Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Successfully submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) to the Technological University Dublin, 2011


Conceptual distinctions between care and early childhood education have influenced and reinforced the construction of knowledge about the early childhood education and care (ECEC) policy area. Discursive constructions in policy texts permeate wider society and become embodied in the broad social domain as “truths”, establishing the status quo about how social issues are perceived. Close scrutiny of the knowledge constructed about key concepts within Irish ECEC policy texts between 1998 and 2008 can shed some light on the ideological perspectives shaping the truths about ECEC in Irish society. This research used a critical discourse analysis (CDA) methodology to investigate policy texts; involving the undertaking of a thorough linguistic textual analysis, while also considering the wider political and social context of these texts. Using the CDA method this thesis aimed to understand the conceptual construction of ECEC policy, focusing in on how children’s rights are both constructed and obstructed within the truths known about ECEC and how this impacts on a rights based construction of policy. Recent ECEC policy in Ireland has developed in a reactive fashion, paying lip service to the rights of children while more often serving the needs of others. Findings show that the key knowledge constructions within Irish ECEC policy shape early education as subordinate to childcare; thus within this notion of childcare, the provision of places is more urgent than reconceptualising the ECEC sector. The concept of parental choice, and meeting parent’s needs and rights, influences policy more so than the rights or needs of children; children are predominantly constructed as in need of early education as preparation for formal schooling. The concept of rights is subordinated to that of needs; targeting has been the favoured policy action as opposed to the provision of universal services. While language of rights, universality and more joined-up policy approaches have permeated the linguistic construction of policy texts, there has been no significant shift within understandings of ECEC or children’s rights in the wider policy realm. Without a shift in the conceptual understanding of ECEC policy, a children’s rights focus will remain underdeveloped.