This paper will examine the meaning of 'quality' when discussing the provision of child care nurseries in the United Kingdom in 2004.

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This paper will examine the meaning of ‘quality’ when discussing the provision of child care nurseries in the United Kingdom in 2004.

When attempting to measure quality it is essential to consider the needs of the recipients and different stakeholders of nursery provision.  This paper will examine the policies and laws set by the government and consider the viewpoints of managers, staff, parents and children.

Quality is a term that describes the essence of something.  It is a measure of how well a service achieves its objectives.  This essay will discuss quality in terms of outcomes and also examine quality in terms of the processes that have occurred to get to the same place as in the difference between travelling to the same location by bus or by a chauffeur driven limousine.

Moss (1996) suggests that quality can be defined as an objective and subjective matter.  In objective terms, quality can be said to be apparent when certain pre-defined outcomes are achieved.  Alternatively, quality can be judged in terms of perceived worth as in customer satisfaction surveys.

Quality is a word that is on everyone’s tongue yet it is difficult to define.  The definitions depend on whose opinion one takes, what is happening at the time and what cultural context one is studying.  It is generally seen as desirable though it is a subjective value placed by the individual with all their preconceptions and experience.  Moss and Pence (1996) state:

“…for who could not want “good quality”? – unless and until we have to say what we actually mean, at which point it becomes far more elusive” (p.1).

They go on to suggest that there are two types of definition of quality, one is an analytical and descriptive meaning, as in describing the “quality of mercy” in Shakespeare’s play.  The other is more of a measurement against some value or standard and takes the form of an evaluation as to the degree to which certain outcomes can be predicted in the child, by observing the processes that are going on (e.g. interactions) and the structures that are in place (e.g. staff: child ratios).

All children have needs which often require adults to provide for them.  According to Maslow  (1970) all human motivation is based on a set hierarchy  of needs ranging from basic physiological needs ( food, water, oxygen) to self actualisation (to achieve ones full potential). Maslow argues that children’s motivation for different activities passes through several levels, with entrance to subsequent levels dependant on first satisfying needs in previous levels.  If an individuals needs are not met, he or she cannot scale the hierarchy and so will fail to attain his or her true potential.  (Carlson, Buskist, Martin, 2000)  Although, the majority of children’s basic and safety needs are often met by the adults who care for them, the issue of children’s rights has caused much debate in recent years.  The 1989 Children Act created a uniform welfare principle giving statutory effect to the principle that the child’s welfare shall always remain paramount.  While this concept appeared to encourage a shift in power from adults to children, the rhetoric of empowerment in the Act was significantly tempered by the qualification that the child must be of ‘sufficient age and understanding to benefit from the potential increase in personal autonomy. (Scraton, 1997)

Enabling children to exercise their rights empowers them and enables them to participate in the control of their lives.  However, Saraga (1998) states that ‘rights’ like ‘needs’ is a highly contested concept particularly when applied to children. (Curtis, Hagan 2003)  Saraga goes on to say that children depend on the adults who care for them to assert their rights for them and that their rights are limited by the child’s vulnerability and dependency.  It would be interesting to know what children (the youngest, but most affected stakeholders) think about their pre school provision, though in practise their views are rarely sought.  

The reciprocal nature of the interaction between the child and his or her environment is best illustrated by Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model of human development.  Bronfenbrenner (1979) used the concept of an ecological system to describe the inter – relationship of the child and their environment and split this system into four structures. According to Bronfenbrenner, the dominant ideologies and cultural patterns of that time influence what kind of government departments are provided to support families, how the legal system is designed, how communities organise themselves and how families should bring up children.  He called this the ‘macrosystem’.  He refers to the ‘ecosystem’ as a structure of conditions in which the child plays no active role but which can influence the child’s life. For example the parent’s working conditions.  The ‘mesosystem’ refers to the relationship between two or more settings which the individual is involved with which directly influence the child.  Whereas the child’s progress at school is affected by the competence of the teacher.  He refers to the ‘microsystem’ as the interactions between the child and their immediate environment. (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).  This structure could be a major factor in a child receiving quality childcare in a nursery setting.

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  Although care for young children has always been provided, in one form or another, the emphasis on educating as well as nurturing was brought to the fore in the early nineteen hundreds by pioneers such as Froebel, Montessori and McMillan (Bushel, Fawcett, Selwyn 2002)

Although the 1918 Education Act made provision for nursery education and the early Labour Party issued a pamphlet in 1919 advocating its widespread use, the demand for nursery schools and day nursery places did not increase in the UK until during and following the Second World War.  However, the most common form of ...

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