This symposium will share the work of the Erasmus+ funded THRIECE (Teaching for Holistic, Relational and Inclusive Early Childhood Education) project. THRIECE is an international research project that interrogates conceptions of quality in ECE. Recent definitions of ‘quality’ in education (European Commission, 2014; Urban et al., 2011) have identified three key concepts: Structural quality, Process quality, and Outcomes. While each of these may be equally important (depending on the paradigmatic perspective from which they are viewed), they are not equally measurable, and process quality is often overlooked. We argue that this is potentially damaging since relationships and interactions may be more influential for children than the contexts in which they occur (Bronfenbrenner and Morris, 2006). In contextualising our work, we note a discernible shift towards neoliberal approaches in education (Sahlberg, 2014), underpinned by three pillars:
1. Narrowing of curriculum to prioritise so-called ‘valuable’ knowledge, generally literacy, numeracy and science, and devalue areas not seen to have economic utility, e.g. the arts;
2. Standardisation of achievement through testing and international rankings;
3. Focus on ‘accountability’ and quantitative measurement.
This prevailing neoliberalism within education encourages a narrow focus on bringing settings (structure) and children (outcomes) to a predetermined fixed point, irrespective of experience, background or culture. Those who get to this point are applauded, while those who do not are, through a functionalist lens, seen to have failed (Ó Breacháin and O’Toole, 2013). We seek to problematise such understandings, and so we propose an alternative view of what learning is and what constitutes quality education. We echo the CoRe Report (Urban et al., 2011) in foregrounding ‘process’ in discourse on quality in education. Our main objective is to provide an alternative voice for education based on three pillars to oppose the neoliberal conceptualisation:
1. Holistic education: Emphasising:
- interrelatedness of domains of development,
- importance of drawing on children’s own talents, emotions, experiences, cultures and interests
- children as active, competent, playful learners.
2. Inclusive education: Highlighting:
- cultural bias in standardised approaches to understanding children’s achievement
- the importance of perspectives on sociocultural diversity,
- the value of children’s cultural, linguistic and social backgrounds.
3. Relational education: Proposing:
- that positive interactions and relationships are more important for measuring quality in early education than narrow numerical indicators.
This symposium will outline the THRIECE educational philosophy, and as illustration, share the findings of the ‘relational’ strand from primary and early years level.