1st Edition

Neoliberalism and Early Childhood Education Markets, Imaginaries and Governance

By Guy Roberts-Holmes, Peter Moss Copyright 2021
    234 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    234 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Neoliberalism, with its worldview of competition, choice and calculation, its economisation of everything, and its will to govern has ‘sunk its roots deep’ into Early Childhood Education and Care. This book considers its deeply detrimental impacts upon young children, families, settings and the workforce. Through an exploration of possibilities for resistance and refusal, and reflection on the significance of the coronavirus pandemic, Roberts-Holmes and Moss provide hope that neoliberalism’s current hegemony can be successfully contested.

    The book provides a critical introduction to neoliberalism and three closely related and influential concepts – Human Capital theory, Public Choice theory and New Public Management – as well as an overview of the impact of neoliberalism on compulsory education, in particular through the Global Education Reform Movement. With its main focus on Early Childhood Education and Care, this book argues that while neoliberalism is a very powerful force, it is ‘deeply problematic, eminently resistible and eventually replaceable’ – and that there are indeed alternatives.

    Neoliberalism and Early Childhood Education is an insightful supplement to the studies of students and researchers in Early Childhood Education and Sociology of Education, and is also highly relevant to policy makers.


    Michel Vandenbroeck


    Stephen J. Ball

    Chapter One Neoliberalism’s Moment

    Chapter Two Neoliberalism and the Wider World of Education

    Chapter Three Neoliberalism and Markets

    Chapter Four Neoliberalism and its Imaginary

    Chapter Five Neoliberalism and Governance

    Chapter Six Resistance, Crises and Transformation

    A Pandemic Postscript


    Guy Roberts-Holmes is Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at UCL Institute of Education, University College London, UK. His previous books include The Datafication of Primary and Early Years Education (Bradbury and Roberts-Holmes, 2017, Routledge).

    Peter Moss is Emeritus Professor of Early Childhood Provision at UCL Institute of Education, University College London, UK. He co-edited the ‘Contesting Early Childhood’ series for its first ten years; his last book for the series was Alternative Narratives in Early Childhood Education (2018, Routledge).

    "This is a Tour de Force! Such an important book" - Professor Rosie Flewitt, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK


    "This book is informed by the outstanding scholarship and critical gaze of the authors. The focus on neo-liberalism, and its effects in early childhood education are relevant at a time of unprecedented policy intensification, and the intervention of Ofsted in professional development, curriculum, pedagogy, play, assessment, and school readiness. This book traces the evolution of neo-liberalism in ECE, taking into account the different circumstances compared to compulsory education.

    This meticulous tracing draws on multiple sources of evidence within and beyond the UK to show the influence of supra-national discourses, and the particular interpretations of neo-liberalism within shifting UK government ideologies. The authors have revealed how neo-liberalism works at the level of systems and structures, and how it effects changes to the behaviour of individuals, including teachers, leaders, children and families. For this very reason this book should be compulsory reading for all ECE professionals, because neo-liberalism works on all levels and in many different ways to favour marketisation, competition, surveillance and regulation. As the authors rightly argue, these conditions produce a motivating stimulus of anxieties, fears and insecurities. 

    Another timely provocation for readers is the neo-liberal focus on what education must produce, and not what education is for. This stands as a rallying cry for the early childhood field to renew the democratic politics of education that has underpinned the work of the traditional pioneers and contemporary activists who link early childhood education to social justice and a more equitable society. 

    The authors do not shy away from controversial issues, and highlight many tensions between the marketised big business of childcare provision, and the failure to raise quality consistently across providers, or to achieve the claimed benefits of choice for families. Furthermore, the failure to address and ameliorate social and educational disadvantages stands as a rebuke to neo-liberal claims about raising standards and improving outcomes for children.  

    This book is essential reading for all early childhood specialists, at whatever stage of their careers. The authors provide a coherent framing of the socio-political conditions under which ECE has developed in the last thirty years, and will hopefully provoke deeper political engagement from the field."  - Professor Elizabeth Wood, University of Sheffield, UK


    "In summary, this book is essential reading for all those interested in early childhood, including academics, students, ECE professionals and parents. It provides a coherent argument for how political ideology shapes our education system and ultimately poses questions about what ECE is for, and importantly, how it can be seen as a mirror of wider society; the one we have, and the one we would like to build." - Joe Brown, Educational Review