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Giving children a voice: Siolta and the national quality framework for early childhood education

Abstract

The proposed research represents an inquiry into assessing how Early Years Practitioners utilize Siolta: “The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education”.This is Standard One in Ireland.O Kane (2007) highlights a continual rise in young people “attending early childhood settings, prior to starting schooling in Ireland.” In view of that, the National Quality framework will assist education and growth throughout this crucial period.

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Siolta, Standard one emphasises listening, respecting, valuing and responding to children’s decisions and choices, ensuring they get the most positive experiences in the early years of their life, (CECDE, 2004).

I will implement a qualitative methodology and a phenomenological system. Information are to be attained using unstructured discussions and child puppet interviews, assessing both child and practitioners views on how Siolta, standard one is implemented in professional practice. Special attention shall be given towards participants’ sense of identity and processes of discovery of self. Information analysis will be executed using Giorgi’s analysis process.

An array of qualitative data collection methods from semi-structured meetings with staff and child puppet interviews are to also be used in order to discover the significance of incorporating Siolta to paying attention to the children’s voice.

This essay looks to comprehend the early childhood practitioners’ experiences of incorporating standard one of Siolta in pre-school. Numerous studies haveidentified practitioners’ views on using National Quality Frameworks within pre schools throughout, Canada, United States, Australia and United Kingdom. Existing research has shown that the historical viewpoints of Irish National Framework for children. Although policies have been put in place in Ireland, research suggests, “consultation with and empowerment of children in the early years is largely underdeveloped” (CECDE, 2003). This highlights that there is a need for investigation into assessing how Early Childhood Practitioners implement Siolta, within practice.

This study intends to analyse and explore preschool practitioner’s results with regards to implementing Siolta in children’s decision making in the classroom environment. The essay shall decide if practitioners have different expectations of listening and adhering to children within the early years based on their age and stage of development.

Introduction

The study looks to explore literature and its association with “Giving children a voice: assessing early year’s practitioner’s implementation of Siolta, Standard One within Early years”. Firstly, the study objectives are to be defined, and then the research proposal will executed. The approach shall be summarized throughout the paper, with primary topics dealt with. This essay is designed to analyze and explain the underlying principles behind each approach. The ways in which the information is attained and analyzed will also be provided. Important topics, such as sample selection, instrument construction and ethical issues that the practitioner will have to consider, as will the children who are part of the research. All the relevant details will be provided in the discussion.

The literature review uncovered the need for identifying practitioner and children’s views on implementing Siolta, the rights of the child into practice as a plethora of studies suggested no research to date. “Historical perspectives of The National Quality Framework” showed that there is a requirement for Siolta for a young child’s teaching. Using the collected data that has been attained from the literature review, it encouraged the notion of implementing this proposal. This particular stage of childhood has not been studied within Ireland. Thus the issue shall be fully investigated.

Summary of Literature Review

The study took place and looked to assess practitioners’ views and young children in Ireland, on implementing Siolta, standard one in professional practice. The literature review that was undertaken in September last year highlighted a curricular provision for early years and “how it stretches back over the century” (CECDE, 2004). Traditionally in Ireland, young children were taken care for within their homes, with little need for quality childcare services, outside traditional schooling. In later years, early years settings were developed to facilitate parents giving them the opportunity to work, or pursue education (Eire, 1999).

Historically, proving the child with a potent and influential “voice” has not been a priority of the people who establish the policies. However at the turn of the 1990’s things began to change for the better. An increasing acknowledgment of the rights of the child, backed by legislative statutes such as the UNCRC (1990) and the Children’s Act (1989).Article 12 of the UNCRC suggests “we shall ensure that children should form their own views, the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting them” (UNCRC, 1990), suggesting there is essential implications for practitioners who work with, and represent the child’s best interests.

The formation of policies and the maintaining of the early years area has been distributed amongst Governmental sectors until 2006: “This resulted in early-childhood policy and Government policy being implemented with little inter-departmental cooperation” (Eire, 1999).

In 1999, the Irish Government published two important documents, Ready to Learn (DES, 1999), and “the White Paper on Early Childhood Education” both related to this early childhood sector. These papers referred to the lack of early years education for children who are younger than six. Placed in these paper’s was the need for children’s developmental needs had to be fulfilled which is vital for the progression of a curriculum. The White Paper did not suggest that any particular curriculum was better than another, it merely documented the ways the early years professionals may possibly encounter trouble with deciding and identifying a suitable curriculum as well as suggested a need for a “specimen curriculum.” This curriculum was aimed at people who worked primarily with young children, such as providers and parents. In pursuit of this aim “the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment” (NCCA, 2009) created a “Learning Framework for Early Childhood Learning” In which the main objective presented a strategy which could identify a scale amongst common characteristics in children from birth – six in stages in development. This was anticipated to ease transitioning from home or the early years setting to the formal education system.

In the same year, the National Childcare Strategy was documented, this planned an interagency and inter-departmental partnership to “address the issues of childcare in Ireland” (Eire, 1999).

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It marked a major change in attitudes within early year stage, although it did not give details of any time-period for the appropriation, nor did it provide the potential results for success.

The CECDE launched Siolta – “the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education”, this offered a plan for high standard care in early years environments for children who are younger than six years of age. This included “full day-care, pre-school settings, child-minding and infant classes in schools” (CECDE, 2004).

As much of the debate was at policy level, researchers though it important that children’s perspectives and opinions were taken into consideration during operation, especially within early years environments. “At the heart of the education programme lies the child” (CACE, 1967), within the early year’s this quotation is most cited. It reinforces this need within early year’s services.

Research Question and Objectives

The main objective of the essay is to examine “Giving children a voice: Assessing Early Years Practitioners” and the application of Siolta, “The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education,” Standard One.

The aim looks to complete the incomplete areas in the literature as established by researchers. The main study objective is:

“How is Siolta, standard one, the rights of the child being incorporated within the professional practice of early year’s practitioners?”

As the research looks to identity how early year’s practitioners utilize Siolta, no hypotheses have been formulated. Although subsequent study aims will guide the study:

Investigating frequency of incorporating Siolta, standard one, in practice by planning and observation

To identify the ways in which each child have opportunities to make choices & make decisions which are respected in practice
To establish the ways each child has opportunities and is enabled to take the lead within activities
To establish how children are supported to problem solve and become independent learners
To identify how children are facilitated to actively participate in daily routines, such as activities (CECDE, 2004).

Methodology

Polit and Beck (2004) state that “the chosen method of research should be directed by the aims of the study and by the questions the study is guided towards answering.”

Quantitative research means exploring “phenomena by collecting numerical data which is analyzed using mathematically based methods, primarily statistics” (Kumar, 2011). Conversely, qualitative research is “a systematic and subjective approach used to gain insights to describe and give meaning to life experiences” (Burns & Grove, 2005).According to Martin Heidegger (1899-1976) cited in (Polit and Beck, 2004), “phenomenological enquiry is the meaning of people’s experience in relation to a phenomenon and how those experiences are interpreted.” In light of this, the Heideggerian phenomenological shall be appropriate to explore this research question in this study, because researchers will look to assess how each participant utilize Siolta, standard one, in professional practice. A range of data collection methods such as semi structured interviews and child puppet interview’s will be employed as a means of assessing how practitioners incorporate Standard one into professional practice as well as young children’s perspective of their pre-school experiences. In order to find the perspectives from both practitioners as well as children, qualitative methods will be used throughout the study. This should offer an insight into the implementation of the framework within the early years setting, and the professional development of supporting the rights of the child. The choice of implementing the phenomenological approach was affected by Byrne & Taylor’s (2005) qualitative study which can “help provide a description of the lived experiences and views of professionals working with children.” Phenomenological research as described within the literature is “a philosophical approach which is interested in the perspectives or lived experiences of a person, knowing the essence of the experience and what it means” (Burns & Grove 2005 & Polit et al. 2001). Semi-structured interviews shall be undertaken to attain information regarding this research question, as it permits “the researcher to gain more clarification on various aspects discussed by the participants” (Polit and Beck, 2004). Interview methods have advantages; they are “inclusive of people who may be illiterate or may not write as fluently as they speak” (Wood and Ross-Kerr 2006). Creating natural environments enabling individuals to present information where it is more natural and easier, “to respond to the questions orally rather than in writing” (Grinnell and Unrau, 2008). Additionally answers may be more honest and reliable if obtained in a spontaneous way rather than written responses “which are self-censored” (Grinnell and Unrau, 2008).The data collection instrument “is semi structured interview and as this is both timely and a costly method of data collection, the population size will be limited” (Burns & Grove 2005).

Polit and Beck (2004) suggests that “Giorgi’s analysis approach relies solely on researchers; with this approach it is unsuitable to return to participants to validate findings or to use external judges to review the analysis.” Polit and Beck (2004) identifies “the steps involved in Giorgi’s method, these include; reading the complete protocols to get a sense of the whole”, description of phenomenon being studied, distinguish units from participants’ articulating the “psychological insight in each of the meaning units”, whilst the final step is referred to as the “structure of the experience” which involves “the researcher combining all of the transformed meaning units” into a reliable account relating to the experiences of the participants.

Sample

Polit & Beck (2006), suggest “a sample is a subset of the population, selected to partake in a study.” Evaluation sample in this research is early childhood practitioners and children. Burns and Grove (2005) state that a “saturation of data” takes place when “additional sampling provides no new information, simply repetition of data collected previously.” The sample will consist of a pre-school leader, one assistant from each of six settings and six children according to age and gender which will be selected through Louth and Monaghan. This is a vast area with a wide selection of schools to choose from. The volume of participants is considered enough “when saturation of information is accomplished” (Burns and Grove, 2005). Polit & Beck (2006) suggest that “a convenience sample can be defined as a selection of the most readily available persons as participants in a study.” This sample shall be chosen out of convenience because it is where researcher is situated, near Louth and Monaghan, and is acquainted with several service providers in these locations. The criterion for inclusion depends on the participants being volunteers, registered preschool practitioners who have a minimum of 2 years experience teaching in preschool and hold formal qualifications at level six or above. Also preschool children with parental consent.

Data Collection

To obtain data for this study objective the process of data acquisition proposed is semi-structured interviews. Moore (2000) recommends: “semi-structured interviews are the best means for the researcher to collect information about attitudes and beliefs.” Such discussions vary from “structured” interviews, this is where “the researcher obtains participants responses to pre-determined standardized questions to an unstructured interview” (Moore, 2000). Semi-structured interviews, however, offer the opportunity to modify the language, yet not the intent of the study. This is because it recognises that respondents can incorporate different meaning to words and may not use the same vocabulary (Moore, 2000). The researcher looks to attain information from practitioners on how they incorporate the rights of the child in practice as well as interviewing children through puppetry. Through assessing the views of the children themselves, recognises children’s human rights to engage in suitable research and gaining a lot knowledge from going into the children’s environments and respecting their perceptions. Therefore the researcher feels that that semi-structured interviews are the most appropriate form for the purposes of this research: “These interviews are referred to as focused interviews as they provide the interview a focus on the study” (Parahoo, 2006). The researcher will spend three consecutive days in each of the pre-schools, enabling the children to get to know the person who is conducting the puppet interview with them. Interviews will take place separately, in a quiet area of the preschool room, to avoid disruptions. Denscombe, (2007) suggest the interview room should “be set up in a manner which is comfortable and relaxed favourable to having an interview, with no interruptions throughout it.” As the interview is being held in the preschool room, the participants will be in their normal environment which will help them answer the questions at ease in regards to the areas of play they like/dislike. Timing is important to avoid disruptions, so morning break seems an appropriate time to conduct the interviews. To help gain the children’s attention, a puppet will be used; a soft toy will also be available if children become restless throughout the interview. Also, Tape recording the interview is “a reliable means of transforming spoken words to text” (Parahoo, 2006). It benefits the interviewer, as they have access to a record of participant’s answers. However, Miller and Salkind (2002) state that tape recording has negatives, for example, interviews “may inhibit a frank discussion or the subjects may be too sensitive to allow themselves be taped”, another disadvantage is the associated high cost with travel and salary expenses. Interviews are much more time consuming as it entails the researcher carrying out the interview themselves (Miller and Salkind, 2002). However, the researcher suggests this method is appropriate for the study in question as benefits overrule the disadvantages. Participants are guaranteed a record of their interview, which they can have access.

Grinnell and Unrau, (2008), suggest “flexibility is an advantage of an interview as probing questions while interviewing can be used to provide greater depth to responses.” The interview schedule will be designed to allow flexibility to probe more thorough responses, and each interview will cover the same material in the same order. Information gathered using interviews can be easily compared, while the data collected can be maximised in richness.

Pilot Study

A pilot study is an important element in the research approach, as it determines the feasibility of the approach. This enables improvement of the “design of this research approach and to examine the credibility and robustness of the actual results” (Parahoo, 2006). Van Ort (1981) suggests a pilot study is: “a smaller version of a proposed study conducted to certify that the methodology is practical” (Burns & Grove 2005). A piloted interview schedule will be conducted in advance; six preschool leaders will partake to test the wording, structure and content for ease of understanding. Consent will be sought (appendix 7). Every participant shall be interviewed and recorded. Giorgi’s method of analysis is to be implemented to analysis the findings. Following evaluation, this will establish whether the methodology is feasible. The researcher can then make changes to the approach, if required.

Data Analysis

Giorgi’s phenomenology is the method of analysis utilised within this study, it is described as exclusively relying on researchers interpretations (Pilot and Beck, 2004). Schneider et al. (2001) suggest that Giorgi’s “method of phenomenological analysis obtains descriptions of various experiences and evaluate them for their “lived meanings.” These are compiled via “standard phenomenological procedures of ‘reduction, imaginative variation, and intuition of essences” (Schneider et al., 2001). There are four phases to this approach, comprising of the interpretation of the complete transcripts, dividing these into meaningful units and conversion of information within the units to create a structure of the occurrence. Interview transcripts shall be read thoroughly in order to associate meaningful units within this study. They shall be turned into statements which look to convey implicit or explicit meaning. Subsequently they will be synthesised into a synopsis of how practitioners are incorporating Siolta within practice, and puppet interviews on assessing the views of children themselves.The concluding phase of analysis will integrate shared meanings into a general level perception.

Credibility and Robustness

Speziale and Carpenter (2007) suggest that rigour “is a major concern in qualitative research.” Several qualitative researchers discard notions of reliability as well as the validity in favour of phrases: “truth, accuracy and credibility” (Parahoo, 2006). Chilisa and Preece (2005) state, “rigour involves the confidence the researchers places in procedures used in, data collection, analysis and interpretation, along with its findings and conclusion.” The researcher has to be conscious of the chance of threats to the validity of the investigation. As a result, warranting credibility and validity has to be inbuilt within the research design process. Pilot studies are implemented to guarantee that each interview strategy is feasible and that the field notes shall be stored to make sure there is a low level of bias in the investigation.

According to Parahoo (2006) “reflexivity is the on going process of reflection by the researcher resting on her their own values, prejudice and presence and those of the respondents, which can affect the interpretation of responses.” Thus, to make sure the study has rigour, the researcher has to change their approaches to fit in with concepts of reflexivity and validation of information in which are applied to the interviewees. Parahoo (2006) states “that researcher own personal knowledge and experience may shape questions asked within interviews.” Hence, the researchers are conscious of her views and personal experiences when developing the research questions which look to minimise the levels of bias.

Information shall be validated by going back to the participants to foresee whether extensive descriptions reflect the participant’s experiences. Other researchers are to be asked to investigate every area of the transcripts, to validate and compare the results to validate the study.

Ethical Considerations

To undertake this research I have had to send an application of to the ethical committee of “the Institute of Technology” (Appendix 3). Polit & Titano Beck (2008), suggest that “when humans act as participants in a study their rights must be protected” and that “there are three principles on which ethical consideration is based; beneficence, respect for human dignity, and justice.” Beneficence encompasses when the research makes sure the participants are not subject to unnecessary injury or damage, ranging from physical to emotional, social or financial, problems. Beneficence also looks to acknowledge a participant’s right to protection from manipulation. This implies that the participant must not be exposed to a scenario in which they are not ready. There has to be a respect for their “human dignity” which means acknowledging their right to self-determination, and allowing the participant the liberty to choose if they want to be part of the research. It also entails their right to complete disclosure. This implies that the research has to disclose the nature of the research. According to Speziale and Carpenter (2007) “informed consent must be obtained from the participants and informant participation must be voluntary” (Appendix 7). A letter that discloses the intentions and reason for the research will be forwarded to every preschool (Appendix 4), and then there will be a brief telephone conversation with the preschool head teacher so that the intention of the research can once again be disclosed to make sure they are completely clear on what it hopes to attain and achieve.. Confidentiality relating to children’s personal information and details of the preschool will be stressed. A letter of consent shall also be forwarded to each parent of the children through the preschool head teacher (Appendix 6). Permission slips have to be returned before the researcher can accept the children as part of the research.

A vetted researcher will visit the pre schools for three consecutive days. The first two days will be used to get friendly with the participants and to make sure that they are comfortable with the researcher. Parahoo (2006) highlights the problem for participants to “remain anonymous when adopting an interview method.” Although due to them having an ethical duty in keeping a participant anonymous has to be disclosed. The information that is attained from the study has to be confidential also. Yet written copies shall be present to the participant upon request. Every participant has the right to withdraw from the study. The purpose of the research, through this form of contact as a way of collecting information does not expose any participant to dangers of physical or emotional damage.

Data Storage

LoBiondo-Wood and Haber (2002) state that humans have to be treated fairly. Data has to be kept in a hard-copy format. Hardcopies of the interview tapes and transcription shall be securely kept, eliminating unauthorized access unless to the individuals who have been authorized by the respondent. Hardcopies will be retained pending full completion of the research study; they will be stored in a locked cabinet that can only be accessed by the researcher.On completion of the research all hard-copies will be eliminated.

Conclusion

This research looked to explore early childhood practitioners lived experiences of incorporating Siolta, standard one, and assessing the views of the children within the professional practice of early years. Although this study may reveal much informative data on incorporating Siolta, standard one within daily practice, a more extended study may be fundamental. In using a larger sample of pre schools and children across various counties around Ireland will ensure more conclusive evidence. Should it be exposed that there are additional problems with Siolta within daily practice, and then it shall form the bases for a view for additional training which will advance quality practice in early years across Ireland. This study will help participants with regards to improving their professional practice and presenting a chance to learn about incorporating Siolta. To conclude participants may be satisfied therefore highlighting a contribution to improving high quality practice through the implementation of Siolta, National Quality Framework.

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