Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


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


5.3 EDUCATIONAL SCIENCES, Social topics, Social issues

Publication Details

Thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy, February 2013.


The overarching aim of the research was to evaluate whether the mechanisms used by the state to implement policy were designed to effectively realise national early childhood education and care (ECEC) policy objectives and children‟s rights within that context. The theoretical framework selected for the project was policy design theory, a framework that emerged from within the field of implementation study. A focus on the distinct implementation phase within the policy process enabled an evaluation of policy achievements relative to policy intentions articulated in various policy documents. Five separate policy tool design models were selected and applied to data which was presented through three distinct research elements. First, a macro-level review of non-financial ECEC policy tools was conducted in order to reveal their scale, scope and nature. This provided the contextual background for the second element which involved a more detailed investigation of the financial policy tools selected and designed by the state. This gradually revealed a complex array of competing rationales informing investment decisions in ECEC in Ireland. Finally, new data were generated through semi-structured interviews and questionnaires to contribute towards a micro-level review in which the social constructions and behavioural assumptions informing ECEC subsidy design in Ireland were explored in more detail.

The key findings revealed that policy tools were designed to realise a limited interpretation of policy goals while increasingly perpetuating inequality and promoting stereotypes, thus creating a more socially unjust society. In particular, a focus on the quality of ECEC services was subordinated to a focus on affordability and access and this was even more pronounced amongst supports for social inclusion targets. Likewise, the provision of services and protection of children was the key focus in relation to realising rights for children with inadequate resources being allocated to addressing the participatory element of children‟s rights. An overall lack of co-ordination and biases in investment decisions realised a split system in ECEC where under-threes were cared for while pre-school children were educated. Less visibly, advocates and stakeholders were being managed through the design of policy tools to minimise dissent and conflict thus reducing opportunities for discourse and exploration of the role and ECEC and children‟s rights in Ireland. This thesis argues that it is necessary to encourage a wider and more transparent debate to explore the rationale and values informing the design of ECEC policy tools. Systemic change is also needed to enable and empower advocacy within the sector and improve overall coordination efforts. Finally, burdens and benefits can be more equitably distributed through the redesign of policy tools to provide universal access and the development of a unitary system in which there is space to recognise children as rights holders and citizens.