03 SES 05, Education and Childhood: From Current Certainties to New Visions
The landscape of education for children from birth to age eleven is characterised, in many countries, by the paradox of strong tendencies towards central political control alongside growing recognition that control at local level is a vital feature of the best educational practice (Good & McCaslin, 2008; Tatto, 2007). The agendas of ‘standards’, high stakes testing, national curricula and strategies, performance management, etc. have dominated this landscape for many years and in relation to international comparisons show signs of intensification (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010). A reduction in the agency of children and teachers is one consequence of increased central control of curriculum and pedagogy. There is an urgent need for educators to critically evaluate the issues that such agendas raise, to make visible the policy choices that have been made, and even more importantly propose new ways of thinking.
Seminal work on childhood includes historical analyses that have shown childhood as a modern construct (Ariès, 1960). Building on such traditions the sociology of childhood has provided powerful tools for the understanding of children’s education. Work carried out during the 1970s and 1980s included postmodern notions of the disappearance of childhood (Postman, 1983). Such thinking was informed by analyses of popular culture and the media suggesting that the distinctions between childhood and adulthood were becoming blurred. Recent high profile child abuse scandals have provoked reconsideration of childhood in the 1960s to the 1980s, a situation that also requires thinking about the role of education in constructing childhood and safeguarding children. Internationally children’s rights retain their strong statutory support through the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child yet children’s lives and education are far from secure.
Nation states continue to exercise political control over their education systems leading to diversity (for example in the UK, post devolution, Wyse, et al. 2012). At the same time pressures for conformity come from international league tables of educational performance and transnational education policy (Rizvi and Lingard, 2010). The early years have been subject to somewhat different influences and levels of political control, with a recent resurgence of interest particularly in relation to early intervention in children’s lives. However no recent work has sought to reconceptualise early years and primary education through interdisciplinary attention to childhood and education with the aim to establish new visions.
An overarching framework of this seminar is the critical analysis of current ‘certainties’ in early years and primary education through examining educational policy in the context of the sociology of childhood.
The symposium engages with theories of childhood and educational policy, and relates this thinking to pupil and teacher agency in educational settings in order to begin to identify new ways of thinking about early years and primary education. The main impact of the symposium will be theoretical in that it aims to develop potential new visions in relation to the agency of children and teachers by drawing on the sociology of childhood and on policy theory.
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