentions do (or don’t) translate into the lived experience of the child and of practitioners within early years settings.