Ideology vs. reality – an exploration of the relationship between governance and management, and quality early childhood care and education provision
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This research study explores the relationship between governance and management and, quality provision within the early childhood care and education system. This unique study comes at a time of unprecedented change within the ECCE sector in Ireland, where managers are subjected to inordinate governance and management responsibilities from a multitude of State bodies. Although the past 25 years have seen significant developments in relation to national quality standards, qualifications, regulations and an early childhood curriculum, it is notable that there is still no statutory requirement for ECCE managers to hold any formal qualification to support them in providing quality ECCE provision. Given the shortcomings in management practices highlighted by two RTÉ investigations, Breach of Trust (2013) and Crèches Behind Closed Doors (2019), this study questions why ECCE policy has consistently ignored the need for competent managers who hold the essential skills or knowledge to effectively manage an ECCE service at micro-setting level. The p-resent study uses an ecological lens to examine ECCE governance across three domains: macro-governance; government departments that hold responsibility for the ECCE sector, meso-governance; POBAL, TUSLA, and the Dept. of Education and Skills (agents of the State) and micro-governance; ECCE managers within services. This qualitative research study involved 15 interviews with key stakeholders in the ECCE sector including ECCE service managers at micro-setting level and County Childcare Committee and Membership Organisation representatives at meso-support level. These participants highlight the multiple, onerous management and governance responsibilities, as well as providing insight into the challenges of being an ECCE manager working within a complex policy landscape. Overall, the findings highlight how the macro-governance of the ECCE sector, split between the DCYA and the DES, dictates the roles and responsibilities of micro-level ECCE managers thus, significantly impacting their role and their ability to provide a quality ECCE service. Likewise, at micro-level practice, the managers knowledge and skillset too, determines their capacity to carry out these core roles and responsibilities that are essential to the development of a quality ECCE service. In light of these findings, the researcher recommends various measures for the provision of competent managers, competent management structures and a competent system of ECCE governance.